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Avant-Garde Academy
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Spring 1998
Avant-Garde Academy

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By the time Hopkins stepped down five years later, the department’s roster was a veritable Who’s Who of the most talked about younger artists in the country. Burden, Herman and Ray had been joined full-time by performance artist Paul McCarthy, painter Lari Pittman, sculptor Nancy Rubin and ceramist/sculptor Adrian Saxe, among others. Again, Knight neatly sums it up: “The current UCLA faculty is composed of artists who have developed or are developing international reputations.”

All of UCLA’s current artist-teachers continue to show in galleries and museums throughout the U.S. and Europe: Burden, Pittman, Ray and Saxe have already been the subjects of solo museum exhibitions, and Ray will score a hat trick when his much anticipated “mid-career retrospective” opens this spring at the Whitney before traveling to L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art. “At more traditional schools,” observes McCarthy, “the people who are showing aren’t teaching, and the people who are teaching aren’t showing.”

As in any field, superior faculty serve as a magnet for the very best students. The significance of this attraction is not lost on Mary Kelly, the highly regarded artist and theorist who took over as the department chair in fall 1996. “Students gravitate toward places where they think they can develop,” she affirms. “You want to draw students who have ambition and talent. And we’re now attracting people who otherwise might have gone to a place like Yale.”

These students have not been disappointed. North Carolinian Casey Cook, a ‘97 graduate painter, confirms that she was drawn to UCLA by the high-profile faculty. She describes her experience in a string of enthusiastic adjectives, with “amazing” recurring frequently. By being in close proximity to such an extraordinary amalgam of talented individuals – “both the professors and the other students,” she reports, “you learn in an amazing way. My teachers have been extremely generous with their knowledge and their time. And that’s rare.”

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