With a few notable exceptions, this show featuring 42 works by 35 artists, exudes a structural sticks and rust theme upon first impression. Half of the works on display are photographs; there are four paintings, five sculptural pieces, four digital works, one print, one drawing, two ceramic pieces by the same artist, and four mixed media works. The disproportionately large representation of photography is curious.
Hamza Walker, curator of the LAXART nonprofit art space in Los Angeles, California, was invited to curate this show. Interestingly, Walker left his position as director of education and associate curator at the Renaissance Society in Chicago after 22 years of service to be Executive Director of LAXART (commencing October 1, 2016). Walker’s unique background and sensibilities certainly brought a fresh vision to this year’s JSE, and from that, an exhibition comprised of student work with a cohesiveness that only a true curator could demonstrate.
The Ritter Gallery is a voluminous exhibition space with sleek wood floors and French vanilla walls which seem to have the magic ability to aesthetically improve all work on display within. The 34 works that claim wall space are relatively small and are overpowered by the sea of French vanilla that they are floating in. Unfortunately this is a detraction, not an enhancement. During the reception it worked for friends and family of students to flock around their specific piece and pose for snapshots, but the perceived distance between works might have one checking their fitbit for steps accrued.
However, the sizable spacial distance between the works echos themes that the majority of works entertain: states of desolation, despondency, or singularity. This may have been Mr. Walker’s intention, however, it also smacks of a quick survey of images during the judging process while playing the curator version of the Sesame Street game “one of these things is not like the other”… For clarification purposes, Rod Faulds, University Galleries Director, was contacted but did not respond; so it becomes only our best guess.
The quality of the work overall is quite impressive, notwithstanding some problematic display choices; however, poor quality frames and stands are easily forgiven because students as a general population are not fiscally flush and framing a piece can very easily cost more than the work’s production cost. Several pieces of work had strong presence and therefore, worth further examination.
Starting with the untitled winning piece by Cristin Longo, one is confronted by a large professionally framed series of sewn and mounted eye masks in the colors and design of the America Flag. It has a powerful political message and is perhaps more meaningful today than when the piece was created thirteen years ago (2005). Framing is on point and the piece is strong, however the year of creation seems to impinge on the criteria for what is considered actual student work. The JSE prospectus is without any specific rules other than the work should be ready to hang; therefore this more than meets its criteria.
Another stand out piece, also an award winner, is the large minimalist wire sculpture, “Mountain”, by Sharene Williams. It is quite large, yet light in weight and construction, providing a bit of irony between name and structure. The track lighting is positioned in such a manner that the shadows draw more faces on the mountain, giving it considerable depth. For such a minimalist piece, it commands a large space and demands attention.
A photograph, “Stand Strong”, by Jacques Dreyfuss, received an award that I disagree with. His other accepted photograph, “Immersed in Darkness, Emerging in Light”, is a stronger image. There also appears to be a discrepancy as to its date of creation; the title card states 2017 while the engraved brass Scholastic award frame plate states 2016. Stand Strong comes across as a trite NatGeo-style tip of the hat or a blatant hitching to the #blacklivesmatter movement. The photograph is certainly lovely in its tonal range; the subject, a young black female is well lit and perfectly centered but it lacks originality and creativity. Conversely, Immersed in Darkness, Emerging in Light, is ethereal and enigmatic in addition to evident technical skill.
//A continuation and summation of this review will continue in a future post. -mlc//
Update: No such continuation or summation of this review will appear in any future post. The impact of the show was lackluster and my motivation to continue writing about it dissipated. After all, it is only a student exhibition, and the juror visited my studio, sat in my comfy chair and made calls to Los Angeles to micromanage an upcoming show’s installation from 2,500 miles away. To be fair, we did discuss art between calls. He made it clear that he was being paid to be there to lecture; so it became clear to me that the studio visits and jurying just put extra coin in his pocket. I don’t begrudge his getting paid; we are all hoping for that. I suppose my main grievance has to be the treatment of a presumedly merit-based student art competition as a curatorial splendor to feather his own hat. Many wonderful works were not accepted, and therefore did not hang in the ample “vanity” space of Walker’s minimalist sticks and rust curatorial sensibilities.