Gun Show

Visual Arts
Gun Show
September 4 – October 14
Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture

The Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture presents 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.

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.

Read more about the exhibition at UMBC News.

Hear artist David Hess and Kathy O’Dell in conversation with WYPR’s Tom Hall on Midday here.

Public Programs

Kathy O’Dell, curator of Gun Show, will present “free hour” gallery talks on the dates listed below. Reservations are not required, but attendees are asked to arrive as close to noon as possible. (Those who wish to arrange a time outside those listed for Dr. O’Dell to speak with a class or a group may email her at

Friday, September 15, 12 – 1 p.m.
Wednesday, September 20, 12 – 1 p.m.
Friday, October 6, 12 – 1 p.m.
Wednesday, October 11, 12 – 1 p.m.

Gun Show: Handling, Questioning, Discussing
Thursday, October 5, 4 p.m
Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture and the Fine Arts Amphitheater

Curator Kathy O’Dell opens her essay in the brochure that accompanies Gun Show with this question: “How does it feel to hold a gun?” At this event, starting at 4:00 p.m. at the CADVC and then moving to the Fine Arts Amphitheater, attendees will have an opportunity to explore that question as they view and handle (if they so wish) a selection of David Hess’s sculptures/facsimile guns currently on display in his exhibition. As attendees participate in the viewing and handling, special guests will be present to facilitate small group discussions on many of the wide-ranging issues that arise around guns: who does or does not own them, who should or should not own them, whether or not to legislate them, safe ways to use them, ramifications of their use or misuse, and how issues of race, class, gender, and age are embedded in these questions.

Special Guests:
  • Amy Berbert, ’17 visual arts, creator of the photography project Remembering the Stains on the Sidewalk
  • Chinen Aimi Bouillon, Curator-In-Residence for The Feminist Art Project – Baltimore (TFAPB) & UMBC graduate student in Intermedia and Digital Arts (IMDA)
  • Richard Chisolm, ’82 interdisciplinary studies, creator of Guns and Choices (15 minute excerpt from in-progress feature film on view at Gun Show)
  • Firmin DeBrabander, MICA faculty in Humanistic Studies and author of Do Guns Make Us Free? Democracy and the Armed Society 
  • Paul Dillon, UMBC deputy chief of police
  • Liz Faust, MICA alumna, MFA Curatorial Practice thesis on David Hess’s Gun Show
  • “Mama Rashida” Forman-Bey, program director, WombWork Productions, Baltimore
  • David Hess, artist, Gun Show
  • Hank Mink, technician, Department of Mechanical Engineering, advisor to UMBC Rifle & Pistol Club
  • Dominic Nell, artist (Nell Aware House), community activist (For My Kidz, Kids Safe Zone), entrepreneur (City Weeds, MyNiche)
  • Sheri Parks, associate professor of American Studies, University of Maryland, College Park, and frequent commentator on WYPR
A reception at the CADVC will  follow the event.

Plan Your Visit

Admission to the exhibition and all related programming is free and open to the public.

The Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is located in the Fine Arts Building. For more information call 410-455-3188.

Click here for directions and parking information.

Photos by Geoff Graham and Marlayna Demond ’11.

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