REVIEW: "Welcome To The Conversation": RISD Graduate Thesis Exhibition, Part 7

It's high time I wrapped up this week-long review of the RISD MFA program thesis show, "Welcome To The Conversation". As I tend to do with my eating habits, and so with I am savoring the sweetest morsels for the last bite. Luckily, I saved some room and have a coffee handy.

"Gordon and Martha Behr It All" by Nathan Craven - RISD MFA Ceramics '08

I've reserved this last post for the work of ceramicist Nathan Craven. His installation "Gordon and Martha Behr It All" is one of those pieces that has to be visited with, and not just looked at. A sprawling, interlocking network of individually fired, extruded ceramic units; the work is visceral, beautiful, evocative and joyful.

"Gordon and Martha Behr It All" by Nathan Craven - RISD MFA Ceramics '08

A labor-intensive, obsessive arrangement, the microcosm of individual units interlock to create structure, and read like the cells of a massive endangered coral reef. There are discoveries and humor in the piece as well, with peepholes, an embossed "river" of what look like Rorschach blot tools, and a goofy "Where's Waldo"-esque portrait of what I was told (by a fellow graduate) is the artist's young son, peering out in wonder and horror at the spectacle.

"Gordon and Martha Behr It All" by Nathan Craven - RISD MFA Ceramics '08

If not already overstimulating, the strength of the combined network of elements is enough to support the physical weight of the viewer - and we were encouraged to walk upon the piece, like Jesus on water. The tactile exhilleration and forbidden pleasure of this action was evocative of walking over coals, or treading on a very expensive Persian carpet.

From what I saw and experienced under the artificial lights of the convention center, Craven's work has a talent for bringing people together in conversation and mutual wonder. One can only imagine what the results would be of giving a piece like this a more permanent home in a public arena; like a park, library courtyard or greenway.

Speaking of public space, for an overview of thesis projects by the students of  landscape and interior architecture, which I haven't had a chance to cover in detail, please visit their respective webpages, which I have linked to above. Also for your perusal, works by the department of industrial design, hopefully coming soon to a forward-thinking retailer near you.

Congratulations to the RISD MFA Class of 2008!

REVIEW: "Welcome To The Conversation": RISD Graduate Thesis Exhibition, Part 6

Yesterday was a silent blog day for me, as I was off to Newport to conduct interviews for my upcoming Artscope articles. Picking up where I left off, I'll be wrapping up my week-long review of RISD's Graduate Thesis Exhibition over the next two days, with posts on the highlights from the MFA sculpture and ceramics candidates.

Returning from a long, stellar day exploring Newport's art spots and beaches a piedi, I put my sandy feet up just in time to watch the ongoing political drama of the Democratic national party. Hillary's toothy, "non-concilliatory / concilliatory" speech to the Obama camp reminded me of the circus of RISD grad Milton F. Stevenson V's day-glo thesis installation "The Beginning Of My Ascension To The Center Of The Universe Vol.2".

On my first visit, the installation starred two, life-sized photo cutouts of the would-be Democratic nominees. On my second visit, I noticed that Obama was...missing? Regardless, we'll be seeing plenty of Mr. Obama from now on, and since that was the day I was shooting photos, my mom graciously stood in for him. Hillary didn't seem to mind, as she's here for the party!

Milton F. Stevenson V - The Beginning Of My Ascension To The Center Of The Universe Vol.2

While I typically would not behave in such a manner at an art exhibit (editor's note: untrue), the content of this installation led me gleefully astray. Filled with tabloid deitritus, the installation is punctuated with hand-painted signs lettered with reactionary caustic remarks aimed at mass-media pop culture and high-art echelons alike.

Milton F. Stevenson V - The Beginning Of My Ascension To The Center Of The Universe Vol.2

The framed slogan: "Rachel Ray: The Dumbing of America" held court adjacent to "Your Residency Sucks Anyway", carefully lettered in stylized day-glo paint over an actual rejection letter to the artist from the Skowhegan residency commitee.

Milton F. Stevenson V - The Beginning of My Ascencion To The Center Of The Universe vol.2

Looking on, a google-eyed audience of altered tabloid covers, cheap plastic toys and portraits of goofy pop icons like Erkel, Pac Man and Mr. T. amidst a temporary forest of tape-striped placard posts. I pity the fool who doesn't see the exorcistic joy in this installation. Still, I wonder if the high court art influencers behind, say, the Whitney Biennial will latch on to this one, who took such care to frame his ubiquitous orange ticket stub for display, mounted between the lines of a hand-painted "Worst Biennial EVER" slogan.

Also making the most of deitritus and day-glo, Chandra Glaeseman's installation held court at the front of the exhibit hall. Using a towering array of building materials, her sculpture "I Have My Doubts" appeared rickety, yet dynamic.

