Chris Burden’s ‘Light of Reason’ Heralds a New Season at Rose Art Museum

Three rows of regal Victorian lamps will brighten up Brandeis.

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Chris Burden’s “Light of Reason” in progress. / Photo via Rose Art Museum on Instagram

Prior to 2008, the main entrance to the LA County Museum of Art (LACMA) looked much like other museums of its caliber. This is noted with no offense to the great architect Renzo Piano, who designed LACMA’s Broad Contemporary Art Museum and the soon-to-be reopened Harvard Art Museums. But, fact: the entrance lacked icon status. In a photo gallery of national museum storefronts, LACMA’s fit in. But art isn’t about fitting in.

Enter the highly revered artist Chris Burden, who was born and raised in the Boston area.

In 2008, LACMA debuted Burden’s public artwork “Urban Light,” installed right next to the museum’s open-air BP Grand Entrance on Wilshire Boulevard. The 202 restored cast-iron antique street lamps were arranged neatly and tightly together in a rectangular temple formation, and at night, flooded the plaza with a romantic glow. “Urban Light” became iconic.

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Chris Burden’s “Urban Light” at LACMA / Photo by ACCD_DCL on Flickr

Now Burden’s bringing some of that same brightness to Waltham.

Officially debuting on Wednesday night at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis, Burden’s new work “Light of Reason” is reminiscent of the larger-scale sculpture at LACMA. Rather than 202, there are only two dozen Victorian lampposts in “Light of Reason.” Arranged in three branches fanning out from the entrance to the museum, they represent the three torches, three hills, and three Hebrew letters in the Brandeis University seal. The title comes from Louis Dembitz Brandeis, a former associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court—and the school’s namesake—who said:

If we would guide by the light of reason, we must let our minds be bold.

Well then, Brandeis students, do let this new installation inspire you to be reasonable and bold.

“Commissioning Chris Burden to create a major outdoor art sculpture in front of the nationally known Rose Art Museum is exciting news for Brandeis, the Rose and the city of Waltham,” said Waltham Mayor Jeannette McCarthy in a press release last fall. “The kind of light installation for which Mr. Burden is famous is in keeping with the legacy of Justice Brandeis, who always wanted to bring in the ‘sunshine.’ This will advance Brandeis and Waltham as art destinations.”

The lighting of Chris Burden’s “Light of Reason” will take place during a dedication event on Wednesday night. The celebration is open to the public and will also mark the opening of a fresh fall season at the Rose Art Museum. Exhibits to look forward to include Mark Bradford’s “Sea Monsters” and a retrospective of work by John Altoon.


Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University, 415 South St., Waltham, 781-736-3434. For more info, visit