SALON @ David Klein Gallery Detroit

 

“SALON” Gallery 1 Installation View. All photos are courtesy of David Klein Gallery.

At the David Klein Gallery, Detroit, the exhibition “SALON” ambitiously presents 90 works by 39 artists across a range of media, with sundry formal intentions in diverse dimensions, all the while accomplishing the near impossible task of curating a ruminative viewing experience in which a spirited dialogue between each work translates into an expansive conversation with its audience. “SALON” summons and breathes new life into old models of art viewership and cultural discourse that once placed an emphasis on wide-eyed pluralistic wonder.

“SALON” Foyer Wall Installation. 

The term salon originates as a social event that flourished during the Enlightenment. A crucial practice in “the age of conversation,” the salon collected persons of intellectual and cultural significance within the home of a well-to-do host to allow for an absorbing, investigative conversation on a wide-ranging set of issues. These were intended to be regularly recurring conversations around art, literature and politics to satisfy a hunger for knowledge while refining the tastes of all participants, mingled with a dose of amusement as egos politely debated for intellectual superiority. The salon also came to be identified with a series of academic art exhibitions beginning in 1667, at the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Work chosen to be exhibited by a juried system, jostled for space in dense groupings that covered the wall from top to bottom. With the rise of public museums in the 18th century, a similar method of presentation was followed. Work that had once been displayed in private collections, often serving as the backdrop for salon conversations, and were ordered as closely grouped arrangements to juxtapose formal contrasts more immediately, was replicated in the new public displays.

“SALON” Gallery 2 Installation View.

Crowded together to view a salon exhibition, the public was at times overwhelmed by the tightly clustered variety of works, but also in a state of awe and wonder, delving into vigorous conversation. With the advent of the “white cube” display methodology with neutral walls, controlled lighting and the spatial isolation of individual works of art inducing a hushed distance among viewing patrons, the salon approach was no longer the de facto system. The white cube environment, the earliest known iteration being an 1883 exhibition at London’s Fine Art Society by American artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), was initially intended as an innovation to eradicate distraction, disconnecting art from the world and imposing more rigorous viewing criteria upon the viewer: there is only one way to see the artwork, and it is thus. Subsequently, what was innovative has now become conventional, with institutions and galleries continually questioning how to liberate the viewing of art from the impulse of Modernist constraint.

“SALON” Gallery 1 North Wall Installation.

At David Klein, the use of the salon as both conversational gathering point and display methodology, stimulates an adventurous public viewing space. Rather than filling every wall from top to bottom and side to side, the work in the exhibition is broken down into intriguing groupings displayed on eight separate walls in the two gallery spaces. It would be a fool’s errand to extract a work or two from each group and create a “best of” series of highlights as the basis for an exhibition review. There is no star amongst the roster of artists here, culled from the gallery’s extensive exhibiting family. This is a group effort; each work assists the other as contrasts are amplified to deepen the conversation. Such collective resonance is where the true joy of “SALON” resides as hierarchies are erased. The graphic sits beside the painted. The drawn beside the photographic. The representational beside the abstract. The minimal beside the dense. The humorous beside the solemn. And so on and so forth. Such juxtapositions are the stuff of wildly active viewing. The exhibition hums with a vitality.

“SALON” Gallery 2 North Wall Installation

As a viewer moving from wall to wall, from conversation to conversation, one approaches the whole of each arrangement, marveling at the curatorial decisions resulting in unexpected formal juxtapositions. These configurations are the result of thoughtful installation on the macro level as well as care for content on the micro level. As one drills down into individual works, crowding in closer, examining each piece on its own terms, something occurs moving from one close inspection to another: the experience of the prior work lingers a bit more on the way to settling into the next. Like the exquisite sound design in a Robert Altman film, the voices overlap. On the north wall of gallery 2, the energetic collisions of Alisa Henriquez brush up against the hard-edged purity of Matthew Hawtin which finds a partnership with the carefully observed humanity of Mario Moore which is confronted by the mediated spectatorship of Jessica Rohrer which dissolves into the formal filigree of Janet Hamrick which simultaneously eases and bumps into the heightened temperature of Corine Vermeulen. There are many such moments throughout “SALON.”

“SALON” Gallery 1 South Wall Installation.

