Since the inception of her career as an artist, Nancy Burson has been interested in the interaction of art and science. In collaboration with researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Burson began to produce computer-generated composite portraits in the late 1970s to early 1980s. The work was informed by centuries of social, scientific, and pseudo-scientific study of the human face. However, Burson’s attitude toward science was always laced with irony and a keen awareness of the absurdities embedded in many historic concepts, such as race and gender, which we take for granted today.
“Composites” explores Burson’s pioneering early work with digital technologies—now ubiquitous in photography. Digitally combining and manipulating images of often well-known individuals, including movie stars and world leaders, Burson examines political issues, gender, race, and standards of beauty. In other photographs, Burson creates playful, but unnerving, simulacra of subjects that could never exist in the real world that the medium has traditionally indexed.
Nancy Burson’s work is shown in museums and galleries worldwide, and has been included in major exhibitions at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City; the International Center of Photography, New York City; New Museum, New York City; Venice Biennale, Venice; Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, Texas; and the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago. “Seeing and Believing,” Burson’s traveling retrospective which originated at the Grey Art Gallery at New York University in New York City in 2002, was nominated for Best Solo Show of the Year in New York City by the International Association of Art Critics.