2012-2013 MFA Critic in Residence
The curious title of this show conveys a sense of urgency. Its assertive immediacy is reinforced by the partial strikethrough, which already casts the exhibition into the past. Blink and you’ll miss it. Indeed, when one considers the years of hard work and anticipation that precede it, the lifespan of an MFA show is exquisitely short. In just a few weeks this gallery will be vacated, the works will be dismantled and dispersed, and these eleven artists will be newly minted MFA graduates, cut loose from a curriculum to plot their next creative moves in the world.
But by privileging the passing moment over the exhibition itself, I think these artists are giving typographic form to their optimism. I suspect this show means right now because they view it less like an end point and more like a caesura in their unfolding lives as artists. As the current visiting critic at Montclair State University, it has been my pleasure and privilege to witness a crucial phase of this evolution. I have thoroughly enjoyed my weekly visits to their studios, our classroom discussions of texts and ideas, and the lively and probing debates about each artist’s work. This group has impressed me with their sharp minds, honest exchanges of criticism, and the mixture of industry and risk that has propelled their work forward.
This show may mean right now. But right now means different things in this show. Marta Kepka, for example, creates sculptures and environments that showcase material change in real time. Spare and provisional by design, her quasi-architectural spaces register the subtle yet transformative effects of saturation, crystallization, and other elemental processes that often escape notice. Also drawn to instability and transience, Aneta Wegrzyn has mounted a sustained investigation of wafting cigarette smoke. But rather than simply depict the vaporous plumes, her deeply layered paintings chronicle a compulsive and frustrated effort to capture evanescence.
For some of these artists, right now translates to cutting-edge technologies. John Viggiano enlists satellite imagery and drone-mounted cameras to explore the Pine Barrens and other local landscapes. While providing topographic surveillance of these terrains, his disembodied perspectives also yield striking compositions that expand our understanding of the picturesque. Using digital technologies to very different ends, Eric Valosin seeks a space for spiritual experience in our deeply mediated 21st century. Pursuant of a techno-sublime, his interactive drawings and installations implicate the spectator’s body in moments of optical revelation. Though her sculptures are carefully crafted by hand, Jamie Levine also explores scientific frontiers. Her remarkably lifelike hybrids of human and animal anatomies, which are typically placed in efficiently narrative environments, embody the possibilities and fears of genetic engineering. Looking even further ahead, Jay Roth envisions the shape and substance of entirely new forms of life. By fusing the organic and the industrial, his combinatory drawings and sculptures suggest Darwinian adaptations in a post-apocalyptic world.
In the hands of April Zanne Johnson and Kevin McCaffrey, right now takes the form of spontaneous, intuitive markmaking. Johnson paints on Plexiglas and other slippery supports, imagining realms that are lush, vibrant, and fantastically fertile. But she typically sidesteps representation and conveys organic energies through fluid brushwork and happy material accidents. McCaffrey also places trust in the automatist gesture, allowing suggestive forms to evolve from minute scribbles of his pencil or pen. Like tiny eruptions of the unconscious, these squiggling glyphs tend to colonize his much larger drawings of maps and landscapes.
Right now can also mean alert engagement with the wider social world. We see this in Flavia Berindoague’s art, which has long interrogated the mysterious disappearance of children in her native Brazil. Working with clothing, blankets, and other intimate materials, she creates sculptural meditations on physical vulnerability and traumatic loss. A self-described nomadic Jew, Ronit Levin Delgado examines the traditions of her homeland through the lens of cultural displacement. Her ritualistic performances often incorporate kitschy consumer items, leavening an earnest search for identity with irreverent humor. Dannielle Slaughter approaches the gallery space as a behavioral laboratory, creating provocative installations that solicit and monitor audience participation. Typically tethered to pressing social realities, her ostensibly playful scenarios can ultimately test the viewer’s ethical compass.
Despite the apparent rush to move beyond it, this show features many compelling works of art that invite and reward sustained attention. So right now, at this moment, I urge these artists to slow down and savor their very impressive accomplishments.