The Tang Museum's Classless Society exhibit examines ideas of social class and the American Dream
Recent proclamations on income inequality point to relevance of show’s themes
Steve Lambert, It’s About Power, 2011. Courtesy of the artist and Charlie James Gallery, Los Angeles
The entrance of the Classless Society exhibition, showing the Wheel of fortune with the income brackets and their proportionate sizes. Courtesy of Skidmore College
The Tang Teaching Museum is hosting the Classless Society through March 9, a show that raises questions about how people think about class in the current social and economic context, including the prospects for class mobility and the different ways that class is signaled and understood.
As visitors enter the exhibition, they have the opportunity to spin a large "wheel of fortune"- divided like a pie-chart to show the numbers of people in the lower income brackets in relation to the small sliver at the top of the heap. The wheel not only demonstrates income disparity in the U.S., but also symbolically determines how much of the exhibition you would be permitted to see, if access were based on your class position (color-coded tape marks the various sections of the show).
The show also features works of contemporary art and materials drawn from popular culture that examine the nature of class, the viability of the American Dream and the reasons why the myth of a classless society persists.
Two Skidmore faculty members, Professor of Economics Mehmet Odekon and Professor of English Janet Casey, curated the exhibition in collaboration with former Tang Director John Weber and the Tang's Assistant Director for Curatorial Affairs, Rachel Seligman.
Odekon said he was surprised year after year to see how consistently students in his course "Economics of Income Distribution and Poverty" classified themselves as middle class.
"Nobody seems to admit belonging to any other class," he said.
Casey said she has been fascinated by the persistence of the beliefs that American society is functionally classless and that anyone can move up the societal rungs to achieve the American Dream.
"That's why immigrants come here," Casey said, "because they think there is a lot of mobility among the classes. But there is not."
"Some will find it controversial-hopefully," Weber said. "The system is not working for a lot of people, and that's very hard for a lot of Americans to think about, regardless of income."
The final event for Classless Society will take place at the Tang at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, March 5. The session will be "Dunkerley Dialogue" featuring show curators Casey and Odekon with artist Steve Lambert. The event is open to the public and free of charge.
For more information, call x8080 or visit the museum's website.
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