Chandra Glaeseman RISD MFA Sculpture '08 - "I Have My Doubts" installation detail

In the vein of Jessica Stockholder, the materials seemed chosen for formal impact in lieu of narrative value. In this case, it worked, although given the height of the main tower element I wished to see the installation set against an unbroken background, rather than the limited temporary wall of the exhibition hall.

In my next post I will wrap up this week-long review with one of my favorite experiences of the exhibition. Stay tuned!

REVIEW: "Welcome To The Conversation": RISD Graduate Thesis Exhibition, Part 5

In part 5 of my exhibition highlights from "Welcome To The Conversation": RISD's Graduate Thesis Exhibition, I would like to call attention to the graphic design department, which exemplified some very strong conceptual design work through displays in print, video and book format.

My favorite work from this department was by Leslie Kwok. I first noticed her work in a collaborative wall drawing/video piece "The Group Portrait", undertaken with the help of her cohort.

"The Group Portrait" (wall drawing and video) by Leslie Kwok and the RISD '08 MFA Graphic Design department

The site-specific wall drawing, an outlined portrait of the graphic design '08 MFA candidates, is documented in a time-lapse video placed alongside. By watching the video, the viewer is invited into the micro-world of the department, where each student is responsible for a portion of the outline that will stand for their portrait. Of course, the outlines remain empty, and the video offers a point-of-view of the back of each artist. This leaves it up to the viewer to "fill in" the blanks, perhaps to assign a face and personality to the graphic designer, a role which outside of the microcosm of school often exists as a transparancy (or work horse!) behind which the work itself takes center stage.

This stands in ironic contrast to the role of the "art star" that comes to mind when one considers the high stakes luminaries of the contemporary art world, into which the entire crop of RISD MFA candidates now emerges. (For another take on this, see part 6!)

Also of great interest were Kwok's visual and narrative explorations of social ties, in a print series titled "Social Constellations" (depicted below), and video, "Sociograms", which can be viewed as a Quicktime movie on her website.

"Social Constellations" - 20"x26" poster by Leslie Kwok, RISD '08 MFA Graphic Design

REVIEW: "Welcome To The Conversation": RISD Graduate Thesis Exhibition, Part 4

Hopefully, many of my local readers took the opportunity to visit the RISD Graduate Thesis Exhibition, which wrapped up yesterday. As for myself, I had to return to the exhibit hall several times to take it all in. While I cannot go into great detail on each and every artist, or nuance of the exhibition, I hope here to draw attention to what I considered the highlights of the visitor experience.

On my first pass through the cavernous hall, I was pleased to discover the work of Maryam Molki, a MFA Painting candidate of Iranian decent. Although a painter, Molki focused her thesis work on a series of altered mass-produced rugs, hung vertically on the wall to be viewed rather than walked upon.

Maryam Molki - RISD MFA Painting '08 - altered rugs

Admittedly, I had just come from an informal kilim rug "purchasing consult" for a friend, but I was drawn to the excersise of excessive material removal and subtle reconstitution that Molki perpetuated upon these mass-produced, "Made In China" specimens. I should note that photos don't do these pieces justice. Like many works in fiber, the ability to examine the work close up, with tactile focus, is key.

Maryam Molki - RISD MFA Painting '08 - altered rugs

Also from the painting department, and working rather sculpturally, is Cassie Jones. Playfully grotesque, her dimensional paintings grow from the wall in kitchy shades of flesh, "astroturf" green and grey. Referencing building materials, skins, and invented topographical maps (of alien planets)...

Cassie Jones - "My Friend Will Be Me" RISD MFA Painting '08

Cassie Jones - "Above The Beneath" RISD MFA Painting '08

I have always gravitated towards gnarly painting. With its hoof-like protrusions, the piece depicted above is as gnarly as the Incredible Hulk's bathmat!

REVIEW: "Welcome To The Conversation": RISD Graduate Thesis Exhibition, Part 3

There is so much to talk about when it comes to the latest crop of RISD designers and artists. With the most challenging faculty, and access to the newest technology, it's no wonder that the design world looks to the graduates of this institution for fresh creative solutions.

That said, "flash and dazzle" cannot compare to time-honored traditional skills and the fine craftsmanship essential to creating artisan furniture. Embodying the best of both worlds is one of my favorite up and coming furniture designers, Zeke Leonard.

Zeke's reclaimed oak wall sconces, (which I covered in this archive post), clung cheerfully to a massive white wall, not suffering in the least from the expanse. A certain modest quality in these fellas evokes a sense that they could "live" anywhere, which I love. In contrast, and new to my eye was his massive "Boat Chair", impressively cantilevered over the exhibition space with the help of a reclaimed Red Oak arch and a hand forged steel chain. To give you a sense of the scale, this hanging chair could easily accommodate a couple...

"Boat Chair" by Zeke Leonard, RISD Furniture Design MFA '08 - Reclaimed Red Oak and hand forged steel

Whether modest in size or massive, Zeke's work retains a confident, yet approachable presence that I always appreciate. You can explore more of Zeke's work at his website.

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