Dance! @ The Detroit Institute of the Arts

 DIA Presents a Multimedia Exhibition of Ninety works of American Art 1830-1960

How long have people been dancing? Probably longer than they were playing with fire. Nureyev captured the hearts of millions of ordinary people, while Baryshnikov stunned the critics and Martha Graham created the full-codified modern dance with her deviation from classical ballet.

Salvador at Podium Dance 3.2016

Director Salvador Salut-Pons at Podium introducing the Dance! 1830 – 1960 exhibition

 Coming off a very successful 30 Americans exhibition, Salvador Salort-Pons took the podium to introduce the new exhibition Dance! American Art 1830-1960, at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Opening March 29, 2016 the multimedia exhibition surveys the history of Dance in America as seen through the eyes of American Artists.

“This is the first major exhibition to explore visual art related to American dance. Dance has such a rich history and has touched all segments of American society,” said Salvador Salort-Pons, DIA director. “This exhibition is not only about the representation of the art of dance, it explores how artists were inspired by how Americans move, how they interacted with each other and experienced the rhythm of music.”

It was clear from her remarks at the media preview that curator Jane Dini had been working on this exhibition since her time spent working at the DIA, and that this exhibition had been in development over the past five years. In Dance!, Ms. Dini has been able to create her life’s dream.

“In addition to the outstanding works of art, it was important for me to have the voice and expertise of dancers within the exhibition itself,” said Jane Dini, now associate curator of American Painting and Sculpture, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and curator of the exhibition. “They help illustrate how dance as an artistic form had an enormous impact on the fine arts, especially painting and sculpture.”

Video

Video of Dancers – One of several through out the exhibition

 I never danced, but my parents were both professional dancers, which gave me some built-in personal interest. My parents were both recruited by a New York dance company in the mid-1930’s. In addition, in the 1980’s, I facilitated an artist-in-residency program in the Utica Schools, where we brought the Detroit City Dance Company, under the direction of Carole Morrisseau, into our forty schools over the period of a school year. Getting to know the day-to-day lives of dancers is something that stayed with me. I learned they lived in a physical world and often from moment to moment. The dancers had a unique devotion to their bodies, especially their ankles and feet.

Ms. Morrisseau is now a visual artist practicing in Detroit, and I caught up with her at the Scarab Club, “The concept of the current exhibit at the DIA is a credible one and exceptional in its undertaking. I believe there is a very strong relationship between the visual and performing arts. Hopefully this exhibit will expand the public’s view of the art of dance and visual art.” Carole Morrissieau will exhibit her visual artwork opening this month at the Scarab Club.

Arthur B. Davies

Arthur Bowen Davies, 1862 – 1928, Dances, 1915

Arthur B. Davies (1862-1928), often called an Ashcan painter, was an avant-garde American artist who spanned the boundaries between the 19th-century romantic tradition and early twentieth-century modernism in the United States. He was born in Utica, New York and studied at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1878 and at the Art Students League in New York in 1887. His idyllic figurative pastorals are often said to harken back to Botticelli. Davies supported the new abstract movement and participated in the early formation of MoMA in New York City. His work was collected ahead of its time by the Phillips Collection. In Dances, 1915, Davies used faceted planes of color to define the moving figures, resulting in a pattern of color evoking a dance celebration.

Eastman Johnson Negro Life at the South

Eastman Johnson, Negro Life at the South 1859, Oil on Canvas

Genre painter Eastman Johnson (1824-1906) had a turning point in 1859 with the exhibition in New York of his Negro Life in the South. His ambiguous picture of the leisure activities of a group of slaves was a sensation at a time when the topic of slavery was being universally debated. In the painting, a mother encourages her son to dance to the music of a banjo player. Born in Maine, Eastman Johnson was educated in Europe, where he was inspired by the work of Dutch Masters. He is best known for his realistic portraiture and as a co-founder of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Henry Joseph Sharp, The Harvest Dance 1894

Henry Joseph Sharp, The Harvest Dance 1894, Oil on Canvas

Joseph Henry Sharp (1859-1953) was an American painter best known for his work painting Native Americans. Sharp was born in Bridgeport, Ohio to Irish immigrant parents and studied at the Academy of Fine Arts at Antwerp. Sharp’s first trip to the West was in 1883 at age 24. He visited pueblos in New Mexico, Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Tucson. In his work, Harvest Dance, Sharp illustrates a strong skill set for painting the figure and depicting the sunlight on his subjects. Sharp went on to become one of the six founding members of the Taos Society of Artists.

