I heard the news today, oh boy.
In this country, memory is selective and media driven. In this lightning speed internet era, it’s difficult to recall what went down yesterday, which is why there’s something reassuring about the packaged sense of time
that comes with an MFA program. In an end of term exhibition, the artists can reflect on what just happened. This group of MFA students, though, are in a unique position to have had their time at Mills straddle two pronounced boom and bust moments of American history. In the fall of 2007, when they entered their course of study, America, not to mention the art world, was a very different place. We had a distrustful president, whose rule privileged market forces, and whose greatest cultural achievement is arguably to have helped to foster frenzied grab and go art collecting—all those auctions and art fairs—and perhaps a Teflon spray coating
of cynicism over much of what was being shown in galleries.
In our contemporary art seminar that first semester, we looked at group exhibitions of hip young American artists with titles that winked knowingly at faltering North American hegemony — USA Today, Uncertain States of America, among others. But who sincerely wanted to be US-identified within the framework of international biennial chic? That first semester, Japanese artist Takashi Murakami’s survey exhibition had opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and captured a last glittering gasp of global capital and luxury goods. We had lively discussions about these shows, and hopefully began to elucidate an artist’s place within
shifting aesthetic and social developments.
The second year encompassed a whole other cultural backdrop—sincere refrains of “hope,” “downturn,” and “change” have been ubiquitous. That Murakami exhibition seems like ancient history today, which points to the quickness with which the art world pendulum swings with everything else. These Mills artists are well aware they are graduating into an environment buffeted by concerns that have yet to be seen
in art galleries (save for the plentiful number of Barack Obama paintings currently hanging in exhibitions).
Contemporary art is dynamically happening now, and regardless, an artist’s work is seen within the framework of the time it’s made. Armed with a degree and two years of dialog, they have different options of what to address and how to express their personal and political concerns. The class of 2009, no doubt, titled their show Young Americans partly because there are fans of David Bowie’s 1975 album in the house, but more importantly they chose the phrase as a knowing, generational acknowledgement of the times. The current state of America has much to do with working together in order to create and support means of disseminating work. The
intimate scale of the Mills MFA program has the added bonus of fostering community, forging bonds, and self-organizing. Those, too, are an important characteristic of being an artist, with particular resonance now.
Artists have an innate ability to think in new ways. They have survival skills that involve creating novel approaches to the day to day, and filtering the world we live in with unique perspectives. This show is a class picture of a wonderful group of artists whose visions mark the dawn of an exciting new American era.