Nov. 19, 2009 

I confess to a certain ambivalence when it comes to art students. I have a niece just starting art school and to me she’s pretty much of a brat, despite looking all cute and sociable on Facebook. That said, I nevertheless launched myself earnestly into the Parsons Fine Arts "MFA Open Studios" on the fifth floor of 25 East 13th Street, where approximately 45 art students work and such in comfortable, cell-like white spaces.

If nothing else, the experience should prepare them for the realities of the New York real estate market.

Spotting the artist and now Parsons art-school administrator Coco Fusco, I introduced myself. "My nemesis," she exclaimed, before hastening on her mission, which was to hand out tickets good for free tacos.

Nevermind what that’s about, but know this, art students -- a free lesson: You get their attention when you kick them in the shins!

But I like Fusco, and everyone else does, too, at least if you go by my modest survey. (Hell, one person even volunteered that they like Robert Storr, who is a dean at Yale, if memory serves). The students were happy with her, and happy with their art education.

Along with studio work, the Parsons MFA program requires one academic course ("I took ‘History of Film’ last semester," said Mary Younkin, a second-year student) and invites top people in for seminars (artists Shirin Neshat, Kalup Linzy and Kurt Kauper, critic Holland Cotter and curator Isolde Brielmaier are on the schedule for this year).

What was on view? Among the pleasant art-school ambiance (overscaled wall murals, mysterious postings, images of uncertain ontology, lots of young people) was some interesting stuff, considering.

Chris Mansour’s unmanned studio was wallpapered with computer cards, and a questionnaire and checklist allowed visitors to insert themselves into the matrix, so to speak. On a table were copies of the Platypus Review, a Chicago-based offset journal that takes notice of "anti-intellectualism" in contemporary art and discusses the dialectic of theory and practice.

Down the passage, in the space occupied by first-year MFA student Tatiana Lyubetskaya, were several monochromatic portraits of Lenin, based on one of the few extant photographs of the father of the Communist Revolution. Looking rather like etchings, they were done with exquisite care, as if trying to re-invest the icon with some real humanity. (Good luck!) Lyubetskaya comes from Russia, but she learned her craft here in the U.S.

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