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Smart products, books, exhibitions, projects and ventures by Art Center alumni and faculty

An Xiao Mina at TEDGlobal 2013
An Xiao Mina at TEDGlobal 2013 in Edinburgh.

The Memes They Are a-Changin’

An Xiao Mina MFA 2013

Think you know your memes? If you’ve spent any time online, you’ve probably run across the likes of Grumpy Cat, Scumbag Steve or, one of our personal favorites, Art Student Owl. Those viral images and videos that people modify and spread across the Internet are always good for a laugh, but at the TEDGlobal 2013 conference in Edinburgh, Media Design Practices alumna An Xiao Mina took the stage and shed light on how individuals across the globe are turning memes into “the street art of our social web.” In her talk, Mina provided examples of how people in both democracies and censorship states have used memes to speak out on controversial issues, from the detainment of Ai Weiwei to the shooting of Trayvon Martin. “These memes are about more than humor,” Mina said on the TED blog. “They do what art and visual expression have always done—make us feel less alone.” — MW
Watch videos

Rafael Esquer Rafael Esquer

New York’s Newest Icon

Rafael Esquer BFA 1996

When the New York City Department of Design and Construction approached Rafael Esquer’s Alfalfa Studio about creating a mural to improve the cafeteria of the LIFE Family Shelter in Lower Manhattan, Esquer embraced the opportunity to direct a project with social impact. Alfalfa invited the shelter’s clients to workshop their ideas and shape the conceptual and graphic direction of the piece. “The rewards of doing something that actually touches people’s lives is what makes the hundreds of hours of volunteer work worth it,” says Esquer, who has taught at Art Center, New York University and the School of Visual Arts. Incorporating vibrant drawings of seasonal foods and children’s statements about their favorite activities and fantasy characters, the project has triggered new commissions for murals in the U.S. and abroad. But what is Esquer most excited about as his firm celebrates its 10th anniversary this year? “Having my own studio has allowed me to launch my own brand, Alfalfa New York,” he says. “It’s a project where I’m both client and designer.” Deeply in love with Manhattan, the Mexico native has created ICONYC, a graphic representation of the city researched and rendered over the course of more than two years, featuring 173 landmarks as diverse as the Chrysler Building and the Chelsea Hotel. — CGA
Watch video: The painting of ‘A Fruitful Life’ mural

Rob Bruce’s XX8  basketball shoe
Rob Bruce’s XX8 basketball shoe for Nike’s Jordan Brand.

Just Design It

Rob Bruce BS 1993

As global innovation design director at Jordan Brand, Product Design alumus Rob Bruce is the designated visionary at the Nike-owned sneaker label. As such, he’s drawn from the brand’s past successes—last year re-releasing the iconic Air Jordan—while developing Flight Plate, a groundbreaking athletic footwear technology that enables bipeds to achieve greater lift-off. “It’s kind of like all these little micro explosions under your feet when you’re running or just walking around,” Bruce recently said in an article on Stack, extolling Jordan Brand’s Flight Plate-equipped XX8 basketball shoe, widely embraced by professional players and sneakerheads. With Flight Plate successfully road (and court) tested, Bruce and his team in the Nike Sports Research Lab turned their attention to the Christmas release of the shoe’s more affordable next iteration, Jordan Brand’s XX8SE—which quickly sold out. “I’m focused totally on the future and working with the athletes and trainers and the lab,” said Bruce, “to get Air Jordan back to that on-court supremacy we enjoyed so well when Michael was playing in his heyday.” — CS

Polar Bear, 1976, by Hiroshi Sugimoto
Polar Bear, 1976, Hiroshi Sugimoto, gelatin silver print. The J. Paul Getty Museum, purchased with funds provided by the Photographs Council.
© Hiroshi Sugimoto

History Repeats Itself

Hiroshi Sugimoto BFA 1972

Hiroshi Sugimoto divides his time between Tokyo and New York; as an artist he unites his creative passions in photography and architecture. Recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Photography alumnus made headlines earlier this year when he announced that he had designed his own museum, a future home for his artwork being built in Odawara, Japan. For those familiar with his 2000–03 “Architecture” series, blurred images of well-known examples of Modernist architecture, or with his 2011 book of architectural essays and photographs, Sense of Space, the move comes as no surprise. Long interested in the “re” part of representation, Sugimoto has, since the 1970s, used photography to investigate how history pervades the present. His first photographs, made while still in high school, captured film footage of Audrey Hepburn as it played in a movie theater. Now the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles brings together three separate bodies of work, four decades’ worth of meticulously crafted prints that inventively reframe objects from the collections of a variety of museums. The exhibition Hiroshi Sugimoto: Past Tense features “Dioramas” (1975–1994), “Portraits” (1999) and his newest series, “Photogenic Drawings” (2008–present). By photographing subjects that reimagine or replicate moments from the distant past and diverse geographical locations, Sugimoto critiques the medium’s presumed capacity to portray history with accuracy. Meanwhile history is present in the very apparatus of his art making: Throughout his career he has continued to use the same turn-of-the-century, large-format box camera. Catch his exhibition at The Getty Center before it closes June 8. — SS

