The 2016 MFA Thesis Exhibition

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We end every school year at the University of Maryland Art Gallery with the annual MFA thesis exhibition. The MFA thesis exhibition features the work of the Department of Art’s graduate students, and it is the culmination of their three years in the program. The exhibition is always a thought-provoking show and an insightful look into what is going on in the other half of the building. This year’s exhibition, which opened on May 11th, reignited my interest in the artistic work produced at UMD and affirmed the importance of a graduate-level education and training in the fine arts. Spending a few more years honing your craft under the watchful and critical eye of experts in your field results in a refined and thoughtful conception and practice. This show is evidence of that.

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The front of the Gallery features Rural Decay Almanac, an exhibition by the artist Dane Winkler. Rural Decay Almanac is a series of pieces constructed from the fragments of a dismantled 100-year-old barn. Each of the constructions is an exploration and reinterpretation of the source material- its color, form, condition, and use. The work speaks to the material’s long history, as well as its contemporary transformation within the Gallery’s walls. It is this transformation that allows us to interpret and reread the works as both representational and abstract.

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No longer a barn, the piece speaks to many contemporary art trends such as the re-examinations of minimalism, found art, and earth art, as well as the desire to create an immersive artistic experience. What I find most fascinating about Winkler’s work is his play between practicality (the wheel, the medium of wood, the importance of agriculture) and ‘high’ art (an exploration into the geometric form of the circle, the importance of color and perception, the extension of his installation out into the atrium, the value of the archive and documentation of his process). The works exist in the space in between the two, and the viewer cannot help but want to reach out and touch, feel, and turn the wheels (circles) throughout the front gallery’s space.

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In the Liminal, an exhibition by Jowita Wyszomirska, is featured in the back gallery. As the viewer makes their way back, they only see a mere glimpse of the work; and, once they arrive, the impression and atmosphere is transformed as the visitor is completely surrounded by Wyszomirska’s three-dimensional drawings. These three-dimensional drawings reflect Wyszomirska’s process of marking, cutting, folding, erasing, layering, and arranging to create an immersive artistic experience, which blurs the boundaries between drawing, painting, and sculpture. The transition between the two exhibitions is a shift in perspective and experience, and Wyszomirska’s installation only further highlights that transformation.

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An understanding and reinterpretation of medium and form also underpins Wyszomirska’s work. The piece does not speak to the material’s previous life as Winkler’s, but rather Wyszomirska’s skill in manipulating and mastering the form and function of that material. Deep and heavy blacks become light and airy, and both complement and contrast the work’s large swaths of white. The experience is both overwhelming and calming, as if one is at the beach watching dark and ominous storms clouds make their way to the shore.DSC_7129.JPG

Each installation marks the completion of three years of introspective training and practice. We look forward to seeing what these two artists produce next, and we congratulate them on a wonderful exhibition and their graduation from the program.

 

2015 MFA Thesis Exhibition

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UMD students viewing Hackett’s work from different angles.

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.

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Hackett and his work

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.

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Hamami and his work

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

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Hamami and his work.

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.

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Williams and his work

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.

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Williams and his work

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