The last show of the academic year, as it is every year at The Art Gallery, is the annual MFA thesis exhibition. It is always interesting to see what our neighbors in the building are up to, but it is also bittersweet. These talented artists are moving on to bigger and better things. Before they go, however, they leave us with their final statement as graduate students: The 2015 MFA Thesis Exhibition.
This year’s exhibition features the work of artists Rob Hackett, Aydin Hamami, and Steve Williams. When visitors first enter The Art Gallery, they are greeted by Hamami’s work to the right, William’s to the left, and Hackett’s in the back gallery. For Hackett, it was important to alter the physical space of the Gallery and the experience of the viewer, and one piece consumes the entirety of the back gallery. It consists of wood blocks suspended on metal cables attached to wall brackets. The contrast of the warm wood blocks and the hard metal cables and brackets give the work both a heavy and light feeling. It reads gentle and delicate like a summer hammock swaying softly, as well as hard and heavy like the elements of a construction site ready for a build. The latter reference to urban life was influenced by the artist’s time in Pittsburgh, a city known for its numerous bridges.
Hackett invites and encourages his audience to walk in and around the work and to absorb it from differing vantage points. Visitors can be seen stepping in and around cables as they attempt to navigate the space without disturbing the piece.
The inspiration of city life and urban space continues throughout the exhibition. In Aydin Hamami’s work, the artist utilizes various non-traditional materials to create large abstract paintings. Most notably Hamami’s use of tar plays upon viewer’s expectations and perceptions of a painting. The tar, shiny and heavy against the warm colors of the painting, is reflective. As the viewer gets close to examine the work, they unexpectedly come across their own partial and distorted image
The tar is but one of the many layers of materials in Hamami’s works. As a result, each piece has a depth of color and texture, but the overlay of strong materials such as the tar often disrupts this feeling. The piece once again is flat, a two-dimensional and hard-edged painting. In the Artist Round Table, Hamami noted that his work is often about the process, in particular his discovery and experimentation with new and unconventional materials. Each work reveals Hamami’s intimacy with his materials, and his hand is always evident allowing the subject of his pieces to toe the line between abstract form and artistic process.
The third artist featured in the MFA show is Steve Williams. Williams’s work is a series of large photographs of everyday miniscule objects enlarged and centered on a white background. These small objects were collected by Williams on the walk from his home in Takoma Park to UMD’s College Park campus. After Williams had collected a series of objects, he began to photograph them.
In the Gallery space the photographs take on religious and sacred connotations due to their scale, lack of context, rich color, and method of display. This aspect can most literally be seen in the works featuring religious imagery such as the Virgin of Guadalupe or the Shroud of Turin. More surprisingly, however, it is the works that lack these overt religious references that appear the most iconic. An enlarged piece of small, blue plastic becomes monumental through Williams’s process, and its simple form becomes totemic.
Each artists’s work is different from his peers, but all manage to speak to one another through their interest in space and form. If you want to see the exhibition, stop by The Art Gallery by May 22nd. The Gallery is open from 11:00 am – 4:00 pm Mondays through Fridays and select Saturdays.
-Madeline L. Gent, Graduate Assistant, The Art Gallery