* What: Juried Student Art Exhibition.
* Where: Cress Gallery, UTC Fine Arts Building, corner of Vine and Palmetto streets.
* When: Daily through Jan. 27.
* Gallery hours: 9:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Monday-Friday; 1-4 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.
* Admission: Free.
* Phone: 425-4371.
* Website: www.cressgallery.org.
* Best in Show - Kyle Wood, "Stomp," video documentation of performance piece.
* First Place Overall - Maggie Paden, "Personal Victory #217," paint and plaster on wood and wire armature.
* Second Place Overall - Claire Bloomfield, "Tea and Ink," video transferred to DVD.
* Third Place Overall - Travis Hitchcock, "America the Beautiful," digital output on various papers.
* Award of Merit - Dolores Hoffman, "Trap #1," sticks, mirror and fishing line.
* Award of Merit - Adam Kirby, "Untitled," clay.
* Award of Merit - Angel Renta, "Abandoned Sculptures," color photographs.
* Award of Merit - Danielle Anderson, "The Illusionist," wood, paint and mirrors.
* Curator's Award - Keren Beddoe, "Untitled," suite of four related video performances transferred to DVD.
* Curator's Honorable Mention - Corinne Atamaniuk, "Isolation (Narrative)," oil on paper.
* Curator's Honorable Mention - Brooke Craig, "Untitled Independent Project," film-based photography.
Ruth Glover has curated the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's Cress Gallery for about 15 years and, as she sifts every December through the submissions to the annual student art exhibition, she's consistently taken aback by the strength of the art program.
"I have seen this steady growth of students just being much more professional about their studies and taking a really professional view of what they're doing," Glover says.
And this year's exhibition, which opened Tuesday, raised the bar yet again. The 60 works now on display in the 1,600-square-foot gallery are "the strongest" she's ever seen.
"The willingness of our students to take risks and find success affected me," Glover says. "It's as strong as anything you'd see in New York City. It's really, really wonderful work."
The exhibition was judged by Jered Sprecher, an associate professor in the School of Art at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. His selections from an initial pool of 140 submissions represent a wide range of styles, from painting and sculpture to mixed media and zines - small, self-published books and magazines made by artists and writers.
In his statement about the works, Sprecher writes that, taken as a whole, the submissions reflect a body of students on a quest to refine their craft.
"It is exciting because it is the beginning for these students and much more lies ahead," he writes. "I am impressed to see them wrestling to add technical skills, formal language, historical knowledge, critical thinking, meaning and a sense of who they are as an artist."
Sprecher also singled out eight works for varying awards. This year's Best in Show selection was the performance piece "Stomp" by Kyle Woods, a junior with a double major in painting/drawing and sculpture.
Woods created the work as an assignment during a sophomore sculpture class. It is presented as a 15-minute looping video, during which he steps into a square of black dust and begins moving his feet in a circle, producing an ever-changing design on the floor. The underlying message, he says, is that even seemingly unchanging patterns can be altered by outisde influences.
"Even if the cycle is the same, the people who come in will change things," he says. "Over time, what we think is a line is really just circle."
Each year, students are allowed to submit up to two works for consideration to the show, and more students had both of their submissions chosen than in previous years. In addition to "Stomp," Woods' painting, an acrylic-on-board piece titled simply "Black Painting," also was selected.
The piece is massive, featuring a nebulous form created by applying paint by hand to the board, creating artistic symmetry "using the symmetry of my body," Woods says.
To have both pieces recognized was a humbling surprise, he adds.
"I'm completely honored to have both accepted, but even more the painting because it's something deep and personal to me. This is what I'm studying, so to be recognized for it is really powerful."
Contact Casey Phillips at email@example.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.