Graduating seniors — more than a hundred of them — from the Kansas City Art Institute have crammed every usable floor, wall, hallway and corner of the H&R Block Artspace for the 2015 Annual B.F.A. Exhibition. Their work radiates the exuberance of accomplishment, the energy of youth about to break free into the world beyond school.
Clearly, many of the artists have already broken free of their departments. Marshall Cargle majored in painting, but his piece is a clear sleeve of plastic, inflated by an electric fan, stretching to the two-story ceiling. Kerry Hagins majored in fiber, but presents a digital collage; digital filmmaking student Lacey Hawkinson's offering is a plaster cast. That scuffed wooden platform dominating the main gallery, where a shirt and a pair of pants appear tossed along one edge and three plastic tubs are filled with water on another edge? That's by another painting major, Ben Gould.
"We joke about when someone from the painting department actually brings in a painting on canvas," says Michael Schonhoff, the gallery's assistant curator. The exhibition includes plenty of strong paintings by actual painting majors. But, Schonhoff says, "What's fun is seeing how students are stretching themselves, how they're so capable in so many mediums."
Art Institute seniors don't have to participate in the B.F.A. Exhibition (though for some classes it's a requirement). For those who do, it's an opportunity to show their work in a professional gallery as a springboard into their professional practice, Schonhoff says.
"Until now, a lot of them have been making work for critiques," he explains. "At this point, they don't always know how to present their work for an exhibition. So we meet with them and talk about what's most appropriate, and they write an artist's statement and a one-page resume. It's all about education."
Schonhoff and Artspace office manager Beverly Ahern met with students the first week of March to select their pieces; five weeks later, they delivered their work. Schonhoff and Ahern invited juniors and sophomores to help them curate the show, which opened on April 18.
Installing the work led to revelations about the students' lives.
"We would put students' work next to each other, and we found out later that they're roommates, or were close in studio, or talked frequently," Ahern says. "They were intuitively informing each other's work."
"We call it the ricochet effect," Schonhoff says — when themes from one piece bounce off of themes in other pieces on nearby walls. Conversely, because the exhibition brings so many departments together, students who hadn't seen each other since their foundations classes were reunited on opening night.
They're far from finished with school, though.
"This show is early," Ahern notes. "Many seniors are required to have an exhibition off campus. They're finishing their studio work. They have a long, busy month ahead of them."
Actually, if this exhibition is any indication, they have long, busy lives ahead of them.
2015 Annual B.F.A. Exhibition, through May 16 at the H&R Block Artspace at the Kansas City Art Institute, 16 East 43rd Street, Kansas City, Missouri, 64111, 816-561-5563.