MFA Thesis II
Looking at Maryland Institute College of Art‘s Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) work is equal parts exciting and aggravating. MICA has several distinct graduate programs and the thesis work represents the different practices and discourses of each program. The MFA degree is the endgame of artistic scholarship and the artists that come out of these programs should be ready to be the next fresh crop of artistic talent in the Baltimore area and beyond. As with all of the MICA Thesis exhibitions, the work represents serious artists at the start of a hopefully long career in art.
Magnolia Laurie’s subtle little paintings are one of the highlights of the Decker Gallery exhibition space. Her paintings, with their thin brushwork and color, are a little reminiscent of Luc Tuymans’ work. The paintings have a bland, off-hand and blurry aesthetic that still manages to evoke a mood. Her simple structures in a desolate landscape with explosions instantly recall World War I and trench warfare. The structures themselves seem to be directly linked to barbed wire and man-traps that were so common on the battlefields of Verdun and the Somme. The viewpoint in the paintings seems to be confused whether we are the soldier in the trench or the general overlooking the battlefield, maybe both? The rather stark depiction of mood, waste and loss resonates with a poetically bleak comment/connection on/to the social and political landscape of today. The major reservation I have with the work concerns the scale of the work. The current size undercuts the powerful potential of the imagery. A larger scale would evoke the spirit of the British, German, French or American soldier on the front line who only saw bleak emptiness ahead of them and force the viewer to engage the work from this powerfully emotive perspective.
Zeynep Öz’s work has much in common conceptually with Rirkrit Tiravanija’s work in that they both use the concept of the shared meal as a jumping off point for commentary on socialization and the communal experience. There is a big divergence, however, in what they do with the concept of the shared meal. Tiravanija focuses on the ephermeral passing of an open experience with visitors who decide to show up at the gallery. Öz’s work is the exact opposite, as what is shown in the gallery fetishizes the experience. The viewer is forced to confront the artifacts (framed objects from the dinner) of the experience rather than being an active participant. The main problem with the work is that it presents itself as an artifact/fetish, which runs counter to the artist’s statement that she is interested in “the situations in which individuals have to interact with one another in controlled environments.” Instead of focusing on the immediacy of the experience (the formal dinner), the viewer is disconnected and forced to look at the remainders of a formal dinner. There should be more effort and awareness on the part of the artist to exploit the meaning of the mediated experience in relation to actual participation.
Sandra Parra’s post-colonial female figurative painting “explores internal female culture.” This begs the question, ‘What is internal female culture?’ To be sure, there are quite a few interesting tangents in Parra’s work. Unfortunately, Parra seems to only briefly touch on each opportunity before moving on to the next issue. The work betrays the disjointment of the graduate school experience as the artist fumbles for the ‘right’ sociological or genderized psychological framework for the paintings. The disappointing part of the work is the superficial treatment of each theme in her work. There abound missed opportunities in the work, particularly the Baroque/Roccoco figuration crossbred with the Amazonian landscape. Unfortunately, she gets stuck in talking the polemics of politics rather than truly exploring the potency of the symbols she is depicting.
While on the first floor of the Fox building you should also check out Kyle Miller’s clever Monkey See, Monkey Do and decide whether or not you appreciate the kitsch work of Richard Jon Sawka and Jessie Walker.
The 3rd floor Fox work stands out in this exhibition led by Xang Mimi Ho, Chloe Rayson and Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum. Mimi’s work is intensely personal. It is an artistic documentation of the betrayal of mind/spirit/soul by her body due to the crippling effects of polio. There is a great phantasmic beauty in the way the artist decides to depict herself. The black and white self-portraits under fabric are equal parts haunting and spiritual. Her work “investigates the experience of being disabled” and manages to pull off work that discloses and reveals with being mawkish or self-pitying.
Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum’s work is extremely intelligent in its focus on the African Diasporas. Her nomadic childhood is the key to understanding this work about the idea of home and identity. While the use of hair as an artistic medium seems dated, the videos depicting the artist swallowing/regurgitating hair stands out. Chloe Rayson’s work serves as a nice aesthetic balance to the intensely personal work of Sunstrum and Ho. Her explorations of southeastern Florida do a good job of deconstructing the symbols and artificial landscape of the city/suburbia. All three artists on the 3rd Floor are worthy of the extra effort in getting to that floor in the Fox building.
Overall, the Thesis II exhibit at MICA is worth a visit or two. All of this work would not be out of place in a Chelsea gallery, which is both good and bad. For all the variety in media and medium, the graduate work tackles all the same sort of issues and post-modern questions that have been explored by artists since the French intellectual invasion of Lacan, Barthes, Baudrillard, and Foucault ect. Fortunately, these artists are still finding their feet artistically and intellectually. Their work will only get stronger as they spend more time deepening their investigations of the concepts and issues of graduate school. Thesis exhibitions are a good indicator of the trends and issues that are contemporary to today’s working artists and it is always fascinating to see what is on their minds.
-Jarrett Min Davis
for more images and info go to http://www.nothingstrange.com/mg2/index.php