Sandow Birk: “American Qur'an,” and Al Farrow: “Reliquaries”

Since 2004, Sandow Birk has painstakingly drawn an English-language version of the Quran, with an emphasis on “drawn.” Birk's holy book is meant to be appreciated as gallery fare — to be gazed at for the modern paintings of U.S. vistas and news scenes (immigration arrests in Arizona, weekend skiers readying for fun, prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, etc.) that illuminate each page and recontextualize the ancient words attributed to God. This exhibition highlights the latest chapters of Birk's strikingly original “American Qur'an” project, and pairs the Southern California–based Birk with Al Farrow, who also specializes in social realist work. Based in the Bay Area, Farrow creates TV-sized religious buildings — mosques, synagogues, churches, and the like — from handguns, bullets, missiles, and other military hardware. The edifices are surreal, disconcerting, and ultimately gorgeous to look at. Especially powerful is Bombed Mosque, a gold and turquoise grandiosity whose dome has been made to look caved-in by an act of violence. The twinning of Birk and Farrow — a double feature that contemplates the intersection of art, religion, and current events — may well be the gallery show of the year.

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