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Student Curatorial Team Joins Professor for Experience at Los Angeles Art Fair

Professor Christopher Lynn returns to the SPRING/BREAK art fair, this time joined by student collaborators Malachi Wilson and Janessa Lewis.

The SPRING/BREAK art fair began in New York City in 2009 as the combined effort of artists Andrew Gori and Ambre Kelly. Rather than the typical commercial galleries usually represented in prestigious art fairs, Spring/Break prioritizes proposals from artists, collectives, and independent curators. After running successfully for a number of years in New York, the program was expanded in 2019 for an inaugural event in Los Angeles, as a part of Frieze Week, one of the contemporary art world’s most important events. Department of Art professor Christopher Lynn participated in the Los Angeles fair in early 2020, after curating an exhibition of work by local artists Casey Jex Smith (BYU, BFA 2003) and Amanda Michelle Smith

The curatorial experience left a positive impression on Lynn, and he saw potential for the future. “[Participating in 2020] was kind of a ‘toe-in-the-water’ experience, to see what it was like. From being at the fair, looking at the work, and the experience that I had, I thought it would be valuable to bring students along as well.”

However, with the event being canceled in 2021 due to COVID-19, the opportunity for students to participate wouldn’t arise until February of this year, when a call for entries to the fair was released.
It wasn’t long after the event was announced that students Janessa Lewis (BFA 2022) and Malachi Wilson (BFA 2023) were contacted by Lynn. Professor Lynn had worked with both students previously and felt they were ready for the challenge of curating an exhibition on a tight timeline. With a team in place, the three acted together as collaborators to curate an exhibition to propose to the prestigious fair—with only a few weeks before proposals were due.

“We had lots of Zoom meetings, a Google spreadsheet, and basically pooled the names of local artists we were each interested in working with,” said Lewis of the curatorial process. “From there, we narrowed the artists down to pairings that we thought would work well together and present a cohesive theme.”

After much deliberation, the team of Lynn, Wilson, and Lewis curated a selection of works from artists Nancy Rivera and BYU alum Jacob Haupt (BFA 2017). Rivera’s work features still life photographs of artificial flower arrangements, while Haupt creates bright snapshots of figures costumed as monsters and demons. While the subject matter of the respective artists seems quite disparate, the team found ways to connect the dots.

Curatorial decisions being made with the photographs of Jacob Haupt.

“At first glance, there maybe aren’t a lot that ties these works together. But both of them exist as contemporary versions of classic motifs,” Wilson says, when asked about common themes in the work. “Nancy’s still lifes acting as a kind of memento mori, with the artificial flowers pointing at the humor in avoiding natural death, and Jacob’s work does the same thing in a lot of ways. With the costumes, he pokes fun at and humanizes very real fears of the unknown.”

With their concepts and works selected, the proposal was submitted to the fair. A few weeks later, they got some good news: they had been accepted. “I was told that the entries for SPRING/BREAK 2022 were the highest they had ever received,” Professor Lynn reports on the application process. “It speaks very highly of the artists, as well as the quality of the application we put together.”

In mid February, within a month of beginning their application, the three loaded the selected artworks into a van and set out for Los Angeles. They arrived at a warehouse space with dozens of cubicles arranged into hallways and concourses. After chatting with some of the other curators working in their own spaces, the team found their booth and began a tricky installation process. Wilson, a gallery worker at Gallery 303, had prior experience installing student exhibitions. That came in handy during the operation, as the three affixed lights, applied coats of paint, and organized the layout of the artists’ works.

The fair’s opening night was a big success, with the group’s space (titled Remember You Will Die) receiving some very positive attention. Coverage of the booth could be found in publications like ArtNet and Untitled in their critical surveys of SPRING/BREAK. It was also an opportunity for Wilson and Lewis to mingle with serious professionals in the field, and to be treated as their peers:

“It was really empowering,” Wilson says of the experience, “Not only to be a part of our project itself, but also in that competitive community of projects, to be treated as equals with all of those projects.”

Both Wilson and Lewis were recipients of Experiential Learning funds, which paid for their travel and living expenses. “I would not have been able to participate in this project had it not been for Experiential Learning funding,” said Lewis. “Between working and school, there would have been no way I could have spent that money or had the time to have this experience.” 

Wilson’s story is the same: “Ultimately, the funding we received was what enabled us to go on this trip. With something like this that has so much overhead, it would have been impossible for me and Janessa to participate while still being in school, working, and trying to make ends meet.”

SPRING/BREAK presented many challenges for the team of Lynn, Lewis, and Wilson. From the outset, they were up against the competitive application process, tight timelines, an installation overhaul, and high-stakes mingling in a foreign environment. Having taken all these in stride, the team exceeded expectations and were able to produce a professional-level exhibition. Professor Lynn reflects on the experience: " Being able to spend time with these students in a less-structured environment, because this was an extra-curricular project, was what was special to me. We got to bond through these things of the road trip, install, everything. And ultimately, this was an invaluable experience for them; they have a fantastic line on their resume, and they functioned as professional curators while undergraduates."