Friday, July 29, 2005

The 2005 MFA Graduates Exhibition

When the Arlington Arts Center re-opened after extensive renovation a few months ago, I predicted that it would become one of the key art venues in our area.

Two concurrent and current exhibitions at the Center -- The 2005 MFA Graduates Exhibition and Art from Arlington – prove me right.

The MFA exhibition is described in the Center’s news release as delivering "fresh ideas and exciting works by 13 dynamic new artists who have just received the Master of Fine Arts Degree from universities in Virginia, Washington DC and Maryland, some of whom have already exhibited in New York galleries."

And for once, the news release is pretty close to the target. The works in this show truly do exemplify the high quality, innovation and intelligence of the artwork currently emerging from some of our area’s universities; especially the Richmond area. The show includes all genres of the contemporary arts: installation, sculpture, photography, digital prints and mixed media drawing and painting.

The participating MFA graduate artists are: Diana Al-Hadid, Sarah Bednarek, Megan Biddle, Jan Filsinger, Natalie Guerrieri, Shawn James, Chris Metzger, Timothy Michael Martin, Nick Moses, Cara Ober, Lee Vaughan, Valentine Wolly and Andrew Yff.

Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) has one of the best graduate programs in the nation, with budding baby stars like Alessandra Torres (currently exhibiting in DC at my "Seven" exhibition at the Warehouse Gallery) and Claire Watkins (whose spectacular work I reviewed when she was included in the Arlington Art Center’s re-opening show). So it is no surprise that the best piece in this show is by VCU graduate Megan Biddle.

And Biddle steals this show early and easily. She weaves her artistic magic in the least expected of places; that one genre of art slowly but surely being dragged away from craft into fine art by a few brave souls: glass.

Biddle has a piece titled "Plumage." At first sight, you are deceived by it (in a sensory sort of way, especially if you read the title of the piece before you see it).

Then you get closer and you discover that Biddle has created a plumage-like effect by putting together a diverse set of broken glass pieces (did you collect them or did you make them Megan?) and has cleverly glued them together to give the appearance of plumage.

But they are not glued. In fact, if you press your face against the wall and study the work from a sharp perspective, you see that Biddle has drilled a tiny hole into each piece of glass, which then hangs suspended from an invisible (made invisible by the glass in front of it) structure of chicken wire.

Can materials, technique and creativity get any cleverer? Brilliant piece and a perfect title Megan! Bravo!

Now... I want to see a dozen of these; all in different colors and shapes.

Art from Arlington

In a concurrent exhibition, the Center had a call for Arlington artists to submit slides, and the resulting exhibition now offers us a view of what 30 plus Arlington artists are focusing their creative talents upon.

Who steals this show? Mmm... tough call.

Group shows are hard to review without sounding like a member of the all-negative critic team. The weak member(s) of the show drag everyone else down, but also make the stand-outs really... Uh... stand out!

Unfortunately, this is a rather middle of the road show – not in the sense that it is a bad show, but in the sense that this show tends to "blend in" into an amalgamation of what is happening in every art community in America today.

I’ve curated shows twice as large as this and have come up with exactly the same results; so I’ve lived inside this monster and know of what I am writing about.

So, first let me applaud the Arlington Arts Center for doing the right thing with this show (do it every year!)… I like shows that show the pulse of an arts community… and the Arlington Arts Center should make it part of its mission to continue to show us the caliber of the artwork being produced in Arlington; my kudos to its talented curator Carol Lukitsch – Bravo Carol!

So who stands out in my walkthrough of the show (opening very well attended by the way)?

There’s Bobbi Baumann Vischi... I am not sure if Bobbi is standing out for the right or wrong reasons though.

Baumann Vischi’s piece is titled "Boy Child – Rite of Passage," and it is technically a brilliant piece. But at first I thought that I was looking at a piece by Tim Tate or Michael Janis from the Washington Glass School.

Baumann Vischi’s piece is one of those deep relief cast glass pieces that were first done and perfected around here at the Washington Glass School by Tim Tate (represented by us) and Erwin Timmers (represented by Studio Gallery); since Tate and Timmers offer classes, it was but a matter of time before one of their students (and I don't know if Baumann Vischi is a former student) would channel their teachers and come up with a replica of the sort of work that has made Tate, Janis and other Washington Glass School people stand out on a class of their own when it comes to "narrative" glass.

And Baumann Vischi’s piece certainly shows tremendous technical skill, but lacks originality – a harsh, but honest thing for me to express. My advise: Push your own vision rather than channeling your inspirators.

So who stands out?

Let’s start with Josephine Haden, who continues to baffle me with her paintings; which I’ve seen many times over the last few years – most recently at Strictly Painting V.

Haden’s work is one of those that must be described: In the two pieces in this show ("Rescue II" and "Crossing"), Haden uses broad strokes to describe an ocean... not a meticulous sea painting here, but broad, plain blue strokes that describe an almost naïve ocean.

And that just where Haden’s work stops being naïve.

She then adds landscape features, children on rafts, dogs, helicopters – you name it, and Haden can paint it! This is an artist who can visualize a collage (which is what her work initially appears to be) and use a talented brush to translate it into canvas.

And then there’s J.T. Kirkland.

Kirkland is an online buddy of mine. Just like me, he’s a blogger (his Blog is Thinking About Art) and an artist (his website is ; And his work – inspired by minimalism and consisting of elegant planks of wood with patterns of holes drilled into it – simply are SO different from everything else on this exhibition, that they stand out!

And damned the consequences, but Kirkland’s – for better or for worse (for better in my opinion) – stands out in an otherwise blurry cast of characters… and being "different" is a big component of being "good"… right?

And he received a Doris Day sweet spot in the lower level galleries... center of the room, good lighting; his two entries – just look minimalist and different!

And after walking the galleries a few times, and enjoying the power of an Arts Center rapidly becoming the key art link in its community, I was pleased to absorb the fact that Arlington, its artists and this Center are going to offer a lot of great shows and great artists for many years to come!

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