Emerging artist. Few words engender quite as much undue excitement or unfair execration. The excitement comes from the art-industrial complex, which imagines itself to benefit immeasurably fromthe merest hint of precocity, whether it’s deserved or not. We received a press release the other day introducing an emerging artist “as he explodes onto the fine art arena.” Said abstract artist “creates turbulent paintings inspired by everyday life . . . [He] allows paintings to dictate, creating shapes and forms from impulsive moments of recollection . . . His innumerable talent [sic] has recently caught the eye of several local art collectors as his work continues to fly off the walls.”
The release gave no indication of the artist’s age, though a Google search brought up a songwriting credit from some 20 years ago. Judging from this and several images of his paintings, it became clear that what this artist was emerging from was obscurity.
This is where the execration comes in, usually from cranky fellow artists who themselves have perhaps done more merging then emerging. But as the prices climb and the art-buying market continues to expand, so goes the interest in, and search for, all things new. Which is neither a good thing nor, in the right circumstances, a bad thing.
Thanks to our great art schools, that search is often centered in Los Angeles. When The New York Times reported on the phenomenon of Chelsea gallerists chasing after young artists, it focused on UCLA’s yet-to-graduate Elliott Hundley. Not coincidentally, it was Hundley who anchored “State of Emergence 2005,” the L.A. Weekly’s first “annual biennial,” an exhibition conceived and curated by L.A. Weekly art critic Doug Harvey that was mounted at Bergamot Station’s Track 16 Gallery last fall. We say “not coincidentally” because Hundley deserved the attention he was getting. Both he and Brenna Youngblood, another artist in the Weekly’s show, went on to create Hammer Projects for the Hammer Museum.
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Hundley and Youngblood studied in UCLA’s MFA program, and it is that program that inspired our second “annual biennial.” The truth is, despite the “annual” in the title, we had no plans for another show until 2007 (when Doug Harvey will be back, with a vengeance). But a visit to UCLA’s open studios this past spring changed that. The work we saw there — Frank Ryan’s monumental cityscapes, Joshua Aster’s geometric abstractions, Karen Leibowitz’s allegorical portraits, Patterson Beckwith’s luscious still lifes, Tracy Powell’s quiet landscapes — so impressed us with its skill and maturity that we asked Tom Patchett and Laurie Steelink of Track 16 if they’d be interested in hosting a show of just local MFA students this year.
Choosing the artists wasn’t easy; there are nearly 400 students enrolled in MFA programs around the city — at UCLA, USC, CalArts, Art Center, Otis College of Art and Design, Cal State Long Beach and Claremont Graduate University — and many are very talented and deserving. Los Angeles already has a big student exhibition, of course, in the two-part “supersonic” show, which was at Barnsdall Art Center this year. But “supersonic,” though juried, isn’t curated — meaning that the students themselves choose what they want to show, often just one piece. We wanted to focus on fewer artists and give them more space. The monthslong process of looking at art — in studio whenever possible, otherwise via slides, disc or e-mail — was a communications nightmare, but a happy one.
If the theme that emerged from last year’s show was assemblage and atomization, this year ?it’s good old-fashioned craft — painting, primarily. Concept, yes, but with finish. The artists we’ve chosen are looking to make big statements, and they push their ideas to a sophisticated level of ?form. They show little in the way of superficial flash and, refreshingly, almost no irony. Coolness ?does not seem to have occurred to them. These artists are indeed emerging — from years of serious study and work.
So we make no apologies for raiding the art-school cradle. Some of the artists graduated earlier this year and have already found gallery representation; others are young and just beginning to show what they’ve got. All exhibit an impressive commitment to their work and to their futures as working artists. We have no doubt that you will be seeing a lot of them in the years to come. Check out their current work here and in person at the show, “State of Emergence 2006: MFA WMDs,” on display through October 13. Opening party Saturday, September 9, 7 to 11 p.m.; closing party Friday, October 13, 7:30 to 10:30 p.m.