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U.Va. Graduate Art History Students Curate Exhibit and Critique the Work of Emerging Artists

August 8, 2011 — "Untitled" is a traveling exhibition organized and curated by University of Virginia art history doctoral student Michael Maizels and May graduate Brittany Strupp that pairs up-and-coming artists from the Mid-Atlantic with emerging scholars, critics and curators.

"Untitled" opens at U.Va.'s Ruffin Galley on Aug. 22 and runs through Sept. 16. The gallery is open weekdays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. A Final Friday opening reception on Aug. 26 at 5 p.m. will include a gallery talk by the curators and appearances by several of the artists and catalog contributors.

The exhibition grew out of the curators' shared realization that while the art world offers an increasingly robust support system for emerging artists, no substantial framework connects early career artists with peers engaged in critical or curatorial practice.

"We liked the idea of peers writing about peers," Maizels said. "It was an opportunity to put good professional practice in action. That level of conversation only happens at the National Gallery level."

U.Va. does not have an master of fine arts program in studio art, so the curators looked to other schools to discover what student artists are creating. The exhibit includes work by eight M.F.A. artists: Adam Nelson, University of Maryland; Ali Miller, Maryland Institute College of Art; Travis Donovan, Chris Musina and Tracy Spencer-Stonestreet, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and Jamie Lawyer, Will Machin and Oscar Santillan, Virginia Commonwealth University.

Maizels and Strupp did not have a theme or preconceived idea about what the exhibit would include. "We went in open-minded, and as we looked at the works we discovered an almost neo-surrealist undercurrent that focused around the home and the physical body," Strupp said.

The duo turned to their doctoral colleagues within the McIntire Department of Art's art and architectural history program in the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences to create singular moments of interpretive dialogue between young artists and scholars. The result is a full-color catalog of the artists' work and essays by Maizels and Strupp, along with U.Va. art history doctoral candidates Betsy Chunko, Leslie Cozzi, Anna Kim, Katherine Miller, Jennifer Stettler Parsons and Anne Williams.

"For a gallery show like this you usually only hear the curator's voice in any commentary," Strupp said. "Rather than keep it to ourselves, we decided it was a good opportunity for our colleagues to critique a show and get published, something we – as students – do not generally have an opportunity to do."

Although the students' art history interests span the centuries, their critical essays look through the lens of their broad academic interests at the artists' work. "There is no reason why we shouldn't be writing about today," Maizels said. "It's an opportunity for the artists to have a serious bit of thinking about what they are doing and art historians to apply the ideas they are studying in a historical context."

"By bringing in multiple writers, we were able to get different viewpoints on the artists' work," Strupp said. Through their research and other interests, "they brought something to the work that the artists might not have considered."

The artwork and catalog essays are available online. The printed catalog will be available in Ruffin Hall during the exhibit.

Before traveling to U.Va., "Untitled" opened at Industry Gallery in Washington, D.C., a partnership with Conner Contemporary Art's longstanding Academy show, which features work by undergraduate and graduate art students in the Washington area.

Support was provided by U.Va. through the McIntire Department of Art, Office of the Vice Provost of the Arts, Office of the Dean for Graduate Programs, Office of the Vice President for Research and Office of the Dean of the Humanities and Arts.

Maizels received his master's in art history from the University of Chicago Program in the Humanities and is a Ph.D. candidate in the history of art and architecture at U.Va. He is currently a research assistant for the National Portrait Gallery in Washington. Strupp recently graduated with her master's in the history of art and architecture from U.Va. She is working as a contracted project adviser for the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

For information contact Michael Maizels at michael.maizels@gmail.com, 773-584-5110 or Brittany Strupp at bae2tf@virginia.edu, 410-991-8391.

— By Jane Ford

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