MCA staff showcases the artist within
>‘ If we don’t know how to make art, how can we teach?’
Special to The Commercial Appeal
The faculty at Memphis College of Art is like some great exotic flower. Every three years it blossoms in a colorful display of creative and varied finery.
The “Triennial Faculty Exhibition” opens today in the college’s Rust Hall Gallery in Overton Park.
“It’s a good thing that we do this,” said sculptor and installation artist Tom Lee, who has been on the MCA faculty for 20 years. “We are colleagues, and we see each other a lot, but we don’t actually talk about our work very much. I like seeing how other people are growing, developing and changing. Maybe every three years isn’t enough. Maybe we should do this exhibition once every two years.”
This is a large show that includes the work of 28 artists, both full-time faculty and adjunct or part-time teachers, some of whom work on a large scale.
“That’s one of the problems with a show like this,” said Jennifer Sargent, a fiber artist who is director of exhibitions and lectures at MCA and is the exhibition organizer.
“There’s no organizing principle, really. I want the faculty to choose the work they think best represents them, but sometimes the size of the pieces poses a problem. I try to be flexible, though.”
Faculty exhibitions “are essential,” Sargent said, “for both students and faculty. Sometimes students forget that the people teaching them are actually working artists, so this reminds them of that fact and helps to open a conversation between students and their teachers. And it’s good for the faculty to see what all the others are doing and working on.”
Teachers at MCA maintain their own studios; they do not have working spaces at the college.
Faculty members chose the pieces for the exhibition from various motivations.
As far as new work is concerned, Susan Maakestad, for example, is concealing as much as she is revealing.
“I have a show coming up in March at Material (gallery),” said Maakestad, who has taught painting at MCA since 1997, “so I don’t want to show too much. I have to save a lot for the next show.”
Maakestad’s constant theme for the past decade has been the literal and existential vacancies of empty parking lots, highway interchanges and suburban sidewalks, treated with vivid coloration and close to abstract composition. Her latest work, she explained, is inspired by Web cams and traffic camera images. “I did a bunch of watercolors based on these images,” she said, “and I wanted the paintings to look like watercolors, sort of effortless and less painted.”
Lee, on the other hand, engaged in some recycling of old work and combined it with new work for his contribution to the show, the large-scale “Atheists Prayer Rug,” a title typical of his sardonic humor. “As you know,” he said, “I like to work big to compensate for my small thoughts.”
He summarized what may be the ultimate reason for producing faculty exhibitions at arts institutions. “If we don’t know how to make art, how can we teach? We have to show the students that we really do know what we’re talking about.”
TOP: Bill Price, “38 Caliber Drake.” LEFT: Fred Burton finishes work on his piece, “Memory of a Passagiato Near Orvieto.” RIGHT: Susan Maakestad, “Untitled, #44“