One of the Bay Area’s most lively and compelling annual exhibits of contemporary art will take place March 20 – April 18, 2010 at the Marin Museum of Contemporary Art, featuring artists who have risen to the top of their respective Master of Fine Arts classes in 2009. At 3pm, before the reception, Kenneth Baker, Art Critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, will give a talk about the exhibit and speak with the artists about their work and the transitions they are making since they received their MFA degrees.
Cream, from the top is in its 8th year. From 2002 through 2008, Curator Kathryn Weller Renfrow presented the exhibit at a non-profit arts organization in Benicia, Solano County, before moving the project and expanding it in 2010 to include 2 exhibition venues: the Marin Museum of Contemporary Art in Novato, Marin County, and the Richmond Art Center in Richmond, Contra Costa County. Drawing an impressive audience from the greater Bay Area, the annual exhibition also garners praise from artists, art faculty, and art writers from throughout the region.
The artists have been chosen from a field of nearly 200 candidates, and their work is among the newest, freshest, and most accomplished expressions of contemporary visual art in Northern California. Many of the artists have already achieved success in their careers, receiving honors, awards, artist residencies, gallery exhibits and glowing reviews of their work.
Eight of the fourteen artists participating in the project this year will be featured in Cream, from the top at MarinMOCA.
Torreya Cummings, Alicia Escott, and Klea McKenna received their MFA’s from California College of the Arts. Cummings is an installation artist who works with “history, absurdity, electricity, light, junk, mixed feelings, construction materials, radio control cars, expectations, and other vernacularities”. Her installation involves a reimagining of the Wild West as an outpost for more recent ”settlers”, where concerns of time, space, location, gender, and sexuality are addressed.
Escott, who was recently awarded artists residencies at JB Blunk in West Marin and the Anderson Ranch in Colorado, works with the materials of disposable, but not necessarily biodegradable, packaging. She uses the problems inherent in its use as a metaphor to address larger paradigms: the packaging of concepts of nature, wilderness, disposability, and "green".
Questions concerning the role nature plays in our lives are involved in McKenna's work as well. Informed by methodologies of field biology, Victorian naturalism, and home science, she uses a handmade camera to transform minute specimens from rural places - insect limbs, tiny root systems, water droplets - into large-scale black and white photographs, in an attempt to elicit the uncanny quality of the place and discover the role it plays in the lives of its various inhabitants.
Mills College MFA graduate Esther Traugot also investigates her personal connection with the natural world in a meticulous and intimate way. She transforms the surfaces of trees, twigs, branches, seeds and even insects by covering parts of them with tightly crocheted yellow thread: as in gilding, these "skins" imbue the objects with desirability: the wrapping becomes an act of veneration.
The conceptual and practical rigor of the Mills program is also evident in Annie Vought's work. For the past three years she has collected found letters and notes, re-creating them by enlarging them onto new paper and dissecting the intricate negative spaces with an exacto knife. The results are stunning verbal traceries, drawings in space that evoke the distinct voices of the original authors and their particular moments in time.
Crystal Haueter, MFA from UC Davis, makes paintings and collages of partly submerged figures. The complexity in her use of thick, choppy brushstrokes to describe the transparent surface of the water, without engulfing the vulnerable floating figure, has inspired Haueter to develop her method of collage. In these, her meticulous placement of thousands of tiny pieces of cut-up photographs has created potent, life size images that stir up the contradiction inherent in the power water possesses: to soothe and nurture as well as to destroy.
Josh Short, also of the UC Davis MFA program and recipient of the coveted Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant, uses cut-up paper to an entirely different end, creating a corrugated cardboard universe in order to explore distinctly male American popular myths and rituals. "Garbage Culture", one of its components, invites the viewer's participation to complete the work and activate it by discovering the surprises that wait within full-size cardboard cars, home-mechanic's paraphernalia, and garage ephemera.
Clare Szydlowski's large-scale images of derelict urban grain elevators along the shores of Lake Erie are part of what she has called "the unnoticed world of concrete". Remnants of once vital and busy sites of human endeavor, the huge structures have been abandoned to time and decay, taking on "an almost transparent quality". She uses gum bichromate photographic processes to make her work: the results are ghostly images of forgotten places where intended consequence has faded and been rubbed out.
The Artists’ Talk on March 20th, is an informal discussion moderated by Kenneth Baker, art critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. It provides an opportunity for the artists participating in the exhibits to engage in a conversation about their work with the eminent writer, focusing on contemporary directions in art practice as exemplified by the work in the exhibition. The public is invited to attend and join in the discussion.