PAFA’s annual student show captures the evolution of the art world


It’s graduation season, and there’s a unique event celebrating the accomplishments of professional artists launching their careers from Philly. It’s the 115th Annual Student Exhibition (ASE) at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA).

Clint Jukkala, Dean of the School of Fine Arts, said this year’s work has a broader range than ever, including everything from traditional painting and sculpture to video, installation, and performance.

“There’s an interdisciplinary nature to much of the work and a fluidity between disciplines that you often see in contemporary art,” he said. “Painting looks like sculpture, sculpture looks like painting, craft and fine art merge and high/low boundaries disappear.”

No “right” way

He thinks seeing the work of students lets people get to know artists as they are as well as get a sense of where they might be headed, he said. With works by undergrads and graduate students, “it’s a chance to see students at different points in their development,” he said.

This show is unique in its ability to reflect the diversity of art in Philadelphia, Jukkala said, and with such a wide range of topics and media, it also demonstrates that there is no “right” way for artwork to look today.   

“Both old and new technologies are represented. There’s no prevailing style or look at PAFA, and the broad range reflects how artists are working today,” he said. “There are also a number of students who are responding to current social and political concerns through the lens of their own experiences. Often students aren’t making overtly political work, but they are grappling with issues and conversations that are taking place in the world and are part of their daily lives.”    

Supporting graduates and new students

The ASE features more than 1,000 works of art by more than 100 students. The students curated, installed, and will sell their works. Students retain 70 percent of the purchase price (the remaining monies are used for PAFA scholarships). For its 115 years, allowing works of emerging artists to be seen and letting the students meet collectors and mount an exhibition have been the exhibit’s mainstays. The only thing that changes each year is the work.

“In general I would say it has become more diverse and more interdisciplinary,” Jukkala said of the venerable show’s ever-evolving roster of work, reflecting the changes of contemporary political, social, and artistic currents.  “Also, more and more of our students are getting out to galleries and museums and going to hear guest artists talk. That exposure to different artists and points of view likely has some impact on the work.”

What impact the show will have on the artists’ careers remains to be seen. Like all commencements, this ending is just the beginning.

PAFA’s Annual Student Exhibition runs through June 5 at the Samuel M.V. Hamilton Building at PAFA, 118-128 N. Broad Street. For more information, call 215-972-7600 or visit the show online

Above: PAFA students install this year's show. Photo courtesy of PAFA. 

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