Discarded bird wings clutter the floor, a whimsical golden cage stands as a fortress in the distance and a pair of black headphones suspend from the ceiling. This is not a garage sale; the items on display are not trash.
This is the New Wight Gallery, showcasing installations by UCLA’s most recognized fine art students.
From now until December 13, the Art Undergraduate Scholarship Award Exhibition will showcase the artwork of twenty fine arts students receiving merit-based scholarships. After being nominated by a faculty member, these students showcased their best work last spring in the Undergraduate Juried Exhibition. They were then selected as the 2012-2013 scholarship recipients. The Art Undergraduate Scholarship Award Exhibition’s opening reception kicked off last Thursday at the Broad Art Center in the New Wight Gallery.
“It’s quite different from showing in a classroom ““ its got a formality to it and it’s a test for (the scholarship recipients), to see if their work can rise to the occasion (of the exhibition),” said Russell Ferguson, Chair of the Department of Art.
The exhibition features works ranging from ceramics and photography to performance and audio. At the opening reception, attendees were not only encouraged to look at students’ installations, but also interact and engage directly with them.
Fourth-year fine arts student, Esther Yang, presents her most recent work, titled “Traffic”: an installation that exposes the falsity of stereotypes by inviting viewers to interact directly with her prints. Yang said when stuck in traffic, people often stereotype others based on the car they drive or the way they look; her installation is meant to challenge this negativity.
A clear, frosted mylar paper covers each print in the series. On it, there is a short stereotype one might project onto the driver next to him or her. Yang invites viewers to lift the Mylar paper, revealing the driver’s true image hidden underneath the stereotype.
“You never touch prints. Paintings maybe, but prints are a no-no,” Yang said. “But I really want people to interact with my prints ““ which I think surprises a lot of them.”
Since the exhibition attracted a crowd during the opening reception, there were plenty of people to engage with Yang’s “Traffic” installation, as well as the other student work.
“It’s a wide range of people who get the opportunity to see the work, and that’s the great thing for the participants, to have as broad of an audience as possible,” Ferguson said.
Not only did the scholarship students showcase their work to their peers, but also to the greater Los Angeles community. In addition to student attendees, friends, family and community members came to support the exhibition’s opening reception.
However, with the crowds of people came crowds of opinions, and more abstract installations led viewers to interpret these pieces in various ways.
“Once something leaves your hands, the meaning no longer belongs to you,” fourth-year fine arts student, Yasmin Thomas said.
Her sculpture of a dead bird’s remnants, titled “Skilled Artwork Crash Lands in the Gallery,” was intended to be a humorous representation, but the audience interpreted it in their own way.
Thomas said in art, craft is looked down upon compared to fine art. Her sculpture of a dead bird (which she said is a popular artistic motif) was intended to comment on the dismissal of craft. Although her piece was meant to be satirical, Thomas said many viewers interpreted her work as poetic instead, but that is part of the beauty of art: that no two people will see art in the same way.
Unlike the artistically ambiguous installations like Thomas’ sculpture, there are pieces that viewers can digest, relate to and use to understand an artist’s perspective ““ like fourth-year fine arts student Stacey Myhren’s audio project, “I’m Not Depressed.”
Considered part of the new genres of art, Myhren said her audio installation was initially created for a class project, and turned out to be a verbal diary of her experience with depression. She began her battle when she was a young girl, and because of the seriousness of the piece, Myhren said she did not expect viewers to have the same reactions.
“One girl came and gave me a hug, some don’t listen to it all, and some identify with it,” Myhren said. “When I showed it in class, it was dead silent for a minute or two.”
Although reactions were more intense than she anticipated, Myhren said audio pieces with headphones are more immediately immersing than other art mediums.
Ferguson said that undergraduate students are encouraged to take courses in all the different art mediums ““ including the new genres like audio. He said this gives them more experience, and also makes the Art Undergraduate Scholarship Award Exhibition more diverse.
In addition to the staff and students that support the exhibition, Ferguson said curators and staff from the Hammer museum take an interest in the scholarship recipients. The exhibition is a platform for the scholarship recipients to show their best work.
While Ferguson said some students’ works are almost ready to be shown in professional galleries, not all the recipients hope for such a career.
Yang said she does not plan on pursuing a professional career as an artist. However, she said the Art Undergraduate Scholarship Award Exhibition provides students with a supportive, non-competitive environment and an opportunity for community members to see the works of rising contemporary artists.
“(The scholarship exhibition) is fresh because we’re not trying to sell our art or go into galleries,” Yang said. “We’re showing things that we really like and want to do.”
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