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Visual Arts Thesis Exhibition Depicts 'New' Face of Contemporary Art

By Kristin Sterling

Tom McGrath's untitled oil on canvas on panel

Artists today do not generally limit themselves to one medium; rather they use the one that best expresses their ideas. Or they mix several media in the same work. In the Visual Arts program at Columbia's School of the Arts, painters, photographers, sculptors, printmakers and video artists collaborate and communicate their ideas with each other. Examples of this interaction can be seen throughout the 2002 Visual Arts Thesis Exhibition, currently on view in the Mink Building (Amsterdam at 126th Street) through May 26.

"I am in awe of the talent and ambition of the 23 graduating MFA candidates whose work is on display in this exhibition," says Visual Arts Chair Jon Kessler. "They are a charmed and ferociously talented lot and I have no doubt that their collective spirit will help to change the landscape of contemporary art. This exhibition depicts what 'new' really looks like."

Among the paintings on display are three of Tom McGrath's 56-by-90-inch urban landscapes. In these oil paintings, McGrath creates the illusion of looking through the windshield of a car in bad weather, arousing feelings of melancholy and potential danger.

"By the Sea," photograph by Lila Subramanian

Photographer Lila Subramanian bases her series of six iris prints on the closing couplets in Milton's "Paradise Lost," which she describes as a series of oppositions and contradictions that creates a tone of ambivalence and uncertainty rather than an image of finality and closure.

"My prints hover between the familiar and the unfamiliar, the near and the far, here and there, posing the question where do we find our frontiers in the vastly urbanized contemporary landscape," explains Subramanian. "The work seeks an oasis, out-of-bounds, a kind of visual relief. Details from the landscape that are markers of time and place are digitally removed from the photographs in an attempt to de-contextualize the environment. These places of referential absence are also platforms upon which viewers can project their own narratives."

Demonstrating how today's artists work in a variety of media, Jon Conner has three works on display in this exhibition -- the painting "Pigeons," the digital video "Wave" and "Bruce/Hulk," a seven-foot EPS styrofoam sculpture. The latter is based on an eight-inch figurine of Bruce Lee that at first glance he mistook for the Incredible Hulk. To create this life-sized structure, Conner scanned the figurine with a laser and used a computer program to enlarge the image to the seven-foot scale of the Incredible Hulk, creating an on-screen-digital mold. He then used a computer-controlled router to cut the various "body" parts from the EPS foam, and spent a full day assembling "Bruce/Hulk."

"Bruce Hulk," by Jon Conner

The work of another student, Sam Yates, is displayed as a floor-to-ceiling banner of a seven-story filing cabinet. At first a viewer might think it is a digital creation. But Yates includes blueprints, structural engineering designs and a Guinness World Records certificate for the "tallest file cabinet (sculpture)" as documentation of his 21,000-pound sculpture.

Inside the filing cabinet are 1,862 pieces of a shredded MG midget sports car that Yates steamrolled himself and then labeled and filed by weight, in milligrams, from heaviest to lightest. In doing so Yates says he "reduced the MG sports car to its most mundane value -- milligrams (mg)." The sculpture is located in Napa, CA, on the property of a collector who was interested in it when the three-story version was displayed in a show in Berkeley.

Sam Yates' seven-story filing cabinet sculpture

These are just a few examples of the photography, painting, printmaking, sculpture, installation, video and performance that comprise the 2002 Visual Arts Thesis Exhibition. As part of Columbia and the School of the Arts' commitment to Upper Manhattan, the exhibition is on view in the first floor of the Mink Building, 1361 Amsterdam Avenue (at 126th Street), Wednesday through Sunday from noon to 6:00 p.m., through May 26.

The now vacant Mink Building was formerly the home of a fur manufacturing and story facility and a brewery. Upon request Greg Martin, one of the students participating in the exhibition and working from the exhibition site, also offers tours of the building.

Published: May 21, 2002
Last modified: Sep 18, 2002

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