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I understand that presenting any group show with over 50 people would be a challenge, but still… walking through the MFA Thesis show at California College of the Arts (CCA) I couldn’t help but feel how much the artists would have benefited from a larger or different space. It seemed unfitting somehow that so many of them had to show their work in the studio they’d been using during the program. A thesis show can be symbolic in that the space of the show can represent the passage of the student from one place in time to another.  Perhaps it’s hard to get at such ideas with so many people involved?

That said, and despite the cramped environment, there were some interesting surprises if one looked for them. For example, I noticed at the reception people seemed to really like the idiosyncratic drawings of Scott de Bie, cryptic landscapes by Leslie Shows (who just won the SECA award), and a video by Elise Irving. I noticed that there was quite a lot of drawing in the show. Equally prevalent was a lot of sculpture that toyed with messy abstraction—some were made of paper, some of plastic, some in various unidentifiable media. Much of the abstraction was unrestrained and three-dimensional—like Marie Reich’s work where fabric patterns and collage seemed to flow into one another with only a light concern for the story-telling going on within the materials. And forms seemed to dominate content, as in the work of Raoul Pacheco where his sculpted figures had an unclear dialog with the things and painting around them.

But that didn’t mean good, old-fashioned conceptual art was left out. Susan O’Malley’s social interactions, once documented, recall Alan Kaprow or Christine Hill as did the works of Nick Karvounis and Daniel Purbrick.

Upstairs the Playspace gallery had a selection of work that felt a little crammed. There too, many works got lost in the crowd. Ryan Thayer’s minimalist looking, shopping-cart-meets-Donald Judd sculptures stood in a row in the middle of the large main room, but other free-standing works competed for attention. Perhaps the greatest dilemma was that many of the interesting works throughout the show were hard to figure out and the wall text seemed helpful only part of the time. I still am not sure what the shopping carts were doing as ready-made objects paired with the structures within them. Maybe just quoting other minimalist sculpture was a sufficient read?

But really—don’t take my word for it—see it for yourself. Going to the MFA Thesis shows every Spring is one of pleasures of living in the Bay Area. Besides—it’s free.

— Chris Cobb

- Meredith Tromble [Tuesday, May 16th, 2006]

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