Spring: Then and Now

Alexis Marguerite Teplin MFA 2001

Graduate Art alumna Alexis Teplin’s practice is noted for a theatricality based in seduction, artificiality and cultural signification—themes that harken back to Igor Stravinsky’s scandalous 1913 ballet, Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring), culminating in the “sacrificial dance” of a young girl. Fitting, then, that California-born, London-based Teplin is among the artists invited by the Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst, housed in a former brewery in Zürich, to create new work that addresses the ballet, its context and its history for Sacre 101— An Exhibition Based on The Rite of Spring. In the live performance piece P and C, the sound and movement of two players are constrained by brightly colored costumes designed by Teplin as they perform in front of one of her large-scale paintings. The artist was inspired by Natalia Goncharova, an avant-garde costume and set designer for Ballets Russes, the company that originally performed The Rite of Spring a century ago. On view through May 11, the exhibition presents contemporary works alongside a selection of Sacre documentation, much of which is being shown in a museum context for the first time. — JG

Jorge Pardo
Jorge Pardo. (Photo courtesy of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)

High (Functioning) Art

Jorge Pardo BFA 1988

For the past 20 years, Jorge Pardo has been swinging his wrecking ball around the art establishment, tearing down traditional categories of creativity and staking his claim to an underused patch of terrain utterly his own, at the intersection of art, architecture, design, painting and sculpture. “What I do is shape space and play with the history that forms people’s sense of expectation,” the Cuban-born Fine Art alumnus explained in a 2013 W Magazine profile. “I don’t think art is not functional. A painting is functional. People hang it on the wall. You can trade it. It’s like money. But historical tradition says paintings are not functional.” A 2010 MacArthur “Genius,” Pardo has been bucking tradition since he rose to prominence in 1998, with 4166 Sea View Lane, a functional sculpture/house he designed and built for a MOCA exhibition. His current project may be his most ambitious yet. Pardo has handcrafted each element of Tecoh, a compound of buildings and gardens in the Yucatan jungle, to create an Edenic multisensory experience. At the heart of all of Pardo’s work lies a DIY commitment to artisanship, honed during his time at Art Center. “I like to know how things work,” Pardo told W. “I think everything interesting comes from figuring it out.” — CS
Watch video: Jorge Pardo, MacArthur Fellow

Shooting Star

Star Foreman BFA 2008

Los Angeles photographer Star Foreman’s vibrant, campy tableaux have defined publications such as LA Weekly and Pasadena Magazine. She is the granddaughter of veteran newspaper theater critic T. E. Foreman—which may have helped her land the first cover of LA Weekly’s annual theater issue. Her trademark styling is inspired by Golden Age Hollywood, burlesque and a love of fashion and design. Foreman graduated from the Photography and Imaging program on the eve of the 2008 economic crash, and she remembers, “I was going from having access to virtually unlimited resources to having a single strobe and an old Canon T1i.” But she shot every week, whether she was working or not. It’s a testament to her perseverance that in 2012–13 Foreman was named one of the Top 200 Photographers by Lürzer’s Archive, the distinguished creative resource for advertising professionals. An aficionado of the celebrity portrait, she researches her subjects assiduously, preparing shoots differently for a shy person like rap artist Madlib or someone more exacting like Gates McFadden of Circle X Theatre. “The most common thing I hear from a subject is that they hate getting their photo taken,” says Foreman. “My job has to be to get them to love having their photo taken—by me, at least.” — CGA

Gevorg Karensky Karensky’s Jaguar commercial Karensky’s Jaguar commercial

Rapid RISE to Success

Gevorg Karensky BFA 2011

A lifelong fan of cars and games, Gevorg Karensky has fashioned a filmmaking career that brilliantly blends both passions. Born in Russia, he emigrated to the United States in 2002 at the age of 14. For his undergrad Transportation Design thesis at Art Center, the aspiring-surgeon-turned-filmmaker collaborated with Film classmate Cathy Peng (BFA 10) on the game and live action hybrid Grand Theft Auto: RISE. It became an immediate viral sensation, generating more than 13 million YouTube views and earning Karensky a spot in Saatchi & Saatchi’s New Directors Showcase at the Cannes Film Festival. Critics praised his raw talent. “[It] blows every other fan-made project I’ve ever laid eyes on completely out of the water” (Sam Gibbs, Gizmodo UK). Karensky recently wrapped A New Dawn, a launch film for the Jaguar F-TYPE R luxury sports car, which bears his filmic signature that at times blurs the lines between the real and the virtual. “Art Center opened the doors for me to start creating my very first projects and to experiment,” he says. “It was my home and I was there every single day from morning to night. [It] also gave me a great platform for entry into the real world.” — TB


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