May 04, 2010

MFA Exhibition Season

When I was a kid growing up in Brooklyn in the 50’s, we had what we called seasons. These had to do with what and how we played. It followed the predictable paths of sports–baseball, football, etc. But also more regional and cultural things: ringolevio (a war game), skelly (a board game with bottlecaps on the sidewalk), the two weeks before Halloween when everyone had colored chalk broken up in old socks that left colored circles on every surface in the neighborhood. Well, it’s MFA exhibition season again, time for adult games. I always get a kick out of these shows, and it’s a reasonable barometer to the vitality of the Bay Area art scene. While you will see much work that won’t be important to you, you can pretty much be assured that you will also see one artist or more per show who will become a mainstay of the local art scene for years to come. The big shows with dozens of artists are at California College for the Arts on their 8th Street, San Francisco, campus, and the SF Art Institute, on the pier at Fort Mason. The other programs are much smaller with around ten students each. Here’s my two cents about these programs.

UC Berkeley is always impeccably installed at the Berkeley Art Museum and worthy. In the past there was a slight academic bias, a removal of the rough edges, in the work that came out of the program, but this seems to be changing given the excellent recent classes.

Show runs May 21st through June 20th

Some relatively recent graduates include Sarah Caine, Jonn Herschend, Shirin Neshat, Emily Prince, Alicia McCarthy and Will Rogan.

Faculty includes Squeak Carnwath, Brody L. Reiman, Richard Shaw, Katherine D. Sherwood, and Anne Walsh.

CCA runs from May 6th-15th at 1111 8th Street.

Its show has been inching up on the SFAI’s hegemony in recent years, in scale and quality. It’s interesting to see these two powerhouses fighting it out for local supremacy; my prediction is a flat-footed tie this year.

Recent graduates of note: Leslie Shows, Torreya Cummings, Weston Teruya, Sergio de la Torre, Hank Willis Thomas, David Maisel, Zachary Royer Schulz.

Faculty includes Jeanne Finley, Ted Purves, David Huffman, Anthony Discenza, Desiree Holman.

Stanford’s MFA is by far the most competitive to get into as the artists get a great financial support package and very few are admitted each year. They have a niche of admitting slightly older artists who have some career success already. The shows are always lively (last year’s collaborative show was the best ever), but I have to admit that sometimes to this observer artists come out a tad less interesting than they go in.

Show runs from May 11th through 21st on campus

Some relatively recent graduates of note include Arnold Kemp, Amy Franceschini, Michael Arcega, Margaret Kilgallen.

Faculty includes Terry Berlier, Enrique Chagoya, Paul DeMarinis, and Gail Wight.


Mills College also has a smaller program that always has a few pleasant surprises given its under-the-radar presence in the region.

Show runs from May 1 through May 30th on campus.

Some relatively recent graduates include Kathryn Spence, and Rosana Castrillo Diaz; (old timers include Jennifer Bartlett and Elizabeth Murray).

Faculty includes Hung Liu, Catherine Wagner, Anna Murch and Ron Nagle.

SF State is the don’t-get-no-respect department of the area. The program, as a chronically under-funded public school, is less selective than the others, yet every year or two there’s a strong graduate who makes his or her presence known.

Show runs at the campus gallery through May 14th

Some relatively recent graduates include Shirley Shor, Antonios Kosmadakis, and
Michael Namkung

Faculty includes Lewis Desoto, Mark Johnson and Leonard Hunter.

San Francisco Art Institute is Old Man River: despite its perennial financial problems it just rolls along producing the most anticipated and dynamic MFA exhibition. The number of grads moving on to renown in the local scene, however, has been reduced to a trickle in recent years.

Show runs from May 15-22 at Fort Mason

Relatively recent grads include Amy Rathbone, Rodney Austin, Francesca Pastine, Bruno Fazzolari.

Faculty includes Renee Green, Hou Hanru, Tricia Donnelly, Mildred Howard, Brett Reichman and many others.


UC Davis (where I work and curate the MFA show) is an hour’s drive from the Bay Area, but is usually included on most Bay Area MFA lists and the “best of” exhibitions. A small program with usually fewer than ten students but with a distinguished roster of alums ranging from Bruce Nauman and Deborah Butterfield to Nancy Rubins and Kathy Butterly.

Show runs from June 4 through 25th (not open weekends except by appointment) at the campus gallery

Recent grads include Steve Lambert, Josh Short, Mary Higgins O’Connor, and Chris Lanier.

Faculty includes Annabeth Rosen, Lucy Puls, Mike Henderson, Darrin Martin and Matthias Geiger.


Comments (2)

  • Well that is a very sweet thing to say about the blog! Thank you, sincerely.
    I have to admit that the SFAI MFA was the better show this year. For the first time in years I found 4 or 5 artists whose work I found interesting. But the winner by far for me was the woman who travelled around the US for 2 years without leaving home, via google. I was on the award jury for CCA, and we gave the best-in-show award to the woman whose video about the visitors and workers in a SF shoe store was oddly fascinating. Haven’t seen Mills yet. Missed SF State and Stanford…oops…

  • Renny,
    I just wrote a blog about MFA shows in the Bay Area. I posted some of their art. I hope to touch base with you and check out your department at Davis in the Fall. Please keep me updated on what is going on. I didn’t have time to visit all the shows you mentioned but I did get to write about Mills, SFAI and SFSU. Pretty good work from each of them.
    Let me know what you think. I love your blog and I tell everyone about it.

    Jenny Harris
    Senior Editor

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