Whether Tool Shed, Parking Lot or Alley, MFA Thesis Locales Show Extra Creativity in Virtual Exhibition
“Entropic Construction” by Michael Thron is one of the art installations featured in the MFA thesis showcase, which shifted online this year due to COVID-19.
A storage shed filled with tools and gardening equipment doesn’t have much in common with a pristine white-walled art gallery. But starting today, you can hop online and see an art installation in a Frederick backyard.
The showcase for University of Maryland art students completing their MFA degrees—this year combined with a showcase for 23 bachelor’s degree candidates, as well—was supposed to take place in the gallery in the Parren J. Mitchell Art-Sociology Building. When COVID-19 made that impossible and restrictions on research made even completing some pieces a challenge, faculty and students found an alternate solution: install the canvasses, sculptures and room-sized installations where they could and put the exhibit online.
“We quickly had to figure out how our graduate students were going to operate, because they’ve been working for almost three years to this point and it’s definitely the pinnacle of all their work for people to see,” said Justin Strom, associate professor of print media/digital imagine and director of the graduate program.
W.C. Richardson, chair of the Department of Art, arranged for the four graduate students to access the Art-Sociology Building to complete their work while following social distancing protocol. “They would have negotiated the entire gallery to curate in a way to feed off each other and showcase each other,” said Strom. “Instead, they were sequestered to being alone the whole time.”
When it came to installing the pieces, each student had to make do with unanticipated sites. Lauren Koch MFA ’20 turned to her partner’s shed—in many ways an appropriate choice for her work, which examines how everyday objects like lawn chairs and old tools, many of which come from her grandparents’ farm in Georgia, are tied to memory and life events.
“I envisioned the piece being in a white-walled gallery, having a lot of juxtaposition between the actual physical found objects and the space, but once I started using this shed to do the install, they look so natural,” said Koch. “That was basically where they had come from prior to this, so it was a little bit funky.”
Four boats raised 12 to 14 feet above the ground also had to find a new home. Michael Thron’s work, influenced by his childhood in coastal Stamford, Conn., explores how climate change and rising tides are affecting maritime culture. Thron MFA ’20 had designed the piece to fit specifically in the UMD gallery, down to how to move the boats through the building and into the gallery. Now, the boats are parked in an alley outside the building.
“We’re trying to get through (the pandemic) and do what we need to do in life but also be aware of the changes,” said Thron. “I think installing a giant thesis exhibition in a dead-end alleyway is a good metaphor for that.”
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