Realistically, “SALON” is an exhibition about availability. The works chosen are bite-sized morsels representative of a larger body of work by each artist, serving as distilled entrées into their concerns. Framed for ease of hanging and transportability, the majority of works priced at a modest level for a larger audience, such market concerns go hand-in-hand with the formal accessibility of the exhibition. Free of viewing images in isolation in support of a single voice, the communion on display in “SALON” is a liberating and welcoming experience. Rather than being instructed where to place one’s focus, there is a choice of attention. In an era in which digital platforms tailor our viewing habits with surgical precision, employing harvested algorithms to produce ever narrower windows on the world, it is good to be reminded of the virtues of pluralistic viewing. “SALON” is a social event that invigorates the necessity of wide-ranging cultural conversations, reinforcing a community of expression.

“SALON” Gallery 2 East Wall Installation.

“SALON” is Jamie Adams, Elise Ansel, Emmy Bright, Mitch Cope, Carlos Diaz, Joel Grothaus, Janet Hamrick, Matthew Hawtin, Alisa Henriquez, Patrick Hill, Scott Hocking, Cooper Holoweski, Trisha Holt, Cyrus Karimipour, Trevor King, Andrew Krieger, Stephen Magsig, Kim McCarty, Clara McClenon, Mario Moore, Carrie Moyer, Brittany Nelson, Marianna Olague, Judy Pfaff, Benjamin Pritchard, Kelly Reemtsen, Jessica Rohrer, Tylonn Sawyer, Robert Schefman, Julie Schenkelberg, Lauren Semivan, Clinton Snider, Rosalind Tallmadge, Corine Vermeulen, Liat Yossifor, and Elizabeth Youngblood.

“SALON” is on view at David Klein Gallery Detroit Until November 2.

 

 

 

Gyan Shrosbree and Jim Shrosbree @ Nx.ix Gallery

“Sense of Place” installation view; all images by Ryan Standfest

For the inaugural exhibition of the new Hamtramck gallery Nx.ix, gallerist Nicole McIntyre has curated a formally exuberant conversation between the work of Gyan Shrosbree and that of her father Jim Shrosbree. “Sense of Place” presents over 37 paintings in a large, bright, unobstructed space that is extended further as corners, baseboards, hallways, and those places generally left unconsidered in white cube installations, are teased out for a fuller sense of the place itself. Nestled above cabinets, hugging corners and leaning on the floor, groupings of the works into pockets great and small are an echo of what is unfolding within the pieces themselves.

Both bodies of work by Gyan and Jim Shrosbree are from 2019 and were created independently of one another. By bringing them together for this exhibition, Nicole McIntyre has initiated a dialogue in which abundant similarities and contrasts reside, so that the respective languages ultimately challenge each other’s construction. All of the works pursue their own memory by revisiting and revising the very spaces and forms they establish. Each artist in their own way challenges the infrastructure buried within the construction of their images—simultaneously excavating and burying, revealing and concealing. In many of the works, forms find themselves painted and repainted, pulled out, isolated, replaced and interrupted by textures, colors and structural devices intended to both complicate and simplify.

“Sense of Place” installation view: works by Gyan Shrosbree

Gyan Shrosbree employs the recurring image of shoes throughout her work here. And yet they are also not shoes. The image of a shoe is present, but then exaggerated, caricatured, and abstracted into a reductive icon. The association of the shoe nevertheless lingers. That lingering connection with the body results in a proposition for the viewer: how would I need to physically adapt to this new shoe? We exist in a culture of feminine bodily deformation in which shoes bind, constrict and shape physical identity. To draw this conversation into the realm of formal abstraction is not without merit.

Gyan Shrosbree, detail of “I Will Never Share A Closet With You”, 2019, acrylic on canvas

In the paintings of Philip Guston, shoes are self-contained, heavy and inert things that get heaped and piled. They are abstractions of a shoe—the idea of a shoe arrived at via recollection rather than representation,  with emphasis placed on their thick leather soles often upturned and held in place with oversized tacks. Detroit artist Tyree Guyton makes use of the shoe in both painting and installation as the cast-off remnants of a population uprooted, moved, and unmoored, gesturing toward an itinerant homeless life on the street. His large scale paintings of shoes become totemic, celebratory, larger than life street signs reflecting a history of migratory traffic.

