BC MFA hit the LES
By Charly Himmel
When curating a group art show, one might delineate a thematic focus to participants, or perhaps hand pick a number of artists based on a preformed concept or aesthetic. Naturally, this was not an option for independent curator and writer Rachel Gugelburger.
“12 (twelve) noun /ˈtwɛlv/ is the natural number following 11 and preceding 13” resolves the blood, toil, sweat and tears of twelve Brooklyn College second-year MFAs—Jeannine Bardo, Alexander Doolan, Nicole Donnelly, Anna Hoberman, Samuel Jablon, Andrew Kennedy, Kate McGraw, Mitch Patrick, Anthony Randell, John Ros, Nick Stolle and Cecilia Whittaker-Doe—into a split-level multimedia cooperative.
“Hailing from diverse backgrounds and spanning three generations,” SHOW ROOM gallery’s press release reads, “This year’s thesis exhibition presents works that are, by turns, conceptually rigorous, formally innovative, intimate, and in-your-face.”
Confronting the viewer with nuances of contraposition—throwing the in-your-face in your face was perhaps Gugelburger’s finest hour.
“The premise of the show is there are twelve of us who have successfully completed the Brooklyn College MFA program and this is a party that we get to have at the end of it,” said exhibitor Nick Stolle. “It’s a rigorous examination of lots of different issues. We each bring our own issues to rigorously examine.”
Stolle’s paintings and objects greeted entrants at the SHOW ROOM door. Citing his own issues from shame and sad to wet, lonely, music, love, and color; painting is not strictly a traditional medium for Stolle, but an essential element.
“The paintings could easily be anything else,” said Stolle. “It’s not important that they’re paintings, although I love paintings, which is why I do them.”
Divided into three unequal parts, SHOW ROOM deposited into a large, open space, where attention-grabbers included Jeannine Bardo’s textile pup tent Shangri la and Anthony Randell’s titanic collage, “I Have A Broom.”
Evoking a photographic contact sheet, Randell’s installation, comprised of nine 4-foot square digital prints on aluminum, portrays Brooklyn College Professor Vito Acconci sweeping Randell’s studio, with words scrawled on pieces of masking tape: “Rest,” “Relax,” “Rake” and “Rape.” In the corner, Acconci is attributed the quote, “the end doesn’t live up to the beginning.” Randell sought to parallel the accomplished performance artist, writer and architect’s life with that of the character Chief from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
“It’s appropriation. I appropriated one character to portray another one.” Randell said. “I asked Vito for the words… When I first told Vito I wanted to do this thing with him, I sent him a thousand-word email and his reply to me was ‘yes, I have a broom.’
“I love the space,” said first-year Caitlin Clifford, decanting white wine to guests from an adult juice box. “I think we were really fortunate to have a space on the Lower East Side where there’s a ton of traffic and in general I think there was plenty of room for everyone to show their work.”
One surprise came from the collective curatorial decision to open the gallery basement for John Ros and Mitch Patrick’s works.
The raw, unfinished venue seemed the perfect compliment to Ros’ arrangements of materials and light, keeping the viewer guessing as to which pieces were intentionally placed and which were a part of the space. Toward the back, Patrick’s video installation, comprised of images from Ros’ studio, looped on a downward-facing projector. Together, the work suggested a dialogue between interaction and interactive.
“The basement installation was interesting in that the piece that’s the most about materials is combined with the piece that’s most about the virtual, that’s about the completely nonmaterial,” said BFA Drawing Professor Scott Williams. “It just seemed like a witty compromise or exchange between the two.”
“I love it, it works so well together,” Gugelburger said. “I really consider that a collaboration, whether or not they acknowledge it as such necessarily, but it’s very much a collaboration because the video piece is speaking to his materials.”
Anna Hoberman’s print series of doodled-up composition notebooks was another big hit.
“It was nostalgic,” said financial advisor Ryan Skove, who admittedly stumbled into “12” off the street. “There’s a lot of things in time that get lost, especially paper things. Obviously, text messages never do, unfortunately for a lot of kids nowadays, it’s a representation of how things have changed… it reminds you of who you were, but more importantly, it tells you who you are.”
Gugelburger cited challenges in curatorial decisions, though most of these were centered on placement in the gallery, perpetuating a dialogue between the divergent works.
“Surprisingly they have a lot in common,” she said. “There’s a lot of language and a lot of text in here. I wouldn’t necessarily say that this would be a text-based show but that was a binding factor. As you can see there is a lot of similarity in terms of the color palette, seems to be leaning a lot toward the heavy side, and then it also encompasses this complete spectrum of very craft-oriented work and very highly digital and incredibly philosophical work about digital technology, so it kind of covers the whole gamut.”
But on the whole, much of the success of “12” could be attributed to the rapport between the twelve MFAs, though this is not a phenomenon exclusive to Brooklyn College.
“I thought it was a curatorial feat to put all these things together in such a way that they do cohere… and they really do,” said MFA in poetry Jeff Grunthaner.
“Artists do that all the time,” said Ros. “And even if you had a program with 30 people, I mean, it’s nice, and it happens really well here. And I don’t think it always happens.”