July 18, 2019 | 81° F

Mason Gross students showcase impressive theses at BFA show

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Rutgers has had a long relationship with the visual arts, a fairly prestigious one. In the 20th century, Rutgers had a tight-knit relationship with the Fluxus art movement, with many professors holding Fluxus events on Rutgers campuses. Mason Gross School of the Arts has also produced notable visual artists, like Joan Snyder and Charles Ray.

The current group of undergraduate artists at Mason Gross School of the Arts is starting to showcase its work as the year begins to wind down. The first reception for BFA Thesis exhibitions, curated by the students themselves, took place last night. The exhibition was entitled “Running In Place,” with work on display spanning many different forms of visual art — photography, painting, sculpture and more available for viewing. 

In reference to the title of the exhibition, Mirthalys Rivera, a Mason Gross School of the Arts junior, explained that it was an inside joke between her and her classmates. “We all agreed that being an art student, you’re kind of running in place, where you’re trying to make progress, but you’re still stagnate.” Even if the theme was about the challenges of being an art student, the art in the exhibition reflected the talent that was evident in all the participants.

The gallery was full of artists, with their friends, family and faculty on hand to help them celebrate. The art was varied not only in medium but also in message, with each artist portraying different aspects of their lives and passions through their work. 

A series of silhouettes portraying African Americans entitled “Don’t Touch My Hair” was on display, by Alexis Crouch, a Mason Gross School of the Arts senior. Seemingly taking inspiration from the 2016 Solange song of the same name, the photographs focused on the beauty of the various hair types the models had. Models wore historically Black-style-like Afros and various twists, reinterpreting tradition as art.

Another eye-catching section of the exhibition was a piece called “Forgive Me Father” by Jessica Leake, a Mason Gross School of the Arts senior. An entire wall was covered in court filings against Catholic priests from Massachusetts, and specifically the Boston area. The documents were all available to read through, and were stamped with words like “Accident” and “Inappropriate Touching.” 

On an adjacent wall, the words $2.5 billion were written out in a bold, black font. Two and a half billion is a significant number, since clergy sex abuse settlements have cost the Catholic Church more than $2.5 billion in recent years. The art was an effective way to represent all the lives affected by sexual abuse.

Rivera spoke about her work and the work of her peers. “This is a show that specifically has a small portion of the seniors present. Overall, I would say the work is very much tied into their personality. It’s evident that their styles and interests are there,” she said.

Other pieces were more interactive, like “Family Dinner” by Erin Brumfield, a Mason Gross School of the Arts senior. In a separate room, there were vinyl records specially pressed for the occasion. On the records, were members of Brumfield's family, telling stories about their daily lives. With family photos on the wall and a couch also installed in the room, the space conveyed a true feeling of “home.”

Other work on display included photographs acting as a “visual biography,” references to the Doomsday Clock and a collection of various conspiracy theories. With art ranging from personal to political, and covering the space in between, there’s something for everybody at the “Running In Place.” This first set of exhibitions runs until March 31, so there’s still time to see the superb art from your peers.

Rivera’s contribution to the show was a departure from art she’s made in the past. “I would say it’s more experimental rather than my ‘best.’ I feel like once you reach ‘best’ it’s boring. I feel like you need to do different things,” she said. 

Quite obviously the goal is to avoid “Running In Place.” By all measures, mission accomplished. 

Jordan Levy

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