Chris Burden, the controversial performance artist, has become a high-profile victim of Ponzi schemer Allen Stanford. Stanford never delivered the artist's precious, artistic pile of gold bars.

One hundred kilos of gold bricks, bought from a Stanford company for Burden's installation "One Ton One Kilo," have been "frozen" while the SEC investigates Stanford's alleged scheme, according to a Burden press release (below).

But given the Feds' extensive fraud charges against Stanford, who knows if the gold even exists? It's a $3 million question, based on Wednesday's metal prices.

Burden will probably be fine either way: The artist, whose infamy started in the 1970s when he had his assistant shoot him in the arm for a performance piece, did not buy the gold himself but instead had the Gagosian Gallery of Beverly Hills acquire the loot.

A bit of advice to the gallery: After getting loads of free press on your missing gold, wait a couple of days before announcing a new conceptual piece, by Burden or whichever other conceptual artist will play along:

An empty room where the gold should have been. Maybe place a letter from the Feds on the floor artistically. Bill it as the abstract ABSENCE of 100 kilos of gold — a metaphor for our times, an exploration of "the layers of meaning embedded in the known hierarchy of the elements, which devalues 'empty' life-giving oxygen in favor of the capitalist's ultimate fetish object." Or whatever.

Then within a couple of weeks, amid all the free press, some mysterious benefactor will come forward as a patron of the arts, and lend you 100 kilos of gold, using free federal stimulus money of course. Everyone wins.