Urban Light (2008) is a large-scale assemblage sculpture by Chris Burden located at the Wilshire Boulevard entrance to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). The 2008 installation consists of restored street lamps from the 1920s and 1930s. Most of them once lit the streets of Southern California.
Burden first began collecting street lamps in December 2000 without a specific work in mind, and continued collecting them for the next seven years. He purchased his first two lamps at the Rose Bowl Flea Market at $800 each after they were pointed out by curator Paul Schimmel's son Max. The vendor, Jeff Levine, had been restoring the lamps by salvaging parts and later sold Burden more of his collection. Burden purchased others from contractor and collector Anna Justice, who was instrumental in the restoration of sandblasting, recasting missing parts, rewiring to code, and then painting a uniform grey. As Burden's collection grew, the ground around his Topanga Canyon studio became littered with parts, which the artist referred to as "lamp carcasses".
In late 2003, Burden discussed installing a hundred of the lamps at the Gagosian Gallery in New York, but the gallery eventually balked at the cost. While he later sent 14 lamps to an exhibition in London, his goal was to keep as much of his then 150-piece collection together as possible. To that end, he invited visitors to view the street lamps outside his studio, where he had installed them in dense rows on two sides of the building. Among the prospective purchasers in mid-2006 was The MAK Museum for Applied Art in Vienna and the LACMA, represented by its new director, Michael Govan. He visited the studio at twilight, and from the driveway, saw the lights lit and concluded that the installation would be a perfect fit. Govan was followed by Andrew M. Gordon, a Goldman Sachs executive who would later become chairman of the museum's board. Gordon approved the purchase through his family foundation for an undisclosed price.
The Urban Light installation took place amid changes to the LACMA campus, which included a new building, the Broad Contemporary Art Museum, and two new open spaces. The sculpture dominates one of them, a forecourt located between Wilshire Boulevard and LACMA's entry pavilion. Burden viewed his sculpture as a formal entry way to the museum on Wilshire Boulevard: "I've been driving by these buildings for 40 years, and it's always bugged me how this institution turned its back on the city."
Urban Light was preceded by Sheila Klein's Vermonica (1993), which placed 25 Los Angeles street lamps in a parking lot at the corner of Vermont Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevards.Timeline: opening and beyond 2008 Urban Light opens at LACMA.2011 Another large Chris Burden work, the kinetic sculpture Metropolis II, opens in an adjacent building.2012 Burden produces a model for Xanadu, another street lamp-themed installation, which would place 58 lights on every exterior ledge of the New Museum building in New York.2015 Second restoration: over a two-month period, the museum scrubs the lamps down to cast iron and applies a more durable paint deemed to have "the right sheen for the sculpture" and that meets California's volatile organic compound regulations.2018 The museum retrofits the lamps with LED bulbs that match the intensity and color of the original incandescents. The move follows a two-year study and funding from the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation.2021 The Indonesian Commercial Court orders the destruction of a copy of Urban Light constructed at the Rabbit Town theme park in West Java. The ruling is in response to a 2018 copyright infringement lawsuit filed by Burden's estate.