Seeing a Change in MFA Students at the ASE

Student walls at the Annual Student Exhibition are an expression of how artists have developed and changed during their time at PAFA.

The ASE has been a tradition at PAFA for more than 100 years and is the culminating event in a student's journey at the academy. Each spring, 3rd and 4th year BFA, Certificate, and MFA students have the opportunity to curate, install and sell their own works in the PAFA museum galleries.

Candace Jensen (MFA ’18) said the selections for her ASE wall were constantly changing in the weeks leading up to the exhibition opening.

  • Candace Jensen (MFA '18).
    Candace Jensen (MFA '18).
  • Rachel Means (MFA '18) at PAFA's Commencement exercises.
    Rachel Means (MFA '18) at PAFA's Commencement exercises.
  • Detail of Rachel Means' ASE installation.
    Detail of Rachel Means' ASE installation.

“Sometimes it’s really an emotional attachment and which pieces really speak to me and are very important, sort of landmarks in my art practice,” she said, then adding that a painting she had completed only two weeks before the ASE also made it onto her wall.

That piece, a figurative work, is part of a collection of paintings separate from her thesis work. But Jensen realized all of her work has been connected, whether she initially knew it or not.

That thread is similar to the path she’s been on during her time at PAFA. She’s a different artist than she was two years ago when she started PAFA’s MFA program but her inspiration is the same.

“A lot of the challenges of critique in the MFA program lead you to questions and get frustrated,” she said. “But it also helps us dig deeper into the convictions we have about the work that we make and what moves us to make that work. I feel like the same person but more embedded in my creative practice.”

Jensen said the Master’s program allowed her to find new ways to work both materially and visually.

Rachel Means (MFA ‘18) had a similar experience of discovering new avenues for expression and art.

Means enrolled at PAFA primarily as a painter but her ASE exhibition space revealed an artist who is evolving. Instead of a traditional ASE “wall,” Means activated an installation room. The space had objects for sale but the installations true purpose was to showcase Means’ potential.

“I want to promote my skills in responding to spaces and kind of sell that possibility, and present the type of work I do,” she said. “If you have a location; whether it’s in a home, or in a gallery, or anywhere really that you can imagine, you’ve seen what I’ve done and are willing to let me come into your space and take it over as well.”

She said much of her decision-making process comes together when she’s in a new space, that’s sort of what happened when she began her MFA. In the four years between her undergraduate studies and starting at PAFA, Means said she did a lot of mixed-media paintings.

But PAFA’s woodshop allowed her to make sculptures and she reserved a temporary studio space to try new things. The chance to explore was too tempting to ignore.

“I consistently signed up for installation rooms and kept trying to respond to the space,” Means said. “Add to the space, take things away, and see what I could do with it to get my interests and conceptual ideas out there.”

As she graduates, Means hopes to take the art practice she’s developed at PAFA and travel abroad. Jensen also plans to take her work to new places.

She and her husband are moving to New England to open an art studio.

“We’ll be inviting colleagues to come to do the residency with us,” Jensen said. “We’re transitioning to a completely different atmosphere that will be very productive for both of us as artists and will allow us to keep our community alive.”