Castleton University Bank Gallery
Engaging, humorous, and disconcerting, Angelo Arnold’s quirky sculptures invite and mystify with their anthropomorphism. The figures seem displaced from their usual place in life. In Not Today, for instance, a feminine form, dressed in elegant brocade, sits demurely with legs and arms crossed. But this figure is, in fact, a deconstructed and re-constructed Chippendale chair, so deftly posed as to conjure the person who might have sat on it.
Arnold is a consummate craftsman, as well as an adept observer of the world. He consciously brings about a metamorphosis in his once-functional forms, so that they evoke memories, inspire stories, and introduce social commentary. Some pieces, such as the enticingly impossible Apathy—a chair supported on broom legs—are reconstructed with a mordant sense of humor. In this show, the tongue-in-cheek deconstructions were tempered by a growing sense of unease as one sculpture after another reiterated a feeling of emptiness. Each work is like a shell that seems to speak to a sense of “anomie,” Émile Durkheim’s famous word for a condition of instability resulting from a breakdown of standards and values.
Arnold makes some pithy comments on the state of our collective social landscape. This is undeniably clear in the towering Country vs Nation, composed of red, white, and blue cutouts of AK-47s. The guns point up, down, and in all directions. There is no getting away from them as they gather strength from each other. The gun tower is poised on a large rectangular base covered with printed phrases, black type on white paper—“I see the poverty begging for resources”; “I see the seemingly infinite choice of food to order at a single restaurant”—a flowing river of text that adds up to a clear critique of hierarchy, incivility, and inequality.
The Times made powerful use of the former bank vault in the gallery. Visitors passed through a two-foot-thick door, its stainless steel mechanism visible through heavy glass. At the center of the space, among the walls of empty safety deposit boxes, Arnold added a translucent white acrylic chest with a miniscule brass lock. With the sign for safety deposit hours still intact on the window outside the vault, The Times produced an overwhelming sense of futility. Everyone is gone. The entire protective mechanism is outmoded. Is this what workers feel like when their livelihood is taken away?
Arnold has his finger on the pulse of what is happening in the U.S. and around the world. By taking furniture, usually meant to provide comfort, and turning it into a tool to interrogate the status quo, he has made a cogent statement on the state of things. Engaging and thought-provoking as that is, the answer to the essential question of how to balance our lives remains beyond the forms.