Gyan Shrosbree, “I Will Never Share A Closet With You”, 2019, acrylic, ribbons, glitter, push pins on canvas, various dimensions

From a distance, a grouping of Gyan Shrosbree’s canvases in “I Will Never Share A Closet With You”, suggests a wilder, more organic expression of Peter Halley’s day-glow abstractions from the 1980s. But a closer viewing reveals forms immersed in a folk art, painted sign sensibility. In her work, the shoe serves as a memory vessel, for the foot to return to again and again, always confining to a set shape, to a path taken daily. However, with each return Gyan Shrosbree makes to the body of the shoe, to render it from memory, the shape changes, softens, metamorphoses, allowing for an elastic formal existence. Humorous shapes emerge, and there is an echo of self-taught art, hand-painted signs and memory, in which images are arrived at through recollecting an image and repeating it with the alterations memory gives way to. The compositions suggest the structural rudiments of commercial advertising and merchandise catalogs—both online and printed, with overlapping and adjoining panels for each style. But in these paintings, the commodity grid is also just as fractured as the product. Gyan Shrosbree employs materials that have been associated with lowbrow craft production and the cultural assignation of feminine tastes. The liberal application of glitter, day-glo paint, streamers, and reflective tape signals the opposite of restraint and cranks up the heat in the images. There is a notion of embedded joy in these images. In a work such as “Silver Slippers”, the layering on of such material signals a destabilization of traditional “value”: high art strategies of abstraction are married to low-art techniques of throwing a shiny party. This keeps the work deceptively light, while beneath the skin, deeper structures are being carved up and dismantled.

Gyan Shrosbree, “Silver Slippers”, 2019, acrylic, tape, bubble wrap, and thread on canvas, 40” x 30” each

Jim Shrosbree, (left) “Once and Upon (rojo), 2019, oil on canvas, 16” x 20”; (center) “Talla-Hasee (rinse)”, 2019, oil and acrylic on canvas, 16” x 20”; (right) “Finding Out/Looking In”, 2019, oil on canvas, 20” x 16”

With a more subdued palette and a smaller scale, Jim Shrosbree’s paintings in the exhibition explore a process of editing and revising pathways. Moving from the concrete—from finite limitations of language to fragmentation—his spaces toggle between boundlessness and containment. There is a layered history on each canvas—a bit of string and tape buried beneath a skin of paint, a patch of collaged newspaper embedded in a window of pigment allowing us a glimpse of narrative transformed into visual texture. The paint handling moves from thin to thick, dripped to smeared to brushed. Shapes of color on the verge of amorphousness arrive near temporary definition, while pipeline frameworks settle in to add a note of stability.

Jim Shrosbree, (left) “Biggest Winner of All”, 2019, oil and collage on canvas, 14” x 11”; (right) “Leaves One”, 2019, oil and collage on canvas, 14” x 11”

Many of Jim Shrosbree’s works here, use collage with newspaper fragments sourced from the Minnesota newspaper The Star Tribune. These shaped clippings—primarily serving a visual purpose with the rigors of functional, readable, black and white text contrasted against the liquidity of paint and color—have the added effect of locating the work as a place. Reading the text to gather every little piece of evidence, can tilt toward a structure. Akin to little scraps of memory, they summon the paintings of the German Dadaist Kurt Schwitters, who would embed used train tickets in his work. Similar to displaying the remnants of daily travel, the newspaper fragments in Jim Shrosbree’s paintings are a glimpse into daily dispatches from a specific time and place. In this sense, his work functions as both a recording and a clouding of that recording. That record is ultimately a memory of the procedures set upon by the painters hand—the accumulated marks and passages that both build upon and eradicate each step taken.

Jim Shrosbree, detail of “Leaves One”, 2019, oil and collage on canvas, 14” x 11”

Taking a stroll from the gallery in Hamtramck down Joseph Campau street, lined with storefronts both vacant and active, there is a resonance with what was experienced at Nx.ix. One passes windows covered over with yellowing newspapers. Another dirty window has stacks of dusty and sun-blanched shoeboxes leaning against it. Hand-painted sales signage in vibrant day-glow colors adorn shop windows. Facades show evidence of older shop names painted over while others are simply ghostly traces of what has slowly faded away.

In Gyan and Jim Shrosbree’s paintings, a sense of place is a sense of one’s place, as we attempt to locate ourselves by constructing a new place in the form of an image, out of and on top of the memory of where we have been. The act of building this new image reflects the ways in which the memories at the foundation of what we are building, complicate and simplify all at once. We abstract prior experiences as they evolve into newly shaped experiences and images. We rework the surfaces and apply a fresh coat of paint to old layers that will eventually resurface to share its history.

“Sense of Place” is on view at Nx.ix Gallery until October 14

 

 

 

 

Inspired @ Pewabic Pottery

Inspired, Installation image, Pewabic Pottery, 2019 Photo: PD Rearick

Climbing the narrow, delayed-gratification-stairway to Pewabic Pottery’s second floor galleries, even for the umpteenth time, anticipation mounts until, at the top of the stairs, sightlines to left and right reveal the shiny artifacts of a new exhibition. The current show, confidently entitled “Inspired,” does indeed proffer an eclectic array of ceramic art created by four artists working in diverse, distinctive ways. The display, conceived and installed by Pewabic curator Darlene Carroll, features makers who lead ceramic programs that Pewabic’s co-founder, Mary Chase Stratton, played a role in establishing.

