Carole Harris & Allie McGhee @ Detroit Institute of Arts

Installation Image, Courtesy of the Detroit Art Review

As part of the kick-off for the Detroit Art Week events, the Detroit Institute of Arts mounted an exhibition coordinated by Laurie Ann Farrell, department head of contemporary art at the museum and curated by Amani Olu, Repetition, Rhythm, and Vocab, features the visual art of Carole Harris and Allie McGhee. Both artists have been prominent in the Detroit art community for over forty years, each delivering their own individual language of abstraction. The celebration commenced with a talk, and this writer was pleasantly surprised to see a full house of guests in the DIA auditorium where the artists gave a part biographical, part philosophical, talk just before the opening of their two-person exhibition in the second floor Robinson Gallery.

Allie McGhee & Carole Harris portrait Image Courtesy of Kate Gowan

Introduced by DIA Director Salvador Salort-Pons, with remarks by Farrell, the talk was moderated by Amani Olu, the producer/organizer of the new Detroit Art Week.  Originally from Philadelphia, later working in New York City, Olu moved to Detroit in 2016 and founded a business to provide marketing and business consulting services to individuals, companies and organizations in the arts.  He said, “The overall vision is that we want to do our part to establish Detroit as a global destination for contemporary art just like every other major city.”

As the talk got underway, both artists shared many common themes, as they both were educated at Detroit’s Cass Technical High School and attended state colleges, Harris at Wayne State University, and McGhee at Eastern Michigan University.  They both mentioned the importance of early family support in their pursuit of art, as each told stories about their mother’s influence, and both did not see their work as part of any political movement, or part of Detroit’s revitalization, but more about a constant internal energy to create and evolve as an artist, regardless of politics or race. Harris mentioned her work was continually evolving, and McGhee suggested the influence of science, and both gave credit to the impact of the Kresge Foundation for the Arts.

I have written about both artists multiple times for exhibitions at the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art and most recently at the Hill Gallery where both artists’ work were present. Allie McGhee has a long exhibition record starting back in in the mid-1970’s.  McGhee says he favors using sticks to apply paint rather than brushes. Rejecting the brush, he pulls and scrapes the paint across his material, whether it is canvas or paper. The action of the stick allows McGhee’s hands to interact with the paint and the surface in a visceral way, where the thin paint spatters as he arranges his lathe-like constructions. He has often folded thick painted paper into shapes that display themselves as objects on the wall.

Allie McGhee, Strata Data, Acrylic and Enamel on canvas, 2008

Music is an apt metaphor for McGhee’s methodology. Miles Davis, one of the artist’s favorite musicians, was an explorer of musical forms who gave up traditional jazz in favor of improvisation. Likewise, McGhee has talked about the art of experimentation, and working every day to explore a variety of paint mediums on a vast range of materials, from canvas to paper, window shades, fiberglass, wallpaper and cardboard.

As I wrote about his exhibition Now & Then at the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, “ [McGhee’s] emphasis on discovered and spontaneous correlations that are twisted, crushed and crumpled, remind this writer of John Chamberlain, who worked in a similar fashion but mostly with metal and automobile parts. Given the time period of Allie McGhee’s formative years, the obvious influence here is Abstract Expressionism with shades of Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline that, despite a seemingly spontaneous appearance, maintains a balance of chaos and control.”  The steady march of fluid and spontaneous abstract expressionism has elevated the work of Allie McGhee to a significant force in Detroit alongside artists like Al Loving, Sam Gilliam and Charles McGee.

Allie McGhee, Birthday Eclipse, 48 36″ Acrylic & Oil on canvas

Carole Harris has been called a needle artist, a quilt artist and a fiber artist, but her work and life seem to have always been in transition.  Now her works of art are titled mixed media textile, and she seems most comfortable being described as a visual artist. It has been a journey for Harris whose mother introduced her to needle arts at an early age while teaching her embroidery and crocheting.  She has had a career as an interior designer working with architectural firms, but the road has led her to express herself with stand-alone mixed media constructions that hang on the wall.  “My work relies on improvisation. I am fascinated with hue and pattern, often drawing inspiration from the color, energy, and movement. It’s like the rhythms of ethnographic rituals as well as jazz, blues, and gospel music that I have learned growing up in Detroit.”

