As recently as 30 years ago, female architecture students were quite outnumbered by their male counterparts. The presence of women in university and college architecture departments during the late '70s and early '80s was no doubt on the rise, as evidenced by a marked decrease in the wearing of bow ties and owlish black eyeglasses in those programs. But the 2014 Honors Exhibition at the University of Tennessee's Ewing Gallery reveals a kind of sea change.
It's remarkable that all but one of the architecture projects featured in this year's honors show are by women. Furthermore, all the mixed-media works, paintings, and drawings on view are also by women. Only two men—sculpture student Richard Ensor and architecture student Daniel Zegel—are included in the show.
Some viewers might say so what. Others could consider the dominance of female artists a phenomenon of sorts. Either way, the show's recognition of talent is, as always, a celebration of diversity, originality, and skill.
Initially conceived by the Ewing Gallery's director, Sam Yates, the 24th annual event acknowledges students graduating with degrees in art, architecture, interior design, and landscape design, selected by a combination of faculty members and outside review teams.
Gallery-goers might do well to have bottled water and napping mats in tow if they truly want to spend the time necessary to take in the various architectural efforts. There are surprisingly few models in the mix, but their absence is made up for by sophisticated renderings, photography, and drawings referencing process.
In terms of presentation, Leah Baker's barn-inspired "Windows of Change: A Transitional Dwelling for Milton Julian" stands out as an inset exhibition area; large-scale computer generated images, two of which adjoin in a corner to produce a wraparound effect, create an illusion of space within a defined portion of the gallery.
Claire Kistler's "Re Imagine/The Augmented Cityscape" proposes that visitors to New York's Battery Park use handheld devices to follow random paths, some established, some not—a form of "digital escapism", according to Kistler. Apparently, evenly spaced pictures mounted in a horizontal line represent said imaginary paths.
Jennifer Stewart's layout of images and text related to "medium density urban sites" in different climates is colorful and visually rhythmic. And Daniel Zegel's use of circles to unite his presentation of design concepts, along with stacks of sketches clipped to the wall to convey an evolving thought process, address the development potential of North Saint Louis. The text incorporated by Zegel describes the all-too-familiar deterioration of historic neighborhoods beginning in the late '50's when highways linking urban centers to suburbs severed a previously prosperous and functional grid. In keeping with that notion, his "Urban Wilderness Camp" project emphasizes "inward restoration" rather than "outward expansion".
Also departing from the norm is Jenny Budde's combination of small paintings (by "Karla Kunst," the fictional artist persona she's adopted) and the design for a "Soul Elevation" building. Both on the wall and in a neat stack, the exquisite little abstract paintings have resulted from what Budde refers to as "a need to externalize the interior dialogue of a year."
A more traditional approach (including models, for instance) is found in work by Amanda Gann, the Robert B. Church Prize winner for "DEEP SURFACE: engaging the terra viscous," an exploration of ways to revive Memphis' Gayoso Bayou and manage stormwater and other resources to improve the city's landscape. In a similar vein is work by Mallory Barga, the creative force behind "Residential Rebuilding in Rural Haiti: Natural Disaster Recovery Strategies Architecture".
Both Gann and Barga present thorough and masterfully realized proposals that should get them in the door of any firm they hope to join. Providing visual relief from the impressive but intense detail of architecture projects is work by art students Hannah Mae Barker, Lauren Beale, Paige Burchell, Richard Ensor, Josie Henry, Lauren Hulse, and Marta Lee.
Barker's intricate "Lovelace" pieces, made from laser- and hand-cut rag paper are simply gorgeous. Her other doily-inspired works, like the huge crochet cotton piping piece titled "Stuntin' Like My Granny," employ shadow and scale to great effect. Also flirting with scale are Beale's bold, signage-based paintings accompanied by snapshots presumably taken from moving vehicles.
Burchell, too, has Pop art leanings; her use of old Life magazine pictures of women as domestic goddesses lends her collages a delightful cynicism. Images such as Henry's paper doll (part of a folding printmaking book) and Brownie scout likewise possess a twisted nostalgia vibe.
Drawings by Hulse are simultaneously dense and light, with a memorable dream-like quality. Marta Lee's paintings, especially one with embracing figures, has a color-driven solidity. Ensor rounds out the show with an enormous canvas rabbit and a brilliant grouping of letter-shaped sculptures spelling out the word "RELIQUARY."
This year's Honors Exhibition, part of a continuum saluting dedicated students in outstanding programs, is everything such a show should be.