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Dawoud Bey admits even he doesn’t make it to every M.F.A. show in the city. In the “Ground Floor” catalog, the artist and Columbia College professor explains he created this biennial to showcase students from all of Chicagoland’s graduate art programs.
Featuring 11 artists from SAIC, Columbia College, UIC, the University of Chicago and Northwestern, this year’s “Ground Floor” has fewer participants than the show’s 2010 debut. Still, it encompasses a remarkably diverse range of works, from Eric May’s food truck serving South Side eats (the E-Dogz Center for the Preservation and Advancement of Street Food) to Shane Ward’s Somewhere in a dark corner #3, a sculpture evoking the charred remains of a dinner party gone awry. Paintings, photographs, drawings and videos are also on view.
Unfortunately, “Ground Floor” fails to provide the context that would differentiate it from other group shows devoted to local talent. Some of this year’s artists have gallery representation and extensive exhibition records, leading me to wonder how much their graduate studies influenced their relatively established practices. There’s no information about the artists’ programs or mentors, nor any explanation of why these particular recent alumni appealed to HPAC’s exhibitions committee, which selected them from a pool of 100 recommended by faculty, curators and other artists.
The show’s emphasis on formal and material concerns—as opposed to politics or identity—is striking. But its best works are timely and engaging anyway. Casilda Sánchez seems to trap the moon in a box in Quisiera ser tan alta como la luna/I wish I was as tall as the moon (II). Set to a Spanish children’s song, the tiny video installation resonates far beyond the gallery walls.