You may be surprised to learn that only seven artists graduate from UC Berkeley's Master of Fine Arts program each year. The program — one of the most academically rigorous in the world — keeps class sizes small, ensuring a unique pedigree of emerging artists. This year's graduates are so different from one another, the spectrum of media so diverse, that the show has no poetic title and is instead called The 42nd Annual University of California, Berkeley Master of Fine Arts Graduate Exhibition. But the work does not suffer because of it.
A review of the roster of graduates is the best way to anticipate the quality of the exhibit. Kari Marboe draws a line between being an artist who writes and a writer who makes art. Her gift is the ability to invite the question, "Who cares?" From her visual poetry to her newspaper pieces, Marboe's work manages to be transcendent while maintaining a peculiar relevancy. Frank Emilio Marquez-Leonard is mysterious in both exposition and content. A surprise awaits: The photo model of his proposal suggests a reinvention of the gallery itself. Video artist Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck is out to redefine cinema. His work questions what is more influential in cinematic media: the narrative story or the environment of darkness, light, and sound? Photographer Kari Orvik uses archaic techniques, like camera obscura, to produce contemporary yet historically evocative shots of San Francisco neighborhoods. She describes herself as an artist in search of "levity and equivalence." Installation artist Amy Rathbone makes work that summons the beautiful legacy of Eva Hesse while maintaining a modern graphic identity. Her work uses objects that are at once pillowy, spiky, organic, and sometimes ethereal. The only painter of the group, Jennie Smith deftly uses traditional media to elicit a new-genre response. Smith's concerns are ecological, and even macrocosmic, in nature, although her works aim to complicate the issues more than they try to solve them. Last, but certainly not least, Brett Walker uses photography to examine relationships between sentiment and media. Does photography mean less in the age of social media?
What does it mean to welcome seven new artist-graduates from our most prestigious, local academic institution into the professional arts community? Not a whole lot. All of these artists are already active participants in the East Bay art scene. We hope that, by graduating, they're afforded access to the means of realizing their potential. This exhibit challenges us to ask, "What is actually important?" Perhaps that should've been the name of the show.
Opening reception on Friday, May 18, 6 p.m. Show runs through June 10 at the Berkeley Art Museum (2626 Bancroft Way, Berkeley). 510-642-0808 or BAMPFA.Berkeley.edu