Gregory Fitz's 'Seven Billion' ponders our growing civilization

Categories: Art
A Theory of Ruin Value by Gregory Fitz
Scientists tell us that very soon there will be seven billion people on Earth. According to the New York Times, the first billion were added fairly slowly from the beginning of civilization through the early 1800s, after which it took about 120 years to add the second billion. Since then, people have been multiplying exponentially -- there's an expectation of three billion more people to be added by the end of this century. 

This can't end well. And so it's at this very opportune moment that Gregory Fitz presents "Seven Billion" at the MAEP Galleries at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, an exhibition that calls into question the influence and affect that human beings have on the environment and each other. 

The centerpiece of "Seven Billion" is a wall of sorts sandwiched by miscellaneous tables. The wall is made from three rows of cinder blocks, the first being the highest, standing slightly taller than the tables. The other two rows act kind of as a foot.

A Theory of Ruin Value by Gregory Fitz

When you walk into the gallery space, it doesn't look like an exhibit. The random tables seem like they aren't supposed to be there. Without them, the cinder blocks might have been reminiscent of ruins, or a war-torn city, but with the tables you don't know what they are for. 
St. Mary's Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana.jpg
St. Mary's Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana, 1942 (After Ansel Adams) by Gregory Fitz

The piece is called A Theory of Ruin Value, named as a counterpoint to Albert Speer's Theory of Ruin Value. Speer was a German architect during the Nazi era who worked on the 1936 summer Olympics. The theory, supported by Adolph Hitler, assumed that great buildings would eventually collapse, and that their ruins would remain as remnants of the Third Reich's power, much like Greek and Roman ruins. 

Christopher Atkins, coordinator of the MAEP Galleries, points out in an accompanying essay to the exhibit that Fitz's A Theory of Ruin Value is deliberately impermanent. The tables are easily moved -- some of them are even on wheels. They will not become ruins. The cinder blocks, too, could easily be hauled away at a moment's notice, although slightly less easily. 

Still, there seems to be something that doesn't quite work about the piece. Certainly Fitz succeeds in creating something that counters the value of structures that will last forever through slow destruction, but it's not quite a fair comparison because the structure itself doesn't really resemble architecture. Perhaps if the tables weren't there, or if the impermanent ruin was somehow made of the tables, it would have worked better. As it appears in the gallery now, it doesn't really look like anything. 

Sun Rises and Sun Sets
On the other hand, that's the point. Maybe we don't need grand structures and lasting monuments. Maybe we as humans take ourselves too damn seriously. Why build a coliseum when a make-shift tent would do? Look what happened to the Greeks, the Romans, and the Third Reich. They're gone. What will happen to us? Will we be forgotten? Does it matter? 

The other work in Fitz's exhibit also carries a sense of impermanence. In St. Mary's Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana, 1942 (After Ansel Adams) and The Tetons and the Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, 1942 (After Ansel Adams) Fitz channels an abstract-expressionist style while in recreating two famous landscape photographs. Made on oriented strand board, which seems to be re-used, the paintings have an extemporaneous feel to them. Fitz highlights his materials for what they are. It's as if he's creating art out of some inner drive or need, but at the same time recognizing that making the art in itself is using up the Earth's resources. 

Sun Rises and Sun Sets

Similarly, in the Sunrises and Sunsets series, Fitz's hurried brush strokes and use of extruded polystyrene instead of canvas illustrates wastefulness. It's almost compulsive. Human beings strive for beauty, for attractive things, for art that feeds our souls. But at what cost? We are running out of space for landfills. We are running out of natural resources. Do we really need these things? 

It's really quite a brilliant thesis, and brave for an artist to take a stance that calls into question his own field. It's the kind of exhibit that at first seems like nothing, but might have you thinking for quite some time afterward.


"Seven Billion"
Minneapolis Institute of Arts
2400 Third Ave. S., Minneapolis 
Through July 1

Location Info


Minneapolis Institute of Arts

2400 3rd Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN

Category: General

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