Flash forward to this spring when a display at the Cincinnati Art Museum by conceptual artist Todd Pavlisko is igniting similar debate. Crown, which opened on March 15, consists of a 36-inch brass cube with 19 holes in a plexiglass case with eight flat-screens flanking visitors as they approach the cube. What is so controversial about that? The audio and video on the flat-screens record, in slow motion, the firing of a Tactical 308 rifle by a sharpshooter within the walls of the Cincinnati Art Museum which is how the cube came to sustain its holes. Nineteen bullets were fired by a Navy SEAL in 2012 past masterpieces in the museum's Schmidlapp Gallery like Warhol’s “Soup Can” and Duveneck’s “Whistling Boy.”
Crown is both Pavlisko first solo museum exhibition in the town where he grew up and the Cincinnati Art Museum's first cross-disciplinary collaboration of this type. The rifle became an actual “drawing tool” says Pavlisko and the sharpshooter's use of physics to place each bullet on the brass cube are part of the artistic statement. To create Crown, which was "drawn" by a rifle in 2012 but delayed a year in presentation, the cube had to be placed in a ballistic bunker made especially for the project. The shooting was expected to cause an inward collapse of the cube, creating an imprint that resembles a crown and depicting the beauty of imperfection and transgression.
By re-enacting the bullets’ high-speed paths and sounds, the exhibit "collapses art history into a millisecond and then expands it again, slowing down the footage as the camera travels past icons," says the Cincinnati Art Museum. "The bullet is a docent for the art historical backdrop," agrees Pavlisko. "It waltzes people through the history and into modernism; and that would be the cube where the bullets came to rest. Then we'll show the whole installation amongst this institution in its more contemporary capacity, which in my eyes, is a full circle of art history."
Recording the path of the bullets also turns the Cincinnati Art Museum's pieces into perceiversrather than objects says Pavlisko. "I've edited this video to force the objects the bullet passed to act as voyeurs for the art that is happening." he said in an interview on WVXU radio in Cincinnati. "I've removed them from being the things that are looked at to becoming the things that are currently watching art take place." Crown references both the late Harold Edgerton's use of high-speed photography to record a bullet going through an apple and French filmmaker Jean Luc Godard's "Bande à part," in which the characters try to break the world record for running through the Louvre, writes Janelle Gelfand.