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FIRST BREAK

Chris Burden

Jan Tumlir looks back at the shot heard round the art world—Chris Burden’s 1971 performance piece, Shoot.

HAVING TRUDGED THROUGH the muted reliquary that was Paul Schimmel’s 1998 survey “Out of Actions” at LA MoCA, one local critic closed his review with the complaint, “You had to be there.” These familiar words of apology gain a particular poignancy when applied to the works of Chris Burden, which coax an often devastating lyricism from the discrepancy between an intense action and its openly insufficient record. Nowhere is this more evident than in the infamous Shoot, 1971, which yielded just a few grainy photographs and a terse description: “At 7:45pm I was shot in the left arm by a friend. The bullet was a copper jacket 22 long-rifle. My friend was standing about fifteen feet from me.”

Shoot took place not long after the Five-Day Locker Piece, 1971, which was in fact Burden’s MFA exhibition

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