Class of 2020 Thesis Exhibition. Left to right: Work by Joanna Cortezand Julian Day

Visual Arts Program Presents the Class of 2020 Thesis Exhibition

BY Angeline Dimambro, May 18, 2021

The Visual Arts and Sound Art Class of 2020 Thesis Exhibition is now on display at the Wallach Art Gallery


The exhibition encompasses work by the 31 artists who completed their second year of the Visual Arts MFA Program in the Spring of 2020 who, due to COVID-19 pandemic, had their in-person exhibition postponed until this spring. The show was curated by Amy Rayko Sadao, who is a curator and consultant based in Philadelphia. She is currently the Program Director of Denniston Hill and works with Visions2030. She is part of the team curating FotoFest 2022, Houston, and will organize Columbia University’s MFA Thesis Show for the Class of 2022 as well. She is the Board Co-Chair of Asian Arts Initiative, serves on the board of Leeway Foundation, and is a Director Emeritus of Visual AIDS.


“This exhibition began two years ago.” Sadao writes in her curator’s statement. “Visits to the campus studios of Columbia’s Second Year MFA students in February 2020 had stirred my curiosity. I saw experimentation, satire, and the uncanny—the possibilities abounded. It was the last time I would see the work in person. A long year passed and in early 2021 I resumed my studio visits—now through the digital portal. My awe grew. Despite the distance, I was able to see all the artists at work, having set up studios or commandeered domestic space.”


The Thesis Exhibition marks the culmination of two years of intensive study and art-making in the Visual Arts Program, and for the class of 2020, it represents work completed under extraordinary circumstances. However, as Carol Becker, Dean of Columbia’s School of the Arts, noted in her message to the exhibiting artists, despite these challenges, “the creative spirit has prevailed and [the] students have produced remarkable work.”


The exhibition features work from the following artists: sound artists Rosana Cabán, Lauren Covey, Julian Day, and Joan Hacker, as well as visual artists Aika Akhmetova, Henry Anker, Catalina Antonio Granados, Roni Aviv, Patrick Bayly, Eric Brittain, Fontaine Capel, Susan M B Chen, Joanna Cortez, Mónica Félix, Baris Gokturk, Jenn Hassin, Yifan Jiang, Clare Koury, Lau Wai, Yushan Liu, Paula Lycan, Cara Lynch, Erica Mao, James J.A. Mercer, Kathryn Ann Miller, Bradley Pitts, Stipan Tadić, Kiyomi Quinn Taylor, Meredith Pence Wilson, Mark Yang, and Yi Sa-Ra.


Each artists’ work points to not only a specific voice, but also, as Sadao notes, a distinct worldview. Curating an exhibition such as this, where the artwork ranges from photography to sculpture to sound installation to video work and more, demands great care as well as logistical practicality. In organizing how the pieces are arranged in the gallery, Sadao and her team had to secure each project its physical requirements in order to create the kind of space necessary for viewers to “engage, question, and counter” these pieces. While the exhibition is representative of each artist’s individual journey, Sadao found that themes of transformation, isolation, precarity, and dislocation emerged when the pieces were put into conversation with one another.


Sadao offered the artists the following advice at the close of her statement: “Follow Holland Cotter when he venerates the path of the eternal student. When we let go of the pressure to be the expert we remain open to learning and unlearning. The questions are the unexpected treasure. There often aren’t answers. Or as Darby English recently suggested, ‘Let yourself be where knowing isn’t going to happen.’”


The Thesis Exhibition at the Wallach Art Gallery will run through May 22, 2021. You can find more information about the show here.