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Art, Art History and Design department holds senior thesis exhibition, art history symposium

| Thursday, May 6, 2021

The Department of Art, Art History and Design (AAHD) is currently holding its annual honors senior thesis exhibition in Riley Hall. The exhibition features senior thesis projects from students pursuing Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) and Bachelor of Arts with Honors (BA Honors) degrees in visual communication design, industrial design and studio art. Their work is on display from April 23 to May 23. The BFA show is on display in the AAHD Gallery in 214 Riley Hall and the BA Honors show on display on the second and third floors of the same building.

The AAHD Department also hosted an Art History Symposium Tuesday night in Riley, where seniors pursuing a BA Honors degree in Art History presented their thesis papers.

Those interested in viewing any of the student work featured in the exhibition from the Art History Symposium can also view the projects on the AAHD website.

Lucas Korte, a professor of drawing and painting, is this year’s thesis coordinator for the BFA students. Korte, who helped the students arrange and display their work for exhibition, described the breadth of projects on display.

“There are some very interesting projects, everything from the design of a surfing helmet that integrates into a cold-weather wetsuit, to a platform for people newly transitioning to wheelchair use to connect to each other and to resources and the wider community of wheelchair users, to a series of abstract paintings dealing with memory, time, decision and the materiality of paint,” Korte said.

He added that he is happy that this year’s senior class, who spent over a year working on their thesis projects, were able to physically exhibit their work in Riley after the pandemic had forced the class of 2020 to exhibit their work virtually and left the status of this year’s exhibition in question well into this semester.

“I tried to push my students to be prepared for the possibility of another online-only exhibition,” Korte said. “At the same time [I was] hoping we’d be able to install something physical in the space. Ultimately, we ended up having the physical show, but there was a point early in this semester when it was a real question how the pandemic would look by April.”

Korte said he is excited for the seniors to exhibit their projects, each of which included a significant research portion. He said it was the seniors’ dedication and teamwork that ultimately made the exhibition a success.

Brittany Keane-Murphy, a senior pursuing a BA Honors degree in industrial design, is one of the students with a thesis project on display in Riley. Her project, “Playin,” integrates gymnastics equipment into modern home furniture.

Claire Reid | The Observer
BA Honors student Brittany Keane-Murphy completed a thesis project on gymnastic-inspired home furniture.

Keane-Murphy said it was her 14 years spent as a competitive gymnast that inspired her to create a home gymnastics equipment set up that is fun for kids and not a nuisance for parents trying to maintain a clean and stylish home.

“Home equipment is a huge issue, more so on the parents than on the kids,” Keane-Murphy said, who conducted Zoom interviews with parents who own home gymnastics equipment as part of the research portion of her project.

“It’s big and bulky; it’s always in the way; it’s horrible colors…,” she added. “So I wanted to find a way to make it a better experience for both the parents and the kids and give them something to play on safely that also looks like it should fit in a home, not in a gym.”

For the thesis exhibition, Keane-Murphy created a 3D, laser-cut scale model that was one-sixth of the size “Playin” would be in real life. She said she hopes when people see her project they see a fun way to play and can envision their younger selves having a ton of fun.

Meg Burns, another graduating senior, presented her senior thesis paper at the Art History Symposium Tuesday night. Burns, who decided to switch from a chemistry major to a BA Honors in art history her sophomore year after getting involved in the Snite Museum of Art, wrote her thesis on contemporary Chicago artist Theaster Gates.

“Gates has connected his outreach work and community engagement work on the South Side of Chicago with his larger artistic output in his practice,” Burns said. “He will essentially purchase these abandoned properties on the South Side and then use them as repositories for material to create his gallery shows and works for sale.”

She said Gates then uses the proceeds from the sale of these works to fund community centers, affordable housing, gallery spaces, archives and museums on the South Side.

Due to the pandemic, Burns was unable to travel to Chicago to interview Gates or explore his work in person, but she said she hopes to do so someday.

“I’m interested in what his larger practice looks like and this really unique way that he is using the art world to redistribute wealth back to [the] community,” Burns said.

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