University of Washington MFA Exhibition 2009

Last Friday night, I attended the public opening of the 2009 MFA exhibition at the Henry Art Gallery.  As I mentioned earlier on this blog, I have mixed emotions about my alma mater, but it was good to see what the new crop has been up to.  My initial impression was that the scale and scope of the projects was much larger than previous years.  Fewer MFA candidates meant more space for each artist, with two artists even getting their own rooms, including Arun Sharma, whose illuminated casket filled with live ants demonstrates how the “transference of energy from death makes room for and sustains new life.”

Arun Sharma. Untitled. Plexiglass, light, sand and ants, 2009. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Arun Sharma. Untitled. Plexiglass, light, sand and ants, 2009. Photo via the artist.

Notable feats of both scale and craft included the paintings of Alice Case, Anne Petty and Hugo Shi, as well as the sculpture of George Rodriguez, whose much-larger-than-life ceramic mariachi band was a show-stopper in a literal sense: its densely packed bodies form a Richard Serra-esque barrier that force viewers to approach its front side from an uncomfortably close range.  More subtle in execution but no less impressively rendered are the pastel drawings of Haley Farthing, whose woody undulations are an absolute joy at close range, providing a compelling counterpoint to Ben Waterman’s poetic installation of ashes and clay.

Haley Farthing. Untitled. Pastel on Paper, 2008. 16 x 20 inches.

Haley Farthing. Untitled. Pastel on paper, 2008. 16 x 20 inches. Via

One friend that came to the Henry with us, an artist and college professor from the greater Bay Area, said that he thought this was the best MFA exhibition he’s ever seen.  For my part, I was generally impressed with the level of craft and look forward to seeing good things from many of these artists in the future.

The 2009 MFA show will be installed in the North Galleries at the Henry through June 21.  The artists represented are George Rodriguez, Arun Sharma, Ben Waterman, Bo Young Choi, Alice Case, Haley Farthing, Bob Gardner, Anne Petty, Hugo Shi, Marie-Claire Bozant, Erin Elyse Burns, and Laurel Schultz.

UPDATE:  There is now a more indepth post about this show, including a great selection of images, on Joey Veltkamp’s Best Of.

~ by emilypothast on May 24, 2009.

14 Responses to “University of Washington MFA Exhibition 2009”

  1. Wow, the best MFA exhibition he’s ever seen? That’s quite a claim.

    That said, I particularly enjoyed Hugo Shi’s large format paintings and Haley Farthing’s sensitive ink and pastel panels. Both were breathtaking, and Robert Gardener’s paintings were quiet and beautiful too. George Rodriquez’s kitsch-gone-grand-scale was pretty impressive!

    This was more painting in comparison to what I recollect from past UW MFA shows. And only one fiber artist?! That’s a shame.

  2. Wow, the best MFA exhibition he’s ever seen? That’s quite a claim.

    Yeah, I thought so too. But he’s been teaching in Santa Rosa for 20 years, so his praise isn’t given lightly. He’s a painter and printmaker, so he’s definitely giving most of those high marks for things like craft and draftsmanship. (He was personally blown away by Anne Petty’s paintings, which I find to be beautifully executed but a little dull, conceptually. Also I don’t doubt that the banality is part of what she’s after, but it’s just not my thing.)

    I personally haven’t seen too many MFA shows, and compared to previous years at UW, this one was great, if only because it wasn’t so jam packed. Also, as I mentioned before, the science fair-esque design projects that used to take up huge, flashy swaths of space in the MFA shows are gone, for the better.

    The thing about more painting is part of the restructuring of the program. (There are lots of Ceramics grads too, they just don’t all work with clay.) As I mentioned in my previous post about the UW, Fibers is one of the smaller programs (like printmaking, metals, and sculpture) that’s currently hanging by a thread [groan]. That said, I think there are few weak links in the show as a whole.

  3. Yeah I hear you. I guess one of the things that strikes me most about this city’s academic programs is how little exploration there is outside of painting and photography, such as installation or fiber arts. Cornish’s BFA show sort of took me by surprise for that very reason – there actually was exploration outside of painting and photography. It was refreshing.

