The University of Washington's 2009 MFA show opened up Friday and I think it's one of the best in recent years. The most immediate trend is that painting is back. Of the 12 graduates, nearly half come from the painting department. Of those 5 graduates, there's a wide spectrum of scale, style and themes. The smallest painting is 8 inches tall while the largest tops out at a formidable 10 feet.
Erin Elyse Burns, Learning to Fly
As you enter the North galleries, to the right are Erin Burns' videos where she engages in Sisyphean tasks. In the end, she wasn't able to fly but the video is a joy to watch.
Arun Sharma, Untitled
To the left, Arun Sharma negotiates the space between life and death. It might be a familiar theme, but Arun personalizes it in a new way. As the ants journey through their Plexiglas coffin, viewers are reminded that even in death our flesh provides new life.
George Rodriguez installing Instrumental Divide (image by Kathy Sauber)
As you enter the main gallery space, you're greeted by the backside of George Rodriguez's 9 piece mariachi band. Nearly 7 feet tall and 20 feet wide, you're almost offended by their turned backs. Once you engage with them, face to blank face, you understand the divide isn't malicious and everyone is invited to the party. I love it!
Anne Petty, Untitled
Also in the main gallery are large scale paintings by Anne Petty and Hugo Shi. The large scale is new for Anne who usually paints much smaller. Her gestural paintings focus on capturing specific moments in time.
Hugo Shi, Dried Fish
Hugo Shi merges cultures in his paintings. The backgrounds are traditional Chinese landscapes which represent his past and foundation. On top of these, he paints Western objects like glass jars containing organic forms of previous living things. The large diptych of dried fish (based on Rembrandt's Flayed Ox) is especially powerful.
Robert Gardner, Equivalent
As you make your back through the show, you encounter the modestly sized paintings of Robert Gardner. The paintings, in most cases, are larger than the actual objects. I'm a sucker for anything that's reflective and his paintings of small cans are beautiful.
Marie-Claire Bozant, installation view
Across the room, Marie-Claire Bozant has a suite of drawings of broken furniture. Accompanying them are sculptural renditions created in cardboard. They're crude and fragile. Her spindly-legged table is especially charming.
Alice Case, Studio Fold
While Alice Case's painting look abstract, she's actually using paint to investigate a specific moment. More precisely, she appears to be exploring how the individual informs the experience of viewing art. She gave an amazing explanation of what they're really about that involved physics, light and color. As she was talking to me, I couldn't help but think that Emily Pothast and her would have wonderful conversations about art.
Haley Farthing, Untitled
Using organic forms as a point of departure, Haley Farthing creates beautiful paintings that look like piles of lightweight fabric falling through space. I could look at these all day.
Ben Waterman, A Thousand Readings
(note: image updated 5/26)
Ben Waterman's installation is a meditation on the illuminating power of the written word. Reading a trio texts 1,000 times each by match light, it ceases to become a futile exercise by raising itself into a special category where the experience becomes the art and the viewer is left with the detritus to form their own conclusions. It's the most conceptual piece in the bunch.
Bo Young Choi, Second Skin (detail)
As you approach Bo Young Choi's piece Self-Defense it's nearly impossible to separate the form from last year's Henry exhibitor, Kader Attia. While the shape might be the same, the intent is very different. Bo Young Choi is illustrating the fruitlessness of humans' instinctive fetal position as a form of protection. I feel vulnerable just looking at it.
Laurel Schultz, Landfall 132
I spent a lot of time admiring Laurel Schultz's photographs of bonsai trees (beautifully paired with a bronze cast of dead bonsai). Her photo of trees on an eroded bluff looks straight out of a diorama. I couldn't stop staring at it and I think it just might be my favorite piece in the show.
Carol Mallett Adelman wrote a beautiful essay for the MFA catalogue.