Performance Art and the Automobile: Chris Burden Crucifed on Beetle, 1974

Chris Burden has achieved an elder-statesman status in the art world—his latest installation, "Urban Light," graces the plaza of the new Broad Contemporary Museum at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. But back in the day, he was a wildman, a freak, fucking dangerous—nothing less than an art hoon. A performance art pioneer who in 1974 had himself crucified to the back of VW Beetle.

It was late April. The setting was a garage in Venice, CA, at a time when Venice was a funky sunsplashed beachside shithole full of losers and freaks and drunks and stoners and artists. A shirtless Burden—only three years removed from being shot in the arm with an actual bullet ("Shoot"), and less than a year after a self-imposed near-electrocution ("Doorway to Heaven")—lays across the back of the Bug and has his palms nailed to the sheet metal. Ouchie! The car is pushed out of the garage and the engine is run full-out for precisely two minutes. Photos are snapped. Urban legend says Burden is driven around like this, but the story is disputed and besides, there's no way the nails would have held.


The Beetle is lost to time. Burden, on the other hand, is world famous. The performance is labeled "Trans Fixed."

Tomorrow, check back when we tell the tale of Burden's 100mpg auto-bike, created in 1977. This boy had a thing for cars!

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