Artist Chris Burden died last week, leaving behind a legacy of violently uncomfortable performance art and delightfully intricate mechanical sculptures, including the photogenic lampposts of "Urban Light," at the main entrance to LACMA, and the whizzing toy-car city of "Metropolis II," which is installed in the museum's BCAM building. Today, Burden's last completed work goes on display in LACMA's warehousey Resnick Pavilion: "Ode to Santos Dumont" is a working airship that flies in a fixed circle, set against the 340-ton boulder of "Levitated Mass," which sits just beyond the Resnick's floor-to-ceiling windows.
"Ode to Santos Dumont" was inspired by the Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont, who flew a petrol-powered dirigible around the Eiffel Tower in 1901 and gave France and the world hope for manned, controlled air flight. It took Burden and his team nearly a decade to research and build the piece, a 40-foot-long, helium-filled balloon attached to a 22-foot-long Erector set gondola and a quarter-scale replica of a 1903 De Dion gas motor, handmade by "machinist-collaborator" John Biggs. Santos-Dumont's "explosion engine" (now known as a combustion engine) was powerful enough to propel and steer the airship, but light enough to be useful for flight.
Here's LACMA: "The delicate balance of weight and power felt in Burden's lighter-than-air moving sculpture gives insight into the mechanisms of Santos-Dumont's beautiful innovation as well as the joy of flight." The museum began working on the installation last month and the artist had finished his plans for the exhibition before his death on May 10.
"Ode to Santos Dumont" will fly in its 60-foot circle for 15 minutes three or four times a day, Thursdays through Mondays, through June 21. The schedule is here. See a video of the piece in action below.