Spy art openings an occasional top secret

Associated Press

Art show openings are usually exclusive affairs, but rarely has there been an opening so exclusive that the price of admission is a top-secret security clearance.

The invitation for ''Junkanimation,'' an exhibit at CIA headquarters in Virginia, modestly described it as a “display of military modeling and art deco sculpting,” Jim Wilson wrote in an article in the current issue of Popular Mechanics, but after passing through two security checkpoints, the viewer will realize that there is nothing ordinary about the artist or his choice of materials.

For 24 years, artist Charles ''Chase'' Brandon had a day job with the CIA - as a spy. Brandon lived and worked abroad as an undercover agent with an alias.

What's even more unusual than Brandon's choice of occupations prior to his recruitment by the CIA - he was working as a machinist and studying for a Ph.D. in linguistics - is his choice of art materials.

The invitation to Brandon's exhibit described his work as made from ''everyday scrap.'' But everyday material in the spy business is often exotic to the rest of us.

For the past 12 years, Brandon has been making his sculptures from the remains of some of the Cold War's most fearsome weapons. When the former Soviet Union collapsed, the CIA decided it was OK for his collection to come out of the cold.

Besides just being interesting to look at, Brandon's sculptures made from ''found objects'' provide insights into Soviet warfare capabilities. In many of his pieces, Brandon displays a sampling of the source material next to the finished work. Shell casings from spent cartridges, for example, reveal that Soviet ammunition workers had none of the quality-control problems that plagued the country's automobile industry.

One of Brandon's works provides a rare glimpse at the internal working of the much vaunted MiG-21. Parts from the jet fighter's communications gear, which are intermixed with VCR parts, include old-fashioned vacuum tubes.

In addition to fashioning artwork from weapons, Brandon has made his own interpretations of U.S. and Soviet weapons.

After making the rounds at various intelligence organizations in the Washington, D.C., area, a ''declassified'' version of “Junkanimation” will be displayed at more public locations.