Richard Prince: Portraits @ MOCAD

“Richard Prince: Portraits,” Installation image, 2019 – Image Courtesy of MOCAD

Richard Prince, who invented “rephotography” back in 1977, is still at it in 2019, apparently undeterred by any number of litigious skirmishes and accelerating technology. The 91 works on view in Portraits, his plainly titled exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, have been appropriated from Instagram (IG), the mega-expanding social-media platform, founded in 2010, that now counts some 600 million plus users. That number alone offers the omnivorous Prince a mind boggling trove from which to lift, enlarge, and revamp the posts of swanning millennials and Generation Z’s from which he draws his subjects.

As curated by director Elysia Borowy-Reeder and installed in the largest of MOCAD’s galleries, the hang is an unexpectedly old fashioned one: Salon style, cheek by jowl in multiple tiers, canvases ganged nearly edge to edge, blanketing every square inch of wall space available. Moreover, the format from image to image is identical, the portrait looms at the top followed by multiple lines of text: up first is often a description drafted by the Instagrammer, then the greedily coveted tally of “likes,” #hashtags, comments from sundry “followers,” and a concluding cryptic blurb by Prince or one of his handles (@joankatzz, for example). The whopping impact of 90-plus ink jetted canvases of widely different sizes is pretty overwhelming, the antithesis of a standard line-up of worthies stationed at eye level.

“Richard Prince: Portraits,” Installation image, 2019 – Image Courtesy of MOCAD

Prince rather vividly narrates in a wall text and poster how the immersion in IG posts is like scurrying down a rabbit hole for hours on end following a gazillion leads, threads, and hashtags in pursuit of portrait material. In an excerpt from his journal Birdtalk, he lays out the raison d’etre of his motives and practice: “I can start out with someone I know and then check out who they follow or who’s following them, and the rabbit hole takes on an outer body experience where you suddenly look at the clock and it’s three in the morning. I end up on people’s grids that are so far removed from where I began it feels psychedelic.”

“Richard Prince: Portraits,” Installation image, 2019 – Image Courtesy of MOCAD

Embarking on a similar process, museum visitors pan across the fatiguing (periodic pauses are recommended) array of images; espy known (Miley Cyrus, Brooke Shields) or unknown subjects; parse texts replete with non sequiturs, truncated spellings, made-up words, and innuendoes; identify recognizable operatives (Jerry Saltz, New York art critic, John Sinclair, Michigan activist); overlook absent punctuation, dismiss absurdities, treasure pearls of wisdom, decode overabundant emojis, and so on.

Richard Prince, “Untitled (@gab3),” Ink jet on canvas, c. 2015-19 Image Courtesy of DAR

AND marvel and revel in the visual audacity, weirdness, and sexiness of poses, gestures, facial expressions, props, costumes, and locales, from @psytranceclub’s transformation into an elegant, horned human and animal hybrid to embody her belief in the bond between species, to the surreality of the necklace of shoes that circles the torso of @violetchachki, or the rarified identity between owner and pet in @katevitamin, in which both mistress and hairless cat sport blond bobs. A visitor might also be moved by the sad young men backdropped by a Los Angeles sunset in @gab3; one wears a Hello Kitty sweatshirt, the other hangs a cross on a chain over a skull emblazoned top. Alternatively, an onlooker might be swept along by @barbaraperezw, a bronzed surfer with wind-blown hair blithely skateboarding to her destination. Hair, big or razor sharp, figures in @afropunk and @fatalbert69: perhaps she calls to mind Diana Ross or Angela Davis as commentator @joankatzz snidely trolls (while also name-checking John Sinclair); and he, via a mirror, simultaneously displays both a tousled hairstyle head on and a sharply etched zig-zag design on sides and back.

