Exhibit not the last hurrah for art grads

By Mitch Montoya

Corrections appended.

The scene at the School of the Art Institute’s Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) exhibition is less like a display of students’ tiresome attempts to recreate famous works of art and more like a boisterous ’80s-style prom where the viewers become part of the party. As people walk into the gallery, they pass through the all-too-familiar balloon arches from high school and stumble into a world of boys and girls dancing the night away in neon-colored apparel. Of course, the graduate-student exhibition is more than a psychedelic party, but this innovative assortment of art—including the prom itself—is part of what makes the collection worth seeing.

The three-story exhibit, which is more like a full-blown museum, features the final projects of M.F.A. students hoping that their years of hard work will translate into a career as a relevant artist. With business cards in tow, students were ready to make their pitch for a career.

The wild prom is just one of the many examples of interactive art designed by the students at the Art Institute. The performance piece manages to accomplish what most art intends to do: to make the viewers part of the work. Up one floor from the high school nostalgia await even more performance-oriented pieces, which, after the sensory overload of prom, seem to pale in comparison. Fortunately, the second and third floors have more of the sculptures, installations, and paintings that many other students have specialized in during their time at the Art Institute.

Graduate Dara Brady’s piece “Times Beach: Site” went so far as to integrate each of these media to create her artistic vision. [see corrections below] “I wanted the space to be meditative,” Brady said, “a place where people can consider what is a real landscape.” Brady’s tranquil room features video of a beach near Rogers Park and pieces of broken plaster on the floor that both play with the idea of an artificial landscape.

In terms of inspiration, Brady said, “The concept started with my video of the beach during the winter. Being alone in the morning was a calming experience and I wanted that to come out in the piece. My undergrad was in sculpture, but I also wanted to explore my interests in film and performance art and find a way to put those elements together.”

Brady’s sculptural roots are displayed in the calculated but effective placement of broken plaster. The invasion of the plaster into the viewer’s physical space is combined with the sedate film to convey the haunting message that natural landscapes are changing quickly.

While many projects in the exhibition, like Brady’s, attract attention because of their beauty, other pieces captivate an audience because of their social stances. Charles McGhee Hassrick’s piece, “A Reliquary for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” tackles the issues of sustainability, pollution, and destruction of wildlife. The work features the flags of a car dealership encasing barrels of oil that are topped with hand-blown glass reliquaries.

“Four years ago I developed a reliquary for another work,” Hassrick said, “and for this project I wanted to integrate my knowledge of urban planning and my interest in sculpture. This piece is about discourse. I wanted to illustrate the debate that has been roaring over the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.”

Hassrick began the project by ripping apart a car and searching for a piece that was universal to all cars and people. This quest ironically led him to a compass that is featured in one of the glass reliquaries.

“The compass represents direction,” he explained, “and it is also from a car, which is one of the causes for the problems in the arctic.”

The extended metaphor for the arctic is continued elsewhere in the piece. “Each reliquary contains used oil and natural spring water that separates into layers,” Hassrick elaborated. “I wanted to work with opposites that represent the two sides of the debate over the wildlife refuge.”

Even though the work does present a type of dualism of the natural and the industrial, Hassrick’s thoughtful work remains respectfully biased. His message of raising awareness and pollution reduction is reiterated throughout the entire work without being watered down for appeal.

If there is any common thread between the pieces at the M.F.A. exhibition, it is that these artists refuse to dilute their work. The exhibition is more than just a showcase of their talent; it is also their time to make the transition from art student to working artist. The art is raw, unapologetic, socially relevant, sensuous, and energized by the students’ desire to make it big. While the artists may have tried to sell their work with business cards and elaborate ideas, it is the art itself that really seals the deal.


The April 29 article “Exhibit not the last hurrah for art grads” misspelled the last name of Dara Brady.

The article also incorrectly referred to Brady by male pronouns. Brady is female.