Art Focus: Capitalism in Question

Wall hangings and floor decor confront the viewer as they enter the main room of the Nichols Gallery. Each of the six pieces is the work of a featured artist in the exhibit, unique not only because of their materials but also because of their messages.

The exhibit is labeled “Capitalism in Question (Because It Is);” hearing this title, one might assume that Pitzer is once again attempting to “stick it to the man” by revealing the evils of capitalism. But this exhibit is not about just one option; rather, the point is to open the viewer’s mind to possibilities. As Pitzer’s website has it, “‘Capitalism in Question (Because It Is)’ explores our current economic predicament and range of alternative scenarios.”

Though a daunting subject for such a small gallery to undertake, the artists showcased handle the subject with aplomb. The six artists involved in the exhibit are Ian Arenas, Matthew Brandt, James Melinat, Gabie Strong, Kara Tanaka, and Grant Vetter.

The Nichols Gallery is very limited in size, consisting of one main room on the ground level, stairs, and a small hallway on the second floor. The benefit of the space is that a single display contains almost all of the pieces in the exhibit, as they cannot be spread out across multiple rooms. Better yet, when standing in the hallway on the second level, one can look down into the main gallery for a birds-eye view of the floor art.

The floor piece immediately draws the eye upon entrance. Kara Tanaka, the creator, calls it “Exodus 2025.” It is safe to assume that this addition to the exhibit is meant to be one of the “alternate scenarios” in question, and this particular scenario involves space. The piece’s construction involved nylon, polyester, aluminum, and tubing, all put together to create what appear to be pods. Each pod has a label with the statement “Exodus 2025 Camps Santo: Organic Endurance in The Open Universe.” One of the pods is unzipped, revealing a sleeping bag-like center. This piece looks like it might serve as space gear, and viewers can imagine themselves in such a future scenario.

“Datum” by Gabie Strong, is a standout. The artist chose this word, the singular for “data,” as the title of her work because each photo shows either a grouping of books or a single book, all about either national defense, the military, or weapon records. The photos are truly striking beside each other, though at first the photos appear to be books lined up in a library. Looking closely at the books, however, the pictures’ titles, which include Military Ideology and U.S. Weapons System Cost, make the viewer uneasy.

I couldn’t make heads or tails of “Collateral 2” by Grant Vetter. The piece is 60.5 inches by 144 inches, oil on canvas. The canvas is split into three sections; the outer two are white and red oil paint in a textured swirl. The center is black and smooth. The title suggests the system of loans and payments in a capitalist structure, but I find it hard to see any sort of connection to this system in the painting itself.

The exhibit’s greatest strength is its ability to push the viewer’s imagination. The pieces’ messages are not apparent at first glance, but instead force the onlooker to question.

The gallery is free, and open Mondays through Fridays from noon until 5 p.m. The exhibit will be on display until Mar. 19.

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