The Rundown: Columbia University's 2008 M.F.A. Thesis Exhibition

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The 2008 Columbia M.F.A. Thesis Exhibition, curated by Drawing Center curator João Ribas, is one of the more unmemorable in recent years, which is not to say that there was not some evidence, among the works of the twenty-six graduating students, of rigor and sophistication, but rather that the show was resoundingly devoid of the type of flashy, ready-to-be-consumed showstoppers characteristic of past rounds. This might account, in part, for the fact that several of the artists, including Brendan Harman, Sara Stracey and Carlos Sandoval De Leon, work in interdisciplinary installation and sculptural assemblage, practices that have been subject to considerable curatorial and commercial attention in recent months and that, by nature, favor the associative and the fragmentary over totalized aesthetic forms. To claim further overarching themes to be anything but conjectural would, in a sense, miss the point of the unwieldy beast that is the thesis show. A certain expressive, narrational tendency could be observed in the work of several graduating painters, like Nate Wolf, Allison Katz and Jessica Williams, coming as a refreshing counterpoint to all of the hard-edged abstraction currently hanging about Chelsea and suggesting the rule of Dana Schutz (MFA '02) may be, as yet, ongoing. Standouts include the oversize drawings of Alyssa Pheobus, which revisit the history of American decorative arts through paper collage and technically accomplished graphite drawing; Leigh Ledare's psychologically charged photographs and videos of his mother, a ballet dancer-turned-stripper; and Oz Malul's elegant, mechanical sculptures. On the occasion of my visit, I had the pleasure of witnessing one in an ongoing series of collaborative performances staged by Georgia Sagri, today finding the petite artist alternately recording vocal loops and executing endless ambulatory loops across a carpet of fabric hides. While bearing no explicit critique of the thesis exhibition, Sagri's compulsive execution cleverly played on the way that even performance can (and, in this context, may be expected to) spin itself into commodity. - Tyler Coburn


Image Credit: Oz Malul, Shoot The Moon, 2008

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