Neutralizing the nuclear option

Donna Williams


The late Los Angeles artist Chris Burden (1946–2015) originally assembled his anti-war diorama A Tale of Two Cities 35 years ago. By 2013, the installation had become sufficiently dilapidated that he publicly expressed his intent to invoke the “nuclear option,” which would involve blowing it up as a final performance piece. “The work would still exist,” said the artist during
his first visit to the author’s studio, “but as rubble” (Burden, pers. comm.). Presentation of a fully treated mock-up panel, as well as initiation of an ongoing dialogue between artist and conservator, concluded that an extensive conservation campaign was a viable alternative. Over the course of several months, the installation was cleaned, repaired, refabricated, and packed in custom-made travel crates. Following conservation, A Tale of Two Cities occupied a major place in the artist’s one-man survey Chris Burden: Extreme Measures at the New Museum in New York in 2013.

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2015 | Miami | Volume 22