From Venice, with...

A Review by Jane LaFarge Hamill, Michael Kagan and Jason Bereswill (MFA 2005)
(I'm typing on my phone standing on a bridge over a small canal where I've found decent wifi. Who knew?)

Italy speaks fluently in art and food, both to be consumed at risk of catching Stendhal's syndrome. And so, my trip this week to Venice is inspired 75% by the opening of the 54th Biennale and 25% by antipasti, primi piatti, pasta, secondi, and dolce.

"Just an intro to Venice, really."

I'm traveling with fellow alums Jason Bereswill and Michael Kagan and we will all be sending in reviews and photos for NYAA from the pavilions.

This year's Biennale is curated by Bice Curiger- art historian and co-founder of Parkett magazine, on the theme and titled ILLUMination. (word of the day: coruscating) There are 82 international artists showing from 89 nations, 32 of whom are under the age if 35. Countries of interest participating for the first time this year are Bahrain, Haiti, and Saudi Arabia. Artists I'm looking forward to seeing are Pipilotti Rist, the American pick; Puerto Rican based duo Allora and Calzadilla; and the big hitter Urs Fischer.

Venice was formed by exiles, pushed off the mainland by Huns and Goths in the 5th c. It has always been an open city, a haven, built on mud and water. In many ways Venice has no roots. It is an apt stage for an international Biennale of art, with artists from around the world reclaiming the islands for a spell, so that a refugee parade of people like us can come to marvel.

This should yield a good blog post or two! But if all art fails, we'll post photos of gelato. Please check back!

With love from Venice,
Jane, Michael, and Jason

The Task of Presentation

Jacob Hicks (2012) created this interactive video piece, "The Many Faces of Jacob and His Art," as a component of a professional practice course taught by artist Sharon Louden.  This video project was optimized through an end-of-term presentation in which the students explained their art before an audience of peers. He says, "In undergraduate school I took many experimental film courses through the fine art department, and was itching to play with the medium. I had such a great time with the project that I am now considering how to use it as a mode of expression connected to my thesis project for the Academy."

Jacob Hicks, Deposition 9: After Gerard David, oil on canvas

Jacob explains more about his artwork and the video, "The Many Faces of Jacob and His Art":
My work is self-portraiture. I repaint compositions of canonical Western works of art with the addition of self-portraits playing the various characters of the original painting. I claim celebrated masterpieces as theatre space. One of the most professional aims an artist can have is to understand objectively the nature of their art. With this understanding comes direction and clarity. In making this video, I asked myself a few questions - why do I make what I make, how is this work seen through other's eyes, whose art (in the scope of the present and the historical) does mine converse with? This process has solidified my confidence in my art tremendously. 
Thanks for letting me share this with you,

Benjamin Martins' Commencement Address

Mister President, members of the Faculty, Board of Trustees, distinguished guests, and those rapidly approaching alumni status,

I cannot begin to explain to you how my heart swells to look out at you all, and to think about how much we’ve grown, and fought, and gotten weirder together – so very much weirder. It is with great pride that I regard my contemporaries and consider the many struggles through which we have shed the unnecessary, in the process of finding ourselves. Comparing our works previous to the academy through what hangs in Wilkinson Hall now; one can draw a clear line between our previous lives and who we are today, as though our Academy experiences have been less a reinvention and more a refining, a finishing of our more accomplished selves.

I am honored to be with you on this occasion that is so important to this school, and to this city, and to art. It is with great optimism and growing hope that I look to the future of our community, and of our relationships to each other. As alumni we are part of a community, a granite foundation upon which the greatness of this Academy rests. It is a service to this schools power that the finest artists working today enter its doors on a regular basis. It is to this service that we must attempt to overcome our biggest enemy, and the only thing holding us back.

