- PHOTO BY HENRY BRUINGTON
- RABBIT REDUX: Jason Shindler’s charming “The One Hared Ear” looks like a portrait from a Wes Anderson film.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret—the “Annual Student Exhibition” at Cal Poly’s University Art Gallery isn’t just one show—it’s at least two or three. Once you’ve accepted the breadth of the exhibit, the dizzying range of skill and vision starts to become exciting. You may be confused, but you certainly won’t be bored.
Jason Shindler’s modestly sized The One Hared Ear catches the viewer’s attention immediately with its cleverness and exquisite rendering. Even its title reads like a minimalist poem—it is the hare who is attached to the ear, and not the other way around. This endearing portrait could easily have been plucked directly from a Wes Anderson film.
On the other end of the size spectrum is Lauren Manning’s Sexuality I, a broad canvas that earned a “best in 2-D studio” award. One of the few large-scale works in the show, it features a male and a female figure whose lines converge and are subsumed into one another. Its title implies a series, leading the viewer to wonder what further permutations of human sexuality will follow.
Another traditional canvas, Natalie Belous’ The Inner City, is set apart by its urban subject matter and cleverly rendered graffiti painting-within-a-painting. Nearby, several typography projects advertise themselves, their execution flawless but their intent opaque. The clever Clarendon vs. Eames by Sarah Ching, Mari Eguchi, and Jessica Clogston-Kiner is especially notable. Anna Melious’ Untitled Disney parody stands out as one of the few obviously self-conscious pieces in the show. Deanna Montalban’s Culture, too, puns on the work of Lichtenstein and pop-art in general, oddly juxtaposed with actual advertising projects from the graphic arts department. Julian Gordon’s beautiful glam-rock Drag portrait breaks the surface of the canvas, too colorful to stay within the second dimension.
Karina Carmona’s stunning La Diablada is a politically engaged mash-up of the Eastern lion figure (picture the Chinese lion or the Balinese barong) and the Western celebration of Dia de los Muertos, with just a dash of stencil art. Elissa Mason’s sculpture Give and Take is simple, imploring, and spare in the midst of an exhibit marked by its unremitting use of color. Oriana Stevens’ deconstructed house addresses the conflict between man and nature in Dwelling; the walls seem to be transforming into honeycomb. Its post-apocalyptic feel is not entirely uninviting as it rejects old structures in favor of new ones—perhaps the “analog” nature of the stick-style house is being supplanted by the “digital” world represented by the complex hive-like form erupting from it.
At the head of the “art pack” of show standouts is Rebecca Quant, with two excellent pieces. Her felted wool sculpture Stuffed, which won a well-deserved “best in 3-D studio,” depicts the head of a fabulous beast with three pairs of eyes, two horns, and a mouth of formidable-looking teeth. It’s the perfect marriage of imagination and execution, a commentary on the recent trend of taxidermy in art that, while threatening, is also somehow adorable. Her Seven to Spare, inexplicably hung in another part of the gallery, is a diptych of an octopus in a diving costume, shown both as a sketch and a finished piece in color.
The wide range of works in the exhibit is arranged like students in a dorm—organized somewhat by the confines of the space, but largely random. The viewer is asked to judge a rebranding project or advertising design next to a fine art photograph or drawing in a way that does justice to neither. It’s not that commercial art isn’t a valid form of expression or that we shouldn’t be surrounded by beautiful and well-designed products, but this juxtaposition without curation or comment implies that either all these projects have the ultimate intention of being objets d’art, or that there is no room here to distinguish between creativity and commodity.
The latter option is too sinister to consider, so we must assume the former. Likelier still is a lack of space and resources required to stage multiple exhibits on different themes, but this single show could at least have been more carefully organized along project or thematic lines. Identification of the materials with the piece’s title and artist is entirely absent, as are artist statements. Some background on the purpose and intention of the projects represented (especially of the marvelous typographical posters) would greatly improve the aesthetic experience of the exhibit.
Yet the energy and the action here are too seductive to miss, despite the confusion. Go prepared to do a heavy amount of parsing and leave with more questions than you had when you arrived—think of it as a “philosophy of art” seminar.
Practice your typographical skills by contacting Arts Editor Erin C. Messer at email@example.com.