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Chris Burden

The Atomic Alphabet



Chris Burden (1946-2015)


The Atomic Alphabet






Sheet: 57 1/2 × 39 in. (146.1 × 99.1 cm) Image: 54 × 36 in. (137.2 × 91.4 cm)

Edition information

AP | Edition of 20

Publication information

Printed and published by Crown Point Press

Credit line

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Purchase, with funds from the Print Committee

Accession number


Object Label

In 1979, Chris Burden began a number of works that took as their subject the political circumstances and psychic resonances of the Cold War—focusing particularly on the neutron bomb, nuclear missiles and warheads, and the submarines that ferry them. The Atomic Alphabet, a print made using the techniques of hand-colored etching and photo-etching, alludes to these broader phenomena as well as to the specific atrocities of the recently-ended Vietnam War by incorporating Chinese characters and references to the jungle. Like a children’s chart that associates letters with words and corresponding pictures, The Atomic Alphabet runs down the page, lending each letter an assigned correlate: A for ATOMIC, B for BOMB, and so on. By using this childlike, didactic format, the print mocks the culture of information dissemination and the normalization of such fearsome terminology at the height of American Cold War paranoia and interventionism.