MFA thesis show defies expectations, easy answers

A piece of art is generally regarded to be self-evident, a transcendent object rather than a documentation of the artist’s personal growth. The Yale MFA Thesis Show: Painting and Printmaking, the first part of which opened on Feb. 8 in Green Hall, is the culmination of the nearly two-year process of obtaining an MFA. So in this art school setting, when given a series of final works, it is natural to wonder about the journey taken to arrive at this destination. But this show places art as art over a narrative of educational fulfillment. In that sense, it has the contextlessness of an unfamiliar gallery, though ultimately the art’s mysterious presence demands more meaningful engagement.

The show, which features 10 second-year painting and printmaking MFA candidates, is at the very least an engaging visual experience. Divided amongst the three floors of the Green Gallery, the works of these artists are clearly engaged with the space. On the bottom floor, you’ll see an odd stack of crates from the floor to the roughly 30-foot ceiling among other works. On the top floor, a series of small, similarly-sized colorful paintings neatly line the walls of the gallery.

As an artist interested in process and technicality, I was particularly fascinated by the works on the second floor. It is a small space, easily less than half of the area of the first or second floors. The space features a toppled bed frame covered in a bedsheet covered in splattered paint in the style of Jackson Pollock. Suspended on the walls by hooks are bed sheets with intricate prints of flowers, circles and lines. On another wall, a canvas taller and wider than I am features indistinct slews of color in a pointillist fashion. Here, everyday objects are literally flipped over and turned into art. Looking at the process, the transformation of a bed sheet into a meticulous mosaic of shapes and colors poses clear difficulties — adhesive of medium onto surface, issues of the sheet sliding around, etc. — all of which have been addressed successfully. One can only wonder how these plain linens turned out the way they did.

Another piece worth a look resides on the bottom floor, a piece in the style of chalkboard which spells out a number of words. “PO,” “TO,” “SI,” the first half reads, and then “HUTUSI,” “WATUSI,” “WENTUSI,” “WAITUSI.” On first glance, this seems like a helpless game of Scramble with Friends. A Google search of these terms turns up nothing. Some Spanish words line the right side of the board. But on second look, there is some explanation to the piece (finally!). Stuffed in between a series of non-words is the phrase “Are there signifiers in abstraction? Do emotions signify?” Ultimately, the initial struggle to understand the metaphor provides a stronger understanding of the piece — which, in a cleverly circular manner, is actually to evoke that same struggle of questioning, confusion and mystery.

Upon leaving, the viewer may be somewhat frustrated that the artists or their statements were not by their works, explaining their influences and motives. You are left to yourself to completely decipher these meanings. For some, this is somewhat annoying. But for the curious, this show will allow for indulgence in the freedom of speculation.

Part II of the MFA Thesis Show opens on Feb. 18.

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