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Review: ''The 2011 RISD Graduate Thesis Exhibition''

Hello, we must be going
By GREG COOK  |  May 24, 2011

¡OLÉ! Swanson’s Homemade Bull.

Walking into the "2011 RISD Graduate Thesis Exhibition" at the Rhode Island Convention Center (1 Sabin Street, Providence, through June 4), you can't miss Laura Swanson's Homemade Bull. It's a giant, horned bull made with gray moving blankets, like a humongous stuffed animal. Peer in the critter's nostrils and you find a tiny, dim apartment with a bed, poster, a faux goat head mounted on the wall, and books on a shelf. It seems like a mod-ly furnished Trojan horse, both cozy and perhaps a threat.

Swanson's work frequently addresses pressures to appear normal as well as desires to escape from these pressures. Last year, she constructed a child's clubhouse in the shape of a cat as a hideout from the demands of life. She has hand-painted reproductions of drawings children made in therapy for psychological trauma and stitched together dolls depicting herself and her partner to keep her cat company when they're away.

HOME GROWN Barnes’s Lil’ Rhody Native.

Swanson writes that Homemade Bull riffs on the ancient Greek myth of Pasiphae, who was cursed by Poseidon to mate with a bull (in some versions by hiding inside a fake cow) and give birth to the Minotaur. Swanson says her version is about a woman longing to live inside and be protected by a bull. Most viewers probably aren't familiar enough with classical mythology to make the connection. But you can feel the tensions in the piece between cuddly and fierce — and the humor in their combination.

Swanson's bull stands out in what is generally a drab edition of RISD's annual exhibit of work by some 170 graduating master's students. The school's grad programs are regularly ranked at the top in the nation; the newly minted artists routinely end up in big exhibitions and big jobs. So the show is a barometer of what's hot in the art world today and where it may be headed.

The show offers examples of international art trends, like scatter trash assemblages and installations. The most promising example is Benjamin Peterson's Ceranema: The Float, a glam parody of a parade float seemingly heaped with junk. It includes a mannequin figurehead, a silver glitter toilet, tile, male ceramic torsos, insulation foam, and a mannequin dressed in a teapot costume standing on a sofa.

An ongoing photography trend seen here is conceptually-driven deadpan portraits and rigorously formal new New Topographics scenes. Michael Mergen shoots detached head-on photos of voting booths temporarily set up in a tire store or a garage storing a surfboard. He writes that it's about "where the ideas of our political system meet the mundane realities of participatory democracy" by focusing on the "incongruity" between voting booths and places they get set up. But why is it incongruous or weird that our political system, which emphasizes access by all and the leveling of traditional hierarchies, offers voting in mundane, accessible places? And why does this portrait of participatory democracy not include any photos of people?

The painting here is dull, and graphic design students deserve detention for the tedious display of their catalog This is the 2011 RISD Graphic MFA Thesis Show: This is the catalogue of the show, which is also the show. This is the description of the show, which is also the name of the show . . .

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Related: Review: The eye-popping vitality of 'Printed in Providence', Review: ''Remember the Ladies'' at the Newport Art Museum, Peter Max's pop life, More more >
  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Museums, Rhode Island School of Design, Rhode Island School of Design,  More more >
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