The new exhibition BOMBHEAD currently on display at the Vancouver Art Gallery is a testament to the profound change the world underwent on Aug. 6, 1945. The uranium bomb that fell on Hiroshima, Japan, at 8:15 a.m. local time immediately ended 80,000 lives.

The horror of the day created a shock that has spanned continents and decades, shaping a new human psychology in which the threat of sudden and complete nuclear destruction persistently is lodged .

Bruce Conner Bombhead, 1989/2002 pigment on RC photo paper, acrylic Private Collection © Estate of Bruce Conner/SODRAC (2018)

Bruce Conner, “Bombhead” 1989/2002, pigment on RC photo paper/acrylic. Private collection, copyright Estate of Bruce Conner/SODRAC (2018)

The trauma of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan — which was destroyed by an implosion-type plutonium bomb three days later — and the broader nuclear age that followed, profoundly has influenced artists like Japanese photographer Shomei Tomatsu and French painter Bernard Lorjou.

It also spawned new genres of art. The deeply avant-garde Butoh dance, anime, manga and post-World War II science fiction are all considered by art historians to be direct responses to this new reality.

BOMBHEAD, which runs through June 17, is a thematic exhibition that explores the continuing impact of the nuclear age through the work of artists, journalists and scientists.

Works for the exhibition were guest curated by John O’Brian, professor emeritus of art history, visual art and theory at the University of British Columbia. The artworks were selected primarily from the Vancouver Art Gallery’s permanent collection.

“We are very pleased to present BOMBHEAD, which explores the profound cultural and ecological impact of nuclear technologies through the art and visual culture of the nuclear era,” said Kathleen S. Bartels, director of the Vancouver Art Gallery.

“In a time marked by ongoing nuclear proliferation, this timely exhibition compels us to observe and reflect on the major role Canada has played in nuclear events since their emergence in the mid-20th century.”

Spanning the nuclear era from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, to the Fukushima Daiichi power plant meltdown in 2011, the exhibition brings together paintings, drawings, prints, sculpture, photographs, film and video that deal with this often-dark subject matter.

Gathie Falk, Boot Case with Nine Black Shoes, c. 1973, earthenware Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver Art Gallery Women’s Auxiliary Gallery Shop Funds, Photo: Rachel Topham, Vancouver Art Gallery

Gathie Falk, “Boot Case with Nine Black Shoes,” earthenware, copyright 1973. Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver Art Gallery Women’s Auxiliary Gallery Shop Funds (Photo: Rachel Topham, Vancouver Art Gallery)

Works from 30 artists are presented, including iconic 20th-century painters Robert Rauschenberg, Adolph Gottlieb and  David Hockney, as well as multidisciple artist Bruce Nauman, photographers Ishiuchi Miyako and Erin Siddall, sculptor Wang Du and text-based artist Jenny Holzer.

The show informs a parallel exhibition at the gallery, The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg, which runs through May 6, by renowned contemporary artist Takashi Murakami.

Takashi Murakami Flowers, owers, owers, 2010 acrylic and platinum leaf on canvas mounted on aluminum frame Collection of the Chang family, Taiwan © 2010 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Takashi Murakami, “Flowers, owers, owers” 2010,
acrylic and platinum leaf on canvas mounted on aluminum frame. Collection of the Chang family, Taiwan, copyright 2010 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All rights reserved

Recognized as one of North America’s most respected and innovative visual arts museums, the Vancouver Art Gallery was founded in 1931. It is located in downtown Vancouver, a few blocks from Stanley Park and Canada Place.

The museum is the fifth-largest in Canada and the largest in western Canada, and contains more than 11,000 works of art in its permanent collection — which grows by several hundred pieces every year— as well as a library and cafe. 

The institution founded the Institute of Asian Art within the gallery in 2014, which gives special attention to First Nations and Asia-Pacific Region artists.

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