Walking into the Handwerker Gallery, observers are bombarded by the neon orange background of the painting “Art Department.” The painting is a smattering of stereotypical artist characters sitting in groups. A man dressed in all black, presumed to be a French artist, rests idly on a chair deep in thought. In the corner, a group of men watch a model as she poses in a chic black dress with a top hat resting on her fluffy black hair; bright red gloves adorn her hands and arms. A leafless black tree stands tall in the center of the painting as the other artists appear to latch to its sides. The scene is meant to provoke viewers to think about the representation of female sexuality in the media.
The bright colors of the painting almost seem to glow on the dark green walls of the gallery. “Art Department” is a part of this season’s first exhibit called “Spectacle Spectacular: Cautionary Tales and Other Stories.” The gallery held its opening reception Sept. 3 and will continue to show through Oct. 11.
The show, a traveling exhibition that has already been to galleries across the country, features the works of Dawn Hunter. The images, meant to focus on fashion and its role in society, are taken from fashion magazine Vogue in attempts to change the onlooker’s perception of these classic images in order to convey her theme.
Hunter began the project in the spring of 2005, but the original idea came about 20 years ago while she was attending graduate school. Her professor at the time asked the class to look at the images in a magazine over a three-year period.
Hunter said she was most intrigued by the change from the 1960s, when many magazines recommended that women diet and exercise for the body they wanted, to the 1990s, when magazines began encouraging women to seek plastic surgery as an option for change.
“[The exhibition] has to do with those key points in time when women begin to objectify themselves and focus on thinking of themselves as malleable objects,” she said.
Hunter will discuss her work at 4:30 p.m. Sept. 30 at the gallery. She will also hold a workshop for students where she plans to share the connections she found between media and the images of women.
“[Because of this project], I am now really aware of the interconnectedness of the media,” she said. “I see where trends happen and how that affects how people see themselves — the sort of abstract underbelly that is functioning.”
Cheryl Kramer, director of the Handwerker Gallery and art professor at the college, said she has been pleased with the decision to feature Hunter’s work, as the exhibit has received such an impressive student response.
“This [exhibit] does speak volumes to the student population,” Kramer said. “We’re bringing a host of new students in and they’re excited.”
Junior Ben Johnson said he found the exhibit interesting because of the message it clearly displayed and the artist’s use of different styles.
“It goes through a variety of presentations,” Johnson said. “You get almost sexual visuals of women and glamorous visuals, then to mixing that with vanity.”
Johnson refers specifically to the piece titled “Save Nothing.” The painting depicts a blond woman dressed in expensive business attire — a black pencil skirt and white blouse — reclining in an airplane chair. The chair sits in the middle of the jungle while a tiger rests in a tree nearby. The sad eyes of the tiger stare down at the ground, a vibrant mix of colors that clash with the depressing image. The woman lies oblivious to this world in the chair.
Junior Julia Melrose said she was also impressed by the artist’s message in this painting, as well as her artistic style of mixing ink and graphite in all the paintings.
“The lines she used are all very harsh, but it comes together in a very fluid way,” she said.
Kramer said Hunter’s artwork links the media’s selective images with the female conscious — something she has not thought of before.
“[The artist] engages mass media and pop culture, and we haven’t had the two engaged before,” Kramer said. “She illustrates the continuum that the fashion industry has had on gender and female identity.”
“Spectacle Spectacular: Cautionary Tales and Other Stories” will show through Oct. 11 in the Handwerker Gallery.