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Chicago Artist At Large with Caitlin Cherry: “We Want In!” Open House/Open Studios at Columbia University

Chicago Artist At Large is an ongoing series about native Chicago artists working and studying outside of their home town. As part of Sixty Inches From Center’s Chicago Artists at Large Series, we invited Columbia University MFA candidate and Chicago native Caitlin Cherry to tell us about some of her experiences in New York City’s art scene. For her first entry Caitlin tells us first-hand about her experience during Columbia University’s Open Studios, which is a showcase of the work being done in the studios of the second-year MFA candidates.

Inside artist Leah Wolff’s Columbia University Studio

There was something sobering about helping to organize Columbia University’s MFA Open House for prospective students this past Sunday. Thinking about the statistics of the program, I realized that out of the estimated 200 bushy tailed individuals that I welcomed and ushered into classrooms for presentations only 2 will get in – if even that. I’m so sober.

Fellow 1st years students and I were overwhelmed standing in front of a full capacity room of these prospective students asking personal questions about our experiences since entering the program. My throat was dry because I wanted to tell them the cold truth about the high tuition and the doubt of success post-school, about it being the most intense months in my life so far, about the physical exhaustion  – I stuck to being politically correct to relieve the tension lines on the foreheads in the room. In the end it made us all think about how we knew all these negatives going into the program, and how we distorted the truth in our minds for comfort, but also how we accepted it all as a challenge. I felt immensely proud but a little foolish.

Brie Ruais inside her studio

In the afternoon, the 2nd years hosted Open Studios where the general public came and got a sampling of their work before the artists hibernate once again to start preparations for their thesis exhibition in May 2011. It was quite the affair. I did my 1st year duties by handing out maps to the likes of artist Kara Walker and art critic Jerry Saltz. Peter Halley, director of Yale’s MFA painting/printmaking department, was also sighted while I roamed through the halls swerving through the masses and peeking into studios. I took it as another opportunity to drink up the free wine and lend some support to my friends. A visitor apparently took this opportunity too far as there was a big ‘stink’ about puke in the men’s bathroom. There might have been blood too. Really, I have no idea what goes on in that bathroom.

There was much ado about the studio of painter Walter Smith on the third floor. I approached the door and there stood a tough-looking bouncer in a suit behind a black velvet rope that blocked off the threshold of the studio door. Wow. Another bouncer stood beside him looking stone-faced and behind them both was a temporary wall blocking view of most of the studio. One of the bouncers had a clipboard in his hand. So I asked him if I can get in. He said, “What’s your name?” I said, “Caitlin Cherry.” He flipped to the next page on the clipboard. “Your name’s not on the list ma’am.” A woman next to me said her name and the bouncer lifted the velvet rope to let her in. So, I stood outside with a deflated ego. Some Columbia professors, other students and important strangers were denied access and joined me off to the side to pout and lick our wounds. We desperately wanted in. It seemed to be the reoccurring theme of the day.

Columbia University Open Studio Poster (detail), November 2010

Learn more about Caitlin Cherry’s work at www.caitlincherry.com.