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“Musical Chairs” exhibition a meditation on economic crisis

By Miriam Hodgman

Circular Thinking(1)SIERRA ARTS FOUNDATION NEWS RELEASE – The Sierra Arts Foundation proudly presents “Musical Chairs,” an exhibition of paintings by Berkeley artist Dean Hunsaker from June 4 through June 26, at its gallery in the historic Riverside, 17 South Virginia Street, in Reno. An artist reception will be held on Thursday, June 5, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., to coincide with Art Spot Reno’s First Thursday Art Walk. The reception is sponsored by Wild River Grille.

The series of paintings “Musical Chairs” by Hunsaker presents a meditation on the current economic crisis. The children’s game Musical Chairs teaches us at an early age the value of a chair as a symbol of comfort and civility. We are allowed to abandon civility and selfishly take the nearest seat when the music stops, knowing that one of our fellow players will be left seatless. Now consider that in the current economic crisis many “players” lost so much as a simple place to sit, compliments of a gamed economy. Fueled by self-interest and reckless abandon, the economy was no child’s game, but one played by adults, or perhaps an adult game where adults behaved like children. Capricious game-playing with calamitous results. To underscore this grim reality the viewer is presented with various groupings of decomposing chairs which are always vacant.
The titles and imagery of the paintings are suggestive in this regard. The ironically titled work Circular Thinking, for example, is comprised of 3 chairs, each on a small vertical panel, which rest inside in a larger horizontal panel. Within the same panel fragments of old music scores appear faintly in the background with red circles floating across the surface. The circle motif appears throughout the paintings, to reinforce the notion of circular thinking, in which participants circle around a diminishing number of chairs, knowing in advance that only one can ultimately remain. Last Chair Standing, which represents the sole survivor of the game, is comprised of a single blackened chair against a glowing hot background. The painting Remains of the Day presents a trio of chairs receding into a grayed background, while in the foreground a pair of pigeons peck at crumbs on the ground, oblivious to the follies of humanity.
Dean Hunsaker was born and raised in New York City and now resides in the San Francisco Bay Area. After completing his undergraduate degree in sociology at the State University of New York, he moved to California to pursue a PhD in sociology at the University of California. During this time, he became interested in visual methodology, using visual media such as photography to research and educate. Eventually, he left academia, having developed an interest in visual art, starting out initially in photography and after a few years switching to painting. His background in sociological analysis often informs his painting, including “Musical Chairs” and “Painted Words.” In addition to solo and group gallery exhibitions over the past 20 years, he has recently participated in several municipal/public art projects with the Northern California cities of Berkeley, El Cerrito, Emeryville, and Richmond.
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