Inspired, Installation image, Pewabic Pottery, 2019 Photo: PD Rearick

First up, Susan Crowell’s Huckleberry (Vaccinium myrtillus), a single, gigantic, four lobed sculpture of a grain of huckleberry pollen (as seen under a microscope) measuring 12 ½ inches in diameter, is indeed “voluptuous,” as she declares. Its purply-blue glaze and plump, spherical forms embody the lush, caress-me allure and inkling of a tasty, delectable huckleberry. Other of Crowell’s jumbo flora include a lemon yellow cluster of Hazelnut Pollen (Corylus avellane), each pod about the size of a softball, and a nectar-from-the gods spill from wall to pedestal of fourteen, luscious pink Rose-Bay Willow Herb (Onagraceae) triangular pollen forms. Crowell has taught ceramics at the University of Michigan’s Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design since 2005, and at the Residential College since 1972.

Susan Crowell, “Huckleberry (Vaccinium myrtillus),” Stoneware with vitreous engobes, stains, glazes, 12.5 x 12.5 x 12 in., 2019

No less alluring is Jessika Edgar’s I want to touch you to be happy inside. A two foot tall ice cream treat—chocolate topping layered over an exotic coppery colored flavor-of-the-week—slumps atop an animate, tri-legged stool, itself ensconced on a glitzy, solid gold pedestal. This popular icon, centralized, pedestaled, and overblown suggests desire incarnate, as does the title, albeit meltingly short-lived in the end. Another suggestive Edgarian title—Get it while you can—coupled with an organic, roly-poly torso festooned with acrylic pearls resting on a mid-century biomorphic end table with canted legs, its top covered with faux fur, embodies as well the contemporary appeal of faux, formless, and real.  Edgar is an assistant professor and coordinator of Ceramics at Wayne State University.

Jessika Edgar, “I want to touch you to be happy inside,” Ceramic, glaze, copper leaf, variegated metal leaf, osb board, 50 x 30.5 x 30.5 in., 2019

Ian McDonald, artist-in-residence and head of ceramics at Cranbrook Academy of Art, presents, among other examples of his ceramic practice, a trio of Shade Vessels, ranging in height from 12 to 16 inches. Severe and minimalist, with precise horizontal ribbing, two are glazed in hushed lavender hues, while the third sports a smoky greenish hue, soft palettes somewhat unexpected on such stark shafts. Hollow and formally composed of cylinder and bowl-like forms, they are however unitary, integral vessels, reminiscent perhaps of trees, umbrellas, or even observation towers that provide protection and shelter. Also on view is a suite of broad, darkly hued, table-hugging bowls (five to six inches in height and up to 17 inches in diameter) that McDonald dubs Low Works.

Ian McDonald, “Shade Vessels,” Stoneware with glaze, left to right: 16 x 10.5 x 10.5 in.; 12 x 7.25 x 7.25 in.; 15 x 11 x 11 in., 2017-18 Photo: PD Rearick

 

Assistant professor and head of Ceramics at College for Creative Studies, Ebitenyefa Baralaye weighs in as conceptualist and relief sculptor of this collegial foursome. Working in “raw,” unglazed terra cotta, Baralaye’s plaques of mazes, furrowed fields, and enigmatic phrases highlight transitional issues of “feeling, engagement, and displacement.” Real Feels reads a rectangle of raised text, 15 x 20 ½ inches in size. The vertically stretched out letters suggest an emotional tension or anxiety, a state corroborated by the inversion of the identical terms to “Feels Real” on a second plaque (not in the show). Another of Baralaye’s panels on exhibit (glazed white, as it happens) quietly and poignantly asks What Now. His words and low-key art serve as discreet prompts to action for both academe and audiences alike as a new semester and year loom ahead.

Ebitenyefa Baralaye, “Real Feels,” Terracotta, 15 x 20.5 in., 2019 (courtesy David Klein Gallery) Photo: PD Rearick


Inspired
remains on view at Pewabic Pottery through October 21.

