Grad Work 

Some grade-A student art.

Spring break spent inside a wooden box. A golf course climbing the walls of a university art museum. A chalk-white alter ego squatting on a toilet. Explicit drawings of a figure experimenting with a strap-on phallus. What were these student artists thinking?

In five recent exhibitions, graduating students from the University of Memphis, Memphis College of Art, and Rhodes College asked questions and challenged existing attitudes. They saw the world anew by creating alter egos and multiverses that ignored the laws of time/space, corporate ownership, and class division. They experimented with new materials and looked for beauty in urban landscapes.

Discourse by Mikewindy at AMUM

One of the most striking works currently on exhibit is Mikewindy's master's thesis work Discourse, at the University of Memphis Art Museum. Discourse, a very large, surprisingly graceful sculpture created to fill the entire space of the museum's entrance gallery, is the artist's monument to golf. Slender pink rods of metal connect 28 multicolored and multishaped carved-wood golf courses that footstep along the 66-foot floor, climb the walls, and hover close to the gallery's 24-foot ceiling.

Other strong work in AMUM's master's thesis exhibition (showing through May 28th) include Hugh Busby's especially accomplished Accepted-Unaccepted, a film documentary exploring homosexual relationships. Busby cut and spliced prime-time television footage from news programs, docudramas, and comedy series into five short films that powerfully point and counterpoint stereotypes regarding homosexuality. The films also poignantly chronicle the challenges and deep bonds of the gay male union.

Exhilaratingly all-encompassing describes Johnny Goodwin's photomontages for T-shirts, mugs, and postcards. Goodwin's surreal landscapes are cohabited by cartoon characters, historical figures, Buddhist shrines, national monuments, brand names, and television and movie stars. Also on view is some fine technical artistry in Rebecca Cross' prototypes for "artist-friendly" computer interfaces. Viewing photographer Kristopher Stallworth's clean lines, spare compositions, and planes of pure pigment may enhance your observations of Memphis city streets as you recall the lighted storefront window floating in a black void in his C-print Poplar Ave., his lines of intensely blue shopping carts marching across expanses of gray in American Way, and red-brick facades framing saturated skies in Germantown Parkway.

Among the most original works produced for the University of Memphis bachelor of fine arts show at Studio 1688 in April were Berry Hooper's experiments with material and form. Especially ingenious was Hooper's Two by Two, a sculptural concoction of resin, fiberglass, and a king-sized bed sheet. Flexible and translucent, Two by Two wafted with the breezes coming through the gallery's front door and imbued light passing through it with beautiful amber tones.

For her Memphis College of Art master's thesis, Hillary Pesson created Art and Lies, a series of exquisitely rendered contour drawings depicting a young woman's reactions to a dildo. Not primarily intended to shock or titillate, this figure's gender experiments feel unabashedly private, focused, and reflective. Her gestures and postures are nuanced depictions of the wonder and uncertainty that accompany intense emotional and physiological experience.

Memphis College of Art graduate Marina Tami sculpts with neon-colored paper and pages from magazines. For her master's thesis, My Pleasure, she rolled and stacked pages of pure pigment into a shape that, depending on one's point of view, looks like a psychedelic hamburger, a box of 1,000-watt crayons turned on its side, pixilated peacock plumes, or the world's crown jewels loaded on the bed of a semi. Exploring Tami's pink, chartreuse, and electric yellow and blue building blocks (who needs Legos?) produces jolts of pure visual pleasure.

Thirty-one Memphis College of Art bachelor of fine arts candidates mounted a show that ran the gamut of artistic disciplines. Almost all the work was strong, including Tod Salin's 3-D animation digital video, Space Pod; Thaddeus Bogg's Skin I (imagine a large Malevich in off-white handmade paper with subtle embossing); and David Hardin's Designer Dave Self-promotional, a hilarious packaging and selling of the artist as "a six-foot ultra-creative designer with incredible portfolio and work skills." Extra kudos for photographer Moko Fukuyama's creation of a campy, chalk-white omniscient observer who witnesses the lifestyles, anxiety, and tedium of modernity while squatting on a toilet, wandering city streets at night, and examining (not so) over-easy eggs strewn across a kitchen stove and floor.

The most compelling work in this year's Rhodes senior thesis show (showing through May 15th) was Amanda Brown's Blackification Box, a plywood think (and create) tank whose ceiling and walls are covered with pictures, drawings, and writings of African-American slaves, statesmen, and entertainers. This Hispanic and African-American artist, who also created two videos exploring racial stereotypes, spent a week in her wooden box considering her own and others' racial prejudices.

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