SFAI MFA Students Overtake the Old Mint in 'Currency'

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With its MFA exhibition in a new venue every year, the San Francisco Art Institute challenges both its graduate students and the final exhibition's audience to rethink the prospect of the year-end show. Part coming-out show and part final project, this year's installation at the Old Mint, Currency, showcases emerging artists working across so many types of media that listing them here would fulfill my word-count quota. Mostly positioned within small groupings, the soon-to-be-graduates' art fills the Old Mint from vaults to stairwells and in every nook between.

The most successful moments approach the exhibition site from opposite directions. The more minimal work directly contrasts the peeling paint, crumbling walls, and 19th-century details of the building. A fantastic example of this is a room featuring work by Conrad Guevara, Lindsay Tully, and Lana Williams. Instead of hunkering down into their separate corners, the sculptor, filmmaker, and painter (respectively) intermingle their brightly-hued, gestural, and abstract pieces into an impressive three-person show. Other clean-lined and contemporary installations in this vein include Tamra Seal's strange future-pop tactile play zone, Alexis Courtney and Francesca Du Brock's video room, and Geoffrey Traxler's black and white wooden sculptures.

Lana Williams, A Kiss and a Slap, 2013.On the opposite side of the spectrum, dark, moody, and slightly spooky works are particularly well-suited to installation in the Mint's thick-walled downstairs rooms and vaults. In one excellent pairing, Dimitra Skandali's delicate seaweed chains droop overhead while Tom Loughlin's booming sound installation, Foghorn, makes the floor shake ominously.

Downstairs, Oliver Leach projects slightly off-kilter and manipulated slides of suburban homes. The scratched and cut images appear haunted, or at least to be the scenes of some former violence. Almost directly above Leach's room in the first floor hallway, John Steck Jr.'s three large-scale gelatin silver prints hang with black shrouds over the frames. The photographs themselves are sensitive to light, and will continue to fade as more and more people lift the fabric to take a peek. Leach and Steck's approaches to obsolete media, and the inherent unease of progress, is in perfect keeping with the empty Mint, rendered redundant in 1937. Unfortunately for some, the Mint's own character overshadows a number of installations -- particularly downstairs -- that would have been better served by tall ceilings and plenty of natural light.

Alexis Courtney, installation view of Moving Together, 2013.In this respect, the Old Mint is a tough venue for an MFA show -- not everyone gets equal representation and the students must make the best of a mixed bag in terms of installation options. Given the restrictions (students couldn't make holes in the walls or floors, leading to some pretty creative hanging apparatuses), the 2013 SFAI MFA class attacks the challenge with fervency and creativity, yielding an enormous range of work in what will hopefully become a regular exhibition venue (San Francisco's version of MoMA's PS1, anyone?). Mixed in with the standouts was a fair share of familiar-looking photography, film, sculpture and painting, but overall, Currency left me excited for the future of art-making in the Bay Area.


Currency is on view through May 19, 2013, 11am-6pm. For more information visit sfai.edu.