Sargent Johnson Dance Hall Study

Sargent Claude Johnson, Dance Hall Study, 1935, Tempera, Watercolor, and Graphic on Illustration Board.

Born in Boston on October 7, 1887, Sargent Johnson was the third of six children of Anderson and Lizzie Jackson Johnson. Anderson Johnson was of Swedish ancestry, and his wife was Cherokee and African American. As a member of the bohemian San Francisco Bay community and influenced by the New Negro Movement, Sargent Johnson’s early work focused on racial identity. Johnson’s art ranged from African American masks to producing paintings of local folks and creating small, figurative sculptures. Dance Hall, a study in watercolor and graphite, was a study for the San Francisco Housing Authority mural.

Robert Henri Salome Dancer

Robert Henri, Salome Dancer, 1909, Oil on Canvas

Robert Henri (1865 – 1925) was a leading figure in the Ashcan School of American realism who helped organize a group known as “The Eight.” Henri studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia and under Thomas Anshutz, a protégé of Thomas Eakins. Art critic Robert Hughes declared that, “Henri wanted art to be akin to journalism. He wanted paint to be as real as mud, as the clods of horse-shit and snow, that froze on Broadway in the winter, as real a human product as sweat, carrying the unsuppressed smell of human life.” When Henri painted the dancer in the role of Salome, a seductress from the New Testament, in 1909, it was rejected by the National Academy because the exposed leg was considered too controversial by the fine arts world. Robert Henri was a popular and influential teacher at the Art Students League of New York.

Paul ManshipDancer & Gaselle

Paul Manship, Dancer & Gasell, Bronze, 1916

Paul Manship (1885 – 1966) was born in St. Paul, Minnesota and began his art studies at the St. Paul School of Art in Minnesota. From there he moved to Philadelphia and continued his education at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. At one time the country’s most famous exponent of Art Deco, he embraced archaic vocabularies of Greek, Roman and Indian art to create decorative, stylized, Neoclassical works. The statue in the fountain in New York City’s Rockefeller Plaza, Prometheus (1933), is one of his most famous works. The bronze Dancer and Gazelles, was completed in 1916 and won the National Academy prize in 1917. The tension in the small areas between the figures emphasizes the dancers’ gestures, which command the gazelles’ movements.

Dance Diagram A Wharhol

Andy Wharhol, Dance Diagram, 1962, Casein and Graphite on Linen

Andy Warhol (1927 -1987) a leading American Artist who ushered in the Pop Art movement, began to make paintings of iconic American objects such as dollar bills, mushroom clouds, electric chairs, and the most famous Campbell’s Soup can. The New York opening at the Stable Gallery on November 6, 1962, was Warhol’s first one-man show and also where he first debuted Dance Diagram. It was presented in a series featuring six additional Dance Diagrams with the source material taken from the Dance Guild’s 1956 book Fox Trot Made Easy. It shows Warhol’s interest in selecting objects from American culture as subjects for his artwork.

Biba Bell, a Detroiter who recently completed her PhD in performance studies at N.Y.U., says, “The ways that dance is taken up symbolically within visual art is so interesting! I’m imagining that each piece produces these figures and forms in diverse and unique ways, but there is something about the dancer, the body that is dancing, filled with movement and the moment and a kind of excess of life/ liveliness that is astounding and so important when depicting any culture.”

If you’re not a dance aficionado, Dance! American Art 1830 -1960 at the DIA might spark your interest, and while you’re in New York City, get tickets to see An American in Paris, by the Tony Award-winning choreographer Christopher Wheeldon who has created a critical and commercial success breaking new ground by bringing ballet to Broadway set to the music of the Gershwins.

I recall, my father watching black & white films of Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers for hours, and he tap-danced into his eighties. When I was very young, attending a family wedding, my parents did something rare; They danced. Everyone gathered around to watch them exhibit their talents publicly for maybe the last time. I was so very proud.

