It's art-fair season in the world, y'all. According to my Instagram feed, you've got the Frieze Art Fair and NADA in New York City through this weekend, and the Venice Biennale through November, and I'm sure there are plenty of others that haven't even crossed my nascent art-critic consciousness yet. Lucky for us, we can stop squinting at those tiny images on our phones because here in Baltimore we happen to have a really great, sprawling, overwhelming, fairlike display of works at MICA's undergraduate commencement exhibition.
I just went to check it out last night during Art Walk, which is a special event that visitors pay to get into, and it's kinda cool because they give you drinks and the artists are (usually) present and you can chat with them and easily purchase their works. But today through Monday, the exhibition is free and open to the public (and there's a free reception on Sunday), so take your time as you make your way across MICA's campus, building to building, and take in the work of these emerging artists.
(I guess I should get some of my disclosures out of the way here: I graduated from MICA last spring, and I was already pretty familiar with many of these artists, as friends or acquaintances/classmates, and their works.)
You can drop in wherever you want, but I recommend starting either on the southeast side of campus at the Mt. Royal Station building (1400 Cathedral St.) or at the northwest end, in the Gateway (1601 W. Mount Royal Ave.), and winding your way across the middle of campus through the Bunting, Fox, Brown, and Main buildings.
In Gateway, you'll find a delightfully dizzying installation by April Camlin (the amazing drumming half of the band Wume) of black and white tape and printed, stretched fabric pieces, all in varying striped patterns that cross over and pop out of each other and form ribbony and boxlike shapes and almost seem to be animated (see below). Be sure to get up close and take note of the small stitched accents.
On the opposite side of the wall, Kara Mask (a friend and former roommate) mixes her fine art and graphic-design practices in a series of paintings on prints that toy with many notions of "the grid"—in the context of design but also in terms of finding/losing one's way, such as, maybe, in painting.
Next to Gateway, in the 1515 building, don't miss thesis projects by students in architectural design, including one prescient project called 'Hacking Baltimore' by Sophie Stoerkel, which explores and unpacks, via research and mapping, inequity in Baltimore's public transportation system, while offering "possible design solutions."
There are a number of lovely works in the Bunting building, including Sarah Brousseau's small, shaped paintings that play with transparency, overlapping, and a particularly springy color palette. Speaking of springy, across the Cohen plaza, in the Brown Center, I waited for the elevator and literally jumped when it opened and I saw Taryn Mingey's floor-to-ceiling installation of coiled pipe cleaners.
The Fox and Main buildings probably have the highest concentration of work, so take a break and a breath if you need to mentally prepare yourself. In the Meyerhoff Gallery on the first floor of Fox, Madeleine Buck transforms what would ordinarily be a horrifying experience into something weirdly precious with her 'Rats of Baltimore' piece, which has little stuffed rats (made of a pretty, netlike patterned fabric) that seem to scurry out from a curtained window. In the Decker Gallery, Kirsty Hambrick (who illustrated the cover of our College Guide last year) presents a series of framed illustrations, many of which are solemn but beautiful, including one that depicts a forest fire and someone walking toward it.
Some of the most successful parts of the commencement exhibition are when the artists intentionally chose to show their work together. This seems to be the case with Ariel Pond and Taylor Firestein's "Subtle Systems," on the fourth floor of Fox. Firestein's light, delicate weavings act like minimalist drawings, and heighten your awareness of the linen and cotton threads and the tension that holds them all together. Pond's series of embroidered, appliqued, and quilted sheet-of-paper-size pieces cover the opposite wall. Each piece says "Everything will be ok" in typed or handwritten text—each one is different—and this obsessive process is quietly incredibly moving.
In a nearby room, Elizabeth Sullivan has set up a cheery, therapeutic ball pit (remember to remove your shoes and the valuables in your pockets first), and a couple of writing stations in which you can write letters to your genitals. Sometimes you just need a little release.
The third floor houses some of the illustration department's work, including this most excellent garment by Lex Skotty.
Across the street, in the basement of the Main building, are several works from the photography department, including lovely fashion photography by Blair Lashley and busy, fluorescent photos of markets by Jiuying Jin. Dana M. Chang and Ashley E. Walters both display series on daily life—Chang with calm, cool still lifes and portraits and Walters with a photo of a lone tombstone that just says "HERE LIES" among photos of landscapes and eerie, middle-of-nowhere houses.
Upstairs on the second floor, City Paper's very own Weekly writer and Performing Arts Editor (and also my pal and roommate, jeez, talk about conflicts of interest) Maura Callahan's series of paintings of gloves transfixed me for so long. Her confident handling of paint and color are so satisfying; just let your eye meander on 'Discard After Use,' a painting on canvas of three yellow disposable gloves which sit atop a few cardboard rectangles over a blue-gray ground, but try to avoid the urge to lick those buttery textures. Callahan is in good company with the playful abstract paintings of Hannah Knight Leighton and raucous figural paintings by Staver Klitgaard—one of which features a very pink woman leaning back, legs spread wide, giving birth to a waterfall—along with Ian Reynolds' slightly more stoic paintings of landscapes and soft, abstract spaces.
In another room, on the third floor, there's a great group show with Michael Uckotter, Louis Fratino, Annie Murphy, Luis Seda, Ellen Phillips, Rachel Hayden, Brittany Jasin, and Ryan Doyle, whose works feel like they playfully push and pull from each other in a good way. While Seda, Fratino, and Hayden use figures and narrative and color as driving forces, Phillips, Jasin, Doyle, and Uckotter find meaning in abstraction and texture and shape. Murphy's installation sits amiably between the two, using painted objects such as toy dinosaurs and velveteen fabrics in bold colors that allow the viewer to create a strange series of relationships between the objects.
When Freddie Gray died, and when protests were building, MICA students were finishing up their finals and their thesis projects, and I know from talking to many of them that it was hard to focus on something that felt far less important than protesting injustice. But closing out my Art Walk experience were a number of works that seemed to draw (consciously or not) from the recent protests and the pervasive anger about the lack of justice for African-American people who have been victims of police brutality. Jean-Luc Gallic's series of small cement barricades, each painted slightly different, to me, recalled some of the obnoxious overpolicing we've seen here, which complemented Elena Brunner's (a friend of mine) tense, almost tarry drawings of protesters, alleyways, and baseball players yelling at each other (with tummies touching).
And down the hill in the Mount Royal Station building, all the way up on the third floor (follow the signs to the proper stairwell), this one by Grace Davis hits hard—it's something in the frail mulberry paper hanging by chains and the almost too-light handwriting.
I spent nearly four hours going through the work and taking notes and snapping pictures—so many that my phone died, and near the end, when I got to Mount Royal Station, my blood sugar was dropping fast, so this wraps up just a small fraction of the work, but I'm looking forward to going back again this weekend with fresh eyes.