If someone made a master list of uncomfortable dinner-table topics (that probably exists somewhere already, though), gun control probably would be in the top five. It’s a topic that requires the wherewithal to bring up painful and traumatic events in U.S. history, both recent and distant, and also requires that anyone discussing it buckle down for a long, grueling conversation. Or debate, depending on the company and the time of year.
At the moment — between the police shootings, a horrifying election cycle and the inauspicious rise of the alt-right — the subject feels especially charged. So naturally, now would be a good time to bring this controversial topic to an art gallery, right?
Co-curated by Dr. Anita Storm, Liz Gordon and Betty Ann Brown, “GUNS” features the work of 23 artists, including John Baldessari, Cheryl Dullabaun, Mark Steven Greenfield, Shepard Fairey, Kerri Sabine-Wolf, Meg Madison, Osceola Refetoff and Milo Reice. The curators hope that the show will offer a more nuanced view of the perennially divisive gun-control debate. It's a chance to see new works and revisit the style of established artists — but it's also about starting a dialogue in an unexpected space.
"I conceived of this idea shortly after the tragic shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, [Connecticut]," Storm told L.A. Weekly via email. "Wanting to bring about changes in gun-control laws and help people to understand responsible gun ownership, I looked for the best voice to express this. Art has a powerful and beautiful language and was the perfect pairing for this goal."
While the curators hoped to show all sides of the gun-control debate, they've invited Women Against Gun Violence for a panel.
"Having a panel discussion that includes a councilmember as well as parents of a child who didn't survive the Aurora tragedy (and other equally potent speakers) brings the issue off the walls of the gallery," Storm said. "Yes, the art is visually powerful and the spoken words augment their power."
In organizing the show, the curators invited a range of viewpoints. Some pieces blatantly reference violence and the NRA, while others depict guns in an aesthetically interesting way, letting the viewer come to her own conclusions.
"I don't want to take away guns from people who need them and obtain them properly and use them with care," Storm said. "Artwork was included that beautifully expressed whatever view was held by the artist."
Gallerist and co-curator Gordon reiterated the idea that the artists approach the issue of guns from a variety of angles. Working with them, she learned more about the many ways in which guns affect artists (and other people) through their specific socioeconomic situations.
"One of the artists I chose is Milo Reice, who has also created new work for this show," Gordon said. "His work reflects social issues that are from a black man’s perspective living in the United States, where he is raising his family."
The artists also engaged with what it means to own a gun — and the perceived value of guns. Some of the pieces in this show already existed, while other were created specifically for the exhibition. Many of them contain complex themes that the viewer needs to unravel — sometimes uncomfortable ones.
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"[Cheryl] Dullabaun created small panels, covered with gold leaf and intense blue paint to make them precious and jewel-like, and shot them [so they're] riddled with holes," Brown said. "Mark Steven Greenfield, who has dealt with issues of violence — especially interracial violence — selected two of his intense works for us to include."
Brown feels that using their different backgrounds as reference points – Storm’s a collector, Brown is an art historian and Gordon a gallerist — made for a much stronger show than if only one of them had curated the exhibition.
The artwork on the wall serves as a jumping-off point for complicated discussions — for those brave enough to engage in them.
GUNS is on display at the Loft at Liz’s, 453 S. La Brea Ave., Mid-Wilshire; Sept. 24 to Nov. 1. A curatorial walk-through with Betty Ann Brown will take place Wed., Oct. 5, 7-9 p.m. A panel discussion with Storm and Women Against Gun Violence will take place Sat., Oct. 15, 3-5 p.m.
CORRECTION: In an earlier version of this piece, artist Milo Reice was misidentified.