Gagosian Quarterly

May 10, 2018

Deluxe Photo Book

Chris Burden’s Deluxe Photo Book 1971–73 is a self-published artist book currently included in About Photography, an exhibition that explores the ways in which artists use photography as a medium, a means to an end, and a catalyst for other art forms. Sydney Stutterheim discusses the Deluxe Photo Book and how it serves as a representation of Burden’s early performance art.

Chris Burden, Chris Burden Deluxe Photo Book 1971–73, 1974, 53 photos in a loose-leaf binder with hand painted cover and cardboard box, 12 × 12 × 3 inches (30.5 × 30.5 × 7.6 cm), edition of 50. Photo by Johnna Arnold

Chris Burden, Chris Burden Deluxe Photo Book 1971–73, 1974, 53 photos in a loose-leaf binder with hand painted cover and cardboard box, 12 × 12 × 3 inches (30.5 × 30.5 × 7.6 cm), edition of 50. Photo by Johnna Arnold

Sydney Stutterheim

Sydney Stutterheim, PhD, is an art historian and writer whose research focuses on postwar and contemporary art. She joined Gagosian in September 2018.

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In 1974, Chris Burden released his Deluxe Photo Book 1971–73, a self-published catalogue of twenty-three early performances represented by concise narrative descriptions of the works coupled with black-and-white documentary photographs. Considering it both an independent art object and a record of his early generative work, Burden created the book to archive his ephemeral performances and commercial television projects, which were often not documented in other formats. Included are Burden’s first-hand descriptions and documentation for some of his best-known and most influential performances, such as Shoot (1971), in which he was shot in the arm by a marksman, and TV Hijack (1972), wherein he took an interviewer hostage by knifepoint on live television.

Independently published and produced in an edition of fifty with ten additional artist’s proofs, the Deluxe Photo Book is an important document for more thoroughly understanding Burden’s artistic practice and career. The works included in the book span from  Five Day Locker Piece (1971), which was staged at the University of California at Irvine as part of Burden’s MFA final exhibition where the artist lived in modified lockers, to his TV Ad (1973), a project where Burden purchased commercial airtime on a local Los Angeles television station in order to run a ten-second clip of his earlier performance Through the Night Softly (1973), showing himself crawling bare-chested across a downtown Los Angeles street that was covered in broken glass. As such, this book offers necessary insight into how Burden saw his own artworks transform and develop in a few short yet formative years.

Deluxe Photo Book

Deluxe Photo Book

Combining fifty-three images taken by various photographers, such as Alfred Lutjeans and Gary Beydler, with short paragraphs describing the works, Deluxe Photo Book 1971–73 is bound in a loose-leaf binder inscribed with the words “Chris Burden 71–73” hand-painted on the cover. The book is an extraordinary document in that it is not only one of the few comprehensive self-published catalogues made by a performance artist in his or her early career, but also that Deluxe Photo Book occupies a notable position within the broader legacy of artist’s books.

Deluxe Photo Book was released in the wake of a series of sensationalist articles about Burden’s performances, including the notorious 1973 the New York Times article “He Got Shot—For His Art.” Despite Burden’s repudiations of these readings of his work, as articulated in various interviews from this period onward, the media focused on the extremity of Burden’s actions in which he was often subjected to pain and suffering on his body. As Burden himself explained: “those first articles in Esquire, Newsweek, the LA Times, and the interview on Channel 9 in LA. […] It pisses me off when they only take the first slice, the first level. ‘Chris Burden, man who walks through glass…’ I mean, come on! It’s true I’ve done some of those things, but I’m not doing them as a circus act.” Deluxe Photo Book serves as a counter argument to such claims, prominently including documentation of other aspects of his work that reformulate perceptions regarding the artist’s intentions and conceptual approaches. For example, one could contend that Burden’s inclusion of grayscale photographs deflected attention from the intensity of violence that was sometimes involved in the principal action, given his remarks in a 1975 interview regarding his work Through the Night Softly that he “shot the film in black-and-white because I knew that people would get off on [blood] and that’s not what it was about.” Moreover, Burden often included multiple images as documentation for a single performance, as can be seen in the accompanying photographs of the audience helping the artist after he was accidentally injured more severely than expected during Shoot. Burden’s addition of these images is critical as it lends support to his claim that “the violence part really wasn’t that important, it was just a crux to make all the mental stuff happen… the anticipation, how you dealt with the anticipation. Physically it was no big deal.”

