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Carnegie Mellon MFA students Escape PGH in style. 

click to enlarge The art of the blockbuster: Jonathan Trueblood's "Officer John McClane: 'Come out to the coast, we'll get together, have a few laughs ..."
  • The art of the blockbuster: Jonathan Trueblood's "Officer John McClane: 'Come out to the coast, we'll get together, have a few laughs ..."

A lot of gallery and museum shows crop up around the beginning of spring. It's also when formal studies begin winding down, and end-of-year projects are all-nightered out. Six artists neatly unite these two seasonal phenomena in Carnegie Mellon's Master of Fine Arts thesis show, this year titled Escape PGH.

The first floor of CMU's Miller Gallery is often unfilled during exhibition time and, even when stocked with art objects, it's lobbyish. This lends an intriguing transience to the work of Leslie McAhren. Her cross-media pieces appropriate liberally to expose and rattle the usually veiled structure behind the consumption, teaching and making of art. In "On Paper, Everything I Learned at Carnegie Mellon," she gathers what are presumably readings from her years of graduate study, packs them into filed manila envelopes and hangs the whole thing behind glass -- a tongue-in-cheek tribute.

Somewhat echoing this prankster approach is Jonathan Trueblood, who has based an entire body of work on homaging the film Die Hard. Judging from Trueblood's treatment of the material and his artist's statement -- "I believe in Hollywood, big-budget, blockbuster movies" -- he seems sincere. Rather than reversing scenes, or re-filming the movie with Congolese refugees, or whatever, he takes PhotoShop-filtered stills of the characters in defining moments, and blows them back up to blockbuster size. Some clever hanging enhances the effects. (Take the stairs, not the elevator, to the second floor.) In an unorthodox request, Trueblood coaxes us to take the fun of the action thriller as seriously as he has.

Derk Wolmuth builds an equally insistent, but much more oblique, fantasy. In "Re-Entry," he has used some humble materials -- wood slats, aluminum and canvas -- to construct a bulbous submersible, held aloft by sandbags. The nearby wall appears to have been blown apart, possibly by the TV situated inside it, which plays a video of Wolmuth rappelling to the ground from several floors up. It's telling of the artist, and seems to confirm that he defies the separation between work and play, or construction projects and swashbuckling.

Amanda Long, meanwhile, takes advantage of the RGB (red-green-blue) color dispersal of the computer screen, and the versatility of some swiveling projectors. In "Lighter and Lighter," she turns footage of a lithe trapeze artist into a kaleidoscopic exploration of color sensibility as translated through software. Because it's visible as a whole image with color registering correctly for only a few seconds, it's also a prolonged visual tease.

The lion's share of the third floor features Brian Brown's intelligibility-denying large-scale narrative paintings. With a lot of beiges and washed-out lavenders, and set almost entirely in vast, flat landscapes, the work recalls contemporary painters like Neo Rauch and, when simplified and centralized, even Magritte. In fact, my favorite of the bunch, "Trigger," conjures a bit of the thematic acuity and compositional style of the thoughtful surrealist. With a hovering helicopter mirrored in the water by a bleeding whale's corpse, it's cryptic but concise, in contrast to the visual verbosity of many of the other pictures.

Capping the third floor is Gian Carlos Silva de Jesus' hearty Pittsburgh love sesh, called, in fact, "Walk Mic, Love in the Time of Pittsburgh." The work is comprised of video and audio from the tour of the Walk Mic, a portable, black-'n'-gold, microphone-shaped love confessional. Present in the gallery space and large enough for one occupant, it's enticing in its cheery innocence. So much harmlessness doesn't exactly encourage extended contemplation, though, even with the mixes set to pro-Burgh free-styling.

These are MFA theses, so the viewer benefits from understanding the work as experimental, the product of a lot of reading, thinking, haranguing and soul-searching. And it's indicative of the art department's premium on diversity that there is at least a little here for everyone.  

 

Escape PGH continues through April 18. Miller Gallery, CMU campus, Oakland. 412-268-3618 or www.cmu.edu/millergallery

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