People Are Present: “New Work, New York” the 1st NYC MFA Biennial

by Danielle Fallon

People Are Present: “New Work, New York” the 1st NYC MFA Biennial
Part 1: March 13 – 29, 2015, Part 2: April 10 – 26, 2015


Matthew Addison. “Story Boards.”(Detail. )Found wood, found images, gesso, matte medium, charcoal pencil. 2014.

This Spring, Williamsburg, Brooklyn hosted a raw new exhibition featuring MFA students from all eleven New York City MFA programs. Broken up into two parts, the entire show struck the viewer as innovative, energetic, and passionate. Curated by Kat Griefen, the multiple mediums from photography, painting, video, and more served to highlight the time and effort of all sixty-six participating artists, and with great cohesion.

The figure and the presence of human life was a central theme throughout, while each artist evoked their individuality. “Story Boards,” created by Matthew Addison from Pratt Institute, was set up against one of the main windows so to be experienced from the inside as well as the outside of the space. Pieces of found wood varying in height and width became a form of collage. On top of the wood were images of people, newspaper articles, and events all deeply attached with gesso and sometimes drawn upon. The boards evoked their own piece of human experience.

homo malacosoma

Kat Ryals. “Homo Malacosoma.” Dry plate tintype. 2014.


Along the walls of the first part of the exhibition many of the artworks provoked the viewer to explore the human figure more closely, such as “Homo Malacosoma” created by Kat Ryals from Brooklyn College. Using tintype photography to merge human and reptilian attributes, she allowed others to find and question the animal within human form. Created in a small format, Ryals asked the viewer to move in closer to make sure they are seeing correctly and posed the figure in a deformed stature, making one wonder if this was a human being at all.

Character Leak

Kate Starbuck Elliot. “Character Leak.” Stoneware, glaze, and t-shirt. 2014.

The ideas of human experience tied together within more abstract pieces within the second part of the Biennial. From Hunter College, Kate Starbuck Elliot’s “Character Leak” is strong within the installation’s simplicity. Creating a dynamic red line of fabric falling gracefully as part of a ripped t-shirt on the ground represented the essence of what makes people different. Beautifully titled, the installation culminated as a peculiar insight into how society views their own character as well as others.

Self Portrait

Melanie Pavlidou. “Self Portrait.” Arm chair, book pages/paper, polyurethane foam, nails, yarn wood stains & lacquer, and acrylic paint. 2015.

One of the most intricately composed pieces of the Biennial was Melanie Pavlidou’s “Self Portrait.” As a student from Brooklyn College, Pavlidou combined an array of materials, within this self-portrait and used a chair as the main form, while exploring severe rupture. Voluminous and gritty texture covered the piece in almost its entirety. Many looked with disgust as well as intrigue, responding to the artist’s suggestion of beauty within decay.  One could not help but wonder if this was a self-portrait of either the artist or the viewer.

The figure and humanism have always been regarded as a theme of the past, aligned with tradition. However, these emerging contemporary artists brought a freshness to the validity of this subject-matter. Perhaps, the energy radiating from this Biennial emerged from their desire to persist within the art world, as have their many predecessors.

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