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808 Gallery Hosts Undergraduate Showcase

CFA students’ artwork highlighted


BU’s 808 Gallery is known for mounting shows that emphasize versatility. It’s not unusual to see an extensive array of graphic designs on a back wall, paintings on another, and sculptural installations clamoring for attention near the floor-to-ceiling windows at the front of the gallery. The gallery’s current exhibition—this year’s College of Fine Arts Undergraduate Showcase—is no exception. Sculpture, printmaking, graphic design, and painting are all on display here, so a visitor is sure to find something of interest.

The first installation likely to catch your eye when you enter isn’t even at eye level. On the floor is an arrangement of more than a dozen cardboard shoes, from black Converse sneakers to pink-soled high heels, lined up facing Commonwealth Avenue in a manner that suggests forward momentum. Freshmen in Rune Olsen’s Sculpture 1 class last year designed the shoes. Each was instructed to bring in a shoe, take it apart, and then enlarge it to scale. The exercise, says Olsen, a CFA assistant professor, is designed to get students to think about how to contextualize a work of art. They were asked to think about texture, color, and pattern, and to convey a story about their shoe.

Some are upside down, for example, suggesting that they had been casually discarded; others were designed to look as though they had been heavily worn. One student created a high-heel shoe with nails piercing the sole, a commentary on the pain that stilettos often inflict. “It’s about learning that art is more than making something,” says Olsen. “It’s about how one reads the art, the context it’s presented in.”

Self-portraits and portraits make up a significant portion of the Undergraduate Showcase. Photo by Evan Smith

Self-portraits and portraits make up a significant portion of the Undergraduate Showcase. Photo by Evan Smith

Self-portraits and portraits figure prominently in the exhibition. About half of the more than 20 here are painted with a palette of blacks, grays, and whites, the remaining half in color. The portraits were part of an assignment in Dana Clancy’s Painting 3: The Contemporary Figure class. Sophomores were assigned the task of painting a figure—themselves or someone else—and choosing a color palette that would convey the personality of the person they were painting. “There was a real range in the response to the assignment,” says Clancy, a CFA assistant professor.

“The students in my Painting 3 class created a two-month-long project that started with students building and stretching a large canvas for an ambitious figure painting,” Clancy says. “They had to decide how they could use formal means like color, mark, composition, and scale in an expressive and persuasive way, so that the form creates the actual content of the work instead of illustrating an idea.”

Like many of the students whose work appears in the show, Michelle Chiu (CFA’17) employs technology to create art. “For the showcase projects, I mostly performed digital research,” Chiu says. “I love using digital media while doing graphic design and illustration. I have been using digital means for eight years to create art, so it has been an important part of my growth as an artist.”

Chiu has four works in the exhibition: two sculptures, a three-foot-tall cardboard bust of herself and a geometric wire sculpture, and two charcoal drawings, one a nighttime scene in her dorm and the other chocolate and lollipops. She created the sculptures in her freshman Sculpture 1 class and the drawings in her freshman Drawing I class.

This kinetic sculpture by Taylor Mortell (CFA’16) was made with the assistance of students working at BU’s Engineering Product Innovation Center (EPIC). Photo by Esther Ro.

This kinetic sculpture by Taylor Mortell (CFA’16) was made with the assistance of students working at BU’s Engineering Product Innovation Center. Photo by Esther Ro (COM’15)

One of the showcase’s most engaging works is by Taylor Mortell (CFA’16) and was made possible with assistance from students at BU’s Engineering Product Innovation Center (EPIC). Her kinetic sculpture features a linkage mechanism that allows it to move like a spider. With the help of EPIC students, Mortell was able to design and laser-cut acrylic components for the moving mechanism and make it more fluid.

“By fusing engineering and art, I hope people can take away a new perspective of what sculpture can be,” Mortell says. “Instead of a still object, kinetic sculpture can engage the viewer more actively, and hopefully, inspire a more open attitude toward how artwork is categorized.”

Mortell, who is majoring in both painting and sculpture, says she finds inspiration for her work everywhere. “Personal life experiences, music, other works of art, really anything I look at or experience could become a source of inspiration,” she says. “When I see something that catches my attention, I usually want to know about it, and that curiosity leads me to ask more questions, draw my own conclusions, and make art.”

The Undergraduate Showcase is on display at the 808 Gallery, 808 Commonwealth Ave., through Sunday, September 28. The exhibition is free and open to the public; hours: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and Saturday and Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m. The gallery is near the MBTA Green Line B trolley’s BU West stop.

Brandon Lewis can be reached at bmlewis@bu.edu.


One Comment on 808 Gallery Hosts Undergraduate Showcase

  • Cassidy Early CFA, SVA 2016 on 09.20.2014 at 6:54 pm

    I feel like a lot of the CFA/ visual arts write-ups are really mishandled. If you had actually paid attention to the show you would see that the “portraits made with a palette of blacks, grays, whites, and the other half in color” make it sound like all we do are gray monochramatic study paintings, when everything on that wall are in fact standout assignment drawings from drawing 1, a freshman requirement. It could’ve been interesting to mention that the photo here was of freshman work specifically instead of somehow correlating it to the contemporary figure class as if they are one in the same. It’s also important to note that the contemporary figure paintings are a huge accomplishment for sophomores because for most, it’s their first painting bigger than 2 feet on either side, some of them even getting to 6’x 8′. In the future it’d be cool to have someone from BU today to ask informed questions to informed people. For example, maybe if you interview a professor you could actually reference the work her students made. Overall just disappointed with the lack of interest in the gallery, you clearly didn’t want to be there.

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