So Many Art Graduates, So Little Art

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Art Center College of Design in Pasadena has been the school of choice for generations of ambitious young artists and designers. It's iconically cool building by Craig Ellwood, high above the Rose Bowl, is one of my favorite places in Los Angeles. I got to know this building quite well while teaching there in the late 1970s soon after emigrating from Russia.

Image Not AvailableRecently the college has expanded into new headquarters in downtown Pasadena. For this purpose the college bought and remodeled a huge old building, which was originally used by aircraft companies to test planes in its wind tunnel. The central hall of the building is colossal indeed, with its open exhibition space about 16,000 square feet, and a roof so high you may think that you are in a cathedral. Appropriately enough, the first exhibition organized there presents the artists who graduated this year with their Master of Fine Arts degrees from eight leading Southern California art schools.

First impression upon entering the cavernous space is that even after remodeling it doesn't feel especially friendly to the art. Frank Gehry did a much better job with Temporary Contemporary, when he remodeled a former police garage into flexible exhibition space for MOCA. Here in "The Wind Tunnel," more than 200 art works by 123 artists vie for attention, leaving one overwhelmed and slightly disoriented.

The only information available when I visited the exhibition last weekend, was a simple printout of the names of the participating artists and the schools they're affiliated with. And then there was a Xerox-copy of a hand-drawn map of the location of each of the artworks that was more confusing than helpful. From the College of Design I would expect more thoughtful and professionally presented information.

Image Not AvailableBut what about the art itself? Most of the artworks are paintings, followed by photography, video and installation art. Art is big business today and art education is an important component of it. It's slightly depressing to think that so many young hopefuls with so little evidence of talent and originality have spent so much time (and so much of their parents money) to achieve so little. It's unfair to put the blame squarely on the shoulders of young artists. The schools and its faculties are responsible for that as well.

Out of 123 artists, I selected eight whose work has something original and fresh about them, was well-crafted and made me think that these young artists were ready to venture out into the big world, beyond the protective walls of the school. Among these artists, five are graduates of the Claremont College, which deservedly earned, in recent years, a good reputation for its painting department. Looking at the confident paintings by John Rubio, Kris Chatterson, Jeff Ribaudo, Anya Smilanick and Bob Stortz, I would probably choose Claremont as a place I would send my kids to learn the craft. Two other artists from my list are photographer Whitney Stolich and painter/sculptor Rob Homsy, both graduates from Otis College. The last artist is Tomory Dodge, a graduate of Cal Arts which, 20 years ago, was the leading American art school, but not any longer.

I wish I could be more charitable toward the students of the other five schools, including the Art Center College of Design, USC, UCLA, UC Irvine and UC San Diego. Hopefully next year will be more promising...