June 6, 2009

Chris Burden's Atomic Alphabet


In 1980, the Cold War was raging, and artist Chris Burden was settling into the grown-up teaching job he'd secured at UCLA through his previous decade of attention-grabbing, self-mutilating performance art [c.f., getting shot in the arm, getting nailed to a Volkswagen, getting pushpins stuck into him, &c. &c.]

Atomic Alphabet was an early exploration of redirected outrage; by the time he ordered up the giant, poster-sized hand-colored lithograph, he'd already performed the text publicly several times, dressing in badass biker leathers and punctuating each letter with an angry stomp. UbuWeb has a 30-sec. recording of a 1982 performance; until I looked it up, I thought Burden was jumping rope with combat boots on.

Anyway, the print was published by Crown Point Press in an edition of 20 [plus 11 proofs], and most are squirreled away in museum collections. The only public sale info I can find is from 1999, before the last art boom and bust, when an edition sold at Sotheby's for just $3,450.

Atomic Alphabet, 1980, Chris Burden [sfmoma.org, also paired with musical accompaniment]
Happy New Ear, including Atomic Alphabet 32" [ubu.com]
Related: Greenham anti-nuclear colouring book
Huggable Atomic Mushroom Cloud by Dunne & Raby, exhibited at MoMA

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