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Picture Perfect Seniors: Graduating Studio Art majors display their work

"Domestic Site III-V" by Christine Shea pinhole photographs to create portraits of everyday, domestic technology. (Ellen Newton)

When I received my Facebook invitation to the Mills senior studio art exhibit, I nervously wondered what level of turnout I should expect for a homegrown Mills show. Mills’ art museum has, in the last few years, attained a level of distinction that has attracted a number of major artistic catches and, thus, critical attention. What if the senior show was deserted? Yet when I went, the museum was overflowing with a crowd that even artists like Binh Danh and Pae White didn’t draw.

The lively opening night for “An Artists’ Dozen,” the senior thesis exhibit of the 12 graduating Studio Arts majors at the Mills College Art Museum that debuted Saturday, April 2, felt nothing like homework. For most non-Studio Art majors, the senior thesis is a quiet, private struggle. Under the watch of just a handful of classmates and a single professor, months of gloomy dead ends and glorious revelations unfold up to the moment we hit “send” on the e-mail attachment holding the final draft. Observing the confident glow on the faces of the elegantly-adorned art studio seniors as they were swarmed by admirers could leave students majoring in other subjects feeling a little deficient. Nevertheless, such feelings of inadequacy could not compete with the energy and joy of artists, thrilled with their accomplishments.

Jennifer Peart created a trio of paintings that give a masterful homage to architectural experimentalism of the 1960s, with sharp geometries in hot pinks, blues and oranges.

A video installation offered bean bag chairs and headphones: Viewers  watched an anonymous hand using clamps to pile lobster shells and pieces of bright plastic atop one another, over and over again. The sound was oddly alluring.

"TAUTOLOGY" by Meryl Olah is a series of empty window frames. (Ellen Newton)

The smartly-titled “TAUTOLOGY” by Meryl Olah is tucked in the back of the museum. As one of the wittier pieces of the show, it consists of a repetition of large, glassless metal frames leading up to a blinding fluorescent light. The meaning is a bit self-explanatory.

Dru Anderson’s “When,” a series of twelve pastel chalk paintings, blends the aesthetic of the candid snapshot with careful execution. In one frame, a woman in business attire leans complacently against her office desk, smiling at the camera while a woman a few frames away peers up expressionlessly from her hospital bed.

Artist Christina Shea handles the issue of domesticity in her series of pinhole photographs entitled “Domestic Site II” series. Stripping away the household context, Shea isolated objects like a thermometer gauge and a light switch, exposing their frayed wires and submitting their shattered, broken bodies to an unforgiving lens. The futile artifacts of the domestic sphere give a haunting allusion to a space of disrepair.

Xochiequetzal Lubin-Amaya’s photographs deal with a different species of futility. “Excess,” a photo print, contemplates a towering quilt of plastic bags held against a bright window. The illuminated bags present a compelling question: How does one  carry home the archetype of capitalist waste if not in a plastic bag?

Themes of excess and disrepair carry over into three large-scale oil paintings by Anna Basalaev-Binder. The artist confirmed that the Albany Bowl, an artful wasteland at the edge of the East Bay, was an inspiration, and it shows. Rusting oranges animate a windswept hillside and an arching, leafless tree bends over the gray bay waters as young urbanites talk on benches or explore the shore in disappointed leisure.

“An Artists’ Dozen” will be displayed in the Mills College Art Museum until Sunday, April 17. For more information about the exhibit, visit the Museum’s website at