 

Jim Shrosbree @ Paul Kotula Projects

The title of this new exhibition of work by artist Jim Shrosbree, “thinking/still,” is evocative of Irish playwright, poet and novelist Samuel Beckett who in his novel Molloy (1951), wrote “To restore silence is the role of objects.” Indeed, the objects of Jim Shrosbree are imbued with the capacity to distill and render the space they occupy with a thoughtful silence. “thinking/still” also suggests two different states of being, one seemingly active and one inactive, that are both the same. The oblique slanting punctuation mark separating the italicized action of “thinking” and the upright “still,” serves to both divide and join these two states. To be thinking is to be still. Stillness and thought are complimentary to one another, allowing for a new space to emerge.

The twenty six works in the exhibition, consisting of the sculptural, the drawn and the painted, form a thoughtful installation attentively harmonized to the intimate space of Paul Kotula Projects. The scale of Shrosbree’s objects recall the work of Swiss artist Paul Klee (1879-1940) in their seemingly modest presence—in a time when unabashed, leaden spectacle is the go to in art, Shrosbree accomplishes so much more by downshifting the scale of our immediate experience and necessitating a deeper dive into the details for a prolonged experience. The cumulative effect on the gallery environment is that of quieting down the space for subtle equations to unfold, establishing the necessary stillness to patiently enter into the smaller spaces contained within each object. It is an environment that reverberates with possibility where one is gently guided from one situation to another and then back, from slow to quiet to a state of revelation.

Jim Shrosbree, “CAD Y (fluer)”, 2016, ceramic, suede flocking, acrylic, graphite, 8 x 10 x 4 inches

CAD Y (fluer) (2016) is a work hiding in plain sight like some sulfur covered arthropod that has scuttled into position between two windows  just below the ceiling of the gallery. It is anchored into a geometric zone of yellow enameled onto the wall within drawn graphite edges. It is as if the form shed itself onto the wall to reinforce the necessity of its being there.

Many of the objects can be viewed as situational chamber pieces with a set of circumstances that chart a series of relationships. They are small, formal narratives or event mechanisms in which Shrosbree unfolds a circuit of experiences to set off a string of associations. At the root of his practice is the act of drawing as thinking, and this translates into the intuitive path making found in the objects.

Jim Shrosbree,  “My Ship (paradise)”, 2019, acrylic, wood, string, collage, 41 x 38.5 inches

In My Ship (paradise) (2019), a painting is augmented with a string containing a little knot, held in place by a bit of tape and attached to a wooden stick. Things have been happening here as if an industrious child dreamer has constructed a rig with a secret intent. A string dangles humorously and the whole affair appears to be tentatively keeping itself together. Alternately absurd and poetic, the piece invites wonder with a minimum of means.

There is a hint of the absurd throughout Shrosbree’s work, with forms that are simultaneously graceful/clumsy, present/not present, full/empty. Akin to twittering organs rather than machines, the tentative nature of the forms and the situations they occupy, lend them a sense of ridiculousness and incongruity, and yet they also seem to transcend their nature the longer one spends with them. His titles indicate a humorous reconsideration of language through abbreviation, fragmentation, and an emphasis on spoken sounds. There is a play with words that echoes the formal play in the objects, as the texts are succinct yet also vague. With his use of color, Shrosbree tends to keep things simple on the surface of it all: yellow, red, blue, white, black, with forays into an orange or a green, however this serves as a means to softly beckon us into a deeper, more complex set of formal considerations.

Jim shrosbree, “RO (coco)”, 2019, ceramic, nylon, enamel, wire, graphite, 7.25 x 19 x 5.75 inches

With  RO (coco)  (2019), Shrosbree breathes complex life into what at first read is a misshapen pouch or bag in an unlikely union with the wall behind it. A large expanse of white space surrounds the piece, beckoning the viewer to move in closer for a proper examination. The irony of the title lay in its reference to the elaborately ornamental, which in this case is comprised of the smallest shifts and gestures that guide our investigation of its construction. The piece appears beneath a yellow shell which in fact is not a shell. It’s skin appears soft, pliable, stretched, yet passages are hardened with enamel. A limp nylon tail trails beneath with a small wire emerging from it. Follow the wire and it disappears with an absurdist flourish into a tiny hole bored into the wall. Beneath this hole, another hole. Perhaps a first attempt at wire insertion. From this second hole, a graphite line is drawn horizontally to a vertical line that eventually forms a frame around the piece with a ground of yellow enamel applied within it to merge the form to the wall. Figure/ground as one. On even closer inspection, at the forensic level, little bits of pink eraser droppings dust the baseboard beneath the piece—evidence of Shrosbree’s process of working the graphite lines further.

