When getting shot is not art

Update 5/11/2015: Chris Burden died at his Topanga Canyon, California home on May 10, 2015. He died of malignant melanoma.

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Shooting someone outdoors for reasons having nothing to do with aesthetics is most definitely not a work of art. However, shooting someone in a gallery, if properly motivated by contemporary art theory, does comprise a profound work of art. Just ask any au courant hipster.

On May 15, 2012 in the rural town of Stockholm, New York, Shawn Mossow shot his friend in the right leg with a .22 caliber rifle because his pal had continually pestered him to do so; the young man simply wanted to know what it would feel like to be shot, so Mossow obliged his buddy’s request. After Mossow and his chum acted out their irresponsible experiment, the 25-year-old shooter was arrested by the police of St. Lawrence County and charged with reckless endangerment and held on $10,000 bail.

Mossow’s 24-year-old friend (the police have not released his name) was taken to a hospital and is expected to make a full recovery from the gunshot wound; he corroborated Mossow’s explanation that the shooting was consensual. While the act involved mutual consent, that hardly seems an excuse; what if Mossow’s friend had been permanently disabled or killed?

Although the .22 rimfire cartridge is generally regarded as an “underpowered” bullet used primarily for target shooting and hunting small animals (squirrels, rabbits, etc.), a well placed shot can nevertheless be fatal to a human being. For instance, if Mossow had managed to shoot his friend in the femoral artery of the thigh, the man could have rapidly bleed to death and Mossow would now be facing a murder indictment instead of reckless endangerment charges. The upcoming trial of Mossow and friend should be an interesting one, though not likely to be covered by the art press.

It really is a shame that the two lowbrow goons in the small town of Stockholm, New York were unfamiliar with contemporary art theory, otherwise they might have transformed their act of tomfoolery into a highly acclaimed performance art piece; a conceptual work that could have brought fame and fortune instead of public censure, crushing legal problems, and possible jail sentences. This is what happens when you do not read publications like Art In America.

On November 19th, 1971, a 25-year-old conceptual artist named Chris Burden had an associate shoot him in the arm with a .22 caliber rifle during a “performance” piece titled Shoot. The event took place at the F Space gallery in Santa Ana; Burden stood against a wall in the empty white gallery as an assistant fired a single shot into the artist’s exposed upper left arm – the event was filmed for future generations. That Burden’s assistant could have hit the major blood vessel of the upper arm, the brachial artery, causing the artist to bleed to death; that the .22 caliber round might have ricocheted off the gallery wall and into a bystander’s head, was certainly no cause for alarm. The act was after all a deeply philosophical work of art; Burden and his assistant never faced charges of reckless endangerment.

No doubt most people are troubled by the legal and moral ramifications involved in what Mossow and friend did, and so the harebrained duo are justifiably rebuked and now find themselves facing court proceedings. On the other hand, Burden, having escaped the fate of pushing up conceptual daisies, has gone on to become a much celebrated art star.

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