It’s that time of year again, time for the oddly addictive ceremony that is the UNLV Bachelor of Fine Arts Exhibition. Each spring, a fresh crop of young artists leave the nest, manically fluctuating between tentative curiosity and outright ballsiness while visions of art stardom dance in their eyes.
The university’s BFA program consists of a fifth year of focused study for a select group of undergraduate fine art majors. Every possible medium is represented in this cumulative exhibition. This thing’s huge, filling each of the university’s art galleries: Donna Beam, Grant Hall and the Alumni Center.
Over the tradition’s lifespan, a kind of ritual has evolved. Part 1: Attend the opening. The giddy graduates brim with an infectious nervous energy. Soaring egos mask terror of the unknown, faithful in the knowledge that they will crush the art world. These are the cockiest deers-in-the-headlights you’ll ever meet.
Poetic and bittersweet is Part 2: Return to the exhibition after the opening. Like a playroom after the children have grown, the work has an acute sense of the discarded; things that once captivated are now left waiting expectantly behind. Each piece seems to ask, “Will this young artist return?”
Based on the quality of the work, it seems likely many of them will. Jami Eberle stands out with gorgeous color photos that abstract and refract the classic still life. Kyla Hansen’s solid sculptural efforts intimately employ homebuilding materials (insulation, carpet foam) to articulate highly contained, personal parables. I’m not quite sure how to describe Jesse Smigel’s efforts in intermedia, but listening via headphones to the self-talk of a standard red house brick suffering from acute depression is definitely a highlight.
Jennifer Kleven’s series of “Beard” collages are a joy, but her manipulated photograph “Beard #463” stands apart, as does Amanda Dunajski’s obsessive pen-and-ink termite opera “34EastAJMH.”
The graphic-design students are particularly creative in adapting their medium to the context of an exhibition. Alicia Bridgewater’s feminine and smart “Lyrics of Line 2 ‘Round Robin’” takes the form of a flying pamphlet, unfolded and strung across the wall. Kin-K Lui’s advertising package “Nightfall” includes an awesomely hilarious, low-budget trailer for a nonexistent film, a stream-of-consciousness homage to every action-adventure movie trope of the last 15 years.
Whom to watch for? Stephanie Potell’s deceptively simple anthropological drawings and specimens brim with quirky humor and skill. Sean Shumacher is a formidable, if self-deprecating, presence. In a project spanning performance, drawing and Facebook, the artist uses a dilapidated building to talk in a very intimate way about ceremony, memory and time. Similarly preoccupied with memory, Krystal Ramirez’s culturally conscious works like “For Isobel Flores de Olivas” and “Luke I’ll work on it tomorrow at fifteen twenty one” have the air of religious icons. Their shimmering preciousness is mysterious yet permeable, altogether emotion-inducing in effect.
There is so much to celebrate—Thomas Willis’ beautifully innovative paintings of mundane objects, Misuzu May Nomura’s pop-psychedelic ceramic self-portraits, Thomas Speak’s flying text. For the products of an art department that has seen its fair share of tumult in recent years, these young artists appear resilient and committed. A large number of UNLV graduates go on to some of the very best MFA programs in the country. See them here while you still can.