Work > Writing

Untitled essay for exhibition catalog

MFA Now 2012: Archive Project/Juried Exhibition
February 8 - 25, 2012
Root Division
San Francisco, CA

150 pages, paperback, 8.5" x 5.5''
Root Division (January 2012)
Click here to purchase catalog

Give 10 people a batch of 100 songs and each will generate distinctive playlists given individual predilections for certain styles of music. Similarly, another juror would have selected different work from the 140-plus MFA Now 2012 Archive submissions. As a curator who has been in the field for nearly 20 years, I draw upon an aggregated mental database of art when encountering new work, searching for ideas and practices that resonate with my particular area of interest — art that engages social, political, and cultural concerns in ways stretching beyond formal attributes of line, color, or composition.

Each artist submitted an image and brief statement to represent their work. Not the best context to understand an artist’s process and production, but that’s what I had to work with. I noticed a general lack of cynicism, sarcasm, and irony in the applications. Whereas these strategies have been employed liberally to explore ideas in recent years, a tenor of sincerity pervaded the overall submissions. Maybe a consequence of this particular moment in history — full of political and social upheaval, economic disparity, and technological alienation — the work exudes inspiration and contemporary relevance. From the articulation of interconnected global concerns, to the struggle of preserving memory and information, to the pursuit of meaning and experience beyond the confines of this world, the 19 artists selected for this exhibition create work with refreshing forthrightness.

Being an artist is incredibly difficult, having to negotiate the constant journey between peaks of opportunities and recognition and valleys of rejections and self-doubt. In the Bay Area alone, over 1,000 students enrolled in Bachelors and Masters programs will graduate with fine arts/studio practice degrees this Spring. Many simply won’t be creating art consistently after commencement, but for the ones that do, it hopefully is just the start of a lifelong commitment to engaging with the world through visual means. The work you produce 10 years from now may be radically different from what you are making now, and that’s an exciting prospect to ruminate on. Perhaps you haven’t even begun to make your best work yet.

- Kevin B. Chen