Chris Burden

Chris Burden, installation of L.A.P.D. Uniforms and America’s Darker Moments at Gagosian Gallery, New York, 1994. Photo credit: Erik Landsberg.

L.A.P.D. Uniforms is an edition of thirty Los Angeles Police Department uniforms, fully equipped with a regulation belt, holster, baton, handcuffs, 92F Beretta handgun, and a copy of the official badge. After extensive research, the artist and FWM designed an enlarged prototype for the edition of wool uniforms, which were then custom-made by the company that manufactures the L.A.P.D.’s actual shirts and pants. Designed to fit a seven feet four-inch officer, the uniforms are installed with the outstretched sleeve of one uniform almost touching the next, as they circle the perimeter of the exhibition space. The viewer is engulfed by the physical presence of these symbols of authority and power. 

Burden proposed this project soon after the Los Angeles riots of 1992, which were precipitated by the acquittal of Los Angeles police officers accused of unnecessarily beating Rodney King—an event captured on videotape and repeatedly played on news stations throughout the world. While L.A.P.D. Uniforms offers commentary on a specific event in recent American history, it also provides a vehicle for more general questioning about the nature of authority. 

Chris Burden often exhibits L.A.P.D. Uniforms with another sculptural work, America’s Darker Moments, which he created in 1994 after his residency at FWM. This pentagonal vitrine encapsulates miniature, painted tin castings that look very much like toys. The five vignettes depict significant moments in American history, where violence played a significant role—the John F. Kennedy assassination, the killings of students at Kent State University by National Guardsmen, the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam, the bombing of Hiroshima, and the murder of Emmett Till at the start of the Civil Rights era.

Learn More

Unpacking Our Stories, Episode 3: Chris Burden
Speakers Yayoi Shionoiri, Sandy Rodriguez, Mary Anne Friel, and Karen Patterson share their insights together to honor the six-decade long career of internationally acclaimed artist, Chris Burden. With a focus on Burden’s L.A.P.D. Uniforms, the speakers examine his residency at FWM, the socio-political influence of his artwork, and the impact he had on contemporary artist and historian Sandy Rodriguez.

Special thanks to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s Art Museum Futures Fund for supporting this series.

Artist Bio

American, 1946–2015.

Raised in California, Chris Burden earned his BFA in 1969 at Pomona College in Claremont, California, before completing his MFA in 1971 at the University of California in Irvine. During the 1970s, Burden created performances of simple, yet often extreme, acts that challenged the cultural preconceptions of the day and transformed the stage of Contemporary art making practice: no longer were artists limited to the realm of painting and sculpture. These performances—among them Five Day Locker Piece, Shoot, and Doorway to Heaven—form the artist’s early career, while he later went on to produce significant sculptural and installation projects. Among the venues for his numerous solo exhibitions are the Orange County Museum of Art (2000), the MAK-Austrian Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna (1996), and the Brooklyn Museum of Art (1991). He has also been included in significant group shows such as Sunshine and Noir (organized by the Louisiana Museum, Denmark, 1997) and Helter Skelter (Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 1991).