Target Practice | Art Review | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

Published January 24, 2007 at 5:00 a.m.


EXHIBIT: "Gun Show," a group multimedia show that examines the potent symbolism of guns. Main Floor Gallery, Studio Place Arts, Barre. Through February 24.

ARTWORK:"Figurines" by Cynthia Consentino

According to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, our nation of 300 million people was awash in approximately 223 million privately owned firearms in 2005. Judging by the artworks riddled with bullet holes in Studio Place Arts' current "Gun Show," we can assume some of those lethal weapons were in the hands of trigger-happy creative types. Three of the show's 30 regional artists have actually pumped their pieces full of lead. Other works include self-portraits with guns and a host of uniquely inspired, artistic shooting irons that reflect America's dangerous love affair with firearms.

The contributions by Northeast Kingdom sculptor David Bradshaw are as shot up as a Dick Cheney hunting buddy. According to exhibition notes prepared by SPA studio artist Janet Van Fleet, Bradshaw once collaborated with writer William S. Burroughs to produce a bullet-riddled artist book entitled Propagation Hazard. He clearly isn't squeamish about firing guns. Brad- shaw's 1974 minimalist piece entitled "7T" - a 3-foot-in-diameter galvanized steel disk suspended from the gallery ceiling - is full of bullet holes. Apparently, firing guns has been integral to Bradshaw's art for more than 30 years. A similar pelting was the fate of a 26-by-32-inch cut-out steel ram from 1979 and three "Double Rams" outlines on brown cardboard from 2006.

Marilyn Wenker and Patty Mucha are the show's two pistol-packing painters. Wenker presents a flickering 1982 video documenting how she executed - firing-squad style - an entire painting exhibition at St. Michael's College. That now-legendary incident was in response to an attempted confiscation of her canvasses by bankers who were getting nasty over a bad debt. Wenker fought back and won in court, with the help of famed civil rights lawyer Howard Kunstler. Then she lined up the acquitted paintings and shot them. Thus altered, Wenker's recovered property became known as "Shooting Ducks Series: Dancers 1981-82." A lively smashed and perforated abstraction from the event appears at SPA along with her video.

Patty Mucha's shot-up 36-by-40-inch oil on linen, "Joyce as Olympia - Plugged," is a reinterpretation of Edouard Manet's 1865 odalisque entitled simply "Olympia." The St. Johns- bury artist produced her brightly hued painting in 1988 and emptied a revolver into it in 2005. Under the bullet holes, it's a bucolic scene of a voluptuous, red-haired nude woman lounging under a tree, accompanied by three nonchalant geese.

In addition to actual shot, the show features many shooters. "Figurines," by Northampton, Massachusetts, sculptor Cynthia Consentino, is a group of three little girls wearing flowery dresses and toting big assault rifles. Like Charlie's Angels as first-graders, the 10-inch-tall figures exert their own brand of "gun control." In another, untitled piece, Consentino's steely-eyed 13-by-16-inch cast-iron schoolgirl takes steady aim with what appears to be a classic .45-caliber World War II military pistol.

While layers of complex social commentary can be read into practically everything in this show, many works could also be viewed as silly. Even something as serious as the Tiananmen Square massacre is distilled into a cartoonish parody. Of course, it may well be a pointed parody. Noted Randolph cartoonist/artist Phillip Godenschwager's "The Whole World Was Watching" is a 7-foot-tall sculpture featuring a hollow, 21-inch Motorola television topped by an oversized, archetypal tank. Its barrel is pointed directly at the viewer. The TV is chock-full of hundreds of gaudy toys, including little clowns, a tin chicken and a Statue of Liberty. Perhaps they represent the diverse dreams of the protesters with democratic aspirations who were wiped out by the People's Liberation Army on June 4, 1989. Or perhaps the creatures represent the "whole world" of television viewers who absorbed the horrific event from the comfort of their living rooms.

This is one of several works in the "Gun Show" that straddle a thin line between comedy and tragedy.