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Spring 1998
Avant-Garde Academy

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Cook and other students have, in turn, already begun to make names for themselves, landing gallery shows while still in school. Cook’s work has been seen in a one-artist show at Daniel Bernier Gallery in L.A. and a group show in New York. Such success stories used to be occur sporadically: in 1960s and 1970s UCLA alumni who rose to international stature included Ed Moses, Vija Celmins, Peter Shelton and Judy Chicago.

But in the last two or three years there are perhaps a dozen recent graduates who are now showing regularly. Painter Toba Khedoori has mounted solo exhibitions in Los Angeles and New York; sculptor Jennifer Pastor was the subject of a one-woman traveling exhibition organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and represented America at the Bienal in Sâo Paulo, Brazil; installation artist Jason Rhoades has received solo shows in L.A., New York and Europe and, like Pastor, is included in the traveling exhibition “Sunshine and Noir,” which will arrive at the Hammer this October; 1995 MFA graduate Martin Kersels has had one-artist exhibitions in L.A. and participated in group shows in New York; Liz Craft, a year behind Kersels makes her solo debut at Richard Telles Fine Art this May. The list goes on.

Unlike most highly respected art schools, the UCLA department has built its reputation not on the strengths of a particular medium or movement. Yale, for instance, has long been identified with its painting program and the California Institute of the Arts, during the late 1970s and early 1980s, became the Mecca of conceptualism. “The strength of the UCLA art department is in its diversity,” says Museum of Contemporary Art associate curator Ann Goldstein. “You have so many options there.”

Kelly wouldn’t have it any other way. “Once they peg us as a particular kind of school,” she quips, “that’s the end.” Which is not to say that the department has no guiding principles or that there isn’t a relatively identifiable sensibility among the faculty, whether consciously cultivated or not. One nationally recognized, L.A.-based artist calls it “bad boy art.” Kelly doesn’t disagree, although she prefers the term “transgressive,” paradoxically bestowing a patina of respectability to an art that’s all about disrespect. Kelly’s bottom line: “We are not homogenous. This department is about pulling together diverse tendencies and making them gel in a postmodern hybrid. We want the best of all possible worlds: thinking bad boys and girls.”

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