Since the United States garnered notoriety in the international art world, New York City has served as the national scene’s axis. Artists, curators, collectors, and gallerists from around the country make annual pilgrimages to the city to stay relevant and seek inspiration, convening for large exhibitions and international fairs. This summer, rising third year M.F.A. candidates joined the flurry of visitors for what The New York Times called “Mad May:” a week filled with exhibition openings, panels, artist talks, and the Frieze international art fair. The group traveled under the leadership of Professor Craig Drennen, whose professional and social connections provided exclusive behind-the-scene tours and meetings with prominent art figures. This third year experience was funded by the Ernest G. Welch Graduate Fund, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.
A long-time resident of Atlanta, Ernest G. Welch earned a business degree from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1928. He went on to serve in counterintelligence during World War II. He was stationed in France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany, where he took photographs of the war effort. Welch’s deep interest in photography eventually took him across the globe—from capturing images of wildlife in Africa to studying under the renowned photographer Ansel Adams. Late in life, Welch enrolled in photography courses at Georgia State and received a B.F.A. in 1999. He continued taking classes in various mediums into his 100’s. The decades-long friend of the school became a benefactor and honored namesake in 2003.
The Welch graduate fund has supported a wealth and variety of student experiences from the Visiting Artist and Scholar Speaker Series to Open Studios as well as graduate grants and the third year graduate experience. In previous years, the third year graduate experience has supported M.F.A. participation in Aqua Art Miami during Art Basel Miami and an artist residency at the Burren College of Art in Ireland. This year, it funded a week-long trip to New York City during the Frieze Fair and included M.F.A. candidates: Shir Bassa (printmaking), Peter Husemann (Interior Design), Chip Moody (photography), Corran Shrimpton (ceramics), Bronwyn Simmons (ceramics), and Rachel Warren (photography).
The week kicked off on Monday evening, May 15, at Rockefeller Center Plaza. There, Professor Drennen hosted an artist panel featuring Paula Crown, Michelle Grabner, and Hank Willis Thomas as a part of the programming for the two-art exhibition “#Solo Together,” curated by Drennen. The group discussed the “the viability of public monuments within contemporary art production;" Welch grads were invited to the VIP reception and able to meet with the artists afterwards for questions.
Tuesday the group started early, dropping by Printed Matter and every open gallery open in the Chelsea district, but not before first stopping in the Skowhegan School of Art & Design offices where Drennen was once dean. Students were able to talk to current Co-Director Sarah Workneh about running the non-profit artist residency and how best to prepare their portfolios for selection committees.
The itinerary for Wednesday included current exhibitions at the New Museum and the International Center for Photography where the group met with Elisabeth Sherman, the newly appointed Chief Curator at the International Center of Photography. The afternoon was full of drops ins to Lower East Side and Tribeca Galleries including Freight and Volume where Drennen recently had a solo exhibition and Olympia Gallery, run by recent VAS speaker Ali Rossi. At the Leslie-Lohman Museum in SoHo—which “collects, preserves and exhibits visual arts created by LGBTQ artists or art about LGBTQ+ themes, issues, and people”—students received a personal tour of the exhibitions by Aimée Chan-Lindquist, Director of External Affairs, and former MODA Director. The night culminated with ARTISTS SPACE, "Clocking Out: Time Beyond Management" opening reception, curated by the Whitney Independent Studies curatorial Fellows. There, the group met up with former Georgia State faculty and alumnus, Joe Peragine.
Thursday and Friday took the students all around Manhattan to the Museum of Art & Design, Dia Chelsea, the Whitney Museum, and the Guggenheim, as well as on a Hudson River train excursion outside the city up to Beacon to the Dia Museum, featuring revolutionaries of modern sculpture. The trip culminated on Saturday with tickets to the Frieze Art Fair at the Shed and a group dinner to unpack all they had experienced throughout the week and what they were bringing back from the trip to their own studio practices.