Richard Prince, “Untitled (@barbaraperezw),” Ink jet on canvas, c. 2015-19 Image Courtesy of DAR

Taxing as surveying these and other abutting panels is, MOCAD’s installation and Prince’s modus operandi further ramp up the impact of Portraits.  The austere white walls of the gallery, the bright, shadow free fluorescent lighting, and the absence of any ancillary furnishings—benches, pedestals, or caption labels—plus Prince’s smooth, toothless canvas in a brilliant white–manufacture a crisp, chilly white on white perimeter. The fusion of Prince’s art and the museum’s style of display heightens the focus on the IG subculture (per Prince’s nomenclature) and the performative, narcissistic display of its followers.

Richard Prince, “Untitled (@afropunk),” Ink jet on canvas, c. 2015-19 Image Courtesy of DAR

Portraits exists, simultaneously, as a group display of appropriated Instagram accounts (two thirds of and by women); and a showcase of Prince’s enlarged screenshots which he hijacked by appending strings of obscure, laconic comments; and as recollections of the portraits/self-portraits vaingloriously posted by the initial Instagrammers. That’s three shows in one generated by the umpteen intersecting and overlapping dynamics of these pieces, so it is no surprise that Prince refers to his portrait spawn as “friendly monsters.”

“Richard Prince: Portraits” remains on view at MOCAD through January 5, 2020

 

Summer Wheat & Hirosuke Yabe @ Wasserman Projects

Wasserman Projects Presents Summer Wheat, Hirosuke Yabe, and Matthew Bennett Laurents

Installation view of Wasserman exhibit, 2019, Images PD Rearick

A warehouse-gallery bristling with whacky lines and florid color, the current Wasserman Projects exhibition is testament to the wonderful volatility of contemporary artistic production. Featuring the inventive paintings and sculpture of Oklahoma City native artist Summer Wheat and complimented by the exuberant, folk-like sculpture and installations of Japanese artist Hirosuke Yabe, both of whose work employ crafty processes to achieve a singularly, spectacular visual presence. And while their playfully beguiling surfaces shimmer with  graphic energy both artist’s work limn deep political and economic issues.

To achieve the magical inlaid surfaces of her paintings, resembling the high craft marquetry of Renaissance cabinetry, Wheat squeegees paint through aluminum screen that serves as her warp and weft structure, to create stunning, flat biomorphic shapes of women, engaged in inscrutable activities. Like the Medieval and Renaissance tapestries that inspired them, Wheat’s paintings read as allegories that engage themes of historical, moral and religious importance. And like the stories in those tapestries, they are belied by the stunning surface that composes them.

Summer Wheat, “Picnic with Coins,” 2019, acrylic on aluminum mesh, 68” x 96”

Embedded in the flat, Picassoan/Matissean, cubist arrangement of colored puzzle pieces, Wheat’s narratives turn on money and women. The center piece of her exhibition is “Picnic with Coins,”2019, a triumphant play on the history of picnic painting. Lounging about, a group of intertwined women whose central preoccupation seems to be the bags of coin instead of sensuous human relationships and picnic baskets. Not the harem of Matisse’s “Joy of Life,” if there is anything joyfully erotic it is bodily connection to collections of dollars and coins that decorate the landscape. The surface of the flat paintings is detailed with a novel, raised relief of cake decorator-like, squiggled drawings and loose grids of paint.

Summer Wheat, “Coin Cart,” 2019, acrylic on aluminum mesh, 68” x 47”

Using the same intriguing squeegee process, Wheat’s painting, “Piggy Bank Version ll,” 2019, has a profile of a piggy bank which ironically, like a Grecian urn, is festooned with female figures in various poses, “embracing” (seducing?) the piggy bank. The symbolic piggy bank contains coins decorated with female figures and female figures that seem to have managed to gain entrance to the bank. Art historical references are inscribed throughout her drawing including Egyptian-like figures such as in the remarkable domestic image, “Coin cart,” 2019, of a stylized Egyptian female figure wearing harem pants, pushing a grocery cart burdened with a large coin imprinted with a female head. Wheat’s parody of our social landscape functions by symbols and irony and requires a certain acrobatic, visual literacy to unpack, but is rewarding in its astute payoff. The sharp edged, cartoony drawing and over-the-top, dazzling color palette are worth the price of admission themselves.

