The two biggest surprises of the 2012 end-of-year student exhibits–lots of great painting, and an outstanding PAFA show. Although some great installations made us stand up and salute, there were fewer than in years past. We didn’t see much photography; we didn’t see a lot of impressive video. Here’s a sampling of work we saw that we’re excited about.
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
At PAFA we saw painting that renews and reinvents the medium.
Aaron M. Fowler mixes fabulous texture, materials and mellow colors to capture crowd scenes from contemporary African American life. These paintings were our absolute favorites at PAFA.
James Bellew’s (PAFA) paintings, displayed right next to Fowler’s, transcend Victorian bookishness in The Hole in the Moon, and also include works of contemporary grittiness.
This one, by Alyssa Blessing Deville (PAFA) reminded us of Venus de Milo through the lens of Dorothea Tanning’s surreal feminism–at last a female nude that avoids the John Curran wink-wink.
Michael Shultis paints his own adolescence–boys with Judd Apatow-ish outlooks on life and women. We squirmed at his outlook but admired the punch of his large, aggressive paintings!
Did we say not much sculpture. We’re happy to contradict ourselves. Lindsay M. Robbins wide-ranging objects made of ceramics delighted us with their color and the small ways they varied from the real thing–almost trompe l’oeil ceramic glasses in a faithful-to-optometrist display, pink erasers, and OSHA-orange electrical outlets. Playful homages to the real thing.
Samira Alston’s festooned mannequin surprised us for sure!
Bold and fearless cut paper drawings by Fiona Bearclaw cast fabulous shadows when pinned naked to the wall.
The wood-grain pattern of a half-finished sweater in the middle of the PAFA show by Laura Giannini convinced us it was art, homey art in the middle of a display about households.
MFA Sarah Peoples, who was also one of the artists selected for Philadelphia Sculptors’ annual 5 into 1 show, took over a large swath of gallery space with several inventive medical-nightmare machines accompanied by a glass case of beauty products. Heartfelt and conceptual meditations on having a body, this work brought depth and beauty to its bricolage roots.
The precariousness of life also came through in Steven Dailey’s Sleepwalker.
Illustrations by Eleanor Schnarr (PAFA) stood out as original in the sea of gaming- and comics-influenced illustrations we saw this year!
Benedict Lee Jones’ chimney gave us payback for peeping down the rabbit hole. Home seems to be a consistent theme for these depressed times.
University of Delaware
We saw some outstanding work from the MFA’s at the University of Delaware’s gallery at the Crane.
Cynthia Stepp is a University of Delaware MFA who is off to the races with a Joan Mitchell award. Stepp’s realist ceramic sculptures include a row of women’s busts hung like trophies, and a 3-foot child in a bunny suit.
Jeffrey Moser’s A Study of Light Variables Measured as a function of Time in the Cinema, 2012, is a mesmerizing projection of light onto wound film–a nice use of materials transformed into a meditation on time and movies–a lava lamp for vintage-movie fans.
University of Pennsylvania
The stand-out at the U of P MFA show at the Crane was a group of surreal paintings by Mikey Winsor.
His fluid paintings, small and large, are ambitious, Dali-esque, and mysterious, with heaving landscapes, or seascapes, that morph into mysterious being pushing up the fabric of the Earth.
Tyler School of Art
Alas, we saw only three (arguably four) of the Tyler MFA shows. So our list is based on partial info. Here’s what we liked:
Brandon Dean, Tyler MFA, brings his African American outsider’s eye to the blond ideal dude of the fashion world. In these subtle essays on gender, race and the marketing of fashion images, identity dissolves both in the real world and in the paintings.
Erica Prince goes micro and macro in scale as she invents new cosmoses in her drawings, sculptures and installations. The story of the future that she imagines incorporates new life forms and new modes of society.
The world view from overhead gets thoughtful treatment in Cally Iden’s photos, some of which she presents on the floor for the birds’ eye view. The images are either appropriated from Google Maps satellite images or from photos taken by the artist herself in an airplane. A great touch was a book of picture postcards, Greetings from Antarctica, based on these formidable landscapes–don’t come on down. It was the perfect take-away at an affordable price.
Hieronymus Bosch goes 3-D in Kate Coppola’s teeming agglomerations of excess.
In the midst of his DIY frat-boy/sports-jock paean, Ryan Foley’s cardboard coffee maker hit a home run.
Nick Lenker’s installation (we saw it at Pageant Soloveev, but he moved it part and parcel to Tyler afterwards for his thesis show) was man-cave meets Barney Rubble. Gender issues got intermixed with obedience issues and the ride was wild!
The approach at Moore these days is almost completely paying-career bound, so graphic design, fashion design, interior design for businesses, and corporate identity planning dominated.
Of these, K.C. Marquart’s plan for promoting an institute to help people lose their burdensome heterosexual identity was outstanding, with tri-fold brochures and video endorsements from happy, now-gay converts. Almost believable!
We’re sad to report we didn’t make it to any of the University of the Arts shows. But check out Chip’s review of the 5 into 1 show, Philadelphia Sculptors annual juried exhibit of work from Moore College of Art & Design, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Tyler School of Art, University of Pennsylvania and The University of the Arts. I think maybe it’s time to add University of Delaware to this group, no?