Jim Shrosbree, “UB (leng)”, 2017, ceramic, nylon, hair, wool, cloth, paint, ink, wood shelf, 6.5 x 23 x 7 inches (with shelf)

Likewise, a detailed examination of UB (leng) (2017), reveals a small mess of dog hairs gathered on a wool “muzzle” capping one end of a blue ceramic truncheon, resting on a rag stained with blue ink and lashed to a hunk of lumber. Unlike the work of artist Richard Tuttle, who employs a play between wall and form, drawing and the minimal manipulation of modest materials, Shrosbree’s work does not exist in a state of fragility. Despite its tentative nature, there is a kind of guileless presence that nevertheless insists on being there.

Jim Shrosbree “UB (VLoon)”, 2019, ceramic, fabric, string, cloth, tack, enamel, ink, acrylic, 14 x 16.5 x 3.5 inches

Jim Shrosbree, “Uno yuno”, 2019, ceramic, steel, paint, 49 x 15 x 16.5 inches

 

UB (VLoon) (2019) further elucidates Shrosbree’s interest in dichotomies: emptiness and fullness, the animate and the inanimate, the interior and the exterior. The flaccid and drooping painted nylon sack of the piece appears spent, yet it is attached to a form that appears ripe and full. Uno yuno (2019) is elegantly displayed on a steel plinth supported by a slender rod. Such refined stability is offset by the primary form: a seed-like entity suggesting an organic pouch plump with activity as sluggish tendrils emerge from either end. However on closer inspection, there is only the illusion of fullness within the cavity of the body. Its inflation has been implied.

Jim Shrosbree, “SAN (bdroop)”, 2019, ceramic, cloth, ink, acrylic, 15 x 12 x 4.25 inches

This embrace of illusion, of what is implied rather than shown, is central to the experience of Shrosbree’s work. In SAN (bdroop)(2019), a suspended ceramic cloth recalls the time-honored stage magic act of horizontally levitating a body beneath a sheet that conceals a platform or hidden wires. New Way (home) (2012) is a small painted relief with a wood flap seemingly supported by string, concealing the origin of a single humorous drip that emerges from under it.

In what is arguably one of the more consistently unique rooms in Paul Kotula Projects, a small chamber at the left of the hallway one enters from, there is, nestled in a corner, a piece titled Tandroop (2019). It consists of three stacked ceramic forms, each resembling sausages or baguettes or extrusions—take your pick, but it may be best to simply ignore the impulse to impose such obvious comparisons—atop a rectangular patch of folded cloth, all of which is held aloft on a painted red plinth and support shaft. The top form has been stuffed into a nylon stocking, it’s open end drooping down like some distended, tired mouth. And then there is the absurd grace note: a length of black string resembling a shoelace, perhaps four inches long, has been carefully laid atop the nylon encased form. To examine all of this closely, the viewer must crowd closer into the corner of the small room, perhaps even positioning oneself atop the low platform beside it. The very act of adjusting one’s body in proximity to this piece, lends the work a vaguely carnal presence. It is passive and yet unavoidable all the same. Humorous and yet sad. A lonely figure in a small room conjuring a whisper to come closer.

Jim “Tandroop”, 2019, ceramic, nylon, cloth, gesso, enamel, steel, 46 x 15 x 7 inches

Within the tiny universe Shrosbree has constructed in the gallery, he allows us to gaze into little models of the shifting, liminal nature of consciousness. The French philosopher Georges Bataille (1897-1962) in positing his notion of form/formless, wrote in his essay “L’inform” (“Formless”, 1929): “A dictionary begins when it no longer gives the meaning of words, but their tasks. Thus formless is not only an adjective having a given meaning, but a term that serves to bring things down in the world, generally requiring that each thing have its form. What it designates has no rights in any sense and gets itself squashed everywhere, like a spider or an earthworm. In fact, for academic men to be happy, the universe would have to take shape. All of philosophy has no other goal: it is a matter of giving a frock coat to what is. A mathematical frock coat. On the other hand, affirming that the universe resembles nothing and is only formless amounts to saying that the universe is something like a spider or spit.”

