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ArtBeat: Beyond the art on the wall — Brattleboro Art Museum presents “Up in Arms: Taking Stock of Guns.”

  • Brattleboro Museum and Art Center Membership Coordinator Amanda Whiting reaches for one of Linda Bond's inventory cards in the museum’s “Up in Arms: Taking Stock of Guns” exhibit. Bond will be speaking on a panel at the museum on Wednesday, Sept. 21, at 7 p.m. For The Recorder/Trish Crapo

  • Jerilea Zempel's wrapped guns transform into odd, sometimes humorous objects, undoing their deadliness. For The Recorder/Trish Crapo



For The Recorder
Wednesday, September 14, 2016

After the repeated, senseless outbreaks of gun violence this summer, it’s a shock to walk into the main gallery of the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center to find it crammed with guns. In the exhibit, “Up in Arms: Taking Stock of Guns,” up through October 23, nine artists explore guns from a variety of perspectives, using the mediums of photography, painting, ceramics, sculpture, print-making and drawing.

Museum director Danny Lichtenfeld says the exhibit grew out of curator Mara Williams’ interest in controversial images that reflect American identity. Guns, at first, were just one of many iconic images that Williams was investigating — flags were another.

“But there were so many artists out there doing interesting work involving guns, that we decided to just focus on that and go a little deeper,” Lichtenfeld said.

The exhibit had been in the works for a year and a half, and its June 24 opening was set far in advance of the deadly shootings that occurred that night in Chicago. Lichtenfeld said that Williams sought compelling, museum-quality work that raised questions and prompted discussions, rather than work that tried to “hit you over the head with its point of view.”

“I really feel like one of the ways in which our institution, a relatively small museum in this community, can really be of substantial value is when we can spark some discussion and dialogue that goes beyond just the art on the wall,” Lichtenfeld said.

As an example, he stood before Sabine Pearlman’s large-format color photographs that reveal cross-sections of various bullets. The photos confer a precise, almost architectural beauty to each bullet that seems removed from its deadliness.

“So, is that artist just strictly interested in the formal, aesthetic quality of these objects? Or is she maybe suggesting something about the beauty of these objects and their killing potential? I don’t know. Those are all interesting, good questions,” Lichtenfeld said.

Other questions are raised by the artwork as well.

Linda Bond’s exhibit, “Inventory,” questions the whereabouts of the 30 percent of weapons the Pentagon was unable able to account for in 2007, weapons distributed to Iraq in the three previous years. Bond turns a small side gallery into a bunker stacked with index cards that represent “a fraction of the 80,000 Glock pistol and 110,000 Ak-47 rifle inventory cards made for one cache of weapons lost in Iraq.”

One side of the card carries a reproduction of a large gunpowder-and-graphite drawing Bond made of either a Glock pistol or an AK-47 rifle. The back is an inventory record, on which previous viewers of the exhibit have tracked the journey of that “weapon.” Viewers are invited to take a card and either keep or circulate it.

Ceramicist Susan Graham’s exploration of the gun as sculptural form was an attempt to understand her father, who collects guns and is committed to gun rights. Graham’s white, porcelain latticework renditions of his guns retain the characteristics of each individual weapon yet seem delicate and fragile, like objects crocheted from breakable thread.

On a nearby wall, Jerliea Zempel’s display, “Shooting Gallery,” is a boggling array of guns wrapped in comic book pages, camouflage material, yarn, condoms and other unlikely materials. Jane Hammond’s “Accident 1997,” a mixed media piece, shows a gun sunk to the bottom of an aquarium, reminding the viewer of the danger of unsecured guns in homes. And Don Nice’s realistic watercolor painting, “Astro Ray Gun,” blurs the line between weapon and toy.

Madeline Fan’s mobile sculpture features a gun broken into sections printed on large transparent panels that shift in the museum’s air currents as the panels’ movement disassembles and reassembles the gun’s form.

Her full, wall-sized ink brush drawing of hands holding a Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum revolver, titled “Shooting Gallery,” conveys an unsettling humor, presenting the work as a selfie opportunity, inviting you to pose before the gun’s barrel. A tripod to hold your camera or phone is provided and Fan encourages viewers to share their photos on her website, by email,or on Instagram or Facebook (search for Shooting Gallery @fandrawngun).

Documentary photographer, Kyle Cassidy, traveled across America in 2007 for his book, “Armed America: Portraits of Gun Owners in Their Homes.”

In mis-matched vintage frames and arranged on the wall as if it were an expanding family portrait gallery in someone’s home, a selection of images from Cassidy’s book presents a wide range of gun owners. A small placard by each one provides each subject’s response to the question: “Why do you own a gun?”

Respondents include Mike, a liberal Democrat from Oregon, who says that many of his friends think that, “gun owners are all a bunch of rednecks out in the woods poaching deer. But we’re all over the spectrum, not some monoculture.”

Mike, like many gun owners, including a man from Florida who identifies himself as a Buddhist, names self-defense as the primary reason he owns a weapon. Gwen, a sexual assault survivor from Pennsylvania, responds that, “I find comfort in being able to take back the strength that was stolen from me by force.”

Lichtenfeld says that comments about Cassidy’s project have varied wildly. Gun owners have commented about the exhibit that finally someone is respectfully presenting everyday people who own guns.

“And on the other hand you have anti-gun people saying, ‘How did you get these gun people to reveal their insanity?’” Lichtenfeld said.

Cassidy, the documentary photographer, will be giving an artist’s talk at the museum on Thursday, Oct. 20, at 7 p.m.

Gun panel discussions

On Wednesday, Sept. 21, 7 p.m., artists Linda Bond and Susan Graham, actor/director Ain Gordon and members of the ensemble So Percussion will discuss how guns influence their art. (So Percussion will also perform “A Gun Show” at Brattleboro’s New England Youth Theatre on Sept. 23 and 24.)

On Thursday, Oct. 6, 7 p.m., Ann Braden of Gun Sense Vermont, Clai Lasher-Sommers of Everytown for Gun Safety, game warden and Vermont Hunter Safety Instructor Kelly Price and a representative of the Brattleboro Police Department will share their perspectives on guns in our community.

Admission to all events is $5 for adults and free for museum members, students, and all who are 18 and under.

Where to see it: Brattleboro Museum and Art Center, 10 Vernon St., Brattleboro, Vt. Hours: Daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. except Tuesday. Contact: 802-257-0124 or www.brattleboromuseum.org