In the past two weeks, I have seen six MFA thesis exhibitions and have aged 6,000 years. My dusty bones are well pleased with Brooklyn College’s grimly titled showcase, If your life is burning well, poetry is just ash, on view at 601 Artspace in Manhattan’s Chinatown. With only 13 artists on display, this MFA exhibition is a more intimate affair than the others I’ve seen. Much of the work unapologetically indulges in pop culture, commenting on the video games, dating apps, and the 2016 presidential election.
Madeline Donahue’s quintet of works open the show: two medium-size paintings and three smaller ceramic sculptures. Donahue has an eye for the crotch, twisting her figures into acrobatic poses with an ass-first attitude. The result is both hilarious and visually compelling. My favorite is “Bathers” (2018), which portrays a woman contorting to shave her legs in the shower. Water from the shower-head pours onto the subjects breast, which then waterfalls onto a loofa and finally her dalmatian’s tongue. (A good reminder to stay hydrated however you can this summer.) As she reaches for her left leg, the right side of her body stays far behind; this creates the optical illusion of the woman’s backside hanging off her hips.
Further inside the gallery is Megan Cavanaugh’s quirky miniature three-room installation used to film her video, “Potential New Boyfriend” (2017–2018). Adopting a sloppy claymation aesthetic popular in early aughts Nickelodeon shows like The Amanda Show and Kablam!, Cavanaugh pens a comedic take on today’s dismal online dating scene.
Enjoying a quiet night at home, the artist’s female subject decides to give online dating a go. Scrolling through her app, she finds someone who appears to be wholesome enough. Sending a simple hello message, she receives (what else?) a dick pic from her would-be suitor. The penis jumps out of her phone and begins to exponentially grow, crushing the woman’s wheat thins in the process. C’est la vie, c’est la mort.
On the side of her installation, Cavanaugh includes images of over 60 male profiles from Tinder to reinforce her point. Many of these men seem datable, but look closer and they list some interesting hobbies like “self-experimentation” and “giving a pretty mean piggyback ride.” Yikes.
Georgie Flores Mendéz’s “Intra Web Café” (2017) also forges a criticism about digital life. Mixing mirrors, silicone, metal, and other miscellaneous materials together, Mendéz creates a huddle of faux-laptops. Symbols of self-obsessed vanity, these computers have no functionality; they simply reflect the viewer in a dusty, funhouse portrait of themselves.
Perhaps my favorite work of the bunch was Megan Heckmann’s installation, “What if” (2018). Modifying found objects like chairs and throw pillows, Heckmann has assembled a small support circle for Trump-reality deniers. Crawling around these objects’ corners and creases are tiny stitched messages. “Our president does not brag about sexual assault,” says one. “One accusation is enough,” says another. “50% of white women did not vote for him.” (Okay, the actual percentage is closer to 53%.) The potential performance of giving these pillows to New Yorkers in need is what enthralls me. We likely all know at least one millennial Brooklynite in desperate need of a Trump-free alternate reality who would bear hug a Heckmann pillow.
Brooklyn College’s MFA thesis exhibition, If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash, continues through June 3 at 601Artspace (88 Eldridge Street, Chinatown, Manhattan).
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