'Bombing 101'


Bombing 101

Dean Johnson Gallery

Through Sept. 3

Monsters, menacing turtles, mushroom clouds, Uncle Sam and killer rats ... welcome to Bombing 101, one of the darkest exhibitions to cast shadows on the Indianapolis art scene in recent memory. And it hangs at Dean Johnson Gallery, of all unlikely places. Dean Johnson generally shows the epitome of safe, high-quality design art with some sharper edges thrown in for good measure. So what is the likes of graffiti art doing here?

Brushing such questions aside, I'd rather just be glad such provocative art exists in these parts, and there's a venue for it, to boot. Promotional materials tantalize with the tagline "Bridge Collective presents collaborative art as an explosive weapon" - and that's no lie. Photography, graffiti/anime art and sometimes a combination of these strike a hot-tempered pose as Bridge Collective artists explore violence, the Vietnam War and Agent Orange. The past, of course, is almost always circling back to the present; our current political climate is evidence, and is suggested here as well.

Artists Matthew D. Lawrence, Mike Graves, Joslyn "Josie" Virgin, Aaron Reynolds and graffiti artist BAKS work over and under and next to one another in a minefield of in-your-face art with few subtleties (or subtitles - I couldn't make out much of the graffiti). But this is its strength: The only soft lines are the ironic curves of an atom bomb or the feminine lines of Josie Virgin's photographs inspired by the tragedy of her uncle's death after a long struggle from Agent Orange-induced leukemia.

In the interest of full disclosure, I'm a former colleague of Josie's mother, Jan Virgin (a connection I hadn't made until I saw her mother's face loom large in one of the photographs). When Jan told me the story of her donation of blood to her brother over the course of several plane trips when her children were small, we were somewhere in central Oregon on a press trip for Dance Kaleidoscope. The emotional resonance of that event for her family is brought to life vividly in Josie Virgin's dusty, sepia-toned photographs of a woman in an off-the-shoulder camouflage dress, combat boots and a rifle slung over her shoulder, striding long and sure beside a field.

And these are the subtle images in the show. (No subtitles required.)

Equally affecting are collaborative works such as "Welcome to the Future," an oversized photo-transfer of a grey, flattened city over which a colorful outline of a Buddha in lotus position floats. "Hell's Angels," another collaborative piece, offers silver/metallic graffiti over bombs falling through the sky from "B-17 Flying Fortresses striking back at the Third Reich."

And there's more. Much more.

Brace yourself for the charge and check out Bombing 101 at Dean Johnson Gallery through Sept. 3, 646 Massachusetts Ave., 317-634-8020. Proceeds of sales benefit local POWMIA chapters and families affected by Agent Orange.


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