UNLV’s BFA exhibition finds six young artists blazing new trails

Works by Clarice Tara Cuda.
Photo: Wade Vandervort
Dawn-Michelle Baude

Three stars

BFA Studio Art 2018 Through June 1; Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Donna Beam Fine Art Gallery, 702-895-3893.

Young artists have it tough. If they work in classic genres, like landscape and portraiture, they risk appearing quaint. Traditional art objects, like painting and sculpture, are usually suspect, since conceptual art, performance art and installation art replaced objects with ideas long ago. Then digital media jacked what was left of handmade work, and originality took a nosedive. Nowadays, even the artist’s sincere need for personal expression seems so 20th century. How then, as a member of the 2018 UNLV Bachelor of Fine Arts cohort, do you make meaningful art?

The six young artists exhibiting in the BFA Studio Art 2018 exhibition at Donna Beam Gallery suggest you do it with courage, know-how and … materials. Sarah Arnold, Clarice Tara Cuda, Amanda Keating, Julie Meyers, Ty Suksangasophon and Nicole Weber focus on tactile properties of mostly unconventional media. From Amanda Keating’s porcelain cup of mealworm carcasses to Nicole Weber’s crowd-sourced puzzle, the thing-i-ness of the things is on the BFA center-stage. Viewers are invited to directly interact with the art—as they do, for example, in Meyers' try-on-your-own-halo installation—or they can gaze in wonder upon the textural giants—Suksangasophon’s loose, 8-foot-tall drawings made with handmade charcoal.

Four “hair” sculptures by Cuda are the clear standout. The winner of the UNLV Calvert Award for Creative Works and the 2018 Outstanding BFA Student, Cuda has a sly knack for the uncanny. She weaves an odd material-of-choice—strands of synthetic brown/auburn hair—into ordinary objects that intrigue and alienate by turns. For example, “The Hardpoint” (2018), a four-and-a-half-foot-long “hair” bathtub, masquerades as a basket, coffin and boat; somehow, hairy-bathtub humor overcomes the creepy associations linked to cut hair. Similarly the 7-foot “Power Suit” hair gown quickly elicits attention with its fashionable, girly swag; here, too, the absurdity of the object—the intentionally woven-shut dress is impossible to wear—tussles with somber intimations of loss and grief. Along with “The Knot,” a shredded wedding dress-and-hair rug, and the 20-foot-long “Let Down” hair ladder, Cuda’s works surprise and astonish with their strange, material beauty and fertile, interpretative complexity.

Arnold’s trio of untitled 48-inch-by-53-inch “yarn paintings” also make a very strong showing. Using wool-and-acrylic yarn, Arnold crochets abstract compositions that are soft and hard at the same time—“soft” because of the tactile properties of the material, and “hard” because of the compositional allusion to hard-edge abstraction. In shifting crochet terrain from pot holder to canvas, Arnold raises questions about the relationship between domesticity and artmaking, and their unexpected confluence in fetching works that distantly recall tapestries while veering away from design and craft.

Although some of the pieces in BFA Studio Art 2018 are less convincing, the show is still an impressive representation of the talent, interests and achievement of this year’s BFA cohort. Don’t miss it.

  • “I started doing guerrilla sculptures, because no one was really doing 3D when it came to street art.”

  • Years in the making, the show is a dream realized for curator Fawn Douglas, who’s finishing her MFA in Fine Art at UNLV.

  • His 5,000-square-foot mural has a lot of story to tell, both about the community and the artist himself.

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