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Centuries of bloodlust, cruelty, and tragedy are rendered in works made of comic books and plastic toys.

Ben Turnbull, Distress (2019). Courtesy the artist and Saatchi Gallery.

British 'Angry Pop' artist Ben Turnbull's retrospective American History RemiX opened at London's Saatchi Gallery yesterday.

The exhibition is a perplexingly gleeful romp through America's violent past and present.

Comic book collages depict the massacre of Native Americans and allude to the assassination of Martin Luther King. A horror movie poster portrait of convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein is made from magazine clippings of actresses and bondage gear.

Ben Turnbull, American Horror Story (2020). Courtesy the artist and Saatchi Gallery.

Turnbull's fascination with America extends to both its politics and its pop culture. While the subjects of his works are the perpetrators and victims of American violence, they're made out of products aimed at American children.

Created over the past 15 years, they include a Captain America figurine holding up Saddam Hussein's head, U.S. flags made from fallen plastic toy soldiers and Native American warriors, and a bloody Pez dispenser topped with Abraham Lincoln.

That Turnbull focuses on American violence and not the violence of other countries—his native Britain offers ample opportunities—is testament both to the pervasiveness of American cultural exports, and the centrality of violence to so much American entertainment.

Ben Turnbull, Bring Me the Head of Saddam Hussein (2008). Courtesy the artist and Saatchi Gallery.

Turnbull said he has worked to deliver 'the insider and outsider's perspective,' but most of the works feel safely distant from the all-too-real violence and the fear, grief, and anger it inspires.

The efforts that come closest to capturing those emotions are Turnbull's sculptures of guns and ammunition he carved into wooden school desks in a series inspired by the Cleveland Elementary School shooting in 1979. The desk works were made in 2008, nine years after the Columbine High School massacre and four years before the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

Ben Turnbull, And Justice for All (2012). Courtesy the artist and Saatchi Gallery.

American artists who explore their country's violence and the political forces that enable it include Jim Shaw, Jeffrey Gibson, and Nicole Eisenman.

American History RemiX continues until 17 July. —[O]

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