Shrosbree allows for the formless to unfold as it will. Utilizing intuition as process, guided by a sharpened awareness, he places the viewer into a state of learning in which the formlessness of universal consciousness has within it connections, pathways, threads, associations. He constructs open, circumstantial spaces that provide meditative attunement; microcosmic narratives that gently unfold in multiple iterations depending upon how we, as investigators, follow the evidence and gather our experience together in pursuit of clarity. That he achieves this without a hint of overplaying his hand and allowing us the freedom to discover our own truths, is no small feat.

thinking/still is on view at Paul Kotula Projects through October 19, 2019

BBAC opens Fall Exhibitions with Fanfare

The Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center has three new exhibitions that are complementary

Iris Eichenberg, Alberte Tranberg, Shelly McMahon, Emergence Property, Installation courtesy of DAR

Having just returned from New York City and viewed the OPEN CALL exhibition at the new museum in Hudson Yards, The Shed, where it afforded me the opportunity to experience 22 art installations that were juried and funded for a group of New York Artists. Now back in Detroit, it has given me some context to view and experience the new art installation at the BBAC, Emergence Property, largely conceived by the artist Iris Eichenberg.  This nearly all steel structure takes up the entire floor space in the Robinson Gallery, leaving only a 30″– 46″- 26″ path around the perimeter only to stop before it meets the first leg of the rectangle.

The installation is a collaboration of three artists, Iris Eichenberg, Shelly McMahon, and Alberte Tranberg whose work consumes the floor of the gallery, with one end of the space housing a pool of light, while the other end gradually ascends to a platform with delicate charcoal sculptures reaching upward, accompanied by a variety of flat rectangular screens of smoked glass varying in size.  In addition, and not to be understated, the regular 2 x 4 ceiling tiles have been removed so as to reflect a grid that conforms to the layout of these steel weathered steel plates on the floor.  There are several light bulbs hanging down from the ceiling in what appears to be random locations.

Iris Eichenberg, Alberte Tranberg, Shelly McMahon, Emergence Property, Installation image courtesy of DAR

This is not a group show, but a collaboration and they say in their statement that Emergence Property represents “the phenomena of collective behaviors by bodies larger than oneself. It is most commonly associated with flocks of birds whose movements in unison are executed unrehearsed and close proximity. Often these are evasive maneuvers which are transferred among the flock.  This collective property begins with one, whose slight adjustment results in a rippling effect, shifting behavior on a large scale.”

I assume the artists refer to what is called murmuration, (large groups of birds flying in exact formation) and because that analogy was not clear to me, I asked Eichenberg to elaborate on the art installation.

Ron Scott   What was your inspiration for the art installation and is it your first?

Iris Eichenberg    It’s not my first. I would not call it inspiration but a shared interest in space , process and materiality to start with. We took on the grid of the ceiling as an external architectural and physical obstacle and rather than ignore it, we embraced it.  We took the grid as a given as you can see on the floor. The patina of the floor might be a sky or the sea. As our conversation about emergence properties included the murmer of birds ….a simplification of what you see is the collapsing murmur of birds in the sky. But then again there is so much more going on which emerged through the interdependent process. I find space in limitations. That ceiling was restrictive, dominant and limiting. We turned the room upside down and then moved in.

RS   Is this art installation a collaboration of ideas by three artists or were the other two artists on board for their expertise?

IE   It is a collaboration of kindred minds who found their voice together. I cannot answer for them, but to me they were on board for the different sounds we make, for the mind which is not my own and foreign to me but getting sometimes closer to my intent than I might be able to by myself. The working process was one of trust and ego management. An ongoing unfolding of adding, deleting and change of course. The work for sure is the result of a collaboration on various levels, taking each other’s material to a different place, opening space for each other but also ending each other’s sentences.

RS   Could you explain the idea of limited space around the perimeter for the viewer to walk or stand?

IE  Exclusion is an effective tool to raise attention to those who assume to be included. The space is dark yet beautiful. The push and pull of seduction and exclusion complicates the relationship. Being pushed to the margins of the work, reduced to voyeurism, the viewer is not part of but outside and alone. That loneliness of the observer plays into the worldview of the piece. The awkwardness made people stay rather than leave.

RS  In your statement, you refer to the phenomena of collective behaviors by bodies larger than oneself, so how does that relate to these metal plates and structures on the floor?

IE  The work  or the material is not an illustration of that thought but the process of picking up on one’s energy, enabling each other. Appropriating the potential of the other allowed for decisions none of us would have made. That is the phenomena we are talking about in the text. The metal plates are the vernacular of one of us. What they become in combination with the other elements is a dynamic energy and ultimately a force beyond the individual participation.

RS  What was your thinking about the need to remove ceiling tiles?

IE  We did not remove them. We found the voided ceiling, the void is what we embraced in shape, material and matter. It was the restriction we took on the unavoidable we accepted as a basic condition and, rather than ignoring it, we allowed it to define the mirrored ground space. In more than the grid we reversed ceiling and floor. The mirrors even fuse/confuse the identical grid.

