Gagosian Gallery and Chris Burden hit legal obstacle in launch of glittery show*


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Somehow, some way, Chris Burden and the Beverly Hills Gagosian Gallery aim to acquire 100 gold bars, combined value about $3.3 million, in the very near future.

What’s in question is whether they’ll cop that bling -- 220 pounds -- needed for Burden’s latest piece, ‘One Ton, One Kilo,’ in time for its scheduled Saturday opening at the Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills.


The gold bars originally purchased for the exhibition -- which neither the gallery nor the artist would describe in any detail -- have been frozen under an order by federal authorities. Reuters reported last week that Gagosian bought the gold in January from a company owned by R. Allen Stanford, the Texas billionaire accused of perpetrating an $8 billion financial fraud.

In court papers, the gallery says its gold shipment shouldn’t be held up, Reuters reported, because it was a straightforward ‘purchase of a tangible commodity’ having nothing to do with the allegedly fraudulent investment scheme that Stanford is accused of orchestrating.

Gagosian spokeswoman Michelle Pobar said today that ‘we have our lawyers working on’ freeing up the gold shipment, and that a hearing today in Dallas was likely to determine whether it will be unfrozen in time to make Saturday’s scheduled opening. ‘We have every intention of moving forward with the exhibition. It just may be delayed ... a week or two,’ Pobar said.

Reports from the hearing said that U.S. District Judge David Godbey extended the freeze on Stanford’s personal and corporate assets at least until March 12, and that lawyers seeking to have assets unfrozen were not allowed to speak. Gagosian expects to issue an official statement on its frozen gold shipment on Tuesday, Pobar said. *[UPDATED]

The gallery offered just a cryptic description of ‘One Ton, One Kilo’ in a Feb. 5 press release: ‘Burden juxtaposes an historical work with a new one in an ongoing exploration of the duality that underlies much of his art. Here duality resides in both the literal and figurative aspects of weights and measures, as well as in the layers of meaning embedded in the known hierarchy of materials.’

Though Burden wouldn’t answer questions Monday when Culture Monster called his Topanga Canyon home, and Pobar said that the gallery and Burden had agreed not to expand upon the press release description until the show opens, local art mavens are speculating that the ‘ton’ part is a pickup truck -- which would be in keeping with Burden’s long-running fascination with planes, trains and automobiles of various sorts, such as the Lotus sports car (right) that he showed as part of an exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery in 2007.


The kilo, obviously, is the gold -- and the ‘historical work’ apparently refers to some sort of reconstruction or permutation of ‘Tower of Power,’ Burden’s 1985 piece that debuted at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford and was installed again in Vienna in 2002.

‘Tower of Power’ was an ephemeral work -- the gold in the original exhibition, worth $1 million at the time, was borrowed for the length of the show from a Rhode Island bank, at about 6% interest, according to a contemporaneous Wall Street Journal report. The ‘tower’ -- about 8 inches tall and 14 inches wide -- sat on a 4-foot pedestal, encased in glass and surrounded by a dozen tiny matchstick men, the Journal reported, with most of them armed with sword-like pins and assuming ‘various poses of awe -- bowing, praying, saluting.’

Noted the Journal: ‘Most of the visitors to the Tower in its dramatically lit but small dark chamber were variously unimpressed.’ It quoted one of them saying, ‘I’d prefer mine in crisp thousand dollar bills.’

A Wadsworth Atheneum curator told the Chicago Tribune: ‘We would hope the visitor to this exhibit can go beyond the thrill of the glitter, and what better way to illuminate the perception of art solely in terms of economic value than in a $1 million work in gold.’

-- Mike Boehm

Top photo: Chris Burden with his ‘Urban Lights’ installation at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Credit: Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times. Bottom photo: Lotus sports car featured in Chris Burden exhibition at Gagosian Gallery in 2007. Credit: Copyright Douglas M. Parker Studio/Court/Gagosian Gallery