We must not succumb to artistic jealousies and envies, for even as we prop ourselves up, they will tear us apart. No artist is in direct competition with another, just as another’s successes do not undermine my own. But infighting and whispered cruelty only reinforces the hold outside forces have on us, and divide our strong community into a thousand self interested enclaves. Hiding opportunities and coveting some small crumb of success only serves to weaken ourselves. Knocking each other down guarantees we will never live up to our fullest potential, I have no doubt. For I believe we will only make it if we make it together, and alone, we have no chance. As artists we must sail against the currents of our time; and the currents of our time are filled with sharks, make no mistake about that. Together we are more powerful than anyone can imagine – and they will never see us coming. Together we are a movement of talented and wildly ambitious artists. We all get our opportunities. We cannot continue to tear each other down and expect to survive. We are all capable of greatness, and it behooves us to reinforce that greatness whenever possible, not belittle or divide it.

A wise man once told me that when he was a young artist, the art world was described to him thusly – that if you come across several crabs at the beach and dump them in a bucket, there’s no need to cover it, for every time a crab moves to make it’s escape, another will reach up and drag it back down. We are better than this, and we can do better than this. People need us, whether or not they know it, and if we can stay strong, we will never back down.

I am so impossibly excited for the future, and I want you guys to know, no matter how things shook out, I wouldn’t change a thing. And I don’t think you would either. I love you guys. Goodnight.

Benjamin Martins was chosen to be the Student Speaker for his class. We wanted to share his inspiring words, as he empowered us all by urging to strengthen our ties to each other. Well said, Ben! 


The Academy is pleased to share a new ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT series on our blog. We'll be spotlighting our alums to give you an idea about what it's like to be an Academy grad, starting with Brian Fencl, MFA 2000. 

What are you currently working on?
Brian Fencl, "Oh, Thank Heaven"
oil on canvas, 24x18 in.
At the moment I live in two worlds. I am in the professor/ administrator world and the world of my studio. Both are satisfying worlds to be in and most of my answers will reflect this reality. In the studio I am in the beginning stages of creating work for the 2012 West Liberty University faculty show. We show every year and the theme for the next show is "meat." In my faculty/ administrative duties I am working on expanding our programs and creating a downtown arts center in the city of Wheeling, WV. The center has the possibility of revitalizing the downtown area and solidifying the Universities place as the cultural leader in the Ohio Valley. It is a big idea and I am thrilled that I get the opportunity to help make it a reality.

What was your most recent big thing?
I had a solo show at West Virginia State University in Charleston, WV last November. I also really enjoyed the the alumni show and gathering last fall at the Academy. That was a revitalizing experience.

What do you find challenging about your work?
In the studio it is remaining consistent. In New York and at the Academy it is easy to get valuable feedback about the the work while it is in process. I don't have that luxury here in West Virginia.

What do you find rewarding?
My job is basically to show people how to make art, talk about art history, and make art myself. That is what I do all day and I do it with people that are enthusiastic and eager to learn and grow. I am also now in position as a Department Chair to expand the role of the arts at the University and in the community I live in. From 2008 to 2010 I was the Visual Arts master teacher for the West Virginia Governor's School for the Arts. The WV GSA works with students entering their junior year of high school. They spend three weeks with us immersed in the arts.

Brian, in the studios at West Liberty
Last summer I was able to bring John Wellington (NYAA '90) out to work with the GSA students. He really connected with the kids, dramatically improved their skills and was a great ambassador for the Academy. It's pretty cool that I have the ability to guide young artists and work with great people like John.

What’s on the horizon for you?
2011 marks the 6th annual Paint Ogelbay: Plein Air weekend. It is an event I founded and have been organizing with a couple of local arts organizations. Last year we had fifty artists participate and we are hoping to be able to grow the event. West Virginia is a beautiful place and in the near future I would like to organize with the Academy an opportunity for students and alumni to come to West Virginia and do some plein air work.

I also want to give a shout out to the  West Liberty University Art site. I am always looking to get the word out about what a great place it is and hopefully find new supporters, artists for the gallery and workshop proposals.

Brian Fencl
Interim Chair Department of Journalism, Communication Studies & Visual Arts
Associate Professor of Art, West Liberty University

Commencement 2011 with Jenny Saville

We are thrilled to announce that this year's commencement speaker will be renowned artist Jenny Saville. A Senior Critic at the Academy since 2006, Jenny has frequently imparted her insight to our students through dynamic Master Classes. We are honored to award her an Honorary Doctorate at this year's Commencement Ceremony and we congratulate the Class of 2011 as they emerge into the contemporary art world.

