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Review: MFA show at Mad Art worth a look

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 19, 2010 - It’s spring, near the end of the semester, and so it’s the season for MFA shows, when graduate art students organize their final thesis exhibitions. There’s a lot at stake in MFA shows, and so they tend to be really good, giving viewers a chance see what emerging artists in our area are doing — before many of them pack up and leave town, freshly minted degrees in hand.

At Mad Art Gallery, “Americana Obscura” features works by two MFA students at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (where, for the record, this author teaches art history): Amanda Pfister, a photographer, and Nick Ramey, a ceramic artist.

Pfister takes a typological approach to depicting car dealerships that have closed, victims of the current economic implosion. These gleaming glass showrooms, once full of promise and an alluring array of automobiles, now sport tacky “For Sale” notices and look like relics of a future past. Pfister extends her sober visual analysis to the interiors of shuttered public school buildings, where the pathos is even more palpable.

Ramey offers comic relief, though with an edge: in a series of stunning, trompe l’oeil ceramic busts, the artist portrays himself in the guise of historical and pop culture icons (Hitler, Michael Jackson), as well as some slightly disturbing characters of his own invention. Ramey’s skill in ceramics is astonishing; his humor is blissfully warped.

Ivy Cooper, a professor of art at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, is the Beacon's art critic.