Deluxe Photo Book

Artwork © 2018 Chris Burden/licensed by the Chris Burden Estate and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; About Photography, Gagosian San Francisco, April 24–June 23, 2018. 

Chris Burden: Big Wrench

Gagosian Quarterly Films
Chris Burden: Big Wrench

From January 23 to February 21, 2019, Gagosian Quarterly presented a special online screening of Chris Burden’s 1980 video Big Wrench.

Big Wrench

Big Wrench

Sydney Stutterheim looks at the brief but feverish obsession behind this 1980 video by Chris Burden.

Urban Light: A Ten Year Anniversary

Urban Light: A Ten Year Anniversary

Ten years ago LACMA premiered Chris Burden’s Urban Light, which has since become an iconic landmark for the city of Los Angeles. To celebrate the anniversary, we look back to 2008 with a conversation between Chris Burden and Michael Govan, director of LACMA.



The story behind Chris Burden’s Buddha’s Fingers (2014–15) and its connection to all of his streetlamp installations. Text by Sydney Stutterheim.

Burden’s Airship Takes Flight

Burden’s Airship Takes Flight

Sydney Stutterheim investigates Chris Burden’s Ode to Santos-Dumont (2015) as the work takes flight during Art Basel Unlimited 2017.

The cover of Emma Cline’s book "Daddy"

Northeast Regional

A short story by Emma Cline, published here on the occasion of her forthcoming collection of stories entitled Daddy.

A portrait of LL Cool J, Brooklyn, New York, 1991, but Anton Corbijn

Anton Corbijn

Natasha Prince interviews the Dutch photographer and filmmaker about his relationships with musicians and gets the backstory on some of his most legendary images. Ivan Shaw puts Corbijn’s practice and aesthetic innovations into context. 

Gregory Crewdson, Red Star Express, 2018–19, digital pigment print, 56 ¼ × 94 ⅞ inches (127 × 225.7 cm)

Gregory Crewdson: An Eclipse of Moths

Gregory Crewdson discusses his new work with actor Cate Blanchett.

Spencer Sweeney in his studio, New York. Photo: Rob McKeever

In Conversation
Spencer Sweeney and Edek Bartz

Curator and concert promoter Edek Bartz speaks with the artist about portraiture, album covers, and subverting expectations.

Brice Marden: Sketchbook (Gagosian, 2019); Lee Lozano: Notebooks 1967–70 (Primary Information, 2010); Stanley Whitney: Sketchbook (Lisson Gallery, 2018); Kara Walker: MCMXCIX (ROMA, 2017); Louis Fratino,Sept ’18–Jan. ’19 (Sikkema Jenkins & Co., 2019); Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Notebooks (Princeton University Press, 2015); Keith Haring Journals (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition, 2010).

Book Corner
Private Pages Made Public

Megan N. Liberty explores artists’ engagement with notebooks and diaries, thinking through the various meanings that arise when these private ledgers become public.

Andy Warhol catalogue. Philadelphia: Institute of Contemporary Art, 1965.

Book Corner
On Collecting with Norman Diekman

Rare-book expert Douglas Flamm speaks with designer Norman Diekman about his unique collection of books on art and architecture. Diekman describes his first plunge into book collecting, the history behind it, and the way his passion for collecting grew.

Jenny Saville, Study for Pentimenti I, 2011, graphite and pastel on paper.

Five Preoccupations: Jenny Saville

Jenny Saville shares a selection of the books, films, and more that have been her companions in the quiet of the shutdowns in recent months and as she looks ahead to a new exhibition next year.