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Spring 1998
Avant-Garde Academy

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As if to reinforce the point, Kelly has moved quickly to shore up perceived weaknesses in the UCLA program. For starters, she rounded out the studio curriculum – which had maintained the relatively traditional divisions according to media: painting, sculpture, photography, ceramics and the somewhat vague “new genre” – by introducing an option dubbed “interdisciplinary studio” for students whose work crosses conventional boundaries.

More importantly, she added a heady dose of criticism and theory to a program that had built its reputation on an endearingly anachronistic concern for the physical object. Toward that end, she inaugurated an annual spring quarter symposium that brings together artists, critics and theorists, as well as scholars from other disciplines within the university to engage in “a major critical and theoretical debate around culture.”

The 1997 symposium, “On the Ugly,” included presentations by such prominent art historians and theorists as Rosalind Krauss and Hal Foster. This spring the symposium will comprise a variety of attempts to answer the question, “What Do Pictures Want?” Once again, participants will include noted artists and filmmakers as well as influential scholars, from both on-campus and off, in such fields as literature and cultural studies.

Kelly’s third major innovation was the creation of the Wight Biennial, an exhibition of graduate student work from schools throughout the country. The show is curated by UCLA students, who visit other schools, spending days looking at their peers’ work and selecting one or two pieces that interest them. They then write brief essays – generally no more than a few paragraphs – discussing their selections. Playing the role of curator, Kelly believes, forces students to think about works of art from a different perspective.

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