May 14, 2015 5:50 AM EDT

Chris Burden once took a bullet for art.

That bullet, which the conceptual artist endured for his piece titled Shoot, didn’t kill him. Nor did being crucified with nails onto a Volkswagen in Trans-Fixed or living through 22 days without moving, eating or talking in White Light/White Heat.

He died instead of melanoma, 44 years after Shoot. The secret illness he had battled took his life and put a stop to a flourishing and astonishing career.

Chris was an inspiration. He was a pioneer who pushed limits, not for personal bravado but in order to explore the outer reaches of performance art. And once his personal exploration reached its peak with pieces like Shoot, he switched mediums. Not lingering on old bullets and golden nails, he invented the most striking sculptures and installations. Urban Light, outside the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and All the Submarines of the United States of America, which consisted of 625 identical, handmade cardboard submarines, were merely two of these.

Chris was an American and I am Serbian, but we were both citizens of the same artistic country. He will be sorely missed there, but remembered with love and respect.

Abramovic is an award-winning performance artist

This appears in the May 25, 2015 issue of TIME.

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