LACMA’s well-known ‘Urban Light’ will go dark for two months

Brayden Yu, 2, and his sister Irene, 4, climb the "Urban Light " sculpture at LACMA on Wilshire Boulevard in October 2011.

Brayden Yu, 2, and his sister Irene, 4, climb the “Urban Light “ sculpture at LACMA on Wilshire Boulevard in October 2011.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The lights are going out at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

“Urban Light,” Chris Burden’s well-known installation of restored Los Angeles street lamps assembled at the Wilshire Boulevard entrance to LACMA, will go dark from May 1 to about June 30 for restoration.

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During the museum’s efforts to repair the effects of exposure to the cast-iron lamps, most of which date from the 1920s and 1930s, “Urban Light” will be temporarily extinguished and fenced off from the public.


“The whole sculpture, the whole 202 light poles, will be screened off from public access. People will not be able to go in and out of the poles like they frequently do now,” LACMA director of communications Miranda Carroll told the Los Angeles Times in an interview Thursday.

“The focus of the restoration is on the actual light poles themselves. They need to be scrubbed back down to the raw cast iron, treated and repainted,” Carroll said, adding that the poles have not been restored since the exhibit opened outside the museum in 2008.

Exposure to the elements has had its effect on the paint adorning the lampposts, leading to fading and rusting, but Carroll reports that they’ve “found a paint that is much more durable and has the right sheen for the sculpture, as well as meeting California’s new VOC [Volatile Organic Compound] regulations.”

The darkening of “Urban Light” was originally scheduled to take place during summer 2015 only to be delayed in the wake of Burden’s death in May of last year.

“We thought it was better to hold back so that people could still celebrate the work,” Carroll said.

The museum is loath to close the popular exhibit to the public, knowing that “Urban Light” serves as a Los Angeles landmark.


“It’s been very difficult for us because it’s such a focal point for both LACMA and Los Angeles. People come and have their photos taken, all sorts of things, it’s unfortunate but we do have lots of other public sculptures that people can interact with in the meantime,” Carroll said.

Just before the installation’s debut in 2008, at which point its creator, Chris Burden told biographer Susan Freudenheim, “This lamp will last 10,000 years. ... It’s such a weird idea, to make an object that is designed to be around for several thousand years. Nobody ever thinks in those terms anymore.”

Burden’s “Urban Light” may well last thousands of years, but it’s still going to need a little help from LACMA to get there.

Follow Libby Hill on Twitter @midwestspitfire


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