Iris Eichenberg, Alberte Tranberg, Shelly McMahon, Emergence Property, Installation detail. Image courtesy of BBAC

I did learn more about this installation of art from this interview with Eichenberg and, as a result, I perceive it more deeply. Let’s step back and realize that art installation is a relatively new genre of contemporary art and is temporary by nature. The ideas presented tend to be more important than the quality of its medium and largely are site specific, designed to transform the perception of space.  By using the metaphor of a murmur of birds, I was not sure she was referring to the art or the relationship of the artists. Perhaps both. It has not been my own personal experience to be limited, even one might say captive, while viewing art, so with regard to the small and restrictive pathway around the work, this juror is still out.

When I think back to Étant donnés by Marcel Duchamp, or I Like America and America Likes Me by Joseph Beuys, I can easily support the concept of art installation as an important genre, and in the case of Emergence Property, it will likely transform the Metro Detroit area by surprising audiences and engaging viewers in new ways.

Iris Eichenberg earned her university credentials from Gerrit Rietveld Academy, Amsterdam, NL and is the recipient of numerous awards and grants. Alberte Tranbert earned his MFA from Cranbrook Academy in 2018, and Shelly McMahon earned her BFA from the University of Oregon, and her MFA from Cranbrook Academy in 2018.

Gregory Thielker: The Wall

Gregory Thielker, installation, color photographs & objects

It should not surprise anyone that artists are drawn to issues of social justice.  Just look at the headlines from the Whitney Biennial 2019 culminating in the forced resignation of board member Warren B. Kanders, or the uproar over Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family. In the current center gallery at the BBAC is a visual portrait of the border territory between the U.S. and Mexico where the visual artist Gregory Thielker has an exhibition of both black & white, and  color watercolors (and color photos) that depict various views of the border wall, from tall steel barricades to sheet metal fences without containing humans, just the landscape.

He says in his statement, “This is a visual portrait of the border territory between the U.S. and Mexico.  I traveled to different sections of the border region, crisscrossing back and forth, interviewing local community members and documenting the diverse terrain.  The result is a series of black and white watercolor paintings ranging from small, intimate views to a large mural.”

Gregory Thielker, The Wall, watercolor on paper, 96 x 225″

At first glance, you might think you are experiencing photo images, but on closer examination, some of these photo-based paintings are watercolors.  Just the scale of this painting is impressive, divided into five sections and measuring 96 x 225”, the photo realistic watercolor dominates the gallery space. There is a feeling of border patrol presence, just from the number 12 and the structure in the upper right-hand corner. This exhibition evokes the headlines in our daily news where images of people from the southern part of North America are fleeing violence and oppression to seek asylum in the United States.  The collective of these paintings rings in our heads the sonnet by Emma Lazarus, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Gregory Thielker earned his BFA from Williams College, and his MFA from Washington University in St. Louis Missouri, in painting.

Animal Pleasures – Small Etchings by Alan Larkin

Alan Larkin, A Marionette, Etching & Aquatint

I have seen Alan Larkin’s work in the BBAC Fine Art Competition exhibition and was delighted to see more of his printmaking in his small, intimate show in the Ramp Gallery. These etchings bring to mind a neoclassical feel, both in subject and execution.  Larkin, an associate professor at Indiana University for thirty years, taught drawing and printmaking.  In this Etching and Aquatint, “The Marionette,” Larkin provides the viewer with a lush and coherent three dimensional image grounded in composition , subtle  primary colors and engaging design elements.

Larkin says in his statement, “Art should engage people’s interest both immediately and over time. When we stand in front of something it is often because it calls to us from across the room, but when we return to it we should discover something new. Objects that can have this power are not accidents. They are made by thinking people who learn how to connect their intellect with their emotions.”

Alan Larkin, Oberon, Etching

The etchings are small and are executed with 000 needles, often under a microscope, drawn on copper plates and submerged in a Ferric Chloride bath and often go through multiple baths. I submit there is room for this oeuvre in our collecting, much like classical music, literature and photography.  “It can be discussed and understood in a number of different ways: as a design in terms of its color, balance and movement, as a craft, in terms of its mastery, or even as a story, in terms of its emotional impact or its capacity to give us insight.”  Larkin earned his BA in art from Carleton College in Northfield Minnesota in 1975 and his MFA in printmaking from Pennsylvania State University in 1977.

This collection of three exhibitions are complementary and demonstrate how the curation at the BBAC is not about sales, but more about providing the public with thought-provoking aesthetic experiences.

Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center –  The Four Exhibitions will run through October, 10, 2019.