Making nostalgia look trendy
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, April 20, 2012
There's one amazing perk to attending the Corcoran College of Art and Design. After you graduate, your rsum can boast that you had a show at the Corcoran.
For the next month, the B.F.A. thesis projects of the school's graduating seniors are being showcased in the same galleries that have featured the likes of Annie Leibovitz and Andy Warhol. Since September, the students have been pondering this show. For many, it's the first time they will think about the finished product, and not just the process.
Called "Next at the Corcoran," the show is, as you might expect, a mixed bag. Adjust your expectations accordingly.
That doesn't mean it's bad, just that it's student work. Along with art by people we will never hear from again, the show offers a preview of tomorrow's hotshots.
Some, we've already heard from. Photographer Kaitlin Jencso, for instance, was recently featured in a three-artist exhibition at the Goethe-Institut, along with German photographer Iris Janke and Sara J. Winston, a Corcoran alum.
If you're looking for a way into the show, Jencso's work is as good a starting point as any. It's emblematic of something that feels like a bit of a trend: the tendency to make art about the past or, more specifically, about the linkage between geography and identity. Put another way, it's art about how where we come from -- the powerful pull of place -- makes us who we are.
Janke embraces this theme, in photographs documenting her life and childhood in Germany. So does Jencso -- as do her photographer classmates Caitlyn Bierman, Ethan Browning, Aaron Canipe, Michael Evnen and others. It hardly seems to matter that some of them are fine arts students and others photojournalism majors. It's often hard to tell the difference between the two, with work by some fine artists that has the deadpan feel of reportage and work by photojournalists that's colored by a strong sense of style.
This blurring of boundaries is a good thing.
For Jencso, her focus is on rural Southern Maryland, where she grew up. For Bierman, it's Winfield Park, N.J. Browning looks at Frankenmuth, Mich., where half the population is of German descent. Canipe takes pictures of Hickory, N.C., and other points south of Richmond, along with his family members. Evnen trains his lens on his home state of Nebraska.
What going on here? Part of it can be explained by coincidence. Aren't all budding artists told to make art about what -- or, in this case, where -- they know? But the rest of it seems like a genuine mini art movement. There's a potent sense of nostalgia in these bodies of work that feels, paradoxically, fresh.
The show is by no means all photography. Artist Hannah Jeon, for instance, contributes a wall of what look like half-finished hand-knit scarves, each one accompanied by a title referencing a Bible verse (e.g., "Acts 1:8"). But it's the photographs - and, in some cases, videos -- that make the strongest showing.
They also make a strong case -- not for looking forward, as the title "Next" suggests -- but for looking backward, over your own shoulder.
The story behind the work
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, April 20, 2012
Jeff Herrity's "Focus Group" looks neither forward nor backward but at you and the museum around you. It's an installation of several video cameras, images from which appear in a live feed at www.jeffherrity.net/focusgroup. There are no monitors or signage, so consider yourself warned: You are being watched.
Mounted, like Cyclopean eyes, atop crude, torsolike stands that vaguely evoke Alberto Giacometti's human figures, the cameras are positioned on the museum's second-floor "bridge," greeting visitors as they arrive at "Next," and pointing in several directions. A few of the camera stands, however, have wheels. You're more than welcome, Herrity says, to roll them around so they face other people's artwork, or other people.
The piece by the former marketer -- who, at 43, is at a very different life stage than most of his 20-something classmates -- is as much about looking as it is about being looked at.
According to Herrity, he got the idea when an earlier work of his, on view in a school hallway, was vandalized. Because video surveillance in the school was not as pervasive as in the Corcoran, the security staff could not find any footage of the perpetrator.