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Review of MICA Thesis II by Amelia Thomley

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The Decker gallery, unlike the rest of the MICA exhibition spaces, actually gives off the feeling of a professional, serious environment. I’ve been trained to equate a fancy gallery with accomplished, impressive artwork, and so it’s hard not to be taken in by that feeling of importance when I look around. Even if MICA had no intension of doing so, the undeniable message emanating from the Decker gallery is “these are the superstars.” Those poor folks relegated to the third floor? They’re forced to settle with whoever is willing to walk up three flights of stairs or wait ten minutes for the elevator. I’m not sure how anyone not from the MICA community would even know that such a third floor existed.

Oh, don’t worry, I understand that various elements of the works also determine their location. But based on merit alone, do the artists in the Decker deserve to be there? Out of the six of them, I’d say that 2.5 belong. Most outstanding are the pieces by Christopher LaVoie. Specifically, his piece called Bubble Prodding, which was made up of a table, china, audio equipment, and wood (and a snow globe, which was not listed on the label). When you walk into the Decker gallery, in the middle of the vast space there is an ornate wooden table with a large set of china dishes atop of it. Mysteriously, a hand-height wooden box sits next to the table, and on it rests one lonely snow globe. The beauty of the piece is in the interaction- when the viewer picks up the globe, the china on the table vibrates. From there a period of exciting exploration begins, as the viewer experiments with different ways of shaking and tapping the snow globe, producing a cacophony of sounds that only relent when the object is put down again. I’m not sure what the goal of the piece is besides to be an interactive sound sculpture, but I don’t think it matters. The important thing is that the piece has the ability to hold your attention and make you wonder, “How did he do that?” The only unfortunate part is the wooden box that the snow globe is sitting on- it’s feeling is so different from the table that when the whole sculpture is taken in at once the box stands out too much.

The three large oil paintings by Ben Steele also have the ability to catch the viewer’s attention with the “How did he do that?” factor. I stupidly ignored them in the beginning, thinking that they were digitally produced, and too fanciful and mystic for my taste. Their greatness comes in the power they have to draw you in once you get closer. Looking at then makes me want to place my nose approximately one centimeter away from the surface of the painting to revel in the million tiny brushstrokes and unexpected flashes of color.

I said two and a half because I’m on the fence about the gigantic, neon paper cut-outs made by Jimmy Joe Roche. On one hand, they are intricate, brilliant, mesmerizing. On the other hand they feel like something I’ve seen before. They give off a very digital, fabricated feel, and I’m just not sure what the point is. Roche’s works are paired next to Michael Burmeister’s large, bright paintings of abstracted cartoon superheroes. Seeing both artists together overwhelms me with dizzying colors and makes me wonder if they have confused bright colors with content.

With the extra space left over thanks to the absence of the other 3.5 people, I would take Jessie Lehson’s work and re-install it in Decker. Before I even looked at her work on the third floor, I noticed that she was one of the very few who had chosen to display an artist statement. That alone is cause for celebration- that she is willing and able to share her process and reasons for producing artwork. Her art is beautiful in its simplicity, just as she intended it to be. She has titled her space on the third floor “Healing Environments,” and she has succeeded in living up to that title without straying into clichés or cuteness. For her, healing means going back to the earth, the dirt, and her passion for the land shows in her display of homemade charcoals and dirt-pastels.

-Amelia Thomley

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