Aimee Le Duc at the Bay Citizen recently posted a huge compliment about my art on her blog. Thanks so much! The only thing that's a little confusing- I am not really from UC Berkeley. Correction aside, I am really flattered to be considered 'worth watching out for'.
MFA exhibition season is officially here. Every spring Bay Area schools offering graduate degrees in studio art host large scale exhibitions, lectures, presentations and events showcasing the culmination of their students’ work. For the students, these exhibitions represent a daunting and exhausting task. Many of them will be preparing their first or largest exhibition at the same time they're about to graduate and be cast out into the non-academic world. For many other students, graduate school was a stop on their already established career path. For the viewers however, these MFA exhibitions offer a cavernous display of work that runs the gamut from extraordinary to awkwardly bad.
For the vast majority of these students, the harsh reality is that this will be the biggest show of their career. The number of graduates far exceeds the number of opportunities for artists in our culture. According to the US News & World Report, artists were subject to a 9.5 percent unemployment rate in 2009. About 29,000 artists across all disciplines left their fields between 2008 and 2009, an NEA study reported. Most of these artists will eventually find work in non-arts related fields and their practice will become a part of their past or a personal hobby. But for a select group of all Bay Area MFA graduates, these shows are a major milestone in their art careers.
There are a glut of Bay Area shows. Here are few tips to get through the season without being wholly overwhelmed.
First of all, eat before you get there and don’t expect to get a drink at the bar. If the school even offers food and drinks, it is all but guaranteed that the students, their confused but supportive parents and an army of required volunteers have already snatched up all offerings. Skip the food and drink and dive right into the art. Don’t expect to see everything, either. Some of the Bay Area schools like Stanford, Berkeley and UC Davis have only a handful of carefully selected students receiving their MFA and consequently these exhibitions tend to be a bit more subdued. But CCA and SFAI are have much larger student rosters. Their MFA exhibitions are more like art flea markets than traditional exhibitions. When attending either of these receptions, go in knowing that you will not be able to absorb everything in the midst of the chaos. Enjoy the spectacle for what it is and if you are really interested, come back to the exhibition later on and engage the work after the opening reception.
You should also ask questions. Talk to the artists. These students are showing their work and will likely be thrilled to discuss it, answer questions and walk viewers through their work. It is a fantastic opportunity to see some emerging artists at the very start of their career and these exhibitions are simply the most effective way to understand what kind of visual art is being supported in the Bay Area. This is the kind of work that is being taught in the schools. It is the type of work that will be seen in galleries and museums in the near future.
It's hard to predict whose work will reach a wider audience down the line, but a few artists to watch at the graduate shows are Chris Vargas at UC Berkeley, Serena Cole and Rachel Foster from CCA, Jacqueline Gordon from Stanford and Emily Hoyt from Mills College. All of these artists have already shown their work in group shows and solo settings in the Bay Area and it seems that their experiences in graduate school have only honed their skills more.
Weather you're a collector, a fan of art or a practicing artist yourself, the student MFA exhibitions are the place where you can see first hand (for free) what the Bay Area art scene really looks like.