In July 1995, when the World Wide Web was still in its infancy, Jeff Bezos launched an online bookstore called Amazon.com. In those days, the company sent Christmas gifts to its loyal customers as signs of appreciation.
By 1999, Amazon had changed the online marketplace so significantly that Time magazine named Bezos person of the year.
Twenty years down the road, Amazon ranks as the world’s largest company by revenue, boasting “the world’s largest selection” of products, and Bezos, by now only 55, is valued by Forbes as the wealthiest person on the planet.
Amazon revolutionized the way people shop, and in the process, did more than its share to put walk-in retailers out of business, or at least on the ropes.
In a consumerist society, the question of each individual’s personal responsibility to strengthen local businesses, even at an increased personal expense, frequently arises in economic discussions, and it forms the backbone of the Sun Valley Center for the Arts’ new Big Idea project, “Marketplaces: From Open Air to Online.”
The marketplace theme will unify a series of film screenings, lectures, workshops and a largescale visual arts exhibition in The Center’s Ketchum gallery space at 191 Fifth St. E.
The “Marketplaces” arts exhibition, which will display from Friday, Aug. 30, through Friday, Nov. 8, draws upon the works of five contemporary artists to explore themes of consumerism, investment, fiscal responsibility and economic stability.
“‘Marketplaces’ provides fascinating opportunities to explore the changing nature of commerce around the globe,” said curator Courtney Gilbert, “and also to consider how our exchange of goods and services has, in many ways, remained essentially the same over time.”
The exhibition ranges from the local to the global, from the past through the present and on into the future, covering all areas of consumption, a wide variety of product types and a truly diverse selection of artistic styles and creative interpretations.
Artist Conrad Bakker’s contributions to the group exhibition highlight the economic history of the Wood River Valley. The Center extended an invitation to Bakker to fulfill an artistic residency at the organization’s Hailey location. During that appointment, Bakker engaged with, analyzed and researched the Wood River Valley’s economy, past and present, especially deriving fascination from the area’s history as a mining hotspot and, later, a world-class mountain recreation destination.
Bakker collected close to 100 rocks from the area, from which he carved small sculptures depicting Idaho and its marketplaces. Each miniature statuette will be available for individual purchase, and can be collected upon the conclusion of “Marketplaces” in November.
Brittany Powel Parich’s work zeroes in even more, localizing entirely on the contents of one checkout lane in one Fred Meyer store on one day in 2018.
Parich has produced a series of MDF (medium-density fiberboard) sculptures, each one representing a different individual item from the Fred Meyer checkout line.
Jerky, chewing gum, candy and Bic lighters, as well as facsimiles of summer 2018 issues of tabloid magazines, all come together to fulfil a dual purpose: to comment on the eye-catching impulse items bombarding customers as they attempt to exit the store, and to form a kind of time capsule of this particular grocery store.
The next artist makes the leap from the local to the international. Chad Erpelding’s paintings pull together abstract geometric shapes and data visualization to analyze patterns in stock indices for both the United States and the rest of the world. From the financial repercussions of Brexit to the 2008 recession, these paintings create a kind of mosaic representing the intricacies of economic codependence and trade.
American painter Brendan O’Connell adapts an outsider’s perspective of his home country’s retail landscape. Having lived abroad in Europe for most of the 1990s, he was surprised upon his return to find how Walmart and other one-stop chain stores had exploded to envelope much of the American consumer’s identity.
His works capture the architecture, shoppers, brands and moments of transition that redefined shopping in the early 2000s. These paintings provide a fascinating commentary on the rapidity with which these changes happened and Walmart became dominant, especially considering how now, so soon thereafter, it faces decline as it competes with online markets like Amazon.
While the works of O’Connell, Erpelding, Parich and Bakker are mostly modern in subject matter, the fifth and final contributing artist delves far more deeply through history, marrying the past with the present.
Mark R. Smith’s project “The Silk Road” looks at both the immensely important trade link between East Asia and the Mediterranean, and the online black market.
His works embody both the “open air” and the “online” elements invoked in the exhibition’s title, as he represents both the ancient physical trade route and the online black market of the same name, which notoriously moved illicit products from 2011 to 2013. Smith’s art draws connections between the textiles moved along the physical road and the computer circuitry that built the online criminal market.
All these diverse works of art form “Marketplaces: From Open Air to Online.” The Center will host a free opening reception during this Friday’s Gallery Walk from 5-8 p.m. Erpelding and Smith will be present and will speak about their artwork at 6 p.m.
For more information on this exhibition and the associated Big Idea events, visit sunvalleycenter.org.