Carole Harris, Mixed Media Textile, 42 x 53″, 2017

The first thing that jumps out from the work Bearing Witnessis not her choice of material, but her use of color, form and composition.  The strength she demonstrates draws on her informal use of space, the counter-play of color, and the texture given to torn shapes and line work.

When I wrote about her work in April 2016, I described it like this: “For visual artists who quilt, Harris’s work transcends the traditional expectations we think of when mentioning quilting. In a web-based reproduction, we see an abstract painting, dynamic in the use of color, line, shape and form. It’s only on closer observation that one realizes these are compositions executed using embroidery, stitchery and multiple patterns of cotton, silks and hand-dyed fabric.”

Glen Mannisto wrote for the Detroit Art Review about Carole Harris’s solo exhibition at University of Michigan NCRC Rotunda Gallery. “Bearing Witnessis a tour de force of contemporary image making. It amalgamates not only Harris’s quilt-making magic with the disparate influences of her far-reaching eye, but is a profoundly rich metaphor for the deep struggle of living, of the balancing of life’s experiences, of listening and watching and caring for the world. This sublimely visual layering of color, shape and line is not only an act of art but — what resonates through in this process of layering the fabric of life by hand— is an act of deep caring. The title “Bearing Witness” is thus not misplaced on Carole Harris’ practice as a whole.”

Carole Harris, Things Ain’t What They Used to Be, Mixed Media Textile, 41 x 53, 2018

Carole Harris and Allie McGhee’s distinct abstract language has evolved for more than forty years. McGhee is a painter whose abstraction rises to the top based on day-in and day-out hard work where he pours his pigment and allows himself to release an intuition to create variations in composition, color and shape.  Carole Harris rises beyond the confines of fiber or quilted art, revising her decisions that are usually set in place by a medium that progresses linearly. Both of these artists have endured using a distinct abstract aesthetic that has created an homage to the harmony of an improvisational language of abstract expressionism.

In mid-July, during the dog days of summer when the art scene usually lays back and starts to plan and prepare for the fall season, the concept of Detroit Art Week provides some attention to Detroit artists and hopefully creates a tradition for years to come.

Museums, galleries, and sites participating in Detroit Art Week include Detroit Institute of Arts, David Klein Gallery, Playground Detroit, Heidelberg Project, Red Bull Arts Detroit, K. OSS Contemporary Art, Wasserman Projects, Public Pool, N’Namdi Contemporary Art Center, Library Street Collective, Holding House, What Pipeline, Charles H. Wright Museum, Simone DeSousa Gallery, Dell Pryor Gallery, Popps Emporium, and Reyes Projects.

Detroit Institute of Arts, Repetition, Rhythm, and Vocabruns through November 4, 2018

 

 

 

 

 

Bearing Witness: Carole Harris @ NCRC Rotunda Gallery

Carole Harris, University of Michigan, North Campus Research Center Rotunda Gallery, Installation Image

Talking in layers: walking into the enormous and alien territory of the University of Michigan’s North Campus Research Center to see the exhibition “Bearing Witness,” the quilt works of Detroit artist Carole Harris hanging in the building’s Rotunda Gallery. Dramatically lit, a series of Harris’ dazzlingly colored fiber works punctuate the security-conscious, antiseptic space. It is a research facility that was formerly Pfizer Pharmaceutical (think Revolutionary anti-cholesterol med Lipitor that paid for the amazing building complex) and that, after the economic “downturn” of the ’80s, was purchased by the University of Michigan to now serve primarily as a medical research complex.

Harris’ brilliant, lively and layered textiles offer a shocking, perhaps painful contrast to the generic, monochromatic, modernist architectural surroundings of the NCRC building.  As a child growing up in Detroit, Harris was taught embroidery and stitching by her mother, and, being “height challenged” and quite petite, she learned to make her own clothes so they would fit properly. In high school at Cass Tech she studied music and science before settling on art, and, after graduating from college in 1966, she began an interior design practice that she maintained until recently.

In an ironic twist, her magnificent, globally influenced art looks almost captive in this sequestered, post-industrial landscape. It’s a long distance from Harris’ vibrant life in Detroit to the strange, emptiness of the medical research center.