The Detroit Institute of Arts deserves credit for this curatorial creation of its own that will travel to the Denver Art Museum, July 10 – October 2, and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, October 22, 2016 – January 16, 2017.

Exhibition tickets are $14 for adults, $10 for Wayne, Oakland and Macomb county residents, $7 for ages 6–17, $5 for Wayne, Oakland and Macomb county residents ages 6–17, and free for DIA members. Admission is free every Friday. School groups need to register in advance. Tickets at dia.org or 313-833-4005

 

“Doubly So” @ CCS Center Galleries

Duplicity from Without and Within: Molly Soda, Sheida Soleimani, Sofia Szamosi, and Dessislava Terzieva

Image 1 Installation Shot Doubly So

Installation Image – “Doubly So” All Images Courtesy of Clara DeGalan

“Doubly So,” an exhibition conceived and curated by Samantha ‘Banks’ Schefman of Playground Detroit, that opened last Friday at Center Galleries at Detroit’s College for Creative Studies, features four up and coming artists exploring identity within social media from a (surprisingly illusive) outside perspective. The four engage with what builds an identity in the age of social media which, essentially, comprises being constantly seen, and our conflicted desires both for privacy (another increasingly illusive phenomenon) and for maximum exposure. That frisson between a desire for and retreat from exposure is grappled with most tellingly in the work of two of the artists, Molly Soda, and Sofia Szamosi. Both primarily feature their own faces and bodies in their work in “Doubly So,” and the impression is that they are objectifying themselves in an aim to draw discourse of the exhibitionism of the female body in popular culture back into the hands of women.

Image 2 Molly Soda Mary Kate 2015 Printed Fleece Blanket 60 in x 50 in

Molly Soda – Mary Kate 2015 – Printed Fleece Blanket 60 in x 50″

This practice has been pretty widespread in women’s art since the 1970’s (Szamosi’s archive of selfies strongly reference Hannah Wilke’s photographic self-portraits in content and form, and her film “Tarred and Feathered” channels the visceral imagery of the Abjectionist movement.)

Image 3 Sofia Szamosi Tarred and Feathered 2015 Digital Print with frame 31 in x 22 in

Sofia Szamosi – Tarred and Feathered – 2015 Digital Print with frame 31 in x 22″

In “Doubly So,” Szamosi’s identity unpacking feels a bit outdated at first look- the knee-jerk response is that this argument has already been made, again and again, and is past its vital currency. However, it still possesses the power to unsettle. Moving along Szamosi’s selfie chronology, taken in photo booths between 2005 and 2015, I couldn’t tell whether I was tired of seeing her body or jealous of its beauty. This uncertain response that wells up in me pretty much every time I am confronted with such work is a clue that our relationship with depictions of the female body, even by other females, is far from liberated or resolved.

Image 4 Sofia Szamosi 10 Years of Photobooth Self Portraits detail 2005 to 2015 194 original photo booth strips 8 in x 23 ft

Sofia Szamosi – 10 Years of Photobooth Self Portraits detail 2005 to 2015 194 original photo booth strips 8 in x 23 ft

Molly Soda has gained critical acclaim for her work in and about social media, and she plays with its tropes really cleverly. Her website (mollysoda.biz) is hilarious- for a moment you truly fear you’ve stumbled onto a bit of porn-saturated malware that is going to eat your computer alive, tiny gyrating women and pixilated graphics abounding. Her work in “Doubly So” follows Szamosi’s in winking exhibitionism that seeks to subvert assumptions about the exposure of women in social media. Soda poses as various celebrities caught in paparazzi shots as they fill parking meters, climb out of cars, pause for an ill-fated moment of unselfconsciousness while wading in the ocean.

Image 5 Molly Soda Selena 2016 Printed Fleece Blanket 60 in x 50 in

Molly Soda – Selena 2016 – Printed Fleece Blanket 60 in x 50″

There is an interesting commentary here on the scorn heaped upon these women for daring to appear in public in an un-camera-ready state. The large-scale portraits are printed on fleece blankets in a nod to commemorative kitsch- and perhaps a suggestion that we draw comfort from the exposed humanity of these pop culture goddesses. But should we? Are these images not as objectifying and offensive as the idealized, photo shopped guises we are used to seeing celebrities in? Soda’s work in “Doubly So” left me with a grim suspicion that autonomy of image in social media still alludes women, and it’s a problem we are going to have to spend a few more decades thinking our way around.