Like Wheat, Hirosuke Yabe’s large installations and scores of small wood sculptural works are teeming with a sort of shanty-town aesthetic in their jury-rigged construction methods but belie adroit hands and keen craftsmanship. The small wooden heads and full animated figures are sculpted with a nata, a small traditional Japanese woodsman hatchet, that renders an incised angular cut into the wood, not unlike Wheat’s own crosshatching in her paintings, giving a consistent look and feel to his cast of characters. One senses a rich history in the form and mark that the nata hatchet makes in sculpting the heads.

Hirosuke Yabe, “Old Dog Man,” 2019, reclaimed wood, motors, dimensions variable

The center piece of Yabe’s work are three large sculptural installations that function as an anchor for his whole body of work, including the heads and animated anthropomorphic pieces. Composed of repurposed wood salvaged in Detroit, “Old Dog Man,” 2019, and “Young Dog Man,” 2019, are abstracted, geometrical dog figures, instrumental in an allegorical narrative that belong to the large shack-like, “House of Consumption,” 2019, (perhaps a dog house). All three sculptures are animated by small whirligigs attached to the body of the dogs, including a beautiful ceiling fan in the house, operated by small electric motors. The whirligigs are brilliant in giving life, a kind of Rube Goldberg, kinetic life, to the dog-like sculptures, that symbolize the rudimentary instinct for consumption. (Think Labrador Retriever eating dinner!)

Hirosuke Yabe, “House of Consumption,” 2019, reclaimed wood, motor, dimensions variable

Accompanied by the small sculpted heads, each of which gives expression to the emotional range—from ghoulish to angelic– of human psychology, Yabe’s overall installation reads like a parody of the human landscape. There is story book quality to his work that is tempts us to read it like moral tale. Yabe’s “crudely” (yet elegantly) hacked and chopped forms of bodies and heads, and faces, are take offs on classical modernist forms from surrealism to African masks and totemic poles. The whole of the Wasserman Projects’ warehouse space is alive with a population of faces and bodies and composed of a brilliant array of lines and colors, a testimony to the, as usual, smart curatorial job led by Alison Wong. Part of the joy of this latest iteration of the Wasserman Projects is to explore the helter-skelter shapes and forms and mark-making of all three of the artist’s work that makes up this delightful wilderness of art.

Installation view of Matthew Bennett Laurents (Wasserman rear gallery)

To compliment the duo of artists in the front room gallery, in the rear gallery are a range of ceramic vessels wrought by Portland Oregon artist and Cranbrook Art Academy grad, Matthew Bennett Laurents. Adding to the limitless possibility of human expression that the exhibition already displays, Laurents’s vessels contain faces exuding archetypal human emotion or conditions of life. His faces, especially, add to the forest of lines and surfaces that inhabit this fine exhibition.

Matthew Bennett Laurents, “Fear,”2015, ceramic, 9.75” x 5.75” x 5.25” Image courtesy of Glen Mannisto, DAR

Wasserman Projects Presents Summer Wheat, Hirosuke Yabe, and Matthew Bennett Laurents through December 21, 2019

 

Landscapes @ Henry Ford College Sisson Art Gallery

Landscapes Through Michigan Eyes Hosts Local Artists

Installation Panoram image, All images courtesy of Henry Ford College Art Gallery, 2019

When we survey the majority of classic art imagery that has evolved over the last few hundred years, it could be divided easily into three categories:  Still life, figurative and landscape. Who dominates landscape painting historically would-be artists? El Greco, Vincent Van Gogh, J.M. Turner, John Constable, Claude Monet, Paul Gauguin, Paul Cezanne, and the Americans Andrew Wyeth, Edward Hopper and Georgia O’Keefe, to select only a few of many.

