Up in Arms: Taking Stock of Guns

June 24 - October 23, 2016

A vital tool to some, a public safety hazard to others, guns exert tremendous physical, emotional,
and symbolic power over us. Discussion about the use and regulation of guns exposes deep fissures within communities across the United States. Up in Arms moves this conversation into the aesthetic realm—a place where interpretation is nuanced and fluid, and where understanding can deepen each time we revisit an artwork or discuss it with other viewers.

Bertolt Brecht famously said, “Art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to
shape it.” We would argue that art is in fact both, and that it is with the dual intent of prompting both reflection and change that many artists have chosen to engage in our society’s ongoing, often difficult conversation about guns.

The nine artists selected for Up in Arms approach the topic from a number of different viewpoints and through a wide range of media, including drawing, painting, sculpture, ceramics, photography, Printmaking—and even packing tape. Some are principally concerned with guns (and ammunition) as beguiling objects in and of themselves, while others delve into questions of gun control, gun ownership, and the relationship between guns and personal identity.

As presenters of contemporary art, we occasionally find ourselves in a position to facilitate constructive dialogue around vexing social issues. Dialogue cannot take place, however, when one party or another considers the conversation rigged against them from the start. For that reason, we have deliberately
omitted from this exhibit artwork that glorifies guns and gun ownership, as well as artwork that is overtly anti-gun. Those positions are already well staked out in our society. If we are ever going to move beyond them and find common ground, perhaps that will start with consideration of the more thoughtful, nuanced ideas contained in the work presented here.

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Metaphorically reflecting the complexity of America’s gun controversy is Madeline Fan’s gun mobile. The continual movement of individual sections, and of their shadows, challenges meaning, as overlapping images now solidify, now dissolve this conceptual gun. Fan’s cartoon-style Shooting Gallery reminds us of the prevalence of guns in child’s play and offers sardonic commentary on ”selfie culture.”

Jerilea Zempel has been wrapping guns in elastics, bandages, flags, camouflage material, condoms, crocheted yarn, and stamps for decades. The project is her effort to silence guns and render them invisible and even silly. Twenty-three guns (firing pins removed before wrapping) are installed in this exhibit. Each gun acquires a personality—many are silly as intended, but others range from defiant and political to wounded and tenderhearted.

Susan Graham’s father collects guns and is committed to gun rights. In an effort to better understand him, Graham began rendering each of his guns in porcelain. A delicate open weave of porcelain threads articulates the structure of each weapon, the lace-like fragility belying the solid heft of a real gun.

Sabine Pearlman’s large-format photographs reveal the inner chambers of various bullets, presented in rigorously formal cross-section. The graphic beauty and technical precision of each object is fascinating, and groupings of bullets take on an almost architectural presence. The elegance of Pearlman’s images exists in powerful tension with our knowledge of their subjects’ killing potential.

Linda Bond’s gunpowder-and-graphite depictions of guns gone missing in Iraq and the assault weapons used in the massacres at Columbine, Aurora, Sandy Hook, and Charleston are the most overtly political works in this exhibit. Bond’s detailed, meticulous drawings allude to the fetishism often associated with guns.

In Gun Rack, a photograph from Liu Bolin’s Hiding in the City series, the artist disappears into a background consisting of high-powered rifles and other guns mounted on a pegboard, as in a gun store or gun show. Initially conceived in response to China’s weapons policies requiring government approval of the purchase of knives larger than six inches, Gun Rack raises distinctly American questions about the proliferation of guns and personal identity.

Don Nice’s fanciful Astro Ray Gun, masterfully rendered in clear, candy-colored hues, is a reminder of the alluring place guns inhabit in popular culture and in the imaginations of children—of all ages.

Jane Hammond creates nonlinear, almost dreamscape mixed-media images of the domestic world. Embedded in each image is a gun. The casualness of the gun’s location—in a fish bowl in this instance—adds a chill to the scene and underscores the presence of unsecured guns in homes.

Documentary photographer Kyle Cassidy made portraits of gun owners with their guns in their homes and asked each one why they own a gun. The result is a riveting picture of a large group of Americans. Equally fascinating is how the project in book form (Armed America: Portraits of Gun Owners in Their Homes, Krause Publications, 2007) was reviewed in the blogosphere. For gun owners, Cassidy is an artist who finally shows their point of view in a positive light. For ardent supporters of gun regulation, the book provides confirmation that gun owners are the lunatic fringe.

— Danny Lichtenfeld, Director & Mara Williams, Chief Curator

The works is in this exhibit are on loan courtesy of the artists, Allan Stone Projects (Don Nice), Galerie Lelong (Jane Hammond), and Klein Sun Gallery (Liu Bolin).

We extend our thanks to Rick Brotman, Joshua Farr, and Paula Tognarelli for their assistance in the production of this exhibit.


Photo Gallery


June 24, Friday, 5:30 p.m. – Opening Reception
August 28, Sunday, 2 p.m. – Curator Tour with Mara Williams
Sept. 1, Thursday, 7 p.m. – Off Target: What Hollywood, Journalists, and Shooters Get Wrong About Guns
Sept. 8, Thur., 7 p.m. – The First Arsenal of Democracy: “High-Tech” in the Connecticut Valley, 1795-1900
September 21, Wednesday 7 p.m. – Panel Discussion: Artists Taking Stock of Guns
October 6, Thursday, 7 p.m. – Panel Discussion: Guns in Our Community
October 20, Thursday, 7 p.m. – Artist Talk: Kyle Cassidy