In a recent talk at Detroit’s Charles H. Wright Museum, Harris talked about her evolution as an artist and about deciding in 1966 to make her first quilt for her upcoming marriage. For a start, she used the simple, standard “pin wheel” pattern, and for “stuffing” used an old blanket: humble materials for a special moment. It’s a tradition for quilters to commemorate a birth or marriage by making one, and it was an auspicious moment for Harris and her husband, the playwright Bill Harris, the beginning of a marriage that has endured for over fifty very creative years.   While maintaining an interior design practice, she kept up her chops as a quilter and, like the jazz musicians she regularly honors in her quilt designs and titles, she played her scales: scissoring, stitching, splicing, editing, and learned her art form to perfection.

Harris’ fiber pieces at the Rotunda Gallery are a retrospective of the last twenty-five years or so of her work and feature what seem to be breakthrough visions for her. After years of using traditional forms, she recently began experimenting with works inspired by such diverse sources as the African Yoruba tribe’s Egungun textiles, Japanese Boro or “patchwork” folk textiles, architectural spaces derived from such American Abstract Expressionists as painter Richard Diebenkorn (especially his “City Scapes” and “Ocean Park” series), her childhood memories, or the storied erosion of historical buildings of the city in which she grew up, all with the astonishingly inventive, constant background soundtrack of black American music. In the process, Harris has quietly become an American master in a medium nurtured and influenced by black rural culture.

Carole Harris, Textile, Straight No Chaser, 60 x 69” 2006

The early work at the Rotunda Gallery reveals her break from traditional quilt patterns and shapes and, like much of the painting of the ’80s and ’90s (by Elizabeth Murray, Kenneth Noland, Frank Stella, et al.), explores ways of sculpting and lifting three dimensions to the flat surface of an abstract painting. “Outside the Lines,” 1994, posits an irregular shape, with a broad swath of negative space, corded fabric and loosely hanging strips, to create a sense of movement suggesting Harris’ homage to a Yoruba Egungun ceremonial dance that celebrates departed elders. Despite the radical break, Harris still uses basic quilt-making components such as individually composed “squares” and elaborate stitching to give texture and amazing painterly pattern to the surface.

Carole Harris, Textile, Way Across Town, Textile, 59 x 70” 2008

There are two straight-up stunning works that employ hard-edged, geometric shapes of vibrant color balanced by coal-black negative space: “Way Across Town,” 2008, and “Straight No Chaser,” 2006, both in homage to Thelonious Monk, and that show Harris to be a daring colorist with both quilts centering a rectangle of electric purple supporting an array of oblique wedges and squares of oranges and reds. Not always a compliment, to be called a colorist sometimes implies that one is artistically not up to snuff, but this is hardly the case, as both of these works feature eye-popping geometric invention, and there’s real graphic genius operating here. With their daring, geometric slashes and exploration of architectural space, they might even reference the agitprop designs of the great Russian constructivists El Lissitsky and Rodchenko, from whom Diebenkorn, one of Harris’ honored influences, certainly learned. Throughout this visual musicality Harris keeps up an overall rhythm with a running stitch, sometimes with curving arabesques, sometimes with an angular geometric backbeat.

Carole Harris, Textile, From Before, 58 x 45 2013

Harris’ quilts from the last couple of years suggest the influence of the Japanese phenomenon of Boro patchwork clothing. Japanese peasants, especially in the 19th century, being economically challenged, would patch their clothing with remnants of old, worn-out garments, creating a remarkably beautiful folk style of dress. Using the running stitch, sashiko, to bind the patches to the old clothing, they would create a decorative pattern. There are six works in “Bearing Witness” that use the Boro technique. “From Before,” 2013, uses a layering of remnants or swatches — one is hand-stained with a radiating pattern– that overall suggests a geographical mapping. The irregularly shaped “Other People’s Memories,’ 2016, layers found remnants of clothing in various colors and patterns and combine machine and hand stitching to create what feels like a fragment of an ancient textile.

Carole Harris, Textile, Other People’s Memories 39 x57” 2016

Likewise, three small seasonal “sketches” — “Spring Ascending,” 2016, “Fall Etude,” 2015, and “Winter Etude” 2015 — combine stained remnants, machine and hand stitching, burnt holes, and hand-stitched florets, to image topographical maps that indeed, in their lyrical beauty, echo Chopin’s Etudes themselves.

