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  May 8, 2000

Master's Students Display Range of
Creative Approaches in Art Exhibit

From afar, the canopied tomato stand looks inviting, though it's a bit early for harvest. Upon closer inspection, it's evident that the vegetables, neatly arranged in cardboard crates, are not real. The tomatoes are all the same size, and they're white and chalky.

"When you first approach it, the piece is very sweet and heartwarming," says artist Filipe Miguel. "Then it slowly becomes more and more strange." A candidate for a master of fine arts degree, Miguel constructed the tomato stand as part of a "labyrinth of different environments" that viewers can walk through. His work, and those by other MFA candidates Rhea Nowak and Mindy Tucker are on display in the MFA Student Exhibition at the William Benton Museum of Art through May 31.

"Among the three students, you get the broad spectrum of today's art," says Saul Ostrow, associate professor of art and director of the Atrium Gallery. Each works from a different perspective, he says: "Filipe's work is highly theatrical and expressionist, Rhea's is cool post-minimalism, and Mindy has a highly conceptual approach to photography and issues of identity."

Miguel says the idea for the tomato stand stems from going to the grocery store, looking at the display racks and noticing that every tomato is exactly the same. "And coming to terms with that - the status of genetics. I believe we've already reached a certain level of the 'perfect' that makes us more like God. And now, what is going to happen is that the only place to go is to reverse that process, to make things less perfect."

Miguel's other pieces include a space pod, complete with lights and sounds, a lunar map room, and The Apocalyptic Squirrel Nest. "Each piece acts on its own," he says. There are "very drastic shifts and changes," between each one. He describes his recent work as being "driven by paranoia over social, psychological and economic methods of control." His installations, or environments, are built and composed from a personal collection of found objects.

Nowak is showing prints and photographs. Her work involves an investigation of line. "I include the line as mark, as symbol, as writing. I am interested in its metaphoric possibilities, as it pauses, breaks, resumes and leaves spaces," she says.

Several of her photographs document lines that she drew on the road between the music building and art building on campus. She drew the lines twice: Once using a stick with chalk attached to the end; the other with a lime line marking machine. These works are "about being present as you draw, and taking the abstract studio mark and putting it in the real world," she says. Included among her pieces is a 23-foot lithograph and a series of 12 etchings. "I don't have a predetermined idea of what the piece is going to look like," she says. "I think about the marks that I've made and how I want them to interact."

Tucker's exhibit of family photographs, slides and videos aren't what they appear to be. Snapshots of Tucker, smiling, with arms around people who look like close relatives but are actually strangers. "My work specifically examines my feelings as an adopted child and generally explores questions concerning the construction of identity and existential crises," she says. For this project, Tucker asked strangers whom she met in a variety of places to "pretend they are related to me and to pose for family snapshots." She also created videos recording a series of staged birthday parties, where strangers in a variety of locations sing "Happy Birthday" in celebration of her 25th birthday.

She says the snapshots and videos enable her "to realize the myriad possible stories of my biological family that as an adopted child I imagine.

"I'm using these forms that normally comfort us - like home movies and photographs, things that make us belong - to represent loneliness, isolation and alienation." Tucker says the family that adopted her as an infant is "loving and caring." Her mother even took some of the photographs.

The Benton museum is open Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 1 to 4:30 p.m.

Sherry Fisher