The Henry Ford College exhibition Landscapes Through Michigan Eyes hosts local Michigan artists. The exhibition’s co-curators Donald Cronkhite and Steve Glazer selected contemporary artists who work in a variety of styles and visually demonstrate how their work has been inspired by this time-tested genre. As artists continue to expand the direction images and experience take them, the landscape remains a strong contender for subject matter. I would suggest that by using scenes of nature as a way to tell a story, illustrate an idea, or conceptualize a metaphor, the genre continues to provide an outlet for artistic inventiveness.

Jim Nawara, “Buena Visa,” Oil on Linen, 40 x 54 inches, 2013

In Jim Nawara’s 40 x 54-inch oil painting titled Buena Vista, the viewer looks through a wide horizontal window of a red brick wall at a vast and arid terrain with mountains on the horizon.  What strikes me first is the concept, followed by the composition, convincing depiction of light and the subtle use of the three primary colors. It seems like an abstraction played out in the single point perspective painting that delves into magical realism when it creates this ambiguity between nature and a man-made structure. Better understood by non-Western cultures, when the viewer settles in their own experience, Nawara paints a realistic view in an unrealistic setting.

He has stated that he often prefers depopulated, nondescript or non-picturesque sources. “The subject does not need to be obviously beautiful, grand, or pristine.”

While his compositions involve the creation of illusions and allusions concerning particular places and things in the world, Nawara has said,  “I am interested in natural and unnatural visual events in landscape.  These events may be grand, unimportant, profound, or quirky.  While an image usually evolves from an actual place, the paintings are essentially abstract configurations of shape, space, color, and light that I perceive or imagine within a subject from the beginning.  Ultimately the work is about interpretation, invention, and memory, as well as the physical process of painting.  I consider subject matter a vehicle to express something ineffable, yet guided by acute observation, history, and by the inspirational works of a wide variety of fine artists, past and present.”

Jim Nawara earned a BFA degree from the Art Institute of Chicago and his MFA degree in painting at the University of Illinois, Champaign.  Nawara is a Professor Emeritus of Painting & Drawing in the James Pearson Duffy Department of Art and Art History at Wayne State University in Detroit, where he taught for forty-six years.  His paintings, drawings and prints have been exhibited in more than 250 international, national and regional group exhibitions as well as nine solo exhibitions.

Bill Jackson, “Tolstoy’s War and Peace” , 37” x 50″

When I think about the late Bill Jackson’s work, it’s the reflections of aquatic reeds and rushes in a still pond that stays with me.  Jackson was a Detroit photographer of abstraction who contributed to the community of photography immensely, most recently at the Marshall Fredericks Sculpture Museum in Saginaw, MI, with his exhibition Stillness at Dawn. Jackson’s 30 x 50-inch landscape  Tolstoy’s War and Peace takes on a daguerreotype feel of an elevated perspective of an abstract field image, but as the title suggests, he may have seen it as a metaphor for a field of war.

Jackson said, “My photography is sparse. Some images are dramatic encounters.  Others invite exploration and contemplation.  But they say no more than necessary.  I got there by going everywhere else first”.  Bill Jackson earned his Ph.D, at Monteith College, Wayne State University, and passed away last November 2018.

Tommy Wilson, "Stillness", 19 x 19", Oil on Linen, Mixed Media

Tommy Wilson, “Stillness”, 19 x 19″, Mixed Media

Tommy Wilson’s work has been consumed by landscape for many years as he found subject matter in rural settings and the urban environment. In each situation, he sought out strong compositions in empty houses amongst fallen dwellings, dominated by the negative space in dilapidated doors and windows. I was fortunate to see his work evolve while he completed his MFA at Wayne State University in 2017. Here in the work Stillness, he presents a watercolor of trees set on a wooden shelf with a companion scroll that pulls on the viewer’s imagination.

He says in his statement,  “As a studio artist, I work primarily with oil paint and various surfaces to capture the stories that land and urban-scapes tell. I find that these environments  share visual narratives which resonate both personal and collective truths.”

