May 25, 2000
Vol. 19 No. 17

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    M.F.A. graduates to exhibit their work at Gallery 312

    By Arthur Fournier
    News Office

    []The University’s Master of Fine Arts program at Midway Studios has a national reputation for fostering the development of visual artists. Small in size but rigorous in character, Midway is known as a place where students from a wide range of backgrounds experience two years of close and continuous involvement with a group of peers and faculty artists.

    “Altercations,” a group exhibition to be presented at Gallery 312, will present an intimate look at recent works by seven members of this year’s graduating class. It will provide viewers with fresh insight into the visual, conceptual and cultural concerns that motivate the practice of an emerging group of contemporary artists. David Fellows, Amy Graham, Tonya Gregg, Karen Phipps, Barbara Raidl, Thasnai Sethaseree and Klio Tantalidis will contribute to the show.

    Based on her experience as an adviser, Laura Letinsky, Assistant Professor on the Committee on Visual Arts, expects this year’s thesis exhibition to be a particularly strong showing. Letinsky said she believes the multiple traditions and modes of production that will be on display speak directly to the special character of the University’s program.

    “Compared to many other art schools nationally, what I notice most is the strong diversity at Midway. No matter what medium or genre they tend to favor, students in our program inevitably encounter multiple points of view that make them stronger artists,” she said.

    “The work that will be on display at Gallery 312 really reflects that in a powerful way.”

    The University’s Master of Fine Arts program at Midway Studios has a national reputation for fostering the development of visu>The exhibition will include digitally manipulated photographs, drawings, paintings, sculptures and conceptual works. From paintings that present complex meditations on contemporary identity to an installation that flouts the accepted protocols of gallery practice, “Altercations” will include a wide spectrum of contemporary critical and classical modernist traditions.

    “When I was a student in medicine, I became interested in the human desire to change and control our bodies,” said Fellows. His current projects for display in the M.F.A. show include sculptural interventions that revise the Greco-Roman ideals of beauty.

    “For me, studying sculpture for the past two years has meant switching gears in a massive way,” said Fellows. A physician by training, he came to the program just months after completing a two-year fellowship in reconstructive and aesthetic plastic surgery at the University of California, Los Angeles.

    His current work as a sculptor may someday inform his practice as a surgeon, but for the present, Fellows said he is satisfied by the way his training at Midway has occasioned a rich exchange between his artistic and scientific instincts. He now imagines a dual career as a surgeon and an artist. “For me, it definitely contributes to a more whole sense of self,” he said.

    []In her recent paintings, Gregg explores issues of race and sexuality in relation to popular culture and public and private spaces. In a series of images that will appear in the show, semi-clothed figures inhabit a beach location that Gregg sees as a stage where boundaries can be crossed and identities remade. With references to popular music, magazines and films, Gregg’s work presents a visually arresting look at the rise of leisure activity and consumer culture as new domains for self-expression.

    “Ultimately, my interests are social, aesthetic and conceptual,” she said. “But as a painter, there is a particular set of formal devices I use to communicate different emotional and psychological states,” she said.

    A former lecturer at Chiang Mai University in Thailand, Sethaseree entered the Midway program with a background that includes studies in philosophy and the social sciences and training as an artist. Working across media and genres, he sees his art as one aspect of his larger commitment to raising consciousness about the practice of everyday life and affecting social transformations. His installation pieces often draw on a number of discourses related to Thai culture and the cultural and economic phenomena of globalization.

    For “Altercations,” Sethaseree has invited other artists, amateur and professional, to fill his allotted gallery space with their work. He hopes to raise issues about the presentation of contemporary art and cause viewers to critically consider the ways in which artists are trained to assert themselves in privileged cultural spaces, such as museums and galleries.

    For guest curators Stephanie Smith, Associate Curator at the Smart Museum, and Amy Rogaliner, curatorial intern at the Smart and a graduate student in art history, the diversity of the work has presented an interesting and difficult set of challenges. “We’ve tried to make sure that each grouping of works in the show has been given the space in the gallery that will best contribute to its individual character,” Smith explained. “But we’ve also been conscious of the conceptual and visual plays that will be established by the ways that these artworks relate to one another within the gallery.”

    Smith said Gallery 312’s location makes it a perfect place to stage the exhibition.

    “It’s a really terrific place to show this work,” she said. “It’s a vibrant art space in a gallery district where people go to see new art. Having their work on view there will allow our students to participate in that piece of Chicago’s contemporary art scene.”

    Charles Cohen, Professor in Art History and Chairman of the Committee on Visual Arts, expressed his views about the intensity of the Midway Studios program. He said he admires the degree of commitment he sees in the student artists at Midway. “Whatever their initial skill level, our students engage in a passionate search for themes and ideas that haunt them and move them,” he said.

    “Whether highly traditional or personal and idiosyncratic, they learn to master a medium or media uniquely crafted to their ends as artists and a vocabulary of forms that is rich enough to permit for an extended process of exploration. At its best, this process yields modes of working that can be pursued with ever-expanding subtlety and profundity.

    “Needless to say, this is a dauntingly difficult and brave task in the contemporary world, one in which our students are constantly exposing themselves, constantly putting themselves on the line. I can’t tell you how much I admire them for it.”

    Letinsky attributes some of the success of the University’s visual arts program to the varied character of its faculty. “The artists here each come from different places and different generations. We each bring our different experiences of art making and art exhibiting to the mix,” she said.

    “In some ways, I think that art school is all about the experience of encountering different sets of resistances,” she continued. “It’s a process that helps you find places that feel difficult or uncomfortable and then forces you to decide whether you want to turn away from that or embrace it and better your work.”

    The “Altercations” exhibition will be open June 1 through 10. Gallery 312 is at 312 N. May in Chicago. The show will be open for viewing from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

    A reception from 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday, June 10, will mark the closing of the exhibition. For more information, contact Letinsky at (773) 753-4821 or Gallery 312 at (312) 942-2500.