The Spine and Tooth of Santo Guerro, 2007. Guns, bullets, shot, steel, glass, bone, and 15th-century textile, 64 x 50.5 x 74 in. Courtesy Catharine Clark Gallery, San Francisco.

Al Farrow’s Modern-Day Reliquaries

To say that Al Farrow’s work achieves strong visual effect grossly understates the success of his recent “Twentieth Century Reliquaries” series. Consider the most important piece—The Spine and Tooth of Santo Guerro, an enormous sculpture that at first glance appears to replicate the form of a Gothic cathedral. Close inspection, however, reveals that the entire structure is formed by a jaw-dropping quantity of ammunition (bullets, as well as lead and steel shot) and more than 200 deconstructed guns. The impact is immediate and physical. The viewer recoils—sometimes in shock, sometimes with a smile, and often in confusion at the contradictions behind this juxtaposition of religious imagery and military materials. Reactions become even more confused when one discovers that a human tooth presides over the transept door and a human spine lies inside the nave on a silk-covered platform.