In Memoriam | Lowry Burgess (1940 – 2020), CAVS Fellow

Lowry Burgess, Ice.
ACT at MIT

Lowry Burgess (1940 – 2020) was a fellow at the MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS) from 1972 – 1989. His practice included sky and space art, holograms, and environmental art.

Burgess was born in Philadelphia in 1940 and studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Instituto Allende in San Miguel, Mexico. Over the years his work has brought him to CAVS as a Fellow and Senior Consultant for 25 years and to the Carnegie Mellon University as Professor of Art and Dean of the College of Fine Arts. Burgess launched into international fame by working with NASA to create the first official work of art taken into outer space in 1989, identifying him as a pioneer of the Space Art movement.

Equally interested in life on Earth, Burgess is best known for his essay “Toronto Manifesto, The Right to Human Memory,” (2001) in response to the destruction of the Buddhas in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, in 2001. This article led to discussion between Burgess and UNESCO of a new financial incentive for the protection of cultural sites throughout the world.

Burgess’s Boundless Cubic Lunar Aperture at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum was made possible through grants from the Massachusetts Council on the Arts and Humanities, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.

Burgess defies categorization, often blurring the lines between scientific inquiry and artistic expression. From pioneering the Space Art movement to publishing a manifesto that called for UNESCO to consider financial incentives for heritage site preservation efforts, Burgess designs visionary projects that will continue for centuries into the future. The Quiet Axis begun in 1966 and finished in 2007, is his most wide-reaching and ambitious initiative to date. Burgess envisions that this project will extend into the future while reaching back in time by engaging ancient sites of civilization and fossilized materials. Through The Quiet Axis he started a dialogue with the space community, leading to the launch of Boundless Cubic Lunar Aperture into space on board the Discovery shuttle in 1989, as well as his collaborative project The MoonArk. The latter aims to send the first “museum” – a 6-ounce, 2-inch high structure containing hundreds of images, poems, music, and earth samples – to the moon by 2020. Burgess’s work is not defined by medium or locale, but rather a desire to forge connections between humanity, the future, and the unknown.

Boundless Cubic Lunar Aperture is a part of The Quiet Axis. Incorporating holograms, paintings, and organic materials, his project could conceivably survive into the distant future. For The Quiet Axis, Burgess aims to create an imaginary axis that passes through the sun, the earth, and into the cosmos with pieces of the project spread out across the world, in the deepest crevices of the ocean to the highest mountain tops. The box buried in the Sculpture Park consists of nesting cubes, water from eighteen rivers around the world, organic materials from far-reaching locales, and all elements from the Periodic Table.  In addition to life on Earth, The Quiet Axis also concerns the mysteries of space. Over the span of a decade, Burgess worked with NASA to launch the innermost cube of Boundless Cubic Lunar Aperture into space, making history as the first officially sanctioned work of art in orbit. After its arrival back on Earth, Burgess placed Boundless Cubic Lunar Aperture in a 400-million-year old glacial rock at deCordova on the shores of Flint’s Pond, connecting the skies above to the earth’s geological formation.

 

Full obituary from Carnegie Mellon University below:

 

Professor Emeritus Lowry Burgess, former dean of the College of Fine Arts, passed away Tuesday, January 28, at his home in Melbourne, Florida. Burgess also was a Distinguished Fellow in the Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry, which he co-founded, and was one of the few pioneers of the Space Art movement. His School of Art and CFA family mourns the loss of a true trailblazer.

An internationally renowned artist, Lowry created the first art payload taken into outer space, which was carried aboard NASA’s Space Shuttle Discovery in 1989. For nearly half a century, Burgess had also been a cornerstone of Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Art. He retired in 2017 but remained committed to art, space, and Carnegie Mellon. During his time at CMU, Burgess helped shape how the university approached art education. His collaborative approach pushed contemporary artistic practice forward and helped shape generations of artists and thinkers.

“We will miss Lowry’s unique insights, among many other traits that made him a treasured part of the School of Art and the College of Fine Arts,” said Dan Martin, dean of the College of Fine Arts. “Our thoughts are with his family and friends, and we look forward to celebrating Lowry at a memorial service to take place in Pittsburgh later this year.”Burgess recognized diversity and depth of knowledge at CMU, and he looked beyond the typical confines of art, both in his own work and in his educational philosophy. He brought together seemingly disparate fields like visual art and computer science to encourage students to harness the power of technology to push art and human creativity in brand new directions.

Burgess was instrumental in leading a team of CMU students, faculty, and alumni, along with international artists, scientists, designers, and engineers, to create Moon Ark, which will be carried to the moon as part of the Robotics Institute’s competition for the Google Lunar XPrize. Like much of Burgess’ artistic practice, this work pushed the boundaries of technology to outer space while creating a poetic examination of life on earth.

He also served as a Fellow, Senior Consultant, and Advisor at the Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS) at MIT, where he created and directed large collaborative projects and festivals in the US and Europe. Among his many achievements, Burgess created and founded “First Night,” the international New Year’s arts festival. He originated the first “Art in the Subways” program for the Department of Transportation and has developed and advised on more than a dozen major city scale projects.

“There are very few artists who have accomplished the impossible,” said Charlie White, head of CMU’s School of Art, upon Burgess’ retirement. “In his career, Lowry Burgess has achieved the impossible numerous times, from breaking the barriers between artists and scientists across academia to jettisoning the first artwork into outer space.”Burgess was educated at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the University of Pennsylvania and the Instituto Allende in San Miguel, Mexico. His artworks are currently held by museums and archives across the US and Europe, and he has exhibited widely in art and science museums in the US, Canada, Europe and Japan.

He has received awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the National Institute of Arts and Letters, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Massachusetts Artists Foundation, the Kellogg Foundation and the Berkmann Fund. He received the Leonardo Da Vinci Space Art Award from the National Space Society. His book, “Burgess, the Quiet Axis” received the Imperishable Gold Award from Le Devoir in Montreal.