Newport Museum Hopes in Reinstate Risky Art Exhibit

Share via
Times Staff Writer

“Samson” may not be powerless for long. Newport Harbor Art Museum director Kevin Consey says he expects to meet today with Newport Beach Fire Chief Jim Reed to talk about reinstalling the iconoclastic Chris Burden piece dismantled Friday after the Fire Department declared it a safety hazard.

The piece, which had been installed at the museum’s main entrance, consisted of a turnstile connected to two massive timbers and a 100-ton jack. As visitors passed through, the timbers pushed against the museum’s supporting walls. Burden’s idea was that if sufficient numbers of people entered the museum, it would collapse.

The Fire Department, responding to a complaint from a visitor to the museum, objected that the piece blocked an exit.


Consey said Wednesday that he hopes to reinstall the piece in a way that will meet fire code requirements and still be compatible with Burden’s wishes. Meanwhile, “Samson” rests on the museum lobby floor with a posted explanation from chief curator Paul Schimmel.

Burden could not be reached for comment. But Schimmel said that the artist is “very unhappy.”

“We did not feel (the piece) compromised public safety or we wouldn’t have installed it in the first place,” Consey said, asserting that it “partially blocked” only one of the museum’s eight fire exits.

However, he added, “We’re going to respect (the Fire Department’s) professional judgment about it. They have a responsibility to (follow through on) a complaint. . . . They’ve been very cooperative with the museum in a number of other sensitive installations.”