“I.M.A.G.I.N.E. Peace Now” is a noble undertaking. Metal artist Boris Bally invited metalsmiths to turn decommissioned guns into works of art.
But noble undertakings can be black and white. The premise of the exhibition, that gun violence is bad, doesn’t leave room for nuance. Activist art must open up the complexities of an issue, not simply message “good” or “bad,” and here there’s little exploration of the Second Amendment, or the divisiveness gun ownership has caused in this country.
Consequently, there’s a lot of preachy repetition — of statistics about gun violence, of equivalencies between guns and masculinity (so many penis metaphors!), of the danger to children.
This is an editing problem. Many of the more than 90 pieces are clever and pointed. Some run on humor and shock value. Stephen F. Saracino’s “Iowa House Bill File #2281,” depicting a holstered diaper, seems comically outrageous until you learn it refers to legislation permitting anyone under 14 to own a pistol, revolver, or ammunition, with parental supervision.
But points get dulled when made again and again. An exhibition half the size would have packed more punch.
The best works are the least obvious. Rob Jackson crafted a single-shot muzzleloader pistol into a single-shot espresso maker. The piece makes an argument: The Second Amendment was written when muskets fired one ball at a time. Measuring and tamping gunpowder for the next shot took the same time and skills you need to prepare a good cup of espresso. The forefathers weren’t anticipating Uzis.
“Single Shot” hits the spot because, like espresso, guns can boost adrenaline, make you jittery, or reinforce a sense of well-being. Rather than demonizing guns, the connection between a pistol and a cup of coffee asks us to look at what they mean to us.
Guns aren’t simplistically bad. They have emotional resonance. If this show had explored why they frighten and thrill us, rather than taken such an earnest stand, it would have had a lot more to say.
I.M.A.G.I.N.E. Peace Now
At Society of Arts + Crafts, 100 Pier 4 Blvd., through June 10. 617-266-1810, www.societyofcrafts.orgCate McQuaid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.