Lucille Nawara, Platte River, 24 x 43, Oil on Linen, 2000

In  Lucille Nawara’s oil painting  Platte River  she brings her experience and knowledge of chiaroscuro, along with her direct observation on site.  Her composition  draws the viewer into her composition of light, color, texture, and space. The southern sunlight from the left provides strong cast shadows of the dense trees  onto the grasses on this promontory.  These energetic shadows and grasses  contrast  the  more peaceful brilliant  background dunes  and meandering river that flows into Lake Michigan on the horizon.  She says in her statement, “I sketched  directly on the canvas with blue oil paint diluted with mineral spirits, then painted this landscape  for four consecutive long days in chilly mid-October. The composition and colors were established  in situ, then later finished in the home studio with photos as reference for details.”

Lucille Procter Nawara is a Detroit-based landscape painter and printmaker. She graduated from Smith College earning a BA, spent 1 ½ years studying painting, life drawing and printmaking at Boston University, then earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Illinois, in Champaign-Urbana. She has been an assistant professor and instructor, for over 20 years, teaching drawing, painting, and design at Wayne State University, Cranbrook Academy of Art, and the College for Creative Studies in Detroit.

Rick Vian, “Trout Fishing in Armenia”, 60 x 72″, Oil on Linen, 2015

The Detroit artist Rick Vian brings his love of landscape to this lively abstract expressionistic composition, Trout Fishing in Armenia, revealed to this viewer by a knowledge of his entire body of work. Although Vian’s work over thirty years is dominated by abstraction, he has a large group of work that is derived from his time spent in the woods of the upper peninsula, an extensive collection of both drawing and large oil paintings of trees. It would seem very possible to this writer that Vian’s landscape work would surely inform the abstract work. This fiery new painting, Trout Fishing in Armenia, introduces contrasting motifs of grid lines that make the art feel fresh and exciting. Common to earlier work, Vian draws the viewer into his composition with a light source that lingers near the center, surrounded by the action of shape and complex color.

He says in his statement, “I am mostly interested in visual perception and the underlying patterns that make sense of it. I am also interested in how the visual information of this world is filtered through the mechanisms of perception, affected by thought, and emotion, resulting in expression. I start with an idea, and the painting happens in the process, I don’t really know where it’s going to go. I’m following what’s happening on the canvas, and that way, the painting will take me someplace I haven’t been before.”

Rick Vian earned a BFA from College for Creative Studies and his MFA from Wayne State University. Rick Vian has been included in over 45 group exhibitions, 5 two-person exhibitions, and 12 one-person exhibitions in the Detroit metro area. Most recently, Vian retired from his work as an Associate Professor of Drawing and Landscape Painting at the College for Creative Studies, Detroit, MI.

An exhibition of contemporary landscape painting, drawing, and photography by Michigan Artists include the work of Donald Cronkhite, Edward Duff, Bill Jackson, Meighen Jackson, Matt Lewis, Jim Nawara, Lucille Nawara, Rick Vian, Emily Vastbinder, Tommy Wilson and Emily Jane Wood.

Landscape Through Michigan Eyes at Henry Ford College Gallery through November 27,

 

Your Very Own Paradise @ OUAG

Oakland University Art Gallery presents Thirteen Artists Work

Your Very Own Paradise, Installation 2019, All Images Courtesy of DAR

Oakland University Art Gallery opened its fall exhibition schedule with Your Very Own Paradise, artwork from far and wide with oil paintings, photographs, and sculptures on September 7, 2019.  Based on a curatorial premise that perception is reality, Director of the OUAG Gallery, Dick Goody, brings together thirteen artists whose ‘very own paradise’ differs significantly in expansive motifs and varying types of personal identity.

