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MFA work appears in Whitney Biennial, Berlin exhibitions

​Second-year MFA students from UD at the Kunstraum Tapir gallery in Berlin; Justin Coleman is standing, far left.

The famed Whitney Biennial exhibition, the longest-running survey of American art, this year includes a piece by University of Delaware Master of Fine Arts (MFA) student Justin Coleman, who uses the name JSTN CLMN in his work.

The Whitney Museum of American Art in Manhattan opened its 78th Biennial on March 17. This year’s show, which runs until June 11, focuses on racial tensions, economic inequities and polarizing politics via installations that take a multitude of forms, from painting and installation to activism and videogame design.

On display are works from 63 individuals and collectives.

Coleman’s work is included in an exhibition by the Occupy Museums collective, as part of its “Debtfair” project, which the group describes as “a means of exposing the hidden layer of debt within the art market and its institutions.”

Of the more than 500 artists who submitted work to Occupy Museums, JSTN CLMN was one of 30 selected to have a piece in the show.

“I have a ceramic plate that has an image of my teeth on it,” he said of his contribution. “It’s a self-portrait of sorts.”

In 2012, Occupy Museums, along with 17 other groups, called for an end to the Whitney Biennial. In an open letter, they stated, “The Biennial perpetuates the myth that art functions like other professional careers and that selection and participation in the exhibition, for which artists themselves are not compensated, will secure a sustainable vocation.”

Now, Occupy Museums has a spot in this year’s show. The purpose of the group’s collection, Coleman said, is “to create exposure to working artists that are an integral part and structure [of] the contemporary arts community and its institutions who are living with debt and are facing immediate realities that affect their lives and them as artists.”

Calling the financial situation a very real problem for many artists, Coleman said that being part of the high-profile Biennial gives Occupy Museums a wide audience.

“By displaying (or exposing) these artists' work in the structure of the white walls of the institution itself, [we are] highlighting how debt can be an oppressive force,” he said.

“Debtfair” gives artists a greater platform not only to display their art, but also to protest the financial burdens they undertake to create art, he said.

MFA students gain international exposure

Coleman and other second-year MFA students visited Berlin last month to install a one-week exhibition of their work, titled “Humanifold,” at the gallery Kunstraum Tapir.

Accompanied by Abby Donovan, professor of art and design, the students also explored the city’s contemporary arts community. In addition to visiting numerous museums, galleries and private collections, the group made personal studio visits to seven Berlin artists and had conversations with art directors, curators and writers. 

“It was a spectacular experience, like an academic conference but on a much more intimate scale with a public transit adventure between each panel or lecture,” Coleman said.

Article by Anne Grae Martin

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Used in the Home Page News Listing and for the News Rollup Page
The famed Whitney Biennial exhibition, open until June 11, includes a piece by art graduate student Justin Coleman, who, with other MFA students, recently also exhibited work in Berlin.

​MFA student Justin Coleman has a piece in the current Whitney Biennial; he and other MFA students recently exhibited their work in Berlin.

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