Soleimani and Terzieva, by contrast, do not place their likenesses into their work in “Doubly So,” which creates a wholly different dialog with identity’s plight in social media. So much of our engagement with the online world revolves around the persona we create for ourselves there, it’s easy to forget what that world is doing outside of our identity-building enterprise, and how the signals we receive (and do not receive) from it are informing or misleading us. Terzieva’s sprawling installation of twining USB cords, false flowers, and technological baubles in various states of decay comments on the mounds of obsolescence we leave in our wake in our hunger for ever swifter, sexier, newer conduits. Her sculptures of moss-coated smartphones embedded in piles of organic material are beautiful, and could have stood on their own without the prefabricated environment installed around them, which becomes a bit distracting. Terzieva’s best sculptures have old-school magnifying glasses affixed to them, through which one sees these objects blown up into delicate terrarium-like landscapes, in which the cell phone becomes strangely monolithic, or dissolves altogether into glittering shells and pebbles.

Image 6 Dessi Terzieva Nostalgia Feels Like Deja Vu 2016 Acrylic Concrete Seaweed Wax Cell Phone Battery iPhone 8 x 7 x 3 in

Dessi Terzieva – Nostalgia Feels Like Deja Vu – 2016 Acrylic Concrete Seaweed Wax Cell Phone Battery iPhone 8 x 7 x 3″

Soleimani’s work, bright and bubbly though its surfaces are, instantly grounds this digital universe in the grimmest of real calamities. Her series of archival pigment prints, and their accompanying soft sculptures, present portraits of Iranian women who have been publicly executed for what the governing regime in Iran defines as crimes, such as defending themselves from rape. Voices of dissent under a totalitarian government are rapidly squelched- the freedom with which we share our political beliefs on Facebook, and other social media is as much taken for granted in the United States as is the objectification of women’s bodies for worship, derision, or personal affirmation. Soleimani’s work achieves ever refining tension between sensual beauty and hard-hitting political content- her elaborate collages juxtapose brilliant colors and moist glittering surfaces with dismembered body parts and visual fever dream montages of oppression, control, rebellion, and terror. Her work in “Doubly So” tones things down a bit formally, maintaining the bright palette but letting the subjects of her portraits engage the viewer more quietly and directly, with stunned but defiant gazes and wringing, desperate hands.

Image 7 Sheida Soleimani Delara 2015 Soft Sculpture

Sheida Soleimani – Delara 2015 Soft Sculpture

 

Image 8 Sheida Soleimani Sakineh 2015 Archival pigment print with frame 41 in x 28 in

Sheida Soleimani Sakineh 2015 Archival pigment print with frame 41 in x 28 in

Soleimani’s soft sculpture portraits of these doomed women call to mind a passage from Lewis H. Lapham’s preamble essay to the Spring 2016 issue of Lapham’s Quarterly, the theme of which is “Disaster.” “…( a joint venture of money and machine), the danse macabre surrounding us onscreen reduces human beings to things- broken toys, smashed dollhouse furniture… Too far removed or arriving too late on the scene, the camera doesn’t grasp the human response in the eye of the storm.” The doll-like construction of Soleimani’s sculptures evokes the loss in translation of the real horror of these women’s lives and deaths, glimpsed briefly via digital stream. As the press release for “Doubly So” is careful to note, “Though it has been an ongoing political struggle for American women to fight for gender justice and equality, it pales in comparison to the totalitarian government of Iran that will sentence one to death for speaking up against them on such social media streams as Facebook.” “Doubly So” attempts to find common ground between the struggle for autonomous identity faced by American women and the daily life-and-death struggle Iranian women must undergo, yet, as the press release cannot help but state, the former struggle simply pales when juxtaposed with the latter.

“Doubly So” is on display at Center Galleries at The College for Creative Studies March 19 through April 23, 2016

 

“Surrealism: The Conjured Life” @ MCA Chicago

Stop Making Sense at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago

MCA2 Intallation

“Surrealism: A Conjured Life” installation view All Images Courtesy of Sarah Rose Sharp

There is a fairly structured approach to cognitive development within our society—we try to make order of chaos. We assigned meanings to symbols (like letters or shapes), and organize those symbols in configurations that generate more complex meanings (like words or images), and continue along, stringing together ever-greater numbers of shapes and letters to make cogent arguments and beautiful imagery. We (hopefully) teach our young people fluency with the existing sets of shapes and letters, so they can grow up to understand all the meaning that has come before, and potentially contribute thoughts of their own to the collective understanding.

