From the Collection: Victor Burgin
One of the instigators of Conceptual Art in the 1960s and an influential theorist of contemporary photography and perception, Victor Burgin (b. 1941 Sheffield, England; lives and works in Somerset and Paris) often reflects on the ways in which cultural meaning is constructed through visual and other media. In his 2000 video projection, Watergate, Burgin bridges the distance between the Corcoran’s collection of 19th-century American masterpieces and its focus on contemporary art, photography, and digital media.
Created in 2000 for the 46th Corcoran BiennialMedia/Metaphor,Watergatemodifies, animates, and recontextualizes images of an art museum and a hotel room in Washington. Slowly panning across the architecture and works of art in a Corcoran gallery, the camera’s 360-degree gaze stands in for an unseen visitor and his or her memories evoked by both the art and its history. The voiceover of an extract from Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingnesss erves as a philosophical dialectic on the memory and the absence of those not in the depicted space. Frederic Edwin Church’s iconic painting Niagara—a work in the Corcoran’s collection—appears twice in the video and links the theme of the sublime 19th-century American landscape with an anonymous, lonely hotel space. As the camera pans around the hotel room, one can see Washington’s historic Watergate office building through the window, symbolizing the construction and abuse of power. Following this scene, the prose of museum labels, another signifier of how we perceive 19th-century America through art, scrolls across the screen.