LOS ANGELES — Walking through the halls of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Margo Leavin Graduate Art Studios, the palpable energy and vulnerability of art school poured out of each individual studio, albeit in different ways. There were the self-conscious poses the artists adopt, attempting to position themselves somewhere between casual coolness and serious professionalism. There were the carefully arranged snack trays, designed to showcase gratitude, and get a viewer to perhaps stay a little longer. And there were the studios in which art hangs but there was no artist to be found, abandoned for reasons unknown but one could wager have something to do with nerves.
It was a special open studios event for the students, the first since the beginning of the pandemic in which they could open physical doors to physical studios and let the public in. It was also dedicated to the memory of prominent Los Angeles art dealer Margo Leavin, who passed away in October and whose generosity made the new building housing the studios possible.
The work on display was diverse and showcased the politics of the day. While there were no overt narratives that drove the work, some sub-themes emerged around environmental concerns, migration, race, and sexual identity. One artist, Kennady Schneider, who has a background in gymnastics and whose work centers on sex workers, put on a performance that existed somewhere between interpretive and exotic dancing, donning an impressive set of hot pink, high-heeled boots. Down the hall, Blake Jacobsen explored the tension between his highly religious mother’s life and his own queer identity in a series of black and white photographs taken with his family during his stay with them in Ohio during the pandemic. His mother grooms and cuts his hair, a display of both her care for him and the conformity her religious values require. Another artist, Zalika Azim, investigated the realities of gentrification and the African diaspora, using stories such as Exodus as a launching point. While coming from a photography background her work, such as a collection of bouquets literally spelling out the word “XODUS,” has become increasingly sculptural.
Artist Catherine Opie, in her first year as the chair of the UCLA Department of Art, told Hyperallergic that the faculty heavily considers how the artists will play off each other in their student selection each year. She made special mention of how excited the artists were for this particular event, a sensation palpable not only with students but with attendees. In addition to the general buzz of graduate school hopes and dreams, there was a separate and overarching feeling that despite all we have collectively been through and are still going through with the pandemic, everyone present seemed grateful just to be there.
UCLA Department of Art’s 2021 Graduate Open Studios took place on Thursday, December 9.