Why is there a cow outside this East Village walkup on East 12th Street? Fiberglass cows, each uniquely decorated by artists, were placed all around the city in 2000. They were sold off and this one ended up here. Note the design: it features the skyline with the Twin Towers. This was 2000, after all. #art #publicart #sculpture #cows
The Unisphere, that iconic relic of the 1964-65 World’s Fair, gleams in the autumn sunlight. #queens #art #sculpture #nyc (Taken with Instagram)
Chris Burden’s ‘Urban Light’ repurposes vintage L.A. street lamps and turns them into a magical, instant landmark
It’s become an instant landmark of Los Angeles, and it’s easy to see why. Chris Burden’s “Urban Light” is a work of art that transfixes and fascinates, that compels you to explore it, and that resonates with you long after you’ve seen it.
Burden’s work features 202 vintage cast-iron street lamps, mostly from the Los Angeles area, which he painstakingly collected, restored and painted gray. (His first purchase was at the Rose Bowl flea market!) Through a fortuitous chain of events, his lamps ended up clustered as “Urban Light” on a plaza outside the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, or LACMA, back in 2008.
Explains Burden in the placard beside his work:
“By placing the 202 human-scale lamps very close together and in long colonnades, I have usurped the lamp’s function as a streetlamp. Together they form a sculpture which I call Urban Light. The viewer’s experience of traversing through these tightly spaced fluted columns is an exalted one that recalls the marvel of seeing and walking through classic Greek and Roman architecture or a European cathedral. The feelings of recollection and wonder transform the streetlamps, day or night, into the sculpture Urban Light.”
Burden told the Los Angeles Times that the sculpture’s success says a lot about the city itself. “New York has plenty of landmarks, but here the field is wide open — it’s easy hunting.”
The work has shown up in a commercial for Guinness beer, where it was used to serve presumably as a symbol of Los Angeles, and in the movie “No Strings Attached.” Its director, Ivan Reitman, told the Times he was seeking “iconic places” for his flick. “It’s an extraordinary beacon,” he told the Times. “It lights up a desperate part of Wilshire that felt almost abandoned at night.” See a still from the movie HERE.
I first saw “Urban Light” during a visit to Los Angeles earlier this month, and it immediately rose toward the top of my list of places I need to see every time I’m in my favorite city on the West Coast. (Finding “Urban Light” was also a reminder of why I need to hit up LACMA each time I visit. Case in point: I missed the Eames living room during my previous visit and am still kicking myself.)
I was also intrigued because I had seen many similar vintage lamps “in the wild,” while exploring the streets of Downtown Los Angeles. (Much more coming soon on DTLA, by the way.) Nothing prepared me for seeing 202 lamps clustered together, ever single one lit, outside a museum.
As you can see from these images on Google, the sculpture is a wild success, and has become a beacon for those in the throes of romance. No matter whether your heart is occupied or not, a visit here is magic.
Go around dusk and let the night settle in.
Text and photos: Rolando Pujol