MFA students’ hard work pays off in Close Third Person Opening Reception


The 2018 Master of Fine Arts class presents their thesis work in the Benton Museum on Thursday night. (Amar Batra/The Daily Campus)

Five graduate students in the School of Fine Arts saw three years of hard work pay off in the opening of the Benton’s latest exhibit, Close Third Person: Master of Fine Arts Exhibition. The exhibition featured the works of Kelsey Miller, Jelena Prljević, Kaleigh Rusgrove, Erin Koch Smith and Claire Stankus. Each artist is a student of the Master of Fine Arts in Studio Arts program, and is a member of the program’s first three-year cohort.

UConn alum and Bristol resident Brooke Foti Gemmell had been to prior MFA Exhibitions, but saw a noticeable difference in the program after the switch to the three-year cohort.

“I’ve been to this event in the past and it’s always been pretty good, but I feel like this being the first of the three-year cohort, there is definitely a big difference in the work…” Foti Gemmell said. “It just feels really finished and it feels very complete.”

Kelsey Miller had multiple works in the show, including “105 Days Before Today” and “National Forecast.” Her pieces were often political in nature, and utilized a variety of mediums like newspaper and string. Miller’s use of these mediums created interesting and intellectual commentary on current events.

Tucked in a darkened corner of the exhibition, Jelena Prljević covered the walls in a large, graphite, drawing and projected light onto the paper. The light danced around the piece, illuminating different parts of the picture. She also had several other pieces featured in the exhibition, like “Neither Here Nor There” and “So Sweet and Refreshing but Never Enough.” Prljević’s works intended to use their unique mediums to tell a story.

Foti Gemmell particularly liked Prljević’s work. “I’ve seen some of her other work that was more traditional animation, but I like the mix of the projected animation on a physical piece. It was really different from what I’ve seen from her other work, I just thought it was really cool,” Foti Gemmell said.

While Miller’s work focused on a narrative, Erin Koch Smith took a completely different approach, describing her own pieces as “plot-less” and “hero-less.” Koch Smith used oil paints to create “Turtle,” “Dragon” and “Grasshopper.”

Kaleigh Rusgrove was the only artist that featured photography in her exhibit, showcasing pieces like “What is Known” and “Untitled (Hazmat Portrait).” Many of her photographs documented people, plants and the relationship between humans and their environment. Rusgrove stated that her body of work took a focus on environmental issues, like climate change.

Digital media and design graduate student Cat Boyce went to high school with Rusgrove, and was impressed at how her artwork had developed over the years.

“It’s really interesting to see her move away from the self-portraiture and move into a more ambiguous body of work,” Boyce said.

Claire Stankus’ portion of the exhibition took a focus on discarded or commonplace objects, like studio scraps, cake and flowers. Pieces like “28 Cake,” “Floor Plant” and “Island Plant” all emphasized Stankus’ theme—that even everyday objects are worth painting.

The opening reception drew a large crowd of people excited to see the graduate students three years of hard work finally come to fruition.

“It was nice to see so many faculty, undergrad students, grad students and alumni here to support the current grad students,” Boyce said.

Close Third Person will be on display in the Benton Museum of Art until May 6, 2018.

Lauren Brown is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at

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