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Art is so strange, isn’t it?  Sometimes I can go and have a great time seeing artwork and other times I just don’t know what the hell I’m looking at.  But once in a while, like at Stanford’s MFA show, those opposing feelings merge together. I guess I sort of expected to see monumental statuary based on the adventures of Condoleeza Rice or an altar to Tiger Woods where young golfers could go to pray. Given that the founders of Yahoo! and Google went to Stanford it seemed like anything was possible.

This year’s MFA class included five artists; each very different from the others. Diane Landry offered a sideways take on Eadweard Muybridge’s motion studies, with motorized salad-spinner zoetropes that didn’t seem to quite work properly. The motors were not spinning at a constant rate and sometimes it was hard to see the images inside due to the works coming apart in places. I don’t think this was intentional. Things that spin tend to fall apart.

Kristin Lucas exhibited an anthropomorphic table-person that appeared to eat a slice of cake or, alternately, play a small keyboard.  Music in the headphones seemed to indicate that the installation was funny but after watching the looped video several times, it was unclear why. The figure appeared to be to be clownish or robotic and just tried to eat cake or play the keyboard over and over.  Formally it echoed video sculptures by Nam June Paik or Paul McCarthy but lacked a context to situate its message. But it looked like art.

Brendan Lott, reminiscent of Mark Manders, laid out a cryptic iconography that almost made sense but left me wondering if I understood it or not. He mounted two separate installations of taxidermic animal forms, rough-hewn and raw, each seeming to be part of an incomplete gesture. It might be that the gestures were lost in the room with wall-to-wall carpeting and controlled lighting.  In another venue they might have come more fully to life.  A lot of work went into the presentation so I am assuming that the absence of a counterpoint or explanation was part of the idea.

Ala Ebtekar’s vending machine was quite popular and many people purchased his art for five dollars a pop. What fell out of the machine was a sealed pack of cards with Iranian mythological heroes on them, I think.

Elaine Buckholtz showed a subtle video work that toyed with the idea of video art itself.  Instead of a monitor or conventional projection, she created an entire space with seating so viewers would see the work in the way she wanted them to see it. Soft, blurry bands of color fluttered into one another and seemed like a living spectrograph or table of the elements. Sitting down at her hand-made bench and then gazing at the long band of shifting lines was like staring into a pond. The colors and their variations seemed to follow a logic, but as with the other works here in the show, there was a lack of good signage or explanatory text. Some great ideas might have been left not understood because of this. Word to the wise—sometimes viewers need help to understand—especially if they really want to understand.

— Chris Cobb

- Meredith Tromble [Monday, May 29th, 2006]

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