MFA exhibits at Memphis College of Art and the University of Memphis.

The Memphis College of Art and the University of Memphis each have their master of fine arts thesis exhibitions currently on view. I always like to think that these two institutions are participating in a battle royal for Memphis art-world supremacy, where the victor enjoys the spoils and dictates the course of the art scene for the following year. A healthy dose of competition never hurt anyone, right?

"Hysterics," at Memphis College of Art's Nesin Graduate Center, features the work of Raquel Adams, Rebecca Coleman, Shirin Shahin, and Lindsey Gwaltney Todd.

Raquel Adams had her son at the age of 14. Her work is an exploration of the past, present, and future of their relationship. It is an honest depiction of a teen mother that is more personal than what is glorified in the media and on those silly and obviously scripted reality television shows. None of the topics presented in the installation of photos and digital projection were discussed by Adams and her son before work started on the piece. The act of creating this body of work has led them to become closer and to gain a better understanding of each other. There is a candidness about the work that is a little unsettling and is intentionally so.

Lindsey Gwaltney Todd has anxiety attacks caused by crowds, loud noises, and claustrophobic places. She says that grocery stores are problematic for her. She created the installation Panic Room — animation of drawings on paper projected on a wall — as a simulation of an anxiety attack, so the viewer could better comprehend the disorder.

The pieces Surveillance and Trigger accompany this installation and reinforce the feelings of dread, paranoia, and instability that are central to her anxiety. Each of the pieces begins with a small drawing that is then transformed into larger, more complicated pieces. Gwaltney Todd says the drawings are therapeutic for her, and the simple act of putting pen to paper puts her in a meditative state and allows her to work through the anxieties.
Through December 15th

"Corner," at the Art Museum of the University of Memphis, features the work of Brian Bundren, Jennifer Burton, Katie Maish, and Kathleen Murray.

Maish has a love/hate relationship with Epcot's "World Showcase." She is curious about the effect the showcase of places and cultures has on the millions of children who visit. She states, "The work is about the tension between the immersive Disney experience that Walt Disney intended and the unpleasant feeling that, as an engaged participant, I am complicit with an experience containing colonial undertones that commodifies culture."

Maish is not glorifying or condemning Epcot. She is more interested in dealing with these two feelings. She has created an installation of photos on vellum screens that simulates this experience and is inspired by the map room of the Sala delle Mappa Geografiche in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. Cosimo I de' Medici commissioned the room to confirm and display his dominion of the areas that he had conquered. It is an interesting juxtaposition — the conquered world of Cosimo I and the Walt Disney Company — and shows that we will always put trophies on display. In the case of Disney, it's the trophy of continents that are homogenized into one generic cultural representation.
Through January 12th

If there is a common theme to these two exhibitions, it is an anxiety about the future while attempting to deal with the past. A discussion/showdown between these two groups of exhibiting artists on these topics alone could prove to be fruitful in coming to terms with these ideas. 

A showdown between the two schools would be great, and I would very much like to see such a contest of wills take place, but it will never happen. As a graduate of both institutions, I can attest that these two art departments, their faculties and their students, have had very little communication with each other. It is a shame.

Imagine how much the visual arts in Memphis would benefit if the faculties worked together in promoting and creating art events for their students and communities. They could start by inviting each other to their critiques; perhaps have exhibitions together of their students' work at Marshall Arts or Crosstown Arts. It is laughable how easy this could be. If the students had opportunities to channel their creative energies and work together on projects — at the very least be aware of what each other is doing — the sky really is the limit, and Memphis would be much better for it.


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