Melanie Daniel, Goat Love In a Digital Age, Oil on Canvas, 54 x 48″, 2018

In the painting Goat Love in a Digital Age, artist Melanie Daniel creates this crowded narrative where people are trying to reconnect on a surrealistic globe of isolation. This expressionistic portrayal of figures of all nationalities seems to find themselves in a desolate environment, using these goats as a means to reconnect with nature.

Melanie Daniel lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and earned her MFA from Bezalel Academy, Israel, and is currently the Padnos Distinguished Artist-in-Residence at Grant Valley State University.

Marc Yankus, Tinsmith, Archival pigment print, 38 x 27″, 2015

For a city dweller, buildings are his paradise, both in structure and composition.  Marc Yankus is a photographer, and from his series, The Secret Lives of Buildings: Tinsmith, he captures an incredible pallet of light, shape, and color. His architectural detail of these facades, always formally placed, without the presence of people, is quiet and an ethereal slice of New York City that takes on a personality.  He says in his statement, “ I have walked by these buildings every day for the last 20 years.”

Marc Yankus’ fine artwork and publishing experience span more than forty years. His work has been included in exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum and the South Street Seaport Museum, New York, the George Eastman House, Rochester, New York, and the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

Amer Kobaslija, Northern Light III, Oil on panel, 86 x 72″, 2011

In the work Northern Light III, this large oil on panel presents the viewer with an interior aerial belonging to the famous painter Balthus. Amer says in his statement, “I get to understand the paintings through the act of making them, each piece individually and as a series – one work in relation to the other. Making is thinking.  These paintings are a reflection of my surroundings, the place where I live, and the people I encounter along the way.  As a painter, my aim is to engage with society – not to judge or impose answers but reflect on the place that I love and think of it has home.”

Born in Bosnia in 1975, Amer Kobaslija fled the war-torn country in 1993 for Germany, where he attended the Art Academy in Dusseldorf. Amer Kobaslija is a painter who was offered asylum by the United States and immigrated to Florida, where he completed his BFA in Printmaking at the Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, FL. He then went on to earn his MFA in Painting at Montclair State University in New Jersey. He currently lives and works in Orlando, Florida

Rebecca Morgan, Self Portrait Post MFA Wearing the Smock of a Former Employer II, 2017 graphite and oil on panel 20 x 16 inches Courtesy of the artist and Aysa Geisberg Gallery.

The painting, After Work Sunset, oil, and graphite on panel, is an example of where the artist Rebecca Morgan uses herself as the subject for what could be described as a self-portrait, but she is playing with her audience, a kind of cathartic moment where she manipulates the image as though she is laughing at herself.  She seems to be looking to illustrate emotional discomfort. Much of her work devotes itself to embracing the discomfort, the flaws, and oddity as a way to turn it into lightness.

In her statement, she says, “The face jugs, cartoons, and paintings represent a kind of blissful ignorance: they’re totally fine with looking so hideous and awful; it’s of no consequence to them. Though covered in acne, wrinkles, and blemishes, their confidence and contentment is the ultimate acceptance of self-love. They’re blissfully unaware, unruly, wild and untamed.”

Rebecca Morgan received a BA from the Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and her MFA from Pratt Institute, NY.

In mounting this kind of exhibition,  it presents the question, what is the role of the university gallery?  Much like other educational institutions, like the Wayne State University’s Elaine Jacob Gallery where the sole mission is to bring in work from outside Metro Detroit, the OUAG Gallery has over the years provided a mix of both Detroit Metro art work and then at times, Goody imports artists from all parts of the world. Both exist in an environment not depended on sales for its existence, providing a venue that contrasts with the average contemporary gallery.

Your Very Own Paradise has been created to explore the notion that requires the artist to rise above convention, play with reality, and deliver an exhibition by the works of Nick Archer, Enrique Chagoya, Melanie Daniel, Maira Kalman, Amer Kobaslija, Andrew Lenaghan, Tayna Marcuse, Rebecca Morgan, Lamar Peterson, Orit Raff, Simon Roberts, Thomas Trosch, and Marc Yankus.

