Schooled by the students

Two year-end student art shows put the pros to shame


Whenever a student art exhibit comes along, many folks dismiss it, assuming the museum or gallery is just checking a box, dutifully fulfilling its educational mission.

These misguided souls obviously haven’t experienced the Lansing Art Gallery’s annual Ingham Student Art Exhibit, on display through April 27, or the Michigan State University Broad Art Museum’s annual Master of Fine Arts Exhibition, running through May 26.

Taken together, these two colorful effusions of student art feature the work of astoundingly talented and imaginative young people ranging in age from kindergarten to graduate school.

Both shows pop with a variety, energy, earnestness and capacity for surprise that surpasses many other exhibits.

“I feel like with student art, you often see that they have such a large imagination, and they haven’t been pounded down by the world,” Lansing Art Gallery education coordinator Saebren Stevens said. “That allows them to be more creative in their work, to think about subject matter in a different way than an adult would. They aren’t being pigeonholed, and they’re able to just create whatever they like.”

The Lansing Art Gallery exhibit showcases works by students from K-12 schools across Ingham County and participants of the young-adult special education program within the Ingham Intermediate School District service area. Teachers, parents and students were invited to submit works by Feb. 1. This year, the sole juror was local artist Jane Reiter, who winnowed more than 170 submissions down to a more manageable 65.

Among the show’s many highlights is a stunning watercolor portrait of a person looking into a hand mirror by second-grader Nora Tuyilingire. (Yes, you read that right: second-grader.) The subject of the portrait is looking away from the viewer, into the mirror, but the reflection is looking directly at the viewer with a haunting expression that’s impossible to shake off.

The show is rich in portraiture, some of which is inventively assembled in mosaic format, but this year marks a resurgence of abstract images, according to Stevens.

“It’s cool whenever we get a little more abstract stuff, especially from the younger kids,” he said.

Several charismatic animals are on display, from a winsome woolly mammoth by first-grader Ryleigh Fesko to a sleek and curious otter, richly rendered in oils by 12th-grader Isabella Procopio.

There’s also a fancifully patterned orange fish by 24-year-old Alex Torres, who was diagnosed with autism before the age of 3 and finds focus and calm in making art.

Although it’s not part of the Lansing Art Gallery exhibit, Torres shared his newest work with City Pulse to mark Monday’s (April 8) total solar eclipse.

Across town, the Broad’s student art exhibit takes a different approach. Instead of displaying a multitude of artworks, each by a different artist, a select group of five master of fine arts degree candidates was given a generous amount of space.

The graduate students have been developing their styles and approaches for three years. By now, they all have a lot to say and unique ways to say it.

All the artists use the extra space and the unique contours of the second-floor gallery to spectacular advantage. Seven stupendous canvases by Gustavo Uriel Ayala depict wrestlers grappling at each other in eye-scalding fluorescent colors. Each canvas freezes the fluidity of a lightning-fast wrestling match, conveying the intensity, physicality and vulnerability of the combatants.

Patrick N. Taylor explores the impact of humans on the carbon cycle in his thought-provoking installation for the MSU Broad Art Museum’s Master of Fine Arts Exhibition.
Patrick N. Taylor explores the impact of humans on the carbon cycle in his thought-provoking installation for the MSU Broad Art Museum’s Master of …

Adeline Newmann’s “Corrupted Uncorrupted” is a wild spatter extravaganza in red and gold, riffing on the shapes of skeletons, torsos and human guts with an immersive installation of wall hangings, collages, light projections and even flipbooks. (It’s stylized, not gross, but still a bit unsettling, especially when Newmann paints directly on the walls and floor.)

An epic display of glittery pink and yellow hangings, streamers, videos and embedded objects by Emily J. Burkhead plumbs the artist’s childhood and coming of age as a queer and neurodivergent person in the consumerist culture of the 1990s. The viewer is invited to plop into a beanbag chair, soak in all the input and meld minds with the artist. The testimony in the videos is both serious and trivial. (We learn that the artist hates laugh tracks on sitcoms and thinks the smell of cow manure is nostalgic.) The videos, along with a disarming display of childhood talismans like Care Bears and unicorns, make the viewer feel a fragile communion with the artist.

Two of the Broad artists find inventive ways to bring the sunlit world outside the museum inside its stainless-steel hide.

At the core of Patrick N. Taylor’s thought-provoking installation is a real tree hanging upside down in a flashing cage of light tubes above a heap of carbon on the floor, only part of a striking visual realization of human impact on the carbon cycle.

Finally, there’s a deceptive simplicity to Shirin Abedinirad’s “Reflective Journey,” an array of half-open doors, body-length mirrors and projected images of waves lapping at the seashore (with surf sounds to enhance the illusion). You peek into the doors, and there you are, at the seashore. Move a few inches, and you’re back inside the gallery. That’s the magic of student art.


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