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MICA Commencement Exhibition

May 23, 2014
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floralshirtOver 400 seniors graduated from MICA on Monday, and their accompanying thesis exhibitions overtook every free space on campus in a tangle of cacophonous galleries. The huge volume of work was hard to process in a single weekend, but there I could see, in varying degrees, the transition of students into professional artists.

Naturally, there were a number of highlights, and a few pervading currents of interest. Interestingly, the strongest of these currents may have been distinctly local in character: in much of the seniors’ work was an attention to Baltimore itself, and an apparent loyalty to the city which suggests many of them will stay a while rather than swanning off to New York as soon as the caps and gowns are removed. Lydia Pettit made exactly that statement with her inauguration of the Platform Arts Center, a multi-use studio and gallery space at 116 W Mulberry St, populated by several members of the graduating class. The project was presented in the commencement show with a modest hanging of explanatory posters, but Platform will host its opening exhibition on May 31, demonstrating a momentum that has already far surpassed the span of MICA’s campus.

North Howard St., just a few blocks from Pettit’s Platform Arts Center, is the focus of Hayley Evans (humanistic studies) in her article “Barriers and Environmental Determinism in Baltimore City,” presented in a zine published by the department to showcase 2014′s artists as writers. Her interest in downtown Baltimore’s urban planning articulates of a wide-spread concern for the city among a certain set of students, and serves as an optimistic call to action.

Other works spoke about Baltimore more enigmatically, but with equal fervor. Images of the city’s architecture and its blighted in-between spaces influenced the atmosphere of photo, video, and mixed-media work alike. And in general I preferred these activist observations on the urban environment over another obvious trend—that is, the affinity for cartoons that has been emerging among MICA painters and sculptors for several years now. There are a few great successes within this tendency: Adam LaFon’s images of cows and cowboys [pictured] stole the show for the painting department, demonstrating a sense of color that glowed through the gallery door and evidenced a fresh, maturing talent. Maggie Daviet, too, has perfected a series of cut vinyl cartoons that are genuinely unnerving, and have an impressive formalist sensibility (check out her work online, www.maggiedaviet.com). Other than that, though, I’ve grown weary of these droopy cartoon forms at the present peak of hipness— most often, they have a triviality about them that is off-putting, and taste like a passing fad.

On the flip-side of this loony tune aesthetic was a gallery in the Main Building that—unlike every other chaotic space on campus, read as a coherent and professional group show. Titled “I Love It Here,” the installation brought together the work of Ralph Delia, Kathe Kackmarzyk, Val Karuskevich, Colin Alexander, and Kanghee Kim in the most well-lit room on campus (under the hazy old skylights of Leake Studio), and it was an obvious highlight. Most of the works were small, abstract objects that existed somewhere in between painting and sculpture: Kackmarzyk’s paintings of layered fibers and organza were airy, but their wood supports, several inches deep, made them assertive objects on the wall. The overall tone of the room was transcendental, emanating equally from the natural light, from works probing at the boundaries of medium, and from the artists’ ascetic attention to detail. Karuskevich’s large arched window form, a light-sensitive piece made of unprocessed photo paper, was a dramatic centerpiece for this group of forward-thinking young artists.

All-in-all, the labyrinth of galleries on MICA’s campus represented such a diversity of interests that it’s futile to try and mark them here. And unfortunately, the most conspicuous observation on the whole affair might have been one of institutional critique: that is, that the reception tent for the graduating artists on Cohen Plaza was so much humbler than the last tent we saw at the center of campus—the impossible-to-miss monstrosity that shut down Mt. Royal in honor of the school’s monarch Fred Lazarus. This demonstration of the Institute’s priorities is somewhere between pathetic and concerning, but at least the students are aware of it: the ‘Lazarus Legacy’ laughingstock continued to be the butt of derisive joking from students over the course of the weekend. . . and of course, they have every reason to be lighthearted about it, for they’re onto bigger and better things.