Angelo Arnold’s ‘Displaced’: When chairs aren’t chairs

By Victoria Crain
THE ARTS

Quirky, thought-provoking sculptures recently moved into the Castleton University Bank Gallery in downtown Rutland. Looking at them, one might imagine them having struck their poses all by themselves, because, though inanimate, they look nearly human.

Take the eight-legged chair. It seems to have scrabbled in the door and picked the prime real estate for itself. It is arresting: being both a chair and not a chair. While we take it for granted that a chair will have legs, possibly even eight, we do not allow for the legs to bend for climbing or walking. And a chair’s seat should be parallel to the floor, shouldn’t it? Not this chair. This chair’s seat is practically perpendicular to the floor. This chair is not for sitting. It is for wondering and looking. It’s out of the usual order.

In the Bank Gallery, the space is wide open and everything can be seen all at once. However, Angelo Arnold’s three-dimensional sculptures require a round trip for the total experience. Here’s another chair, built like a folding chair — but its diagonal legs are broomsticks. No sitting on this one either.

What is it about? Is it to reminisce about the good old chairs: the ones people could sit on, the ones that would carry the weight, the ones humans could use? No cat would choose these chairs for a cozy nap in the sun. These chairs relinquished their function when they cooperated with their creator Angelo Arnold. Do these chairs represent dysfunction? Or are they fanciful, as though they were furnishings for the Mad Hatter?

That could be true, but another current running through this exhibit suggests danger. There are guns everywhere. They are hiding in the teller’s cage of the old bank; they are camouflaged in fabric. But their silhouettes are unmistakable.

In the largest of Arnold’s sculptures, revolvers and assault weapons painted blood red, white and blue are stacked in a curving shape. The stack is set atop a platform covered with words, very small words, bearing the burden of guns piled high. The words say things like “I taste a fruit smoothie,” and “I see a man who is tired of working,” “I smell asphalt” or “I hear sirens.” They are statements about the immediate senses of being alive, but are covered with overwhelming firepower.

Everything in this exhibit is ambiguous except the guns. For example, an empty orange May West floating on a blue sea could mean a couple of things: It fell off the boat, the person in it slipped away. Either way, it’s of no use anymore. A sculpture made of table legs might be a funny take on gender confusion, or is it a comment about disguise? An upside down roof? Again, displaced and not doing its job.

The sculptures may be fanciful or humorous, except for the guns. Never funny. The guns, unlike the other objects, are full of function and they are both bold and stealthy. Arnold calls this exhibition “Displaced,” so I think the subject is dark.

“Displaced” is a collection of ingenious and perplexing work by an artist who, as he writes, uses “furniture as a catalyst to create direct and mental associations of daily life.” The objects and paintings are posing questions, looking for a conversation.

Viewers will be able to take in the show from now until March 3. There will be an artist’s reception 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 16.

Castleton University Bank Gallery

Castleton University Bank Gallery presents “Displaced,” sculpture by Northfield artist and Norwich University instructor Angelo Arnold, through Feb. 15, at 104 Merchants Row, Rutland. Hours are: noon to 6 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; call 802-282-2396, or go online to www.castleton.edu/arts/art-galleries/. An artist’s reception will be held 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 16.