Art Students Staged Thesis Exhibitions at 7313 Melrose Ave.

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When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down CalArts’ in-person operations (and the world) in March 2020, then-student Benjamin Gordon was determined to finish his Art MFA program.

“I felt there was a lot of momentum behind my art practice,” he said during a telephone interview with 24700. “I didn’t want to take a leave of absence.”

When Gordon found out that the Fall 2020 semester would be conducted online as well, he began to scan listings for commercial real estate to set up a studio and to stage his MFA 2 thesis. In September and October, he scouted locations and was able to negotiate a six-month lease starting Dec. 1, 2020, at 7713 Melrose Ave., which formerly housed the AA|LA gallery.

Once in the space, Gordon offered his MFA 2 cohort the use of the space to showcase their thesis exhibitions as well. “I wanted a close to an on-campus exhibition as possible,” he said, referencing the D-301 Gallery space at CalArts. “[The exhibitions] ran Saturday to Saturday just like it would be if we were on campus.”

Seven MFA 2 students exhibited their works at 7313 Melrose, with one flying in from New York to install their thesis show.

The 7313 Melrose Ave. cohort are:

Because of COVID restrictions and county health guidlines, the exhibitions were kept on the downlow and were open by invitation-only. Gordon said there could only be six people total in the gallery during the start of the run of exhibtions in March. By the time the last exhibition was mounted, 12 people were allowed in the gallery at the same time.

During the run of exhibitions, several Art faculty members and many of Gordon’s CalArts peers set their appointment times to see the art shows.

“Staging during the pandemic wasn’t all bad,” he said. “I could focus without distractions, but it was also difficult to build community.

“[7313 Melrose] allowed my cohort to connect and bring us together, creating some semblance of community.”

Ruoyi Shi gallery exhibition
‘Three or More Fish,’ Ruoyi Shi, sculpture, performance and video installation, April 26 – May 1, 2021. | Image: Courtesy of the artist
Richard Nam gallery exhibition
‘American Travesty [left to right]: (Four Types of American Vanity, Feb 2021), (Capitol Riot of Shame, Feb 2021), (Stegosaurus Sinclair, Jan 2021), and (Burnt Forensic Investigation, 2020); all watercolor on paper + citric acid; 72” x 54”, 72” x 54”, 48” x 66”, and 48” x 72.” | Image: Courtesy of the artist
Fía Benitez, Root Rot (installation view), 2021. Melrose 7313, Los Angeles. | Image: Courtesy of the artist
Aiden Romick painting
‘Dickens (Tropics)’ (2021), Acrylic and oil on linen, 28” x 36.” | Image: Courtesy of the artist
Danielle Trent installation
These abstract soft sculpture ‘creatures’ are data visualizations that represent the inequalities in K-12 Los Angeles public school districts’ student demographics and funding. | Image: Courtesy of the artist
Installation View – ‘The Sea Series,’ 2021, indigo dye, canvas, matte medium, acrylic paint. | Image: Courtesy of the artist
Benjamin S. Gordon gallery installation
Benjamin S. Gordon, ‘Sticks &’ (installation view), 2021. | Image: Courtesy of the artist

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PUBLISHED BY Christine N. Ziemba

Christine is the director of Content at CalArts, responsible for the Institute's editorial in both print and online platforms. In addition, she oversees CalArts' social media accounts. In her spare time, she writes about the Santa Clarita food scene at

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