Monday, October 02, 2023

A visit to American University's MFA Open Studios

As I've noted multiple times over the last 20 years of this blog, and 40+ years of writing about art, I consider any University's open studios as a prime opportunity for young collectors to meet and acquire art by emerging artists, and this past Saturday it was American University's lauded MFA program's time for open studios by its MFA candidates.

The Open Studios were held on the second floor of the Katzen Art Center at 4400 Massachusetts Avenue NW, from 7:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m. 

I must give props that I was tipped off about the studios by Andres Izquierdo, an artist and Master in Fine Arts candidate at American University who took the initiative to reach out to me. I visited him in Studio 253 and see his latest work, and he was actively chatting about his work with a few folks who there at the same time. 

My art celebrates the awareness of self and the ability of people to reveal who they are. I work on oil and film.  You can experience my work on Instagram: [@zurdoartist]@zurdoartist and website

The group of MFA candidates also showcased their latest art pieces in room 246 on the second floor of the Katzen Arts Center, along with complimentary food and beverages as we are now fully recovered from the Covidian Age.

Before I get into the good stuff, and just as I complained about the same issue during my last visit to the Torpedo Factory, I was somewhat disappointed to see multiple close studio doors during the Open Studio night.  The reason for that could be:

(a) Those studios were not occupied by MFA candidates

(b) The MFA candidates from those studios did not want to participate in the Open Studios because: 

    • They were too chicken to interact with the public
    • The state of their artworks were not "ready" to be seen
    • They were too lazy
    • They were advised not to
    • They were busy/had jobs

Personally, I think that part of the biggest education than an art student can get is by interacting with the public; there's nothing like exposing your artwork to the masses to trigger artistic passions - both from positive criticism or negative feedback!

"Enough with your fucking whining about close studios Lenster," you say, "move on to the good stuff!"

Connor Gagne

The best first impression award (as well as the technical merit award) goes to Connor Gagne, a very young and very talented first year MFA candidate. See his photographic work here. I must warn that the website only shows Gagne's interesting photography work, but during the visit it was clear that this artist busted his tuchis to prepare for the Open Studios.

Gagne built wooden pulpits, created ancient looking leather-bound books - tomes once would say - to display his photos, along with a one-of-a-kind written language that Gagne has created. 

And Gagne, in spite of his youth, is an engaging dude, who at first appearance could easily pass for a time traveler who just popped in from medieval France, but ends up being a soft spoken, erudite and intelligent artist, able to get the viewer engaged and interested in his immensely complex and uniquely individual work!

We were also quite engaged and enlightened by the powerful political work of Phaedra Askarinam - her work, which has an intense focus on the issue of human rights in Iran, and in particular, the rights of women, is strong, visceral and elegant as it calls out Iran's brutal treatment of women.

"The only thing I could do to make an impact was to make my art big, make it seen, and invite other students to join me."

Phaedra Askarinam ‘24, an Iranian-born artist, watched protests unfold in her home country following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody in September 2022. Since then, anti-government protests have riled the country, leaving countless protesters injured, arrested, or dead. 

“For a few weeks I couldn’t make any art. I was paralyzed,” Phaedra says. “Then, I knew I had to do something. The protestors needed help.” As Askarinam’s artistic practice centers around the experiences of women and girls in society, she was roused to act in the only way she could—through her art.  

Phaedra was inspired to create a monumental, 19-foot-long banner dominated by a painted portrait of Amini. The banner hung in the Katzen Arts Center rotunda in December and again in February, when passers-by were invited to actively participate by signing the banner in solidarity with protestors. “Sometimes we pass by art, or only give it a few seconds. If you participate in something, you remember it—viewers feel like they did something. They were part of this. We all want to be part of something good that helps others.” Additionally, she asked viewers to contribute locks of their hair in tribute to Amini, who was arrested for wearing her hijab “improperly.” 

In Iran, protests have been primarily led by students. Phaedra says, “I wanted to connect young people across the world, from our campus to theirs. We can amplify the protesters’ voices—plus, our students need to know and understand what’s happening around the world.”  

We also liked the complex, almost 3D works of Marie B. GauthiezPooja Campbell, and others.

In the visit, I asked almost every artist if they had ever heard of Art Bank; none had - this says something.