Ian Decker '21, Every Bird I Ever Saw

Students Present in the First Installment of the 2021 Visual Arts MFA Thesis Exhibition

BY Emily Johnson, October 11, 2021

“It’s much more like a rhythm that’s unfolding over time. And so it requires memory. Visual and somatic memory of encountering those works, and it requires that the viewer see both parts of the show,” curator Amy Sadao said of the current installation in Lenfest Center for the Arts.


The first installment of the Columbia University School of the Arts Visual Arts Program 2021 MFA Thesis Exhibition is now open at the Lenfest Center and will run until October 16, 2021. The show offers an exceptionally tantalizing encounter with emerging artists of many styles.


Curator Amy Sadao wants to encourage viewers—especially students—to visit both installments.


In her show notes, Sadao proposes three groupings: ‘Surreal relations and dissolution,’ ‘Magic at play,’ and ‘Unexpected frequencies give voice.’ These suggested groupings speak to the themes she saw developing among the artists as they have responded to the world around them.


Of the 22 artists who completed the Visual Arts MFA Program in May 2021, 11 are featured in this first exhibition: Lindsey Brittain Collins '21, Kevin Claiborne '21, Ian Decker '21, Bicheng Liang '21, Keli Safia Maksud '21, Sergio Miguel '21, Diana Palermo '21, Denisse Griselda Reyes '21, and John A. Rivas '21. Though Sadao’s proposed thematic groupings ​​are only fully realized across both installments, the decision to split the exhibit allows the viewer greater space in which to experience each artist in their own distinct world.


As Sadao frames it, “There’s a lot of white space and wide margins and room for the eye to relax and recalibrate before you move on to the next artist.”


Arriving at the Lenfest Center’s 8th floor Lantern Gallery, visitors to the exhibition are greeted by the expansive triptych Every Bird I Ever Saw (154 x 96 in, oil paint and collage on stretched canvas, 2021) from Ian Decker. A landscape under a blue but darkening sky, using found objects like coupons and family photos, it’s a mesmerizing web of textures, accessing different registers of American life.


There is an otherworldly, ambient hum in the air, drifting from the projects of sound and film artists.

Denisse Griselda Reyes ’21, Cry With Me

Denisse Griselda Reyes presents an autofictional fantasy Cry With Me (video, 2021) spanning a gallery wall, accompanied by two small monitors which play looped home videos of the artist as a child. Cry With Me engages intimately with Reyes’ personal history, identity as an artist, and also with her relationship to Columbia University as an institution.

Bicheng Liang ’21 and Yixuan Shao ’21, Left Without The Means To Move

Bicheng Liang and Yixuan Shao, who collaborate as Alchemyverse Collective, present two works, including the monumental Left Without The Means To Move (204" x 204" x 180", lava rocks, anodized aluminum, bone conductors, pit fired wild clay and sound recorded within, desert soil, amplified microphones, speakers, subwoofers, and other mixed media, 2021.) Under a metal cage in the center of the space, gnarled vessels of pit-fired wild clay are wired as if for sound. The visitor is surrounded by a dry aural crackling, chirping, popping, squeaking, and fizzing.


These remarkable sounds were achieved by recording the process of making wild clay ceramics, pressure changes within hollows of rock walls, and the clay vessels ‘listening’ to boulders and rock formations; it is as if the earth itself is speaking. 

Sergio Miguel '21, Víbora Criolla

Sergio Miguel is a Mexican-born artist who, as Sadao describes in her show notes, “queers traditions of Spanish master painters.” Miguel is influenced by modern Mexican art and New Objectivity. The lush, deep-hued Víbora Criolla (180 x 150 cm, oil on canvas, 2021) depicts two women—are they the same person?—in strikingly contemporary dress, wielding swords, regarding each other warily. 


Miguel’s Tente en el ayre y Bodeguita (60.5 x 93 cm, oil on canvas, 2020) features in one panel a dark-haired youth in a white tank top, whose front is stained with blood. Opposite, Bodeguita wears a diaphanous light gold corset and miniskirt, their hair dark and long, and most strikingly, their hands and forearms drip with opalescent liquid the colour of bubble gum.


The assembled artists offer incredible variety, spanning photography, portraiture, film, sound art, collage, and installation. There are many paths through which a viewer can enter. 


And of course, if the viewer is up to the challenge of unfolding the themes of the full cohort, the second installation will open for viewing on October 30, 2021.