VISUAL ARTS | From the AZ to the CVA, art that’s ready for prime time

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Exhibitions of art by graduating college students have much in common with college basketball: they may not be as good as the pros, but they sure can be more exciting. Such is the case with Inhale, the 2009 exhibition of thesis work by graduating College of Visual Arts students. Split between two spaces, the show at CVA’s Selby Avenue gallery closed May 9; work by 19 of the 37 seniors is still on view through May 31st at the AZ Gallery in Lowertown.

Inhale features several provocative, thoughtful, and well-executed works in all media, making a visit to AZ worth the trip. (Besides, you can catch great food and beverages just steps away at Tanpopo Noodle or the Black Dog Café.) Of particular note is Steven Peterson’s slender handmade book Muut and the Monkey, which tells the story of a lonely robot and a lonely monkey who have a chance encounter and build a great friendship, until…well, you’ll have to go to the gallery and read the very short story. Peterson’s clever, poignant story is matched perfectly to his quirky, appealing drawings. Another book, Alissa Koch’s The Unconscious, is wall-mounted and of Brobdingnagian proportion. Through brief, unflinching text and unnerving photographs, the book relates a chilling, cautionary tale of food and water contamination from beef cattle riddled with antibiotics to pharmaceuticals lacing our drinking water.

Mark Lucas’s conceptual installation The Avatar Net, created from two suspended plaster face masks, dangling plaster fingers, and outmoded computer monitors zipped together, makes eerie comment on our cyber-fixated, potentially stalker-inhabited, Big Brother world. On the lighter side (sort of) is a huge fat stuffed rabbit, made from all manner of smaller, brightly colored stuffed bunnies by Amanda Olson; it’s titled How Much is That Rabbit in the Window. In its mish-mash of fake fur, the expansive bunny seems more a mutant than a cuddly creature. Andrew Conway’s mixed-media video installation The Creature Within is a clever recounting of Sasquatch legends with dried leaves, a stuffed chipmunk, a pack of beef jerky, and a tent serving as the projection screen.

CVA threw an A+ party on the night of May 8. The requisite speeches by CVA president Ann Ledy, students, and others did not disappoint, and the place rocked with energy and good will. Crowded with students, parents, young kids, and art groupies taking advantage of the first-rate food and beverages, the hallowed halls looked a lot like the real world.

Why not? School’s out forever.

Mason Riddle writes on the visual arts, architecture and design. She has contributed to publications including Artforum, Metropolis, the Star Tribune, and the Pioneer Press. She is guest editor for the upcoming Public Art Review #39: Between Rural and Urban, which explores public art in the suburbs.

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