LOS ANGELES – Two tenured art professors have resigned from the University of California, Los Angeles, after the university refused to suspend a graduate student who may have used a gun during a classroom performance art piece.
Chris Burden and Nancy Rubins, internationally known artists who taught at UCLA for more than two decades, filed their retirement papers Dec. 20.
“They feel this was sort of domestic terrorism. There should have been more outrage and a firmer response,” said Sarah Watson, a director at a Beverly Hills gallery that represents the couple. “People feared for their lives.”
The resignations came after a brief performance on Nov. 29 in which a student simulated Russian roulette by appearing to point a loaded handgun at his head and pull the trigger, a student and law enforcement officials told the Los Angeles Times.
The weapon didn’t fire, but the student then left the room and what sounded like a gunshot was heard outside.
Police said no one was hurt. It was unclear whether the firearm was real.
The performance prompted investigations by university officials into whether any criminal laws or student codes were violated. However, prosecutors decided against filing criminal charges because there was “insufficient evidence to show a gun was discharged or any bullet fired,” said Jane Robison, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
University officials declined to provide any details about the performance, which took place at a university art studio annex in Culver City.
No action was taken against the student, who was continuing his studies after the dean’s office determined that a suspension wasn’t warranted. The two professors, who are married, believe the student should have been suspended while the investigations continued, Watson said.
Burden, 58, oversaw a program that includes performance, installation and video art, while Rubins, 52, taught sculpture.
Burden did performance art before moving into sculpture in the late 1970s. His best-known performance, titled “Shoot,” featured an assistant who shot him in the upper arm with a .22-caliber rifle.
Burden’s work, however, was different because the audience never felt in jeopardy, while the UCLA performance inspired “genuine fear,” Watson said.
Rubins was famous for assemblage pieces composed of parts of scrapped vehicles and appliances.
Watson said the couple was unhappy long before the incident because of budget cuts and bureaucratic constraints. But the university’s response to the gun performance was “sort of the last straw,” she said.