Unless we don’t. The Surrealist movement, which formally emerged in Paris in the mid-1920s, supplanted the basic order of established meaning, challenging straight-line association and favoring experimentation across a wide range of media, including theater, writing, film, poetry, and of course, visual art. A survey of foundational and second-generation Surrealist art from the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) collection provides a vivid showcase of some of the lesser-known founders of Surrealism and those that followed in their footsteps—including a number of Chicago-based contemporary artists—and underscores the difficulty inherent in making work that disrupts the basic building blocks of meaning, as they are instilled in most of us from a young age. The work on display includes sculpture, paintings, drawings, and multi-media installations, and a wild array of subjects, rife with texture and symbols. Paradoxically, the exhibition materials provided by MCA immediately attempt to contextualize and categorize some of the symbols, themes, and motifs commonly explored by Surrealists—including death, winged messengers, sleep and dreams, the grotesque, mannequins and dolls, and phantasmagoria—which to some degree undermines the destabilizing objectives of Surrealism as a movement. Again, being nonsensical, generating and/or accepting ambiguous meaning in art, is harder than it initially seems.

MCA4 wire sculptures on wood

Harry Bertoia, Landscape Fantasy (n.d.), Lead, wire, and stone slab

The gallery is organized into two spaces, an inner circle with rich purple walls that displays some of the movement’s foundational contributors, such as Max Ernst, René Magritte, Dorothea Tanning, Kay Sage, and Remedios Varo. There are some outstanding works here, each radically different from the next – the aesthetics of Surrealism are as disparate and personal as the individuals who worked within the movement. Landscape Fantasy (n.d.) by Harry Bertoia is a delicate collection of lead and wire constructions, resembling a flea circus-like playscape, on a stone slab. This minimal and understated work sits just adjacent to Punching General (1969) by Enrico Baj—an cartoonishly-shaped and upholstered military figure on a spring, designed, presumably, to act as a sparring partner for the expression of animosity toward the military state. Within a nearby patch of wall is a four-part installation by Doris Salcedo; Atrabiliarios (1993) encases shoes recovered from victims of mass violence in wall niches, stitching them in behind semi-opaque membranes that give them an otherworldly quality.

MCA11 group pieces

Marcos, Raya, Night Nurse (1993/96), Installation view

Things are no less esoteric and trippy in the outer ring, which highlights Chicago-based artists that were influenced by the Surrealist movement. An entire wall is devoted to Marcos Raya’s disturbing installation Night Nurse (1993/96), which feels as though one of Frida Kahlo’s medical forensic paintings jumped its frame to become a department store window display. Paintings on Plexiglass suggest internal organs, literally hidden levels of processing, and highly textured paintings pile on revelations in the opposite direction—Surrealists were seemingly obsessed with abstracted notions of the body’s inner workings. The Rascette (1961) by H.C. Westermann, attempts to highlight the secret information encoded in our very palms. A freestanding display presents a two-sided work by Henry Darger—Chicago’s much posthumously celebrated outsider artist, who spent his professional life as a hospital custodian, all the while working on an longform manuscript peppered with illustrations of kewpiesque children in various fantasy states, that is equally disturbing as it is inspired.

MCA7 wooden hand

H.C. Westermann, The Rascette (1961), Painted woo

MCA9 wood soldier

Enrico Baj, Punching General (1969), Vinyl, metal, cloth, ribbon, foam,

Many contemporary artists in various media have used transcendental meditation as a method for discovering new perspectives and inspiration, and some of them—for example, filmmaker David Lynch—create work that is among the most challenging, dislocating, and original, in a field dominated by sloppy exposition and audience hand-holding. “Surrealism: The Conjured Life” presents a critical mass of work that collectively instigates a kind of dream state—surrounded by so much disordered thought, the viewer cannot help but surrender, at least temporarily, and cease to impose logic upon what she sees.

