Museum Shorn of 'Samson' Exhibition

After preliminary talks between Newport Harbor Art Museum and Newport Beach Fire Department officials, it appears unlikely that Chris Burden's "Samson" will be reinstalled at the museum, according to museum director Kevin Consey.

"My sense is that it will be extremely difficult for us to proceed because of a combination of building and fire codes," Consey said last week.

A turnstile connected to two massive timbers and a 100-ton jack, "Samson" had spanned the entrance to the museum (where a large-scale exhibit of Burden's iconoclastic work--now minus 'Samson'--continues through June 12). As visitors passed through, the timbers pushed against the museum's supporting walls; Burden's idea was that if enough people entered the museum, it would collapse.

But "Samson" was dismantled May 13, after someone complained that it posed a safety hazard by blocking a fire exit. The component parts are now on the lobby floor, accompanied by an explanatory message from the museum.

"We would probably (take) a more aggressive and activist approach if this were at the very beginning of the exhibition rather than at the end," Consey said. "By the time we go through the necessary (Building Department) checks, we'd be left with less than a week of the exhibition. From that point of view, it doesn't make sense to do all that stuff.

"It's one of those classic dilemmas. The piece poses a real legitimate public safety concern. I think it's a question of risk management: How likely it is (to create a dangerous situation) and what the (alternatives) are to prevent it?"

Reached at his home in the Santa Monica mountains, Burden saw the situation in more urgent terms.

"I guess it's a symptom of our overregulated bureaucratic society," he said.

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