Your Very Own Paradise, Oakland University Art Gallery, through November 24, 2019

 

Copying and Invention in East Asia @ UMMA 

Imperial winter dragon robe, China, early 19th century, embroidered silk. University of Michigan Museum of Art, Gift of Elizabeth Henshaw Gasper Brown in memory of Horace, William and Helen Lou, 1989/1.34

In Western visual culture, copying is sometimes freighted with duplicitous or subversive undertones.  Marcel Duchamp’s notorious LHOOQ, a defaced poster of the Mona Lisa, is hardly flattering to the original, after all.  But drawing mostly from the University of Michigan Museum of Art’s permanent collection, the exhibition Copies and Invention in East Asia showcases the many ways the artists of China, Korea, and Japan actively copied and referenced pre-existing visual motifs across borders and across time.

There are over a hundred works on view which snugly fill the UMMA’s spacious Taubman Gallery, mostly gleaned from the past (the oldest artifacts coming from Han Dynasty China, about two millennia ago), though there are a smattering of 20th century and contemporary works on view.  The chronological and geographical scope of this exhibit is ambitiously large, so the show is compartmentalized thematically; there’s a section on literati painting, for example, and another on the auspicious animal symbols that recur.

Seifû Yohei III, White teapot and sencha pitcher with stamped dragonfly designs, circa 1893-1914, porcelain with clear glaze. University of Michigan Museum of Art, Bequest of Margaret Watson Parker, 1954/1.512 and 503

A set of ceramic bowls by the celebrated artist Seifu Yohi III are a case-study for how Japanese art imitated and synthesized the visual cultures of the territories conquered by imperial Japan.  Yohi intently studied pottery from China’s Ming and Song Dynasties (of which there are some examples on view), and his artistic output is one of respectful mimicry.   Employed by the imperial household, his work, characterized by its fine, milky-white glaze, reflected the interest Japanese patrons had in Chinese art.

Yamamoto Baiitsu, Blossoming Prunus Branch, after Wang Mien, 1847, hanging scroll, ink on paper. University of Michigan Museum of Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. C.D. Carter, 1970/2.156

Copying at its most literal is demonstrated by the Japanese landscape painters who replicated their original Chinese models, right down to the signatures of the original artists, though their intentions were never deceptive.  An elegant ink painting of a wispy tree branch by 19th century Japanese artist Yamamoto Baiitsu is an example, its architype being a 14th century work by Chinese artist Wang Mian.  And an impressively large hanging scroll demonstrates how even within China itself, artists would directly copy preexisting Chinese paintings.  Wu Wei’s Travelers on a Mountain Pass (painted, incidentally, at exactly the same time Leonardo was dabbing away on the Mona Lisa) is a tribute to a painting by the 10th century artist Li Cheng, though Wu’s painting is more abstract, retaining a definitive personal style.  This is also a painting that advances the case for seeing art in person; cinematic in scale, this work practically engulfs the viewer, an effect that would get lost in translation if reproduced in a book.

XU ZHEN ® Eternity-Aphrodite of Knidos, Tang Dynasty Sitting Buddha, 2014, glass fiber-reinforced concrete, marble grains, sandstone grains, mineral pigments, steel. Courtesy of James Cohan Gallery, New York ©Xu Zhen

For me, the most visually compelling works are the several contemporary sculptures on view.  South Korean artist Chul Hyun Ahn’s deceptively simple light sculpture Two Circles, placed right at the show’s entrance for maximum impact, comprises two colored circular florescent lights positioned concentrically between two mirrors, framed and mounted on the wall; stand directly in front of Two Circles, and the illusion is that you’re staring into an infinity of circles eternally receding into the distance.  Chul Hyun Ahn’s sculptures are abstract references to Zen Buddhist ink paintings, characterized by a reductive though elegant simplicity.  Approaching copying with a wry sense of humor, sculptor Zu Zhen created a literal mash-up of two iconic images in Eastern and Western visual culture: a seated Tang Dynasty statue of Buddha seems to sprout (where its head should be) an upside-down reproduction of the Aphrodite of Knossos.

