Sentiment is strong, focus weak in BAUhouse show about violence


September 23, 1992|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Art Critic

A review in Wednesday's Today section of the BAUhouse exhibit "Collateral Damage: The Unseen Cost of Gun Violence" incorrectly attributed the quote, "All guns and armies must be dismantled." The quote should have been attributed to the work of Diego Marcial Rios.

+ The Sun regrets the errors.

It would be easy simply to praise "Collateral Damage: The Unseen Cost of Gun Violence" for its sincerity, its admirable intentions, and its sometimes moving messages. But it's more complicated than that.

This is a mail art show, organized by artist Mary Ann Crowe, who followed the rules for such shows: You announce it as widely as possible, and whatever comes in the mail you include.


In this case there were more than 100 entries from more than a dozen countries. Obviously, given the rules, there are no standards of artistic achievement, and so it's impossible to judge the show as art. True, the whole history of modern art is in part a revolt against "standards," and in the present climate anyone who so much as mentions the word quality is thought at best a hopeless reactionary; but if some of the work on these walls is to be considered art simply because it's there, then critics may as well pack up and go home.

Take the show on its own terms, however, and there are still problems. It is a show about the effects of gun violence, mainly by those who have been affected by it, and there's no denying that at times it's deeply moving. One cannot be unmoved by the words of Marlene Foote-White, who has lost three family members to gun violence. One cannot be unmoved by the words of James Lawrence, now in his 40s, who still dreams of the boyhood experience of seeing his mother beaten, raped and shot at. One cannot be unmoved before the submission of Mina Komarec of Yugoslavia, whose message, even if the English isn't perfect, comes through loud and clear: "STOP DO IT."

There's also no denying, however, that by its very nature an all-inclusive show, even if on a specific subject, is going to lack focus to some extent. This one would undoubtedly have been more effective if it had been restricted to, say, urban gun violence. As it is, it also includes works that deal with Yugoslavia, Vietnam, apartheid, the Alamo, the environment(?), Marilyn Monroe(??).

When you include a work that says, as Steve Shepard's does, both "stop killing" and "kill real estate developers," you are mixing your message to some extent. When you say, as Gene Wesley Elder does, "all guns and armies must be dismantled," the sentiment cannot be quarreled with, but it's about as realistic as thinking you can stop the world and get off.

And what are we to think of a show whose curator's statement refers to "tabloid headlines and media sensationalism," but that bombards the viewer with images of and references to guns (I stopped counting at 129), blood and death? We all know this show is anti-violence, but no doubt the tabloids -- if accused of sensationalism for showing violence -- would also justify themselves by saying that they show it to bring it to people's attention and thereby marshal public opinion against it. That is not to say that media sensationalism is good or that this show should not be; it is to say that the depiction of violence is problematic in any context, even that of anti-violence.

'Collateral Damage'

Where: The BAUhouse, 1713 N. Charles St.

When: Tuesdays and Thursdays noon to 6 p.m., Wednesdays and Fridays 3 to 6 p.m., Saturdays noon to 4 p.m. Through Oct. 16.

Call: (410) 659-5520.

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