All Over the Map
Maryland Art Place's MFA exhibit showcases solid work alongside lesser efforts
Published: July 27, 2011
Young Blood MFA Exhibit
Maryland Art Place, Through Aug. 27
Young Blood , Maryland Art Place’s fourth annual exhibition of regional MFA recipients, offers its wall space to a full range of talent—that is to say, from bad to good, as well as across the spectrum of media. Representing the Maryland Institute College of Art, Towson University, and the University of Maryland’s College Park and Baltimore County programs, the annual exhibit allows students to showcase their work outside of an academic setting, alongside work of hopefully consistent quality, a potential stepping stone for future exhibitions. Curated this year without the guidance and dedication of a MAP executive director (the position was eliminated at the end of the calendar year) and relying heavily on MAP’s volunteer Program Advisory Board (made up of busy art professionals), the works selected vary greatly in refinement. Where with other MAP programs, such as Curators’ Incubator and Critic’s Pick, the gallery produces a small publication and advises participants in the written material accompanying their show, Young Blood seems comparably marginalized, receiving few resources.
In the front room, three female artists, Amy Boone-McCreesh (Towson), Jill Fannon (UMBC), and Sarah McNeil (MICA), each exhibit brightly colored works that start the show off on a strong note. Boone-McCreesh’s installation, which consists of two separately titled pieces, “Oval “and “Cones and Frills,” resemble a votive shrine mixed with a piñata and doilies, an omni-cultural craft combination. Saturated-color felts and found fabrics are arranged in wall and floor pieces, the focus of which is the larger “Oval” piece. Shiny, metallic materials are layered fringe-like with the fabrics; the effect is something of a softer take on the elaborate decorations of Confetti System, a New York-based design team.
McNeil’s “Manchine” creeps up on you as you’re struggling to figure it out. Most obviously, a cluttered desk sits to the right of the gallery; medical illustrations and stacks of paper are strewn across it and hang high on the wall behind the object. An empty chair is tucked beneath the desk, like the remnants of a performance, separated from its impact. On a pedestal, a miniature plastic house plays a tiny embedded animation on the side that faces the desk. In an illuminated window on the opposite side, the desk arrangement reappears at miniature scale, offering a startling tug between the toy object and physical space. Fannon’s photographs, while beautiful and well presented, are strikingly similar to those of Baltimore photographer Milana Braslavsky, who showed work of identical compositions and subject matter in the same space only months ago.
In the darkened middle gallery, Linling Lu, Adam Junior, and Wun Ting Wendy Tai (all from MICA) exhibit work of a soft sensibility. Lu’s sewn paintings, “Soft Shields,” are made of material recycled from a less successful series of work made when she first began painting in the United States. The material is sewn together in torso-like triangles, point down, in concentric Vs of repainted linen and canvas. The immaculate handling and soft, limited color liken the paintings to traditional or ceremonial garments. Junior’s piece, “No Where Else to Go,” is a repetitive grid of nondescript house structures that sit atop a delicate balsa-wood tower. Unaltered from the colors of its material makeup, the piece teeters slightly indecisively between an embrace of suburbia and a condemnation of suburban sprawl. Similarly colorless, Tai’s pieces, “Salt Water—No. 2” and “The Measurement of Mourning,” are made up of glass, water, and salt.
The entire exhibition, and the premise that it is made up of the work of MFA graduates, becomes a little disturbing upon entering the largest, rear gallery space. There are no real complaints about Robert Guevera’s (Towson) well-constructed architectural installation, which is reminiscent of Lisa Sigal’s 2008 Whitney Biennial piece—only that it has unfortunate company. Katie Taylor, the Jaime Lynn Henderson of Young Blood, includes four paintings on canvas and one on primed paper, unframed. These muddy still-life images feature ill-rendered honey-bear bottles, banana peels, insects, and tea bags, all meant to add up to some larger significance, but bearing a strong resemblance to a Painting 101 homework assignment. Jesse Burrowes (University of Maryland College Park), who ordinarily makes better work, includes a shabby series of three instrument cases perched on platforms atop upright shovel handles. Beneath each case, tiny reptilian claws protrude, as if suggesting these things could scuttle away at any minute, like a Delia Deetz sculpture. Crudely labeled with things like wanting to be younger and or older, the sappy and scary cancel each other out here and result in something stagnant, anchored by the wheelbarrow troughs in which the shovels sit.
Young Blood could have benefited from a resident curator or outside juror to up its pull in the season of MFA surveys. Exhibiting artists had overlapping exhibitions and displayed smaller or fewer works at MAP. In the case of Burrowes, a resident curator might have strong-armed the artist into exhibiting better work, and with Fannon, chosen pieces that did not so closely echo work from recent shows. A nonprofit meant to be a resource for the local art community, MAP’s programming is stronger when someone is taking the reins.
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