SAN FRANCISCO — This year I finally made it to California College of the Arts’ (CCA) MFA Thesis Exhibition. CCA has one of the best graduate art programs in the Bay Area, and I was eager to see the work coming out of its studios. While the walls in the school always have work from various class projects on display, the thesis show was jam-packed with art, taking up a large part of the huge 1111 Eighth Street building. The show continues through this Saturday, when a closing Stage & Screen event will serve give performative and time-based artists an opportunity to “showcase experimental studio practices that exist beyond the static wall and require a dynamic audience.”
As for the static work, there was so much of it that I made the rounds three times to ensure I had seen everything. Since the show had no overt theme, I decided to focus here on four works that really jumped out at me and left me with a lasting impression.
Megan Atherton‘s large painting (78″ x 110″) “At Your Own Risk” is a treat for the eye. I loved getting lost in its structure, which reminded me of an endless 2D “Big Bambu.” I don’t often see contemporary art that I both like and want to live with; this was one of those rare instances.
Maral Hashemi’s “The Weaver of Qom” is impressive for its stillness. During the opening, Hashemi silently sat in a corner with her face against the wall; next to her were bowls filled with either large moths or dried plants. On the ground nearby was an installation of rocks, spices, flowers, dirt, and more, all beautifully arranged to look like a Persian rug. The pile of rocks in the center is suggestive of a human form. While some of the performances I witnessed got lost in the hustle and bustle of the opening atmosphere, Hashemi’s commanded a level of presence and reflection that I deeply admired.
Amanda N. Simons’s performative social practice installation is comprised of three works that all mesh together. “Change Maker T-Shirt,” “MFA Belt Buckle,” and “Post Extra Daily Print Dispensing Machine” comprise a complex installation that rely heavily on fellow students — “change makers,” as Simons called them, or CCA grad students active in community organizing — to lead the participant through the work. These change makers become the interface of the piece.
Visitors to the opening could get an edition of an artwork, create a Play-Doh piece to hang on the increasingly colorful wall, and of course talk with any of the change makers as long as they desired. Social practice artwork that relies on others’ labor and insight for success can be quite controversial, but Simons has managed to create a dynamic and collaborative project that seems (at least to an outsider) as though it really is mutually beneficial, both in terms of guiding the piece and elevating the work of the classmates involved.
Featured prominently right as you enter the building, Melissa Miller’s “The Chinasty Foundation” (2014) definitely takes first place. The piece is so well executed, funny, and poignant, I erroneously assumed it was the work of a non- (or post-)CCA practicing artist when I entered.
“The Chinasty Foundation” came out of Miller’s residency in Marfa, Texas, and is a feminist remix of the sort of “high modernist” work celebrated at Donald Judd’s Chinati Foundation there. Thus, as the artist writes on her website, “The Chinasty Foundation” becomes “the home of several minimalist female stripper alter egos including Donna Juggs, Carla Lingerie, Damn Flamin, Richer Sarah and Roberta Moreass.” I love it. I will definitely be watching out for Miller’s post-graduate artwork.
The California College of the Arts 2014 MFA Thesis Exhibition continues at CCA’s San Francisco campus (1111 Eighth Street, Design District, San Francisco) through May 24.