Most of the students who participated in part one of the School of Art Painting MFA Thesis Exhibition for last-year art students did not make paintings; despite its name, the show, which closed last Saturday, was comprised primarily of sculptures.
The interdisciplinary distinctions once so popular at art schools are falling out of fashion: Yale has one of the last Master of Fine Arts programs with separate sculpture and painting concentrations. But although Yale retains the distinction, some students chose to blur the boundaries in their work in the exhibit, while others remained loyal to the medium.
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Arthur Brum ART ’10, whose work was up in the Sculpture Building gallery for the exhibit, is one of the members of the painting program whose thesis consisted almost exclusively of sculptures. Brum’s most interesting piece is a recreation of the Nativity scene, equipped with cutout cardboard figures of the three kings, Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. But in Brum’s version, the baby Jesus has been replaced by a small computer, and the manger has become a child’s desk.
As astonishing as it may seem to anybody familiar with the New Testament, there is, in fact, something strikingly similar between Jesus and a computer. For roughly 1,700 years — beginning when emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in A.D. 312 — the story of Jesus’ life has shaped how humans ought to interact with one another. Just as the Judeo-Christian shift redefined morality, or created it, so too has the computer redefined human interaction. Created it? No, but the computer has done two astonishing things.
Most obviously, it has precipitated a change from physical to virtual interaction. This change has been documented often enough both by intellectual and popular circles — see “You’ve Got Mail,” featuring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. But the computer has also created a culture that allows the transgression of morality through the veiled identities offered by chat sites on the Internet, such as the infamous Chatroulette. The computer has provided the anonymity to support dialogue with, and digressions from, Judeo-Christian morals.
So Brum seems justified in having put a computer in the place of Christ in a replica Nativity scene. Two thousand years from now, future exegetes may even compare Bill Gates to the disciple Paul and Steve Jobs to Martin Luther.
But in spite of all the sculpting at the exhibit, there are still some painters in the MFA show, and Allison Freeman ART ’10, whose work is on display in the first room of the Green Gallery, is one of them. A series of her paintings look like lists or receipts on lined paper, on which every listed item has been crossed out. But, though they are images of objects we think we recognize and understand, they are not quite what they appear to be. On closer inspection, the crossed out items turn out not to be items at all, but lines that do not cross out anything.
A question presents itself: What good are finished lists and receipts if all that we are finally left with is a sheet of paper covered in scribbled areas, on which we cannot even see what it is we wanted to accomplish in the first place?
A second group of Freeman’s paintings are even better than the lists: hung side by side, each of the three portrays a vestibule with an elevator. In the first, one door of the elevator is open, in the second both are closed, while the painting on the far right depicts the vestibule with a staircase and again the closed elevator. The walls around the elevators in each image are a violent orange that invades one’s field of vision. The quality of the painting is extremely impressive. A mixture of loose handling of paint and sloppy lines — scratches in the paint — comes together to create an excellently proportioned window opening into an intelligible but somehow stranger reality than the one we know.
When French painter Paul Delaroche uttered his apocryphal phrase “Painting is dead” nearly 170 year ago, many people disagreed — and many still continue to. It seems safe to say that painting will never be dead, but without proper care, it will, like all things, fall into disrepair. Whether or not it is right to separate sculpture and painting programs is unknowable at this point, but however interesting the sculptures in the MFA Painting exhibit may be, a well-executed painting is powerful and all too rare.
Other artists in the show included: Nathan Azhderian ART ’10, Amy Beecher ART ’10, Andrew Gbur ART ’10, Linda Arredondo ART ’10, Tanya Goel ART ’10, Abel Rodriguez ART ’10, Luke Lamborn ART ’10, Edgar Serrano ART ’10, Cheon Lee ART ’10 and Katie Vida ART ’10.