For some, this may prove to be an extremely alienating experience, but for this reviewer, it is a welcome respite from the cultural spoon-feeding that is the hallmark of our media age, designed to sell consumer products, above all else. Any one of the works in the exhibition would be worthy of longer consideration, but the best effect of all is the collective disorientation. It is a very different kind of shock and awe than the political and media process used to handily to inspire fear and division among the populace; it is a confusion that inspires wondering, and with it, transcendence.

 

 

Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Illinois     https://mcachicago.org/Home

Cosmologies @ CCS Center Gallery

Making Inner Space of Outer Space

CCS Group Installation

Cosmologies, Installation view – All Images Courtesy of Sarah Rose Sharp

Aesthetically, the three-person show Cosmologies, which opened at the CCS Center Galleries on January 23rd and runs through the 27th of this month, reminds me very much of a Hubble telescope picture series of a formation called formation called Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula—a star-forming region. Works by New York-based painter Assunta Sera draw directly from celestial events to create abstracted landscapes—or more accurately ‘spacescapes?’—and a full wall installation of spills of glass by Kim Harty touches down onto the floor, unavoidably suggesting the Milky Way, by association. These groups of (mostly) hanging pieces provide a lovely backdrop to four freestanding sculptural works by Detroit’s own Robert Sestok, which take pride of position in the center of the gallery. Using anodized aluminum gives a refined, gold cast to Sestok’s sculptures, more usually roughly rendered in crude iron scrap material, and creates a sense of weightlessness around the crumpled aluminum pillars—large-scale balls of metal stacked into well-balanced totem poles.

Cosmo4 Sera

Assunta Sera, Fragments Near and Far, 2015, Oil on canvas

The effect is quite lovely; it is worthwhile to avail oneself of a bench that accommodates time to sit and let the space hang around the viewer. The work is not particularly confrontational, but aside from the seeming tableau of outer space, there are deeper connections at play. Sera’s rejection of the straightforward recto-linear canvas shape in favor of irregular trapezoids and indented triangles is very much in keeping with one of the foundational principles of painting in the Cass Corridor school, in which Sestok is rooted.

Cosmo5 Harty

Kim Harty, Spill, 2016, Hot cast glass and baking soda

Similarly, Harty’s consideration of spills—for each piece of the installation is a frozen puddle of milky glass, arranged into a snaking pathway across the wall and floor—is dealing with incidental moments and commonplace events. Another tenant of the Cass Corridor school was the principle of dealing with materials immediate and available, and these spills, especially with their vague allusion to bodily or cleaning fluids, are an ultimate example of omnipresent daily reality. While the interplay of concepts and aesthetics can sometimes lead to friction, these objects and paintings coexist peacefully, forming a positive ambient space. Taken on their own, or set in another context, each individual body of work could have a different set of associations, but set together, they form a seamless environment.

Cosmo3

Robert Sestok, Anodized Aluminum Sculpture – installation view

“I didn’t start out trying to make a pretty show,” says CCS curator Michelle Perron, in an interview at the Cass Cafe. “The exhibit began with a longstanding interest in Assunta Sera’s paintings, since the 1980s, when I worked at the Michigan Gallery.” An encounter with Sera at a recent CCS grad event triggered a conversation that built into the seed for a show, and a studio visit to review Sestok’s newest “fantastic” body of work brought that seed into sprout. When Harty came on as head of CCS’s glass department, Perron found a previously untapped appreciation for glass as a medium. “Normally you could not get me anywhere near it,” she said. Harty’s full-wall installation draws the whole exhibit together, bringing the show into bloom.

That this serendipitous combination of very different artists has created such lovely celestial synchronicity seems appropriate, given the show’s theme. Perron declares that she had never seen the “Pillars of Creation” before I mentioned it, and the face that a reasonable facsimile has manifested within the CCS Center Galleries seems to me evidence of a higher order in the universe. While Perron demurs to embrace such New-Age association, as a native Californian, I am entirely comfortable characterizing this group show as deeply cosmic.

http://www.collegeforcreativestudies.edu/community-outreach-and-engagement/center-galleries

 

 

Piles of Distinction @ David Klein Gallery

David-Klein-Gallery- Playground Detroit

Mitch Cope, Kari Cholnoky, Lisa Waud, and Patrick Ethen in a group exhibition

There’s a mixture of playfulness and deadly seriousness, grounded in filth and pointing to transcendence, in the current exhibitions at David Klein Gallery’s new Detroit space. Brooklyn-based Kari Cholnoky’s meaty paintings and sculptures, gathered under the brilliant title “Semi Lucid Steaks,” seek to invade the viewer’s physical and psychic space, propelled by bonkers materials like spray foam, pantyhose, synthetic hair, and Cheetos (all of which are listed with deadpan sincerity in the descriptions that accompany each work) and a mind-bending palette of fluorescent hues that could have come straight from my Trapper Keeper circa 1992.

