Wednesday, May 4, 2016

ART too dangerous to display in the Houston Chronicle

The gun was part of my art. UH said no.

Is some art too dangerous to display?

May 2, 2016
The original version of "ARTGun," by artist Alton DuLaney. The University of Houston denied him permission to display the work as intended. Through May 14, a gun-less version is on view at Blaffer Art Museum.
I am an artist. I make art. In my work I examine the concepts of pride, power, and patriotism, especially as it relates to art.

Having recently moved back to my native Texas to obtain an MFA through the University of Houston, I have been fascinated with the discourse about guns — especially the loaded (pun intended) topics of concealed handgun licenses, licenses to carry, and campus carry.

I wanted to create a piece of art that took a neutral stance on the controversial subject, while at the same time commenting of the omnipresence of guns in the American culture. I quickly learned that getting a gun in Texas is much easier than getting an MFA.

For the annual exhibition of student art at UH's Blaffer Art Museum, I created a piece called "ARTGun": A real .22 revolver, not loaded, in a glass frame, with a cartoon-like "Bang" flag protruding from its barrel.

People familiar with art history will see that I was drawing on a long list of artists who've gone before me. I used the same caliber of gun that artist Chris Burden used "Shoot," the famous 1971 performance in which he had an assistant shoot him in the arm. I referenced Marina Abramovic, who in a 1974 performance laid out a table with 72 items, including a loaded gun, and invited artists to do as they saw fit. Then there's Andy Warhol (with his famous portrait of a gun­slinging Elvis), Marcel Duchamp (and his exploration in the beauty of the ready­made), Roy Lichtenstein (with his comic book approach to Pop Art), and even Mel Chin (who has exhibited works of art relating to both firearms and ammunitions at the Blaffer Art Museum).

The gun-less version of "ARTGun" — along with the artist's statement and a statement by Blaffer Art Museum — is part of the Blaffer's annual student art exhibiton.

When I proposed this piece for the show, I was advised by the UH police and legal departments that "the gun is not to be allowed on campus...(and) the matter is closed." Despite my efforts, and those of the museum, the piece was forbidden from being exhibited in its original form.

I have chosen to include the piece in the show anyway — only without the gun that was central to its original conception.

The situation brings up interesting questions:
­When a thing (a revolver) is designated an artifact (an art object object) is it still regarded as contraband (a weapon)?
­How is an unloaded piece of industrial design securely framed and under glass hanging on the wall as art, in a museum with security and cameras, still considered inherently and prohibitively dangerous?
­Does art have the power to transform things, appearances, beliefs, opinions?
­Is this object so powerful and taboo that it can't even be allowed into the building?
­Can we as a society see guns on TV and in movies, and even out on the street, but not in the museum?
­Is a museum a sacred space?
­By not allowing the gun into the the exhibition, was even more power given to the object, and thereby validate the power of the ART by censoring it?

When: 10-5, Tuesdays-Saturdays, through May 14.
Where: Blaffer Art Museum, University of Houston, 4173 Elgin.
How much: Free.

Read the article in The Houston Chronicle
Alton DuLaney is an artist and MFA student at the University of Houston. Check out more Gray Matters. Is this object so powerful and taboo that it can't even be allowed into the building?


  1. Well duh they are not going to let you put that up, Houston has some of that worst gun violence in the USA. You should go and try living in or around some of those neighborhoods and I bet your mind would change quickly about guns, there are enough killings Daily in Houston by guns, and honestly I see no fascination with them unless you are in a gang or a hunter.

  2. Old news now, but that's my point exactly - that guns are allowed legally all over campus, the city of Houston, and the great state of Texas, but not on display under glass in a museum with security cameras and museum staff watching.