Spotting Future Stars at the New York Academy of Art’s MFA Show

Refreshing figurative works from recent grads.

Heena Kim Inner Child (2014)

This year’s New York Academy of Arts (NYAA) MFA Thesis Exhibition welcomes into the art world a slew of fresh faces ready to make their mark and figure out what to do with this costly degree they have just procured. Curated by dean of academic affairs Peter Drake and faculty chair Wade Schuman, the show takes place on the first floor of the NYAA and features a work from each graduate. Predictably, the quality of the pieces on display ranges from standout to so-so. After all, it’s not easy to choose a single piece to represent an artist’s portfolio, and it is also not easy to curate a show of works from over 50 artists that maintains a sense of flow. That said, several of the paintings and sculptures show a level of raw talent and vision that forecasts success for their creators.

While it may be tempting to dismiss an MFA show as non-essential to your art calendar, keep in mind you never know where these young artists may end up. Last year, for instance, graduate Elizabeth Glaessner was discovered by Julie Heffernan of PPOW, where her first solo show will take place in July. Don’t you want to catch the next big thing before everyone else does?

Another compelling aspect of the show is the emphasis the NYAA curriculum places on figurative art. The belief seems to be that a successful artist has a grasp of the technical principles behind what they do, even if they eventually choose to eschew them. As a result, the exhibition is a refreshing vacation from abstraction, as well as an opportunity to see fresh, inspired takes on the figurative. Many of the works feel surprisingly commercial—the kinds of things one can easily envision selling at an art fair and being hung over the couch. Whether or not that particular point is a plus or minus probably depends on whether you’re a dealer, collector, curator, or critic, but for the graduates, it’s hard to see how marketability could ever be a bad thing.

Below are some highlights from artists you may want to keep your eye on.

Madeleine Hines Red Hair Composition (2014)

Madeleine Hines, Red Hair Composition (2014).

Shanghai Kevin Yu Couples on Vacation (2014)

Shanghai Kevin Yu, Couples on Vacation (2014).

Alexis Hilliard Air Battles (2014)

Alexis Hilliard, Air Battles (2014).

Heena Kim Inner Child (2014)

Heena Kim, Inner Child (2014).

Yiran Hu Pressure from Life (2013)

Yiran Hu, Pressure from Life (2013).

Kimyung Kwon Ice Cream Truck (2014)

Kimyung Kwon, Ice Cream Truck (2014).

George Fowler Eye (2013)

George Fowler, Eye (2013).

The New York Academy of Art 2014 MFA Thesis Exhibition takes place at 111 Franklin Street, and is on view until June 7.

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