Cholnoky_Specimen

Kari Cholnoky, Specimen 2015, Faux Fur, Insulation Board, Urethane Foam, Epoxy Putty, Synthetic Hair, Acrylic, Collage, Spaghetti 28 x 30 x 10 Inches – All Images courtesy of Clara DeGalan

Cholnoky’s palette isn’t the only oddly scholastic reference I picked up in her work. The template of art class projects- laminated odes to creative expression made with macaroni, textural, day-glo hued paint, and other materials culled from donations by suburban hoarders and civic-minded businesses- is distilled into moments of subtle, sophisticated formalism in Cholnoky’s sheer devotion to these humble, hideous materials, and her loving care in curating their mind-boggling combinations- some works seem to simmer with a low inner fire, others to ooze and swim with primordial energy.

Cholnoky_Slideshow

Kari Cholnoky, Sideshow 2015, Faux Fur, Acrylic, Collage, Urethane Foam, Epoxy Putty 52 x 60 x 6 Inches.

Moving from one piece to the next is an increasingly heady experience that ropes synesthesia in with wild visual confusion- you begin to almost smell the work. Cholnoky’s present exploration seems most fully realized in her handmade book, part of an ongoing series, which turns everything that defines “book” on its head. It is a cumbersome, overwhelming object that looks as if it would be sticky to touch, which doesn’t lessen one’s urge to touch it (a latex-gloved gallery attendant will turn its leaves for you, worse luck.)

Cholnoky_Book

Kari Cholnoky, Real Book 2015, (detail) Mixed Media, 15 x 14 x 9 Inches

The formal puzzle of Cholnoky’s materials jumps out from page after page. Grasping their meaning, and their point of entry into the psyche, might be as difficult- and seductive- as grasping the book itself.

“Totems,” Mitch Cope’s body of photographs, sculptures and documentary film, dovetails neatly with “Semi Lucid Steaks” in its focus on curated combinations of low materials- garbage, in this case- that seek to question our relationship with them. Cope’s exhibit is accompanied by a gorgeous piece of writing titled “Zen and the Art of Garbage Hunting and the Protectors of Refuse.” It describes the garbage hunter’s process of identifying “Piles of Distinction,” or garbage heaps that have drawn the protection of a totem, seen here as hilarious spirit-animal beings preserved on film via a “highly sensitive and specialized machine.”

Cope_Garbage_Totem

Mitch Cope, Garbage Totem Scrap-a-House, 2014, C-Print, 30 x 46 Inches

Once identified, these piles of distinction are transformed by yet another machine (the documentary film is taken from the machine’s point of view, so only its powerful front incisors are seen- it stacks old tires and charred furniture into imposing piles to an oddly perfect Bach soundtrack) into vertical plinths of stacked garbage assembled in honor of their original owner, “recently deceased friend and neighbor,” in hopes of attracting permanent protection to the vicinity, as well as honoring the inherent power individuals leave behind with their earthly belongings. The piece is funny, sentimental, and serious all at once, maintaining a light touch with its potentially problematic content- garbage-strewn, run down neighborhoods, excesses of objects that have outlived their owners and practical usefulness, death itself.

Accompanying “Totems” and “Semi Lucid Steaks” are a playful, sensual floral installation by Lisa Waud, the magical mind behind Hamtramck’s Flower House project, and a light installation by Patrick Ethan, who is also currently exhibiting at Playground Detroit.

Chonoky_Waud_Installation shot

Cholnoky/Waud Installation Image

Pile of Distinction Group Exhibition,  on display at David Klein Gallery’s Detroit space from February 6 through March 12, 2016.

www.dkgallery.com