Chris Burden’s ever-popular Urban Light (2008) might just be the most Instagrammed (yes, it’s a verb) installation in the Los Angeles area. The 202 restored street lamps that once lit the streets of Southern California in the 1920s and 30s have been reappropriated, now standing in a vast sea of light, greeting visitors as they approach LACMA, the largest art museum on the West Coast.
However, if you’re like me, the closest you’ll get to interacting with this beautiful, large-scale assemblage is by double clicking as you scroll through your Instagram feed. So, you can imagine my delight when Gagosian on Madison Avenue presented Buddha’s Fingers—a small, though no less entrancing, version of LACMA’s Urban Light.
Buddha’s Fingers is one of Burden’s last works before his death this past May at age 69. It features thirty-two similar antique, cast-iron street lamps as found outside of LACMA; however, the lights are grouped in tight, honeycomb cluster that disallows visitors to weave in and out, unlike Urban Light. Although the installation may only be viewed from outside of the circle, the bright, cold light of the LED bulbs forms a singular, radiating spectacle that envelops the ceiling and trickles down the hexagonal shaft, creating a play of light and shadow that one can only truly appreciate from the exterior. There is a disjunction between the classic, Art Deco-meets-Manchester style of the antique street lamps and the somewhat harsh blue glow of the energy efficient LED lighting. The combination of the old and new forms an arc through time, creating a whimsical realm in which antiquity and contemporary can be experienced all at once, fulfilling our longing for a not-so-distant past, without losing the conveniences (though, sometimes aesthetically disheartening) of the now.
Buddha’s Fingers is on view until March 12th, having been extended from its February 20th closing date due to popular demand. New Yorkers: check this out now before it’s too late.