Copies and Invention in East Asia, to its immense credit, takes a comparatively niche topic and makes it interesting, accessible, and visually punchy.  It’s a diverse show, ranging in scope from 2000+ year old Chinese burial objects to a set of countertop Buddhist stupas fresh off the 3D printer.  It’s a show that playfully gives tangible expression to the Japanese literary critic Hideo Kobayashi’s assertion that “Copying is the mother of creation.”

 

Textures of Detroit @ Kreft Center Gallery

Installation Kreft Gallery, Textures of Detroit, 2019

Installation , Textures of Detroit, Kreft Gallery, 2019

Textures of Detroit is an exhibition of work that revolves around the theme of visual and tactile textures of Detroit.  It’s an intimate, multimedia show of six seasoned and accomplished contemporary Detroit artists (Peter Bernal, Matt Corbin, Roy Feldman, Carol Harris, Carl Wilson, and Ann Smith), whose sometimes rugged and gritty work is almost a foil to the chic polish of Concordia University’s Kreft Center Gallery.

The exhibition opens with a fine salvo of woodblock prints and linocuts by Kresge fellow Carl Wilson, who last year enjoyed a show at the Grand Rapids Art Museum. It’s not hard at all to imagine these as still frames from noir film; they seem like storyboarded images or concept art for black-and-white cinema, evocative of soulful and morose saxophone riffs.  In one graphic-novel style image, we see a line of beleaguered workers trundling toward the beginning of their shifts at some industrial job.    In another an elderly woman sits alone in a dark room illuminated by a solitary hanging bulb, and nurses a glass of indeterminate substance.

There are several textile works on view by textile artist Carole Harris, who creates fiber art that seems almost painterly, and, at times, even sculptural.  Her color palate is rusty and industrial; it’s no surprise to learn she draws inspiration from aging architectural structures.  Move in close, and her arrangements of patchwork abstractions reveal a dizzying network of swirling stitch-work that recalls the pirouetting clouds of Van Gogh’s Starry Night.  Her works subtly reference the time-worn textures of urban Detroit, and they exude an undeniable beauty.

Roy Feldman, “Untitled,” Silver Halide print on Kodak Endura paper. Image courtesy of the artist.

A quintet of photographs by Roy Feldman, a Detroit-based photographer and Emmy-Award winning filmmaker, presents a set of images of multi-layered urban interiors, each characterized by disorienting reflections which lend the set an air of magic-realism, an effect the photographer here achieves by capturing images of people taken ether reflected in mirrors or viewed through windows, a device which misleadingly lends the images the initial appearance of being double-exposed. In one instance, we see the side of a cropped face of a woman applying eyeliner; she holds out a small, circular mirror which reflects her eye as it seems to gaze back directly at us, though seemingly disembodied like a hovering object from a painting by Rene Magritte.

Roy Feldman, “Untitled,” Silver Halide print on Kodak Endura paper. Image courtesy of the artist.

Ann Smith and Mark Corbin both create sculptures from found objects and detritus, though their respective styles are certainly distinct, Corbin’s works rhyming more with the unrefined assemblage-style works of Detroit’s Tyre Guyton (of the Heidelberg Project), and Ann Smith’s works clearly more fussily worked and refined; the curvaceous metallic wisps of her Squash Blossom are a sort of cursive in 3D.   Together, along with the fiber works of Carole Harris, this ensemble presents Detroit texture in the most literal sense.

Carol Harris, In the Spirit, 69 x 71″ textile, 1992

Like the Copies and Invention show on view at the UMMA, Textures of Detroit takes a relatively niche point of departure and delivers an immensely satisfying result. It’s eclectic, for sure, but these multimedia works seem to come together not just through their application of tactile and visual texture, but also through the understated affection they seem to exhibit for the Motor City, its textures, and its people.