    While I do agree with your friend that the level of craftsmanship at this year’s MFA was really well done and definitely had its strengths, I don’t think it’s the overall strongest I’ve seen come out of the UW in the last five years since I’ve been around.

    • I don’t think it’s the overall strongest I’ve seen come out of the UW in the last five years since I’ve been around.

      Because that would be mine, right? =)

  4. Something that seemed to go beyond the obvious for me was Ben Waterman’s installation, which I found enigmatic and interesting enough to investigate further. He’s going to be sending me some images and information, so I might post a little more on that one later.

    • Yeah seriously – where was Reckoning of a Mile? I’m curious about that one. I’ve not yet decided about the piece he had on display, but I’m looking forward to learning more about him and his work.

      • The catalog and press images are due several weeks before the MFA thesis show pieces, so it’s not unusual for the artists to submit entirely different pieces to the Henry. The ceramics grads also get their own solo show at the CMA, so that may be where that one ended up. I’ll get his info and report back.

  5. hello ladies.

    for me, this show ranked high on craft, low on ideas. i didn’t find myself particularly inspired by anything. while a few pieces were impressive in scale and technicality, my brain and heart felt a void. this was my first UW MFA show, but knowing many graduates from recent years, i feel certain enough to say that this was, with few exceptions, a conceptually challenged bunch.

    Rodriguez’s mariachi installation was, of course, the highlight. good call on the Serra-esque wall feeling. ant farm? ok, sure, that’s pretty good. penis-baby? yah alright. some ideas. excellent.

  6. Shauniqua, you confuse me. you said the show was :
    “ranked high on craft, low on ideas. i didn’t find myself
    particularly inspired by anything. while a few pieces were
    impressive in scale and technicality, my brain and heart
    felt a void.”
    However, you then say that Rodriguez’s piece was the highlight. Sounds like a contradiction as I really do not see any ‘ideas’ prevalent in his piece except that if you make something big and colorful, people are forced to look at it, no matter how clumsy and ugly it looks. The loudness of the piece really does detract from the technical clumsiness of his piece….unless that is the way he wanted the viewer to see it.

    You are right however in saying that there were some ideas when you mention Arun Sharma’s two pieces. I felt like his room was so powerful that everything else seemed kind of frivolous after that.

  7. You didn’t like penis-baby?! I almost bought it for you!

    Seriously though, I emailed this post to Arun Sharma, so perhaps he’ll show up and explain that one at some point. I’ll take a stab at it, though, and we’ll see how far off I end up.

    The dialogue between Arun’s two pieces reminded me of medieval architecture, specifically the way cathedrals are often bookended by vulvic mandorla forms housing (a) the Virgin holding the infant Christ and (b) The Last Judgment, symbolically situated in such a way as to evoke the universal human experience of birth and death. (I’ve blogged about this a little before, in reference to Gala’s work.) The vulva, doubling as a door to death, thus marks the entrance to the void on both ends of life: the doorway from non-being into being and back again.

    Arun’s pieces seem to be related to each other in a similar way: in that one is birth and the other death. The womb (and thus the void, as well as the space between generations) is implied in the length of umbilicus between the penis and the fetus. Perhaps Arun is a father, or commemorating his relationship to his father, or both?

    But otherwise, I think I see what you mean about “low on ideas.” The entire show definitely has a cool, reserved feel to it. Sharon wants to see more exploration outside of painting and photography, but you know me: I’ll settle for really excellent painting and drawing any day, which I feel was delivered in this show (Alice Case and Haley Farthing being my favorites in that regard.)

  8. Yeah, as I understood it, Arun and his wife are starting down the road to parenthood and this piece is primarily devoted to that. One interesting thing he mentioned was that even though he is Hindu, he doesn’t believe in reincarnation. This was a way of showing that our energy continues despite a physical death.

    Emily — you have to chat with Alice Case! I think you two would get along great and could blow each other’s minds.

  9. Thanks for the response Joey! It may be a little off-base, then, for me to contextualize it in terms of Christian/European architecture, but I could definitely see the spiritual angle shining through, and that’s what interested me (natch!)

    I read what you wrote about Alice Case on your blog and will have to do that. Her paintings humble me. Put us in touch!!!

  10. I really like your reading. I’m sure it’s there. At least it seems to be on this end, too.

    Check email for intro. 🙂

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