Deco daydreams

Period features are a favourite of chintzy cultural quarters. So the thought occurs that Chris Burden’s display of 14 Deco-ish street lamps – 1920s Los Angeles originals and each a tonne-and-a-half of cast-iron – might be a subtle dig at regeneration aesthetics, particularly as this is the last show at the South London Gallery before 6a Architects begins its revamp.

Yet the 60-year-old Californian’s recent work, including Meccano bridges and miniature skyscrapers, suggests he is too enthusiastic for that. An off-site exhibit, The Flying Steamroller, is the dream-memory of a school-kid’s awe at the wonder of machines. Almost touching the ceiling, the lamps are municipal totems – symbols, Burden has said, of ‘what constitutes a civilised and sophisticated society’. In his eyes, these objects are majestic, and he is happy to honour their power.

Historically, this is quite a change of tack. Daredevil antics as a 1970s performance artist, which involved Burden being variously shot, electrocuted and ‘crucified’ on a VW Beetle, earned him the epithet ‘the Evel Knievel of the art world’. Today, with a grandfatherly interest in feats of engineering, he is more like Fred Dibnah. His remains a Boy’s Own story, then.

Chris Burden: 14 Magnolia Double Lamps runs from 15 September to 5 November at the South London Gallery, 65 Peckham Road, SE5.

The Flying Steamroller is at Chelsea College of Art, 2-15 October, 16 John Islip Street, London SW1

Latest articles

Design Week Awards 2019 judges revealed…

Experts on branding (Jack Renwick), social design (Sophie Thomas), exhibition design (Lucienne Roberts) are joined by Ustwo design director Helen Fuchs, The Guardian’s digital director Ben Longden and many more.