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Full Walls, Empty Galleries

Christian Tonsgard, an ASU graduate, showed his collection "Mise en Place" at the Harry Wood Gallery in Spring 2009. Photo by Jessica Testa.
Christian Tonsgard, an ASU graduate, showed his collection "Mise en Place" at the Harry Wood Gallery in Spring 2009. Photo by Jessica Testa.

Step Gallery Installation from State Press Magazine on Vimeo.

How many places on the Arizona State University Tempe campus can you see student-installed, student-created art, for free?

If your answer wasn’t “four,” then you might need to get out more.

Unbeknowst to most of the student body, the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts maintains four galleries across campus to provide space for ASU art undergraduates, graduate students and faculty to display their work. The fact that few people outside the art community know this is something the school wants to change, says gallery director Ryan Peter Miller.

Each of the four galleries has its own specialization, and together they serve as guaranteed spaces for art students to display their developing skills. The Harry Wood Gallery holds exhibitions primarily for students completing their Master of Fine Arts degrees. The Step Gallery hosts both solo and group exhibitions and often selects more new and emerging forms of contemporary art, Miller says. Gallery 100 often features Bachelor of Fine Arts students and changes exhibitions frequently, while the Northlight Gallery focuses solely on photography.

Participating in an exhibition is a graduation requirement for both BFA and MFA students, Miller says, although the process varies for each program. Bachelor’s students take a one-credit capstone course their senior year (taught by Miller) that teaches them how to install their work, and places them in a group exhibition usually determined by art discipline. Miller, a 2008 painting MFA graduate, says this instruction on how to install one’s own work is “invaluable” to new artists.

“You do have students who’ve been working on building a portfolio, but they don’t know how to hang a piece of artwork” he says. “Those aren’t necessarily inherently understood skills.”

Another valuable benefit to art students is that opening nights for new exhibitions provide a chance to learn from and network with the art community. School gallery exhibitions play an important role in the social lives and artistic growth of art students, says Matthew Mosher, an intermedia MFA candidate.

Although the shows aren’t “useful in terms of their traditional role as sources of income for artists,” Mosher says university galleries host more provocative work than a commercial gallery.

Mosher, whose upcoming exhibition is the school’s first show of the year, says exhibitions can be central to an art student’s life.

For more on Mosher’s exhibition, watch a video of the installation by SPM’s Rebecca Bever above.
“Attending your peers’ openings is a sign of support and allows for an informal dialog about art practice,” he says.

As for the rest of the student body?

“If you’re not an art student, you’ve probably never been to Harry Wood,” Mosher wrote in an e-mail interview. “I think ASU visibility is a problem for all the galleries… but I feel this is more an issue of publicity than location.”

ASU Art Museum curator John Spiak agrees. “I think they [the galleries] are perhaps un-utilized, or even known,” to most ASU students, he says.

Spiak, who’s juried on MFA gallery committees for over ten years, says the museum will continue to collaborate with the student galleries, exposing young artists both to potential collectors and the experience of putting together a show for a public audience.

“[The show] gives a sense of a body of work,” Spiak says. “It creates a sense of dialogue with your work, and the need to have confidence in it.”

Herberger has recently made efforts to coordinate with the rest of ASU to better promote student art events, Miller says. This includes creating a more accessible online calendar and moving opening nights from Mondays to Tuesdays to match the ASU Art Museum schedule and hopefully draw in cross-traffic.

Miller says the biggest reward he feels from working on student exhibitions is the possibility he’s helping students make a living out of their craft.

“This is the practical application for the impractical degree we’re getting,” he says.

Herberger galleries have a full line-up of exhibitions featuring nearly all disciplines this year. Here are some of the shows worth checking out in two on-campus galleries this semester:

Step Gallery

Aug. 23 – 27: A Gallery is No Place for Artists

Intermedia MFA candidate Matthew Mosher seeks to challenge the roles of commercial galleries for the contemporary artist by messing with your visual space.

Sept. 13 – 24: Unspoken Experience

ASU photography BFA candidates and members of ASU Photographer’s Association responded to an invitation to live temporarily on a Navajo reservation and participate in traditional and historical customs. Come see the visual results.

Oct. 25 – 29: Andro Soma

Kyle McMorris, a painting and drawing honors BFA candidate, presents a solo show “focusing on the human body, self-image, and transfiguration.” Righteous. See for yourself at the opening reception on October 26.

Harry Wood Gallery

Sept. 7 – Sept. 17: Craftsmanship

Craftsmanship, sponsored by the Herberger Institutes instructor of metals Becky McDonah, is an annual juried exhibition that features works in disciplines such as glass, wood, ceramics, metals and fibers. This year, the event invites students, faculty, alumni and the local crafts community to contribute.

Oct. 18 – Oct. 29: The Annual New Grad Exhibition

This invitational exhibition is for MFA candidates of all disciplines—so long as they’re newly-accepted students. It’s a chance for the fledgling grads to assert themselves and display their work.

Dec. 6 through winter break: The Annual Juried Undergrad Exhibition

A highly competitive showcase of the best work from all Bachelor of Fine Arts candidates within the School of Art. Opening reception will be Dec. 7 from 6 – 8 p.m.

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