The knotted gun

(art and twisted phallicity)

From the NYT on the 5th, “Carl Fredrik Reutersward, Known for Knotted-Gun Sculpture, Dies at 81” (by Daniel E. Slotnik):

Carl Fredrik Reutersward with his sculpture “Non-Violence” in Munich in 1996.

Some of his story, from the Times:

Carl Fredrik Reutersward, a whimsical Swedish artist whose sculpture of a pistol with a knotted barrel became an international symbol of peace, died on Tuesday in Helsingborg, Sweden. He was 81.

… Mr. Reutersward did not conform to any particular art movement. He painted riotous geometric abstracts, reminiscent of Miró or Kandinsky, and made often humorous conceptual works, like an Ernest Hemingway story with everything but punctuation marks removed.

“Carl Fredrik Reutersward is very much a man on his own in today’s art world,” John Russell wrote in a 1987 review in The New York Times. “Much of what he does is so light as to be almost weightless, but it has a distinct and curious flavor.”

Mr. Reutersward was inspired to create his knotted-gun sculpture after John Lennon, a friend, was shot and killed by Mark David Chapman in 1980. He turned a simple sketch of a twisted gun into a large bronze cast of a revolver with a barrel contorted to point at the sky.

Titled “Non-Violence,” the sculpture was first placed in Strawberry Fields in Central Park, across the street from the Dakota, the apartment building where Lennon lived with his wife, the artist Yoko Ono. In 1988, a version of the sculpture was placed at United Nations headquarters in Manhattan.

This is the biblical theme Swords into Ploughshares:

And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. — Isaiah 2:3–4 (KJV)

which is something of a Swedish national theme.

The Swedish Empire (in the 17th and early 18th centuries) controlled much of the Baltic region and was one of the great European powers. But most of its domains were given up or lost over time. Then, from Wikipedia:

In the early 19th century Finland and the remaining territories outside the Scandinavian Peninsula were lost. After its last war in 1814, Sweden entered into a personal union with Norway which lasted until 1905. Since 1814, Sweden has been at peace, adopting a non-aligned foreign policy in peacetime and neutrality in wartime. Sweden was neutral in World War I. Post-war prosperity provided the foundations for the social welfare policies characteristic of modern Sweden. Sweden created a successful model of democratic socialism. Sweden remained neutral during World War II, avoiding the fate of occupied Norway.

Part of the 19th-century story is the saga of Alfred Nobel (its own Swords into Ploughshares narrative). From Wikipedia:

Alfred Bernhard Nobel (… 21 October 1833 – 10 December 1896) was a Swedish chemist, engineer, innovator, and armaments manufacturer.

Known for inventing dynamite, Nobel also owned Bofors, which he had redirected from its previous role as primarily an iron and steel producer to a major manufacturer of cannon and other armaments. Nobel held 355 different patents, dynamite being the most famous. After reading a premature obituary which condemned him for profiting from the sales of arms, he bequeathed his fortune to institute the Nobel Prizes.

Given all this history, Reutersward’s most famous artwork seems deeply Swedish. He transformed a weapon of war into a symbol of peace — and, not coincidentally, transformed a symbol of aggressive male sexuality into one of impotence.

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