We have recorded the Commencement Ceremony so you may listen to her speech!

Congratulations to the Class of 2011!

UNCHARTED: the 2011 MFA Thesis Exhibition

The New York Academy of Art is pleased to present UNCHARTED, a group exhibition featuring original paintings, drawings, sculpture and prints by sixty talented emerging artists.

Immersed for two years in an intensive learning environment that combines rigorous skills and conceptual training, these MFA candidates are using a time-honored artistic language from which they are creating innumerable distinct dialects. The 2011 graduates of the New York Academy of Art reveal that they are sixty individuals striding sure-footed onto an entirely contemporary landscape.

A catalog will be available, featuring an essay by renowned art critic and Academy Senior Critic Donald Kuspit. The title for the exhibition was suggested by MFA candidate Emily Adams. (Emily is also a guest-writer on this blog! Use the SEARCH bar, left, to see her other posts about her thesis artwork. RSVP to our event on the Academy's page on facebook.)

The exhibition is free and open daily from Noon – 7pm, (closed May 20)
May 17 - May 27, 2011
Opening: Monday, May 16, 6 - 8 PM

Ken Johnson, Visiting Critic

Current student Aliene de Souza Howell (2011) shares her thoughts on a recent critic's visit to the Academy. The Academy's Career Development Workshop lunchtime lecture series, created through Elvin Freytes, Sharon Louden and Peter Drake, brings writers, critics, gallerists, alumni, artists and teachers to speak with students and alumni about various aspects of career development.

On the threshold of his new book, Are You Experienced?, New York Times Art Critic Ken Johnson recently delivered a Career Development Workshop and critiques at the Academy. I was impressed with the often autobiographical lecture he wrought with personal reflections questioning himself as a captive of capitalism, about pressure from directors and the "schadenfreude" of the New York art scene among artists and critics alike.

Johnson's book - Are You Experienced?
He spoke of the complete intersection of art and money that throttles the New York City art scene. This led him, a former Jungian Marxist, to turn inwardly and ask questions regarding the nature of his role as a critic. But with an MFA from SUNY Albany and a BA from Brown, Johnson knew the need for a voice from the perspective of a trained artist amidst the advent of theorists that had cropped up in the 80’s. He articulated with candor on the tug-o-war of desire to stand strong as an independent and for recognition as a competitive player among the biggest voices.

When reflecting on art that moved him, he perhaps tugged most at the hearts of the Academy audience. Johnson spoke of authenticity and wanting to see the self-discovery of the artist and the tangible qualities of the hand made. As a reviewer, he said  he believed in a complete act of art criticism that addressed history, sensory qualities and the concept behind the piece. Speaking like an artist on creating, Johnson said that when he’s writing he “loves that thing that happens when feelings turns into words, true to how I actually experienced something.”

Fleshing out ideas on concept, he brought up the dialectal nature between the metaphoric and the metonymic in art. In their extremes, they are irrelevant with the metaphoric losing touch with reality and the metonymic becoming didactic and obvious. Both still need each other to exist, though. His artistic preferences leaned toward the metaphoric. This may be the subject of his next book, "Ground Control to Major Tom".

Newest print! 36" square on mulberry paper.
Professionally, he offered this: do NOT cold call critics, for better or for worse the “consensual reality” between the galleries/museums and critics still holds true and is the established venue for picking artists to review. He pointed out that because studio visits and the selecting artists to show are the job of the gallerist, reviews tend to be directed not only at the artist but also to the institution who selected them.

From his critique of my work in my studio, I was inspired by our conversation on archetypes, symbology and the uncanny. He insightfully suggested pushing aspects of the subject matter in my linocuts.

And don’t forget to check out Ken Johnson’s recommended reading: Jacques Derrida’s Of Grammatology, and his most recent reviews on Joan Semmel, Julia Jaquette, and Anthony Caro.