Opening reception for the exibition
The Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture hosts a reception for Gun Show, an exhibition of more than 100 life-size replicas of assault rifles created by artist David Hess from “rescued” objects. The exhibition is curated by Kathy O’Dell, associate professor of visual arts and special assistant to the dean for education and arts partnerships, who will both be in attendance.
David Hess started assembling life-size sculptures of assault rifles from what he calls “rescued” objects — ranging from an old black sneaker and vintage turquoise sewing machine, to a raggedy crutch and pink Barbie bike frame — decades ago, increasing his pace of production following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in 2012. While he has shown some of the works since 2015, Gun Show at UMBC is the first presentation of all 112 sculptures. Hess aims for this project to foster dialogue about one of the most volatile issues of our time – guns, who should or should not own them, whether or not to legislate them, ramifications of their use or misuse, and how issues of race, class, gender identity, and age impact every aspect of these questions.
The exhibition displays the guns on the floor, laid out on tarpaulins, recalling the presentation of bodies awaiting identification following disasters, or the arrangement of confiscated weapons at police headquarters. The distinction between real and fake, authentic and replicated, factual and fictional are critical to consider, whether in the context of popular video shooter games or of toy guns. The latter is especially important in many cities, including Baltimore, where the possession of “replica guns” has been banned in light of the increasing number of people (usually young men and boys, and, in Baltimore, usually black) being shot by law enforcement mistaking toy guys for actual ones.
Artist David Hess harvests contrasting forms and materials to create a collision between the man-made and natural worlds. Hess refers to these artifacts as “rescued objects,” suggesting that these materials are loaded with history and cultural narrative – making them not only worthy of salvage, but of incorporation and preservation. At Dartmouth College, Hess studied with realist wood sculptor Fumio Yoshimura, whose precision and humor had a profound impact. Concentrated studies at Dartmouth in pre-med, engineering, Japanese design and filmmaking continue to inform his current studio practice. From these he draws upon methods of observation, object making and constructing narrative in his creation of commissioned furniture, sculpture, architectural elements and public art projects.
Hess’s work has been exhibited at Goya Contemporary in Baltimore and the John Elder Gallery in New York. His work can be found in numerous private and public collections, including the American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore/Washington International (BWI) Thurgood Marshall Airport, Johns Hopkins Hospital, Sinai Hospital, Montgomery College, Kaiser Permanente, and the Emerson Corporation in St. Louis, Missouri. In addition, he has completed over twenty public art commissions in and around Baltimore, Rockville, and Germantown, and Washington, D.C.
Kathy O’Dell, the curator of Gun Show, teaches and writes on modern and contemporary art, with a focus on performance and global art. The author of Contract with the Skin: Masochism, Performance Art, and the 1970s (University of Minnesota Press, 1998), she has published numerous articles and reviews in Art in America, Artforum, Performance Research, TDR: The Drama Review, Women & Performance, and other journals. Currently, she is writing a book titled The Dot: A Small History of a Big Point and is co-writing, with Duke University Professor Kristine Stiles, a survey text titled World Art Since 1933. O’Dell is associate professor of visual arts (art history & museum studies) at UMBC, as well as special assistant to the dean for education & arts partnerships. She serves on the Board of the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance and the Maryland State Commission on Public Art.
Photos by Geoff Graham.