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Chris Burden

The Big Wheel

1979

Chris Burden has often used his art practice to explore technological innovations and the history of engineering. The Big Wheel is a kinetic sculpture in which the revving of a motorcycle engine sets a massive iron wheel in motion for a protracted two and a half hours, revealing the processes of energy transfer and storage. A sculpture rooted in ideas of performance, a medium that the artist radically explored in his earlier works of the 1970s, The Big Wheel epitomizes Burden’s fascination with modern machinery and 19th-century industry.

Chris Burden (b. 1946, Boston; lives and works in Los Angeles)
The Big Wheel, 1979
Three-ton, eight-foot diameter, cast-iron flywheel powered by a motorcycle
112 x 175 x 143 in.
The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Gift of Lannan Foundation

I tried to get to the essence of sculpture and to distill it to its purest form.... In the latter part of the 1970s, the focus of my investigation shifted from the internal to the external, and I proceeded to make objects that explore issues of power. This exploration centers on the dichotomy that power can be attractive, comforting, and beautiful and, simultaneously, frightening and ominous. —Chris Burden

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