By Jane Miller
I walk through the front doors of the Visual Arts building and am promptly greeted by a naked male torso and a flash of blonde hair.
Although it may sound like it, this is not a scene in a Union College romance novel, but rather two pieces of furniture that are part of sculptor Angelo Arnold’s exhibit “UnRest.”
Arnold, a Vermont-based artist, refers to his creations as “Familiarture,” which he defines in his ‘artist statement’ as “an imagined environment of familiar upholstered objects with an unfamiliar twist.”
His self-dubbed “anthropomorphic” furniture sculptures are incredibly whimsical and thought provoking, right down to the name of each work.
The sculptures keep the viewer interested and perplexed as they fold into themselves and create wonderfully organic, rounded shapes.
While the pieces of furniture seem to not actually be functional, the majority of them are unexpectedly pleasing to the eye, although they may not reveal the full extent of their charm at first glance.
While many people quickly skim over the title card of an artwork, I believe that in Arnold’s case, the title is what really makes the artwork special.
A tall, elegant cream-colored chair with wooden arms crossed in front of it, rendering the chair unusable, confuses me at first until I take a look at the title, “Not Today.”
The confusion quickly turns into smirking appreciation as I understand that the chair is sassily refusing to let people seat themselves upon it. ‘Not Today’ seems to have a full-fledged personality of its own, which gives it humanistic qualities that furniture normally lacks.
Another piece of Arnold’s furniture that is full of character is a tan folded over futon-like mattress, with its legs up in the air, and its arms balancing on the platform.
It seems to be telling the viewer a story of a long, mischievous night out and, sure enough, the title card reads “An Eames, a Chippendale and an Ottoman walk into a bar….”
The idiosyncratic titles of each piece show how Arnold’s quirky and playful style reaches past the sculptures and into all aspects of the exhibit.
Angelo Arnold works as a professional artist out of his home and studio in Montpelier, Vermont. He received a MFA in both Studio Arts and Sculpture from Ohio State University in 2006.
Currently, he is a studio professor, teaching architecture, sculpture and design at Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont.
He uses mostly wood, foam and fabric in creating his upholstered furniture forms, and refers to them as “a platform to recall past memories.”
While I found his exhibit very pleasing both to the eye and the mind, others did not find the pieces quite as charming as I did. As I was viewing the exhibit, I heard many a confused question over his pieces “Torso Slouch” and “Hair Slouch.”
Arnold calls these pieces “Functional Furniture,” as they are actually meant to be both admired as art and used as furniture.
His “Slouch” series, which consist of ottoman-like cushions bolted vertically on a wall, provide a comfortable leaning area for someone who is standing and viewing the art.
Although I admire his combination of useful and artistic qualities in these pieces, I seemed to be not the only one who was taken aback by his application of digital prints as upholstery.
The zoomed in digital prints of a woman’s blonde hair and a male’s stomach surrounding his belly button did not strike me as having the same playful and more innocent quality that the rest of the pieces in his exhibit portrayed. I much preferred the pieces where he used more traditional upholstery methods and focused more on the unusual shape of the furniture itself.
Despite the initial puzzlement over some of Arnold’s pieces, I believe that “UnRest” is one of the quirkier and more peculiar, yet enjoyable exhibits that Union College has put on display. It provides viewers with new interpretations and stories about seemingly everyday pieces of furniture.
I encourage both artists and non-artists alike to view, interpret and discuss Angelo Arnold’s inspiring furniture sculptures.
“UnRest” will continue to be on display in the Visual Arts Building through December 15.