About the Exhibition
I have always wanted to build a model skyscraper using Erector parts. [This] model skyscraper, built from a toy and 65 feet in height, takes on the dimensions of a full-sized building. The circle of actual buildings inspiring a toy in 1909, which is then used to build a model skyscraper the size of an actual building in 2008, is a beautiful metamorphosis.” —Chris Burden
Internationally renowned artist Chris Burden (b.1946, Boston, MA) exhibits a new sculpture at Rockefeller Center in New York—What My Dad Gave Me, a dramatic, 65-foot-tall skyscraper made entirely of toy construction parts. Standing more than six stories tall at the Fifth Avenue entrance to the Channel Gardens, What My Dad Gave Me pays homage to the historic skyscrapers that populate New York and give the city its iconic architectural presence.
What My Dad Gave Me is the most complex artwork that Chris Burden has ever made, comprising approximately one million stainless-steel parts that are replicas of Erector set pieces, the popular 20th-century children’s building toy. Over the past decade, the artist has been using these specially stamped stainless steel metal parts—based precisely upon those of the original Erector set—to create complex and elegant sculptures of bridges. Intricately engineered to support and bear enormous weight, Burden’s colossal toy constructions showcase the versatility, simplicity, and strength of their unassuming parts, combining technical sophistication with a child-like enthusiasm: building for building’s sake.
In 1912, an inventor named A.C. Gilbert created the first Erector set, inspired by the steel framework of skyscrapers that he saw under construction in New York City, then at the height of a building boom. The Erector Mysto Type I—the first set Gilbert made—was a collection of small metal girders, which could be assembled with miniature nuts and bolts. Burden’s fascination with this original—and now rare—building kit led him to create his own replica parts, fashioned in stainless steel and electroplated to produce a polished nickel finish in order to make them weather- and rust-resistant.
Despite being constructed with toys, What My Dad Gave Me takes on the dimensions of a full-scale building. Burden estimates the construction uses approximately one million parts total and weighs over seven tons. Models and collectibles have long been important in Burden’s work, reflecting his fascination with humankind’s industrial ingenuity and creativity, and investigating relationships between power and technology, nature and society, and enlightenment and destruction.