Pitzer’s Lenzner Family Art
Gallery hosted the opening reception of Vanitas,
an exhibit by Long Beach-based artist Matthew Ohm on Jan. 21. Ohm’s project is the sixth edition of the Lenzner Gallery’s Emerging Artist Series, which has been in progress for the past four years. The series showcases up-and-coming artists in the
Los Angeles area. Curator Ciara Ennis, who joined the Pitzer community four years
ago, said the Emerging Artist Series is one of her favorite exhibitions at
Ohm’s project focuses on the relationship between the man-made
and the natural; the centerpiece of Vanitas
is dozens of whitewashed tree branches that hang from the ceiling.
“I think this is a powerful installation. Ohm has created a
chilling, suspenseful environment. It is like an upside-down enchanted forest. All of the braches have been taken from one
tree and have then been whitewashed and suspended from the ceiling, increasing the already claustrophobic nature of the space,” Ennis said.
Ennis specified that the tree branches, which were all cut
from the same Northern California tree, were cut to be the exact same height
and therefore create perfect lines of branches over the audience members’ heads. Simultaneously,
the shadows of the branches stretch unevenly across the walls, adding
a sense of mystery to the project room. The scattered shadows take away from
the perfection of the whitewashed branches overhead.
The project room that showcases the Emerging Artist Series has a low, 7.5-foot ceiling and an uneven shape. Ennis described
that, although the shape of the room creates a challenge, it inspires innovation, requiring artists to
be experimental with the space. Rather than simply producing aesthetically pleasing projects, Ennis seeks out developing artists who are challenging norms
and taking risks with their work.
“My one caveat is that the artist
should push beyond their comfort zone and attempt to really challenge
themselves. A project room is all about, by definition, taking risks. So it’s
essential for me that they do that. They [shouldn’t] just reproduce something that
they have already done. I want something that pushes their boundaries and thus
pushes ours,” Ennis said.
Ennis described her
dream of having an artist-in-residence program at Pitzer in the future. The
program would allow visiting artists to reside on campus and continuously work
on their projects for months at a time. While an artist-in-residence program does not currently exist at Pitzer, the artists who participate in the Emerging
Artist Series spend a lot of time on campus and are therefore able to interact
with the 5C community. Students are encouraged to enter the project room and
ask the artists questions as well as observe their creative processes. Ennis
emphasized that having artists working on campus has a positive impact on Pitzer as well as on the whole 5C community.
“Having somebody working on campus can demystify
the artistic process,” Ennis explained.
Ennis also highlighted the interdisciplinary nature of the
Emerging Artist Series. The majority of the artists who have participated in
the series aimed to send a message to their audience through their projects. While
some projects were intended to be forms of social activism, others conveyed more
philosophical or abstract messages. Because of the powerful meanings behind the
visual projects, the Emerging Artist Series draws interest from students in various
really love when the exhibition can have a visible and palpable impact on the
campus community,” Ennis said.
Vanitas is on display in Pitzer’s
Lenzner Family Gallery until March 23.