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'The Last Show on Earth' More Hopeful Than Apocalyptic

Graduate show at Mills College offers a guide through these perilous times.

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There is something in the air and we can't lay all the blame on the ancient Mayans. Apocalyptic prophesies aside, the year 2012 has found us rudderless. Without direction, our young artists emerge from graduate school treading water in a dangerous and trackless sea. How does an inspired emerging artist combat the spiraling fractures of this contemporary pluralism? The current graduate show at Mills College offers a navigational guide through this perilous time. Twelve artists, all incredibly varied in talent and style, come together and pull off a brilliantly coherent show.

Although the name of the show may be daunting, the exhibit represents a clear zenith of culture. In the words of Dr. Stephanie Hanor, director of the Mills College Art Museum, "The culmination of a two-year graduate program can feel like an apocalyptic experience." The twelve graduating students each present decidedly realized themes, manifested in impeccably focused art pieces. These themes revolve around four central ideas: personal identity, communal history, consumerist culture, and the nature of perception.

The point is illustrated by the work of four students in particular: Madelyn Covey, Kent Rodriguez Segura, Jocelyn Meggait, and Michael Mersereau. Covey uses yarn and painting (the only paintings in the exhibit) to address issues of the human body and its transcendence. In his installation, Segura uses rotting cabbage as part of a metaphor of disappearance and renewal. Meggait amassed a huge collection of free stuff via Craigslist and presents it as a complicated narrative of exchange. She encourages viewers to take items and reflect on their stories and why they were disposed. Mersereau's piece is located up a flight of stairs in the tower above the gallery, and should not to be missed. By incorporating elemental environmental cues — a single light bulb, an eerie soundtrack, and an isolated location — he manages a fun and successful Zen-bleakness.

The graduating students in this exhibit are faced with a conundrum: How do you begin a career with what has been called "The Last Show on Earth"? Perhaps the title of the show was a distraction itself — it wasn't called "The Last Art Show on Earth." Perhaps these emerging artists are collectively describing a new course of art in general. Only by announcing the end of something can we get on with the beginning of the next.

The Last Show on Earth runs through May 27 at Mills College Art Museum (500 MacArthur Blvd., Oakland). Panel discussion at Danforth Lecture Hall with the artists, moderated by Mills visiting assistant professor Stephanie Ellis, on Saturday, May 26, at 4 p.m. 510-430-2164 or MCAM.Mills.edu

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