Burns, Bill


ODD Gallery Installation
Artist Talk: Thursday, August 11, 7pm, KIAC Ballroom
Reception follows in the ODD Gallery


Burns’ project takes its name from the economist Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929) who theorized the qualities of modern capitalism. Veblen goods are closely associated with luxury items such as watches, art works, fine wines and jewels: objects that connote celebrity and which are in limited supply. Unlike most commodities, however, demand for Veblen goods increases as their prices rise. Taking this theory as its starting point, Burns’ installation of engraved logs, watercolour paintings and photographs seeks to conflate our current social and economic situations with particular reference to art and resource-based economies such as museums, logging, mining and tourism. Part autobiography, part critical treatise, The Veblen Good recounts some of the artist’s own adventures in the art world through the lens of fame, international travel and art history’s ongoing fascination with the great outdoors. Burns’ work finds absurd humour and a certain associative poetry within the sometimes bleak, seemingly bankrupt, world of our cultural and fiscal economies.


Much of the art economy in which we work operates by selling Veblen goods 1. The idea and the economic theory of the Veblen good is closely associated with luxury items such as watches, jewels, fine wine and art works. Like other commodities a Veblen good’s value is attached to celebrity and limited supply. But unlike most other commodities, demand for a Veblen good increases as its price rises.

This brings me to my current work and a project that I would like to pursue at KIAC. My work has often sought to conflate various social and economic situations with particular reference to the art and resource economies (eg: the museum, logging and tourism). My project involves carving the names of artworld celebrities into large logs. These names are derived from various published lists of the most important people in the artworld and my personal experiences.

Names such as: Hans Ulrich Obrist; Jerry Saltz; Maria Lind; Ho Han Ru figure prominently in this project. In each case I make a large log with a name chiseled into it.  You will notice a photograph of my board of directors for the log series. These are my friends posing after a film still of a from a film by Gysin, Burroughs and Somerville (THEE FILMS) whereby William Burroughs explains Gysin’s strange molecular/cellular works to the committee. I have replaced Gysin’s molecular/ cellular studies with my artworld celebrity logs.

I propose to develop a tandem series of works on paper. These are also related to the economy of the Veblen good: luxury, travel and the international artworld. The watercolours will illustrate my life and experiences in the art world. The works on paper and watercolours are part part of an ongoing autobiographical series. The captions and related stories tell of my adventures and hardships with critics, dealers and curators. They are also related to the previously mentioned carved logs in their engagement with log cabins, celebrity, international travel, nature and the great outdoors. Truth be told, the project has no foreseeable conclusion or end.

In any case my ruminations are about the relationship between these very specialized (Veblen) goods and the exclusiveness and celebrity of the economy of art production and marketing. My ambition is to produce a work to provoke questions about the economic relations within which artists work and create some disorder.




BILL BURNS was born in Regina, Saskatchewan. He holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Victoria and an MFA from Goldsmith’s College in London, UK. His well-known projects, Safety Gear for Small Animals (1994-2007) and Bird Radio and the Eames Chair Lounge (2003-2011), have been shown at the Museum of Modern Art (New York), Bienal del Fin del Mundo (Ushuaia, Argentina), and KW – Institute for Contemporary Art (Berlin). Since 2008, Burns has exhibited projects at the Institute of Contemporary Art (London, UK), MKG127 (Toronto), Tensta Konsthall (Spanga, Sweden) and Kunsthallen Nikolaj (Copenhagen). Monographs and catalogues of his work have been published internationally. His most recent book,Ivan the Terrible told in the form of dogs and boats and airplanes is forthcoming from Space Poetry books in Copenhagen. More info: billburnsprojects.com


  1. Veblen goods are named after the economist Thorstein Bunde Veblen (1857-1929) who theorized and criticized capitalism. His best known book was The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899).