Chris Burden Estate, Path to Xanadu, 2023, non-fungible token, moving digital image, courtesy of Eva and Matt Zhang

“A metaphorical city condensed to the essentials”: Chris Burden Estate’s Path to Xanadu

June 3, 2024
Caitlin Spencer, Curatorial Assistant, Contemporary Art

LACMA is proud to announce the recent acquisition of the Chris Burden Estate’s Path to Xanadu (2023). Thanks to the generous donation of Eva and Matt Zhang, this digital artwork enters LACMA’s permanent collection, extending its longstanding history with Burden’s work. 

Born in Boston with periods of his youth spent in France and Italy, Chris Burden (1946–2015) would become known for a conceptual practice that confronted and expanded the limits of art’s role in society. Whether through his performance artworks examining the harsh realities of violence in the early 1970s or his later sculptural installations exploring architecture and engineering, Burden’s practice considers the surreal and precarious aspects of human existence.

Path to Xanadu is a digital rendition of his 2008 concept of the same title he initially proposed for LACMA’s collection. The piece visualizes a human-scale cityscape designed to be populated with sculptures he created during his lifetime and other unrealized concepts. Burden described the piece as “a metaphorical city condensed to the essentials.” Though the artist is no longer here to witness the project, the Chris Burden Estate produced a short-form digital film in partnership with the digital art platform TRLab to create a cinematic experience minted as a non-fungible token (NFT) that engulfs viewers in Burden's imagined world, celebrating the legacy of his artistic visions. 

With a goal of broadening recognition and support for contemporary digital innovation, Matt Zhang, founder of Hivemind Capital Partners, launched its Digital Culture Fund earlier this year. “It’s inspiring to see how LACMA is embracing blockchain technology and leading a digital art renaissance,” Zhang explained. With the donation of Path to Xanadu to LACMA, Zhang aims to highlight how digital media can transform artistic expression and offer new, interactive experiences. “This piece is a perfect example of how emerging technology like blockchain can enable and enhance an artwork that was not previously possible. Both my wife and I are honored to witness this masterpiece concept by Burden, actualized by the Estate and TRLab, to enter LACMA's permanent collection,” he noted.

The Chris Burden Estate describes Path to Xanadu as “an educational and interactive homage to the artist,” one that introduces viewers to iconic works by Burden like LACMA’s installation Urban Light, made up of 202 street lamps that once lit the streets of Los Angeles. The digital cityscape also includes Metropolis II (also on view), Burden’s elaborate kinetic sculpture featuring a network of toy cars, elevated roadways, and Erector Set towers. 

Path to Xanadu was created as part of Beyond Limits: Unrealized Artworks of Chris Burden, a multi-faceted digital experience with a strong focus on education from TRLab in partnership with the Chris Burden Estate.