MCA staff show­cases the artist within

>‘ If we don’t know how to make art, how can we teach?’

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - Art - By Fredric Koep­pel

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“

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