It Was Feared That Samson Might Topple the Museum

Times Staff Writer

Chris Burden meant to create a stir with his iconoclastic "Samson" at the Newport Harbor Art Museum. The piece is based on a turnstile connected to a 100-ton jack; as people pass through on their way into the museum, two huge beams are pushed against the building's supporting walls. Presumably, if enough people visit the exhibit, the museum will collapse.

But Burden probably didn't figure that the sheer nuisance value of the piece--once through the turnstile, you still have to duck under the beams--would drive an annoyed visitor to call the Newport Beach Fire Department and demand that it be declared a hazard and removed.

A person did, the declaration was made, and the museum was closed for 90 minutes Friday afternoon while the piece was dismantled.

"The piece was built right in the middle of an exit way," said James Upton, a Fire Department inspector and investigator. "It was a fire and life safety hazard."

Burden could not be reached for comment.

The rest of the exhibition, a retrospective of 20 years of Burden's work, remains at the museum through June 12.

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