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.

 

Augmenting the Exhibition: Design

 

As the culmination of my two years at the Gallery, I was invited to propose, curate, and realize a month-long exhibition at the University of Maryland Art Gallery. Currently on view, the exhibition Manhua + Manga features a selection of Chinese and Japanese comics, cartoons, and caricature from the 1930s. I curated this exhibition as part of my doctoral dissertation process. My dissertation examines the covers of various journals and magazines printed in Shanghai in the 1930s in an effort to understand the visual experience and landscape of the city.

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“Manhua + Manga” exhibit in the University of Maryland Art Gallery. View of Chinese journal covers. Photo courtesy of John Consoli, Between The Columns, April 2016.

For the exhibition I wanted to explore a tangential subject matter: the connection (or lack of one) between Chinese and Japanese comics during this period. It was important to me to show that these two mediums, China’s manhua and Japan’s manga, were distinct and rooted in local conditions, as well as drawing attention to the various transcultural flows between the two countries. China and Japan have a long history of shared cultural exchange, and this continued into the 1930s even under the threat of war.

How could I make this happen in a way that was respectful to the objects and cultures involved? I proposed to my supervisor “splitting” the Gallery in two: China on one side and Japan on the other. In this sense, the visitor could make their own connections while appreciating the differences between the two. During this initial discussion, he proposed constructing a map to display the objects upon. In place of traditional podiums, we would build tables that mimicked China’s coastline and Japan’s archipelago. To make this happen, we hired artist and designer Rob Hackett, a recent graduate of UMD’s MFA program. After a few meetings, the exhibition was sketched out and viewing cases ordered.

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“Manhua + Manga” at the University of Maryland Art Gallery. Chinese and Japanese comics and cartoons on display. Photo Courtesy of John Consoli, Between The Columns, April 2016.

The design of this exhibition is my second favorite aspect of the show- second to the objects on display. (The pop-up library and the augmented reality component are a close third.) When the visitor enters the Gallery, they can either go to the left, the right, or proceed down the middle of the room between the two display tables. If he or she chooses the latter, he or she is standing in a figurative East China Sea. From there they can examine the work of each country as separate and distinct, as well as grasp the cultural proximity between the two art forms. To further reinforce the geographical context, we placed labels and dots closely approximating the artistic and publishing centers of Shanghai and Tokyo.

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“Manhua + Manga” at the University of Maryland Art Gallery. Chinese and Japanese comics and cartoons on display. Photo courtesy of John Consoli, Between The Columns, April 2016.

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

A Shifting of the Senses: The MFA 2012 Thesis Exhibition

The semester is over. MFAs have defended their theses, portions of which were upstairs in our gallery space and still, the memory of our most recent show seems to linger. The spring semester has ended; everything about campus is quiet. The rumble of Pete Karis’s piece Untitled (Chainfall), has left an empty space where it hung for all passersby to see. Felicia Glidden’s Divination Method, which had been displayed in an alcove which seemed as much a part of the piece as the structure and audio recording, is gone too, as are its surrounding walls.

What was interesting about this year’s annual exhibit is the range of work, not just in typical art terms—sculpture, paintings, etc.—but in the ways that we are seeing different, usually disparate fields, collide. The microbial growths that were displayed on the back wall, a series of pieces by Selin Balci, create incredible patterns and textures that are not easily identifiable as a typical medium. Not only had this year’s exhibit challenged the notion of mediums, but we are seeing a shift in the sense of what art is.

Maybe this is the question young artists have always been interested in, but, as so often has happened in the past, we are reevaluating and pushing boundaries in ways that the world has not seen. We are also seeing the collision of fields, concepts—it’s not quite interdisciplinary, one might say it’s the world being brought into art and vice versa. More precisely, tradition is being tested; artists and writers alike are engaging the atmosphere of change brought on by this digital revolution; it’s finding its way to art through many ways of thinking, seeing, and experiencing. Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, artistic director of dOCUMENTA (13), calls for this in the May 2012 ARTFORUM magazine in the interview “Common Cause”. She says: “I think that right now there is an urgent need for what I call a worldly alliance among so-called cognitive laborers of every sort, artists and scientists and fiction writers and so on” (75).

Even this blog is a testament to the merging of fields. The ways that we communicate are increasingly interdependent. In fact, this is part of the inception of dOCUMENTA, which was established in 1955. According to Christov-Bakargiev, dOCUMENTA “emerged at the juncture of where art is felt to be of the utmost importance as an international common language and a world of shared ideals and hopes (which implies that art has indeed a major role to play in social processes of reconstruction of civic society, practices of healing and recovery)” (100 Notes). Much like Tobi Kahn’s work (shown at The Art Gallery in the fall of 2011), the sense that art is not just about aesthetics seems to be setting a new-age of art. Maybe it’s premature to claim such a shift, but I think it can be seen even in small galleries like ours.

– Rachel Carstens
MFA student, Creative Writing

Present to See the Fall: Thoughts on Aeneas Wilder’s Kick at Temporality

With a kick Aeneas Wilder’s sculptural installation “#156”, nearly two stories tall, collapses in a loud, eerie decent. It is as if in the moment of collapse we are interacting with the death of a thing, but it’s just atoms shifting place. The opening for Wood, Paper & Fiber was unusual even in contemporary art standards. It offered both an opportunity to see new, vibrant work, and the opportunity to experience a larger spectrum of what a show is beyond mere observation. There is something enthralling about the destruction, the temporal and being part of it, even as an observer. Students, faculty, artists and patrons all lined up to watch in their respective ways. As encounter, something more than a performance, the moment lacks any substantial verbal dialogue. There is a grace to it, a meditative quality. I’m tempted to argue that this is a meaning of visual art, or that this is an interaction between the material world and the world of aesthetics, but the Greeks have hashed that argument out enough (Plato’s Republic, Book X in particular). I can’t help but feel that more importance must be given to the questions this piece, this moment conjures: why are we drawn to these dialogues? Maybe not everyone is, but those who were present to see the fall seem to carry a little that moment even after. What seems most strange is the premeditation of the whole event. The pieces may or may not outlive the time it took to construct them and for the most part that is premeditated. Aeneas exudes a Zen-like state while constructing these pieces. He has his music (an epic grouping of eclectic and worldly songs and sounds), a careful and mathematical layout; he measures with precision and care. He keeps the lines straight and level. When it’s done and time to let the pieces submit to gravity there is a tense silence. The divide between the artist and his work seems to resonate and expand. Maybe the performance speaks as allegory for life, chaos and uncertainty. Maybe I’m reading too much into it. It’s a moment I carry around and think about every time I see the circle-pile of wood outside the Gallery office. I wonder if it’s the lack of dialogue that brings me back to that moment, trying to decipher why it feels so important and why I trust that feeling.

– Rachel Carstens
MFA student, Creative Writing