Al Farrow’s exhibition of reliquaries, religious ritual objects, and religious architecture builds on his exploration of religious history and violence. Developed from his interest in reliquaries, Farrow has rendered architectural replicas in the form of mosques, synagogues, and churches. His choice of sculptural materials include deconstructed guns, bullets, glass, steel, bone, and found objects from antiquity, such as a vintage Torah cover and pieces of 16th century Italian velvet. Farrow’s unsettling juxtaposition of content—symbolic religious structures with weaponry and history-laden found objects—is both visually stunning and emotionally confounding. The exquisite craftsmanship of each object seduces the viewer into closer examination and then serves to provoke questions about the aestheticism of violence, the relationship between organized religion and war, the repetition of history, and the evolution of battle. Farrow’s broad selection of religious sanctuaries resists a critique of any one specific belief system, but rather pointedly engages organized religion as a whole. New to this exhibition are a series of Jewish ritual objects and Christian “casket” style reliquaries rendered from munitions.
Included in the exhibition is Bombed Mosque, Farrow’s most ambitious piece to-date. On initial view one is overwhelmed by the exquisitely detailed turquoise and gold mosque, complete with numerous arches and crowned with a shimmering gold onion dome or amrud (guava dome). A closer look reveals the details and weaponry that compose the structure: patterns formed by shot and bullet casings with varied patinas, guns forming the archways and minarets, and a trigger standing in as the crescent moon finial atop the dome. On the other side of the structure is evidence of massive destruction. Through deceptively meticulous demolition, the artist exposes a deep chasm in the dome covered in scorch marks and riddled with shrapnel—one can only assume the structure has been bombed. The monumental sculpture, which took more than a year to create, is made with over 50,000 bullets and shell casings and weighs 780 lbs.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Al Farrow has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for more than forty years. An accomplished sculptor in a wide variety of media, Farrow generally adopts the language of an historical period in his work, updating the imagery or materials to make cogent observations about contemporary society and to reconcile disparate, and on occasion opposing narratives and histories. Past projects have included bowls created in the style of the Mimbres culture, an indigenous people who lived in what is now the southwest and northern Mexico. In the Mimbres Series, Farrow painstakingly painted in the indigenous people’s traditional style using a single reed brush to render images of B-1 bombers, radiation symbols, tanks and other military images. In recent years he has used munitions—bullets, guns, hand grenades, bombs—to make three-dimensional projects that resemble Christian reliquaries, Islamic mosques, and Jewish synagogues. In 2008, Farrow’s work was the subject of a solo exhibition at the San Francisco Fine Arts Museum (the de Young), curated by Timothy Anglin Burgard, and accompanied by a monograph also published by the museum.
Al Farrow’s work is included in the public collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the San Jose Museum of Art, 21c (Louisville, Kentucky); the de Young Museum (Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco); and the collection of the Government of the State of Israel. He has exhibited with Catharine Clark since 1994 and has also exhibited with galleries in Washington DC and Brussels. Currently his work is included in the exhibitions at Art Mûr, Montreal, Canada; Central Trak, UT Dallas, Texas; Cincinnati Art Museum, Ohio; Aeroplastics, Brussels, Belgium; and di Rosa, Napa, California.