Friday, August 11, 2017

NJCU MFA Dress Rehearsal at Drawing Rooms, 7/28/17 - 8/12/17

by Megan Klim
8/11/17



The concept of a “Dress Rehearsal” exhibition is somewhat novel for candidates working towards their MFA, since usually it is after a thesis is completed that the work is exhibited. This approach, which was deftly curated by Anne Trauben and hosted at  Drawing Rooms in Jersey City, offered not only a glimpse into the artists’ current thinking, but also offered  a sneak peek into their developing processes and in one case, to an already established artist. As an MFA candidate, it can be a vulnerable time for finding your voice. Here, some artists were more on target than others, yet, as a whole, the exhibition showed depth and promise. Regardless, it was a welcomed opportunity to see these artists during this personal period of exploration. The candidates are: Alejandro Rubin, Duda Penteado, Marco Cutrone, Maria Tapia, Michael Barreto, and Rachel Kehoe.


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Michael Barreto’s work spoke to uncertainty yet fortitude at the same time. His layered somewhat chaotic backgrounds were punctuated with clean looking stenciled text with catch phrases heard often.


Polarized statements such as “Believe you Can and You’re halfway There” lived on the same picture plane as “Post No Bills” adding a contradictory slant. The artist also used objects with text, with one having 5 very worn out work gloves, man-sized, with the word DEADBEAT stenciled at the bottom. I found this piece to be the most visually pleasing with its earthy undertones, while being intriguing as I tried to make connections to the very used  gloves and to the text that perhaps suggested otherwise. I am curious to see where he brings his interplay of text, object and surface next.


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Alejandro Rubin’s work was intimate and personal without much fanfare. A swimmer, I could easily see his direct connection to his digital prints of the sea in his homeland of Venezuela. Some photos were cropped and some filled the whole frame. The images were seductive and took on a material feel; almost like an eraser drawing with the blurred edges of the changing sea with areas of depth. One could get lost looking at the subtle tones of the water and it’s immense power through the stopped action of its movement, while also bringing the viewer to a quiet veneration. Rubin also had an installation across the hall, which invited the viewer to sit in a welcoming leather chair facing an old-school small TV looking monitor that showed his sea pictures in an almost imperceptible loop forcing the viewer to take an even closer look. There was a wind-like sound in the background, which turned out to be a passing train– perhaps a nod to urban life vs. the solitude one feels staring at the vast sea. Directly in front of the chair on some sand, a large metal bin filled with water was placed to soak your feet as you ruminated on the pictures. Rubin created a relaxed, yet controlled environment for us to honor his images, while inviting more of our senses.


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With Rachel Kehoe’s work, I was intrigued and perplexed simultaneously. Kehoe took old paintings, the kind you find in a thrift store, and altered them by painting in her own imagery. For example, one landscape had a flying saucer (added by her) in a wooded area. In another, she added the famous “Starry Night” sky by Van Gogh to an already thickly painted landscape. There was no real attempt to integrate the already given style of the original paintings which only separated the additions further.  She states “kitsch” in her statement, but I saw no solid commitment to that stance. Also, in some paintings, the original artists names were either lightly blurred out, crossed out more fully or not at all. I couldn’t see a connection to why this changed from piece to piece. There were, however, notable attempts to use famous imagery (Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec). Some imagery felt random– as if she was simply taking an already existing painting as her “ground” and inserting things without any clear direction or connection to the original. But, in one she had great success. The colorful post-modern crisply painted dots placed over a drab mono-toned still life soared. Here, she created tension while having a conversation with what existed underneath. This piece considered the original and played off it in a visual, formal and historical way. I hope she continues in this direction.


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As can happen when an artist seems to be exploring their work, I saw two different approaches in Maria Tapia's gallery space. The left side of the room had some imagery (crosses, symbols), mixed media (yarn), while the other had mostly simple, painterly abstractions which was where my eye was held.  Tapia writes that she wants to create “Narrative Atmospheres” and with these 4 pieces she has. These pieces looked like she had fun while making them with the creamy patches of paint , touches of color and brush marks dancing the plane as visual stepping stones to carry us through. These paintings offered us a tactile experience– simply and without fuss. I think Tapia hasn’t made the decision just yet which route to take, but I hope she trusts her instincts to have the materials speak on her behalf.


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As soon as I entered Marco Cutrone's room, the words “The Male Gaze” came to mind.  These skillfully, realistic and carefully crafted paintings all showed beautiful women in various poses with mostly sparse Hopper-esque backgrounds. What I found immediately interesting was the fact that of all 8 pieces– only one woman looked at the viewer. The others were turned inward, looking away pensively or to our backs. There was a voyeuristic quality to this work– as if someone uninvited was the careful observer to women unaware, yet also a quiet interplay of honoring the subjects. One in particular, “A Bed of Roses”, caught my attention. The space Cutrone created was awkward and unsettling. Is she sitting? Laying down? And why were her hands placed in that manner? The highly rendered floral background really showcased the figure here. Over all, these pieces felt somewhat staged, punctuating a sense of detachment as one retreats into their own thoughts.


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As an already established and successful artist, I was really curious to see how Duda Penteado’s work would shift under the framework of an MFA program. Having been familiar with this artist’s previous work, I saw the same palette and energy, yet this work seemed more pared down and singular. Penteado’s shapes teeter between biomorphic and structured that live in that un-named space in between. His stacked shapes reminded me of a Jenga game tower that was more writhing and unstable, yet would stay standing with the strength of its determination. Penteado is a master of offering up a color experience mixed with shiny metallic areas and black outlining. His shapes are his own– a mixture of body parts, architecture and pattern with portals into them. Penteado’s work tackles big ideas of humanity and purpose resounding with joy and angst which provide a full experience.

NJCU MFA Dress Rehearsal at Drawing Rooms, 7/28/17 - 8/12/17, at Drawing Rooms, features drawing, installation, painting, photography and sculpture by Alejandro Rubin, Duda Penteado, Marco Cutrone, Maria Tapia, Michael Barreto, and Rachel Kehoe. The exhibit is curated by Anne Trauben.