Art school graduation shows


At this time of year art students around the world are preparing to graduate. For many, the final part of their education is exhibiting their work in public. The ‘degree show’ is also the first step to becoming a professional artist or designer. In the midst of this year’s shows, students and lecturers from Chicago, Dusseldorf and London discuss the events, from organisation to expectations; and art world professionals share what they are looking for when they, along with the general public, visit art school degree shows.

Master of Fine Arts at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Uniquely attached to a world-class art museum, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago showed the work of 108 Master of Fine Art (MFA) students in the 30,000 square feet of SAIC’s Sullivan galleries from April 13th–May 17th 2013.     

’The MFA Show at SAIC is a requirement for all MFA students,’ explains Director of the 2013 MFA show Kate Zeller. ‘It is an opportunity for new and ambitious work to be presented to the public.’ Recently SAIC has adopted a new approach to the exhibition. Guest curators are invited to work with graduate student curatorial assistants and through discussions and studio visits, the curators build up an understanding of the exhibiting artists’ work.  This puts them in the best position to plan the exhibition, placing and arranging artworks in such a way as to provide a meaningful context. Often schools will allocate a space to a student and let them show what they like; this new, curated approach edits what the students show and gives an overall sense to the exhibition.
Participating student Celeste Rapone views the exhibition as an important part of the creative process, ’It’s vital to get the work out of the comfort of the studio and into the world. It takes on a new form in different contexts.’ 
 Celeste Rapone, Bonfire

‘Rundgang’ at the Kunstakadamie Dusseldorf

Not all art schools use graduation as an opportunity to show students’ work. Every February the doors of one of the most celebrated art schools in Europe are opened to the public. Kunstakadamie Dusseldorf alumni include Gerhard Richter, whose professor Joseph Beuys was sacked for applying his famous maxim, ‘everyone is an artist’, too literally and allowing anyone to join his class. February’s ‘Rundgang’ (circular tour) is a chance to see students’ work in each of the Akademie’s classes.  Students apply to these classes to work with a particular professor; currently at Dusseldorf this could be Peter Doig in painting or Tony Cragg in sculpture. They then have a number of years within which to graduate, rather than the usual prescribed course term. The ‘Rundgang’ is a yearly highlight but does not form part of the students overall grade.

  ‘Rundgang’ at the Kunstakadamie Dusseldorf

Degree shows at the University of the Arts, London (UAL)

From May until September the UAL presents graduate shows open to the industry and the public across its colleges. Smart enthusiasts and collectors know that it is at these events that exciting new artists of the future can be found.

Particularly in cultural centres such as London, gallerists and other art world professionals visit these shows looking for new talent. Justin Hammond, editor of, scours degree shows nationwide looking for 40 talented graduates to be included in the Catlin Guide. His ambition is to find artists with the potential to shape the dynamic of contemporary art over the next decade and beyond.  A key criterion for inclusion in the book: the desire to progress and make better work. After seeing many degree shows, he has this advice,’ I'd like to see artists be more ruthless with their editing at degree shows, there's an unfortunate tendency to chuck everything up. Less is definitely more.’

  Lizzie Martin 'The West and the Rest'    

Graduating this spring from the London College of Communication, Book Arts and Design course, Lizzie Martin views the shows as the transition from student to professional. ‘The final show is a celebration of progress and an opportunity to conduct myself as a professional book artist for the first time. I hope that after the show I will find it easier to reflect upon the next stages of development and imagine myself as an artist with more clarity, whether that is within continuing education or structured employment’. Lizzie has a clear-eyed view of the professional struggles ahead, recognising that the competition for jobs within the creative industries is intense.  She doesn’t expect to be approached by industry; rather, ‘I will have to push for jobs as a determined individual once the course is behind me.’

Special thanks to Alec Hatcher in the United States and Benedikt Lange, Germany.

*Lead image: Celeste Rapone, Bonfire, courtesy the artist