Like an open-air Greek temple, the front entrance of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art basks in the glow of 202 vintage street lamps, lighting up the western edge of the city’s Miracle Mile.
Urban Light is an installation by artist Chris Burden, who collected the lamp posts over many years, most of them originating from a wide swath of Southern California urban settings. Painted a uniform steel gray, the lamps vary in size, but join together to form a solar-powered escape from the traffic on Wilshire Boulevard, just beyond its blaze.
Burden, who passed away in 2015, first came to prominence in the 1970s with often violent performance art pieces that relied on the strength and weaknesses of his own body (his two best-known works involved being shot in the arm, and crawling across a street laid with broken glass). But by the end of the decade he had turned to academia and sculpture, as a UCLA professor and more traditional piece-oriented artist.
Starting in the 1980s, Burden began collecting antique street lamps, creating a smaller version of Urban Light at his Topanga Canyon home. It caught the attention of museum director Michael Govan, and the entire piece, plus another four dozen or so additional lamps, was moved over to LACMA in 2008. With a conversion to solar power, the lamps have shined ever since, as both a throwback to the early days of L.A.’s city life, and a look to its future as a mecca for art and green technology.
Know Before You Go
Free. Outside of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art on Wilshire Blvd. Best to go to at night for reduced tourist traffic and the best view of the installation.