Undergraduates Display Art Projects at the Undergraduate Juried Exhibition

By Joey Fening

MU’s undergraduate artists got the chance to showcase their works this February at the annual Undergraduate Juried Exhibition, a showcase of student art projects that ranged from earthenware ceramics to fabric sculptures.

Each year, a jury selects a body of particularly impressive student works to display in MU’s George Caleb Bingham Gallery. This year, Joel Sager, a local painter and the director of The PS Gallery, the city’s preeminent art venue, served as the exhibit’s one-man jury.

At the exhibit’s awards reception on Thursday, February 19, framed prints and photographs hung on the gallery’s all-white walls, and ceramics and wire sculptures sat on pedestals in the center of the room. The exhibit’s larger submissions — including a fabric sculpture of a stack of pancakes so large it could serve as a beanbag chair — rested on the hardwood floor. Attendees milled from piece to piece, discussing the work with each other and the artists.

As Sager conversed with art faculty amidst the crowd, he outlined his thought process behind his selections.

“When an exhibition isn’t themed, I look for either impeccable technical ability or something conceptually great,” he said.

But choosing what to include in the exhibit wasn’t easy, as he could only include under half of the submitted works. The selection process reminded Sager of his own years as an art student, and wielding the authority as the exhibition’s sole juror was a conflicting experience for him.

“I felt like a butcher when I came in — I felt awful,” he said. “But it was fun. As an artist, this is the fun part.”

As juror, Sager selected out three awards, prized at $100, to the pieces he enjoyed the most, in addition to a “Best in Show” award. As he mingled with faculty heads before awards were announced, someone asked what pieces particularly impressed him. He motioned over across the gallery.

“The ‘Jekyll and Hyde Park’ was excellent,” he said, referring to the square wooden board propped up in the gallery’s corner.

The words “Jekyll & Hyde Park”, written with wire and attached to several wooden planks running across the board, cast a disfigured shadow across the back surface. Sager liked the cleverness of the piece, but there’s more to it than wordplay. The artist, McCoy Crawford, a sophomore art major, explained the layers — both figurative and literal — he put into it. Crawford grew up in Hyde Park, an iconic Chicago neighborhood, and said people only hear about Chicago if it’s something good or bad, relating it to the famous split-personality of the agreeable Dr. Jekyll and monstrous Mr. Hyde.

“The shadows show that there’s always another side to the story,” he said. He originally planned to bend the shadows more to represent a stronger contrast between appearance and reality, but the lighting in the exhibit was different than he planned.

Still, it was enough to catch the eye of Sager, and as Hannah Reeves, director of the gallery, named the three juror’s award selections to rounds of applause, Crawford walked up and received his certificate as coolly and mild-manneredly as he had explained the piece’s backstory earlier. The massive stack of pancakes, titled “Serving Size”, also won a juror’s award; Sager said he likes “sinister humor.”

Emeritus Professor Jerry Berneche selected four of the self-titled Berneche Awards at $100 each. They were sponsored by him and his wife, Joanne Berneche.

Dr. Linda Blockus, director of the Office of Undergraduate Research, presented three “Purchase Awards” sponsored by Dr. Jim Spain, the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies. Blockus encouraged art students to get involved in undergraduate research, saying that such opportunities aren’t limited to the sciences. The three works will be shown in administrative offices on campus and become part of the university’s permanent collection.

One recipient of a Purchase Award was Chase Barnes, a senior from St. Louis, for his archival inkjet print of “Each Leaf Identical to the Last”. The picture depicts a branch of plastic leaves from a radio tower off Columbia’s Providence Road. The tower was fashioned to resemble a tree after nearby residents originally protested its construction, saying the tower would be unsightly.

“It’s part of a book I’m working on about these kinds of radio towers all around the Midwest and the world,” Barnes said. He has toured around the state, researching and photographing these pseudo-tree radio towers.

The exhibition ran from February 16-26 and was open to the public.