The last piece to come out of Harris’ studio just for the exhibition was indeed the title work.

“Bearing Witness” is a tour de force of contemporary image making. It amalgamates not only Harris’s quilt-making magic with the disparate influences of her far-reaching eye, but is a profoundly rich metaphor for the deep struggle of living, of the balancing of life’s experiences, of listening and watching and caring for the world. This sublimely visual layering of color, shape, and line is not only an act of art but — what resonates through in this process of layering the fabric of life by hand— is an act of deep caring. The title “Bearing Witness” is thus not misplaced on Carole Harris’ practice as a whole.

Carole Harris, Bearing Witness, Textiles, 42 x53” 2017

“Bearing Witness” continues at the Rotunda Gallery through August 23

U-M North Campus Research Complex, 2800 Plymouth Road, Building 18, Ann Arbor, MI 48109

McArthur Binion Curates @ Hill Gallery

Installation image, McArthur Binion Cruates @Hill Gallery, 2018

Hill Gallery in Birmingham, Michigan, opened a group exhibition curated by McArthur Binion on May 4, 2018, representing five Detroit-based artists.

Although Binion and I were at Wayne State University in the early 70s, I was not very familiar with his work until I saw his exhibition last July representing the United States at the 2017 Venice Biennale. It was a powerful exhibition, and like many successful artists that fit the modernist profile, Binion makes work that is a study in oppositions: line and shape, figure and ground, image and abstraction, copy and original, color and black & white. His modus operandi is to somehow magically blend an assault of binaries into a single, unified emblem of the unique and complicated self. Although the laconic grids resonate with this viewer, I walked out of the exhibit thinking about the influence of the cross-hatch marks by Jasper Johns.

After earning his BFA from Wayne State University, Binion went on to complete his MFA at Cranbrook Academy of Art and became a professor of art at Columbia College since 1992. He describes his minimalistic abstract paintings as “Rural Modernist.”  Is he referring to being born on a cotton farm in Macon, Mississippi where he was exposed to the West African textile designs in his mother’s quilts? Possibly.

Allie McGhee, Step’n Off, Mixed Media, 36 x 24″, 1990

I have written before in the Detroit Art Review about the veteran Detroit artist, Allie McGhee, when he exhibited at Detroit’s  N’Namdi Contemporary Art in April of 2016, where he had a large solo exhibition, Now & Then, alongside work by Carol Harris, also in this Hill exhibition.  McGhee’s exhibition was majestic in the way he elevated shape, form and color with mixed media on paper and the works on canvas.  In my previous review,  I described McGhee as, “A Detroiter who attended Cass Technical High School and completed his undergraduate work at Eastern Michigan University in 1965, but he was born in Charleston, West Virginia.” McGhee describes his influences like so: “As an artist I have always been inspired by the diverse rhythms of our environment,” he says. “It has been a great reserve of energy for my work. In my recent works instead of seeing the natural world as a rational observer, I see if from within as if through a telescope or microscope.”

Throughout the evening, I kept returning to his mixed media work, Step’n Off  because it just kept growing on me.  The composition leads the way on this vertical abstract expressionistic painting with a strong unconventional structure created by the use of space, shape and color.  The under-painting, with accents of primary color, provides a kind of intuitive support for the overall painting. The only reference to something vaguely representational is a small ladder, an icon that suggests a climb and the thin solid rectangle that repeats itself. McGhee says he favors using sticks to apply paint rather than brushes. Rejecting the brush, he pulls and scrapes the paint across his material, whether it is canvas or paper. The action of the stick allows McGhee’s hands to interact with the paint and the surface in a visceral way, where the thin paint spatters as he arranges this lathe-like construction. Viewers might subconsciously ask themselves, Would I like to have this painting in my living space?  My answer is, overwhelmingly, absolutely

Carole Harris, Time and Again, Textiles, 37 x 43″, 2018

The first thing that jumps out from the work of Carole Harris is her choice of medium.   When I wrote about her work in April, 2016, I described it like this: “For visual artists who quilt, Harris’s work transcends the traditional expectations we think of when mentioning quilting. In a web-based reproduction, we see an abstract painting, dynamic in the use of color, line, shape and form. It’s only on closer observation that one realizes these are compositions executed using embroidery, stitchery and multiple patterns of cotton, silks and hand-dyed fabric.”  In this viewer’s experience, especially in the Detroit area, this artist leads the way in creating abstraction using a large variety of cloth materials and stitchery.

Harris says , “My work relies on improvisation. I am fascinated by the rhythms and energy created when I cut and piece multiple patterns. I let the fabric and color lead me on a rhythmic journey. My intention is to celebrate the beauty in the frayed, the decaying and the repaired. I want to capture the patina of color softened by time, as well as feature the nicks, scratches, scars and other marks left by nature or humans.”

Glen Mannisto wrote for the Detroit Art Review about Carole Harris’s solo exhibition at UofM NCRC Rotunda Gallery,  “As a child growing up in Detroit, Harris was taught embroidery and stitching by her mother, and, being “height challenged” and quite petite, she learned to make her own clothes so they would fit properly. In high school at Cass Tech she studied music and science before settling on art, and, after graduating from college in 1966, she began an interior design practice that she maintained until recently.”

Addie Langford, Mint/Red/Oso, Acrylic and Domestic Textile on Board, 2018

Langford’s large, abstract expressionistic painting, Mint / Red / Osois is acrylic paint over domestic textile on board. The stroke work reminds this viewer of a cross between Sean Scully and Franz Kline with textiles as a backdrop. The diptych is powerful in its structure, execution and attraction to the vertical flow of dripping paint.  Langford earned her BFA in architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design and her MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art. I became familiar with Langford’s work when she exhibited a solo show at the Simon DeSousa gallery with these semi-transparent white bars and controlled vertical drips of paint. One wonders what four years of architecture study does to an artist who wants to make things with her hands in a rigorous process of trial and error. On her web site she mentions McArthur Binion as an influence, and this writer notices some of her earlier work came from N’Namdi Contemporary Gallery in Miami.

James Franklin, Untitled, Acrylic, Epoxy, Aluminum, and Sealed Rigid Wrap on Foam, 23 x 25″, 2018

Part of the Binion show is another artist earning his MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art, James Benjamin Franklin.  Currently living and working in Detroit, Franklin was recently in a group show at the Galerie Camille in midtown Detroit, and a solo show at Reyes Projects in downtown Birmingham.  His small work, Untitled is acrylic, epoxy and aluminum, sealed in a rigid wrap on foam and typical of his recent work. These works feel like naïve abstraction relying heavily on primary color and simple shapes.  Occasionally he inserts a grid or web into his form. This younger artist’s work feels early in its development.

Tiff Massey, Spring Prototype I, Steel, 39h x 39w x 14″ 2017, Image courtesy Hill Gallery

Again, Binion turns to his alma mater Cranbrook Academy of Art with work by Tiff Massey, who earned her Bachelor of Science from Eastern Michigan University, and a Master of Fine Arts in Metalsmithing at Cranbrook Academy of Arts. This early educational path in the sciences differs from other artists but seems to have migrated to metals and on from that point to various art forms.

The floor sculpture, Spring Prototype 1 is coiled steel rod, maybe half inch in diameter and reminds this viewer of playing with a slinky as a child. Most importantly this work moves beyond plain and simple as its graceful and cultivated design leaves the viewer wanting to see more.

Massey says, “My experience with jewelry became my gateway to other media, to a larger perspective, and to making large-scale sculpture, always with a consistent emphasis on adornment. What happens when the viewer becomes adorned and how does the environment facilitate that transition from the unadorned to the adorned? How does the context and placement of an object influence an individual’s perception of self? The work first seduces the viewer, creating a desire to take, touch, and activate.  Once activated the pieces immediately create a sense of confidence in the wearer, producing an increased desire to show off and be seen.  Whether it is a sculpture on a wall, an object set in an outdoor landscape, or jewelry worn by the viewer, my work maintains an engagement of the body itself.”

The Hill Gallery opened its doors in Birmingham, Michigan in 1980 and has offered contemporary art representing sixty artists, both nationally and internationally recognized, along with an exceptional American Folk Art collection.

McArthur Binion Curates @  Hill Gallery runs through June 16, 2018

New