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THEN AND THERE: THE ART OF CHRIS BURDEN

Chris Burden, 747, 1973. Performance view, Los Angeles, January 5, 1973. Photo: Terry McDonnel.

FROM THE BEGINNING—which is to say from the early 1970s onward—Chris Burden’s performance works have provoked questions about their “manipulative, autocratic” character.¹ Such worries were never a simple function of the artist’s aggressively risky and sometimes downright masochistic behavior. On the contrary, they stemmed from the ethical quandaries his work presented for any reasonably thoughtful viewer. For if Burden’s performances required his submission to bodily and mental stresses, the viewer, too, had tests to undergo. Ought one simply to accept an artist’s decision to be shot, and then watch quietly while the gun is loaded and fired? Or if one’s fellow student folds himself into a tiny locker and stays there for days on end, what then? Or when an artist makes it his business to declare his place in the capitalist order of things, doesn’t one’s own uncomfortable

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