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Aesthetic thesis statements

Master of fine arts graduates show skillful and experimental work around the Southland.

May 01, 2003|Scarlet Cheng | Special to The Times

'Tis spring in Southern California, and along with the blooming of the jacaranda come the MFA shows -- exhibitions of work by master of fine arts graduates from area universities. Because this region boasts some of American's top institutions for advanced studies in studio arts, the work can be surprisingly good. And because the work is by students, it also can risk being quirkier and more experimental than commercial gallery or museum fare.

At UC Irvine, for example, Henry Tsang is finishing his installation, a room wherein videos are projected onto each wall. These will be images of Orange County alongside its twin across the Pacific: Orange County, China, an American-style suburban housing development designed by a Newport Beach firm and located just outside Beijing.

Tsang had read about the phenomenally successful Orange County, China -- Phase One of the development, with houses costing an achingly steep $500,000 (U.S.), has already sold out. He decided to go there and capture it on video. His work's juxtaposition of east and west addresses "the blurring of the boundaries between California and Beijing," says Tsang. "I want to make people think about what it means to replicate and duplicate." With dry irony, he adds, "they're promoting this as a place where you can have an authentic California lifestyle."

The installation at UCI is for his thesis show -- a "solo" that is a requirement of the master's program -- but in June, there also will be a UC Irvine group show at Track 16 Gallery at Bergamot Station Arts Center in Santa Monica.

That will include 10 artists, says Daniel Martinez, a UC Irvine teacher who is helping students coordinate the group show. They chose Track 16 because "Bergamot Station is one of the centers for commercial activity, and it's important for students to have access to Los Angeles and the relevant aesthetic discussion in Los Angeles."

Several schools are presenting both solo and group this year -- UCLA's group show opens this week at Track 16, and California Institute of the Arts will do its group show at Armory Northwest in Pasadena in September.

Taking artwork off campus "provides a more public, more professional arena," says Barbara Drucker, head of UCLA's art department. But she points out that curators and dealers come to MFA solo shows to scout talent.

While the intent is not to sell art, interested buyers may contact the artists.

Another benefit for students is getting a taste of the responsibility for organizing a show. For the CalArts group show, says MFA student Brian Stechschulte, graduates were responsible for finding a venue, developing a budget and reviewing classmates' proposals for what they wanted to include.

His own works are abstract oil on panel paintings "based on images of the interior of the body, paintings of blood clots and how we imagine dysfunction in our bodies," he says. "I hope to get a reasonable amount of exposure. I'd like people to see the work and maybe get some other opportunities as a result. Also, it's a nice wrapping up of my time here. I came all the way from Michigan."

While Armory Northwest boasts 17,000 square feet of exhibition space, the 36 CalArts grads will have to share it, and the show will be hung appropriately.

"What we want to do is to bring the class together to represent the school," he says. "There's a lot of diversity, and it will be a great place for someone to come see what CalArts is all about."

"Diversity" is a word many teachers and students use to describe the range of painting, drawing, photography, sculpture and conceptual work that one will see at an MFA group show. "The main thing is that students believe they can do anything," says Drucker. "They feel free to work and experiment in any style, any medium. There's not one viewpoint controlling everything -- UCLA is known for its individualistic, experimental types."

John Baldessari, noted UCLA faculty member, echoes that sentiment about MFA works in the upcoming UCLA show.

"There seems to be a good range of everything, which is healthy, I think," says Baldessari. One thing he has noticed is that a few students are avoiding the hyperbole of the oversized work that has been de rigueur in the last decade.

"People are getting tired of big things, and several artists are working quite small."

After all, he says, "going against the grain -- that's what good artists do."


A view of MFA works


Bergamot Station Arts Center, Track 16 Gallery, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica; through Saturday. Also, New Wight Gallery, 11000 Kinross Ave., Westwood; through May 8 and May 15-29. Weekdays, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (310) 825-3281.

UC Irvine

University Art Gallery and Room Gallery, Claire Trevor School of the Arts, 712 Arts Plaza, UC Irvine. Ends May 24. Also "Happy Beautiful Desirable" group show, Track 16 Gallery; June 5-14. Hours for both: Tuesday-Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. (949) 824-3508.


MFA group show, Armory Northwest, 965 N. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena. Sept. 13-Nov. 2. (626) 792-5101.

Cal State Long Beach

"Insights 2003: The Annual Student Exhibition," University Art Museum, Cal State Long Beach, 1250 Bellflower Blvd., Long Beach. May 8-30. (562) 985-5761.

Claremont Graduate University

Peggy Phelps Gallery/East Gallery, Claremont Graduate University, 251 E. 10th St., Claremont. Ends May 16. Weekdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (909) 621-8071.

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