WSG gallery hosts show of gowns embroidered with guns

Michael H. Hodges, Detroit News Fine Arts Writer

“The Gun Show” by Valerie Mann at Ann Arbor’s WSG gallery is small, intensely colorful, and also a kick in the shins and a total hoot. The show is up through Sept. 10.

It’s a kick to the shinbone because the subject is guns and mass murder, with art objects emblazoned with the weapons of choice from attacks ranging from the recent Orlando, Florida, gay-nightclub shootings to the 2012 movie-house massacre in Aurora, Colorado.

“The Gun Show” is also sort of a scream because the artifacts in question are glitzy evening gowns (and one little black dress), elegantly stitched with the unforgiving outlines of Glocks and semi-automatic rifles.

Yet it all ends up seeming remarkably ... high fashion, at least until you read the accompanying label, and discover what atrocity each gown represents.

Mann is something of an artistic polymath. Her sculptural bird mobiles were featured in a 2013 show at the Art & Environment Gallery at the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources, while her affecting watercolor landscapes of Michigan, Iowa and Nebraska have been been in shows throughout the Midwest.

The Ann Arbor artist has also done an intriguing series of “Evening Bags for the Midwestern Woman.” Indeed, “The Gun Show” also features a number of purses and clutches, including one rather dazzling number made out of blue acrylic stenciled with the black outline of a semi-automatic weapon.

Another small handbag features a gold revolver — for those dressy occasions when nothing less than gold will do.

In her artist’s statement, Mann notes that the “Gun Show” project was easier to contemplate than to actually pull off, once she immersed herself in the details of the mass killings.

And while each of the five gowns on display refers to a specific atrocity, Mann says, “I don’t have enough exhibition space at WSG to have a gown for every shooting” that’s shaken the nation over the past decade or two.

Indeed, that would be a dismally crowded show.

Mann also confesses that after working on drawing after drawing of various guns, “I shocked myself ... when I admitted how sexy they were. The lines, the weight, the way they’re designed to fit into one’s hand...”

See if you don’t find her shocking evening gowns sexy, too.

(313) 222-6021

Twitter: @mhodgesartguy

‘The Gun Show’

Through Sept. 10

WSG Gallery, 306 S. Main, Ann Arbor

Noon-6 p.m. Tues.-Thurs. noon-9 p.m. Fri.-Sat.;

noon-5 p.m. Sun.

(734) 761-2287