Blue Greenberg: Exhibit brings UNC art history, studio together

May. 16, 2013 @ 05:52 PM

“Sincerely Yours, MFA 2013,” Ackland Art Museum, through May 26.

This year’s UNC Chapel Hill MFA exhibition began with a partnership between the studio and art history departments. The eight MFA candidates, Nicole Bauguss, Julia Gootzeit, Ali Halperin, Michael Lauch, George Jenne, Lauren Salazar, Damian Stamer and William Thomas, needed a curator for their show and so the idea went forward to ask some of the art history Ph.D. candidates if they wanted the task. Two, Kim Bobier and Russell Gullette, who are specializing in contemporary art, answered the call. It is the first time the two departments have partnered like this. The curators did studio visits and sat in on class critiques. The result is an exhibition which includes manipulated paper to look like coral; oil paintings which mimic photographs; clothing made rigid with tar and plastic; images transferred onto Walmart blankets; a ghostly installation of ordinary objects; videos about the environment and personal biography; and a fiber-made site-specific installation.
According to Bobier, who walked me through the exhibit, each graduate had a solo show in the art building gallery earlier and then worked together with the curators to find the connection which would make their group show more cohesive. For Bobier and Gullette the thread that ran through all the work was sincerity over sentiment or irony and so “Sincerely Yours” became the theme of the show.
As you enter the gallery, the installation by Nicole Bauguss grabs your attention. Painted in grey the set appears to have been entombed for eons. In the space, which could be a garage of cast off items, is an old church pew; an abandoned ladder with a hammer, shovel, and T-shirt; a tarp carelessly thrown over a piece of furniture; a light fixture bent and useless on the floor; and a pig suspended from the ceiling with its entrails spilling into a sound track of Dinah Washington’s “This Bitter Earth.” This is Bauguss’ memorial to a southern domestic world
where home, work and religion are a cultural tapestry and then froze it into lifeless and menacing form.
Objects of clothing soaked into tar are Ali Halperin’s materials of choice. And then there are the pieces of fur she has sucked into shrink wrap. Although the escape of the three women in Cleveland had not happened when these objects were created, Halperin’s T-shirt, bulging with a pregnant belly and titled “Wife Beater,” suggests such violence happens more than we would like to believe.
Julia Gootzeit uses paper to mold sculptures that simulate coral reefs. The molds begin with her body and those of her friends and speak to the connections between nature and human beings. Her use of ordinary paper is quite beautiful and unusual. “Body #1,” for example, suggests the classical “Discus Thrower” and reminds us of the universality of the artistic renderings of the human body.
The painters in the group are super realists, whose themes are totally different but share the skills of classical painters. William Thomas offers traditional realistic images on canvas and graphic images transferred to cheap commercially-made blankets. The other painter is Damien Stamer, whose paintings are so realistically executed the viewer has to examine them closely to realize this is paint on canvas and not photographs. The series is all about old buildings, which are presented as if they are disintegrating before our eyes.
The two video artists are Michael Lauch and George Jenne. Lauch has created two videos, both of which focus on a moving stream of water. In one, we see his face and its reflection in the water; in the other, the artist stands mid-stream filling a bucket with water and then wading upstream to empty it. Pouring water from one part of the stream into another place in the stream is, according to Bobier, “an absurd but endearing action.”
Jenne’s video is a record of a day in his life, reduced to the minutiae of close ups of such body parts as his hair, his nostrils, his nails. Everything is high definition. On one hand the images are gross; on the other they are hypnotic. While the theme is not new, Jenne’s video skills are remarkable.
Lauren Salazar, a fiber artist, has created a commissioned piece for the museum and the exhibition. Using woven twine of pinks, reds and purples, she has produced a corner installation which not only illuminates an architectural element within the gallery but uses fragile thread as her material. In the gallery hand-out we are reminded Salazar’s object reevaluates one of the accepted rules of art: large scale, abstract sculpture is masculine; fiber is feminine.
Bobier and I talked about the non-traditional objects in the show. She said the students have all been grounded in the classical elements of art making, but have chosen UNC’s art department because it is conceptually oriented. Like every good art school, the students are encouraged to perfect their skills and then to stretch themselves beyond their comfort zones.
This work uses a broad range of artistic ideas practiced within contemporary art and tackles such themes as racial stereotypes, consumerism, memories and their impact on our psyches and our relationship to and alienation from nature.
These men and women are our teachers and artists of the future. From the look of this work, the next generation is in good hands.
Blue Greenberg’s column appears each week in Entertainment and More. She can be reached at or by writing her in c/o The Herald-Sun, 2828 Pickett Road, Durham, NC 27705.