Victor Burgin


UK 76 (detail), 1976. Set of 11 archival inkjet pigment prints printed 2016, 40 × 60 inches. Copyright Victor Burgin, courtesy the artist and Bridget Donahue, New York.

Victor Burgin began his career taking photographs of the floor. His 1967–69 Photopath, included in the British iteration of the seminal conceptual art exhibition Live in Your Head: When Attitudes Become Form, returned those photographs to their original site, creating a diagonal “path” of prints that mirrored the wooden floor beneath. Both a doubling and an alteration of the exhibition space, Photopath traced the edge between reality and representation. In doing so, Burgin’s work asked viewers to contemplate both the context and conditions of spectatorship. But site specific to the extreme, Photopath verged on tautology. Burgin soon decided to use photography not simply to scrutinize the gallery, but to probe the connection between the aesthetic realm of the white cube and the world outside with a body of work that at once mimicked and manipulated the codes of commercial advertising. His 1976 Possession is the canonical example: featuring an appropriated image of a pampered white couple, it is bracketed by a question—What does possession mean to you?—and a firm statement of fact: 7% of our population own 84% of our wealth. And importantly, while the work has appeared in galleries, it has also been postered on city streets.


UK 76 (detail), 1976. Set of 11 archival inkjet pigment prints printed 2016, 40 × 60 inches. Copyright Victor Burgin, courtesy the artist and Bridget Donahue, New York.

Another major body of work from this time, UK 76, made on the occasion of Queen Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee, is currently on display at Bridget Donahue in a sort of fortieth-anniversary celebration. Here, Burgin continued his reorientation of photography from floor to wall, but rather than transform his pictures into precious prints, matted and framed, Burgin fixed his images to the gallery as a series of posters, pasting them straight to the wall (although not, as with Possession, out in the streets). The project’s eleven black-and-white prints don’t so much hang as stick, and the scenes depicted—a white woman staring into space at the grocery store; a black woman on the sidewalk; power lines soaring over an empty street—resonate with a slew of genres, from landscape painting to magazine spreads—which simultaneously fit them into their gallery context and provide them with distance from it. The prints are large: years before Jeff Wall expanded photography so that it might compete with painting, and gave it the frames and colors to match, Burgin made it clear that “big photography” already existed in the form of advertising.

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