Hunter College’s Master of fine Arts (MFA) program was born from “another place” that exists outside the normative structures of the academic campus. When art students began working in the Hell’s Kitchen West 41st Street building in the 1980s, it was a space different from that of most art schools: the edifice was located in an unsavory neighborhood that weeded out happenstance visitors, was full of the noise of perpetual construction, and even became an accidental (and sometimes not so accidental) haven for birds. The MFA program thrived despite these challenges, or perhaps because of them. The program offered affordable tuition that created an environment amenable to taking risks and was presided over by professors who nurtured independent thought and innovative approaches to artistic practice.
Philosopher Michel Foucault calls a space that functions within but as a counterpoint to society a heterotopia. This is a circumscribed space where one encounters deviation from customary rules and behaviors. Such places can serve as sanctuaries, providing both mental and physical structures that foster community, however transient or nebulous. For students past and present, the MFA program at Hunter College is their common place, one to which they often stay connected long after leaving the program.
This decade’s alumni exhibition celebrates Hunter College’s heterotopic legacy and inaugurates its MFA campus in Tribeca, a new site full of possibilities and connections yet to be explored. The show presents artists who create alternative types of spaces and, as a natural extension, share a preoccupation with architecture, boundaries, and perimeters. The curatorial process began with researching each artist from the past decade of the Hunter MFA program and culminated in twenty studio visits spanning Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Oakland, California. What we, the curators and organizers, present to you is a collage, a subjective topography defined by process, both ours and the artists’. Our conversations with alumni about past, present, and possible future experiences revealed a heightened sensitivity to place and a desire to redefine space. The artists showcased here exemplify this point of view and, through painting, sculpture, performance, installation, and site-specific work, localize and enact the concept of the heterotopia.
Painter Jules de Balincourt, whose work renders familiar places unfamiliar, has provided a haven in his Bushwick, Brooklyn art space for artists to experiment during an unforgiving economic climate. In her work, Cybele Lyle manipulates and dismantles architecture through photographs, video, and installation, constructing her own space from the pieces. Ryan Lauderdale uses the internet as an archive in order to reify discarded histories. Ryan McNamara’s performative lecture condenses disparate immersive experiences into a single space and time. Carolyn Salas’s post- minimalist sculptures playfully delineate positive and negative planes, concurrently activating and deactivating space for the viewer. Rodrigo Lobos Huber’s plaster tablets create microcosms out of disparate materials that, once united and flattened, form unlikely constellations. Emmy Catedral’s Amateur Astronomers Society of Voorhees hosts salons and walking tours that examine instances of human success and failure at measuring and ordering the universe. Denise Schatz gives art a portable existence within the pages of her artist’s books. The book that accompanies the exhibition reveals the importance of place for each artist through their found images, snapshots, and source material.
The location of this exhibition is new for these artists. None of them are familiar with the studio building as it currently exists; their physical Hunter College space was elsewhere. The identity of the program, however, extends beyond the aesthetic and social markers of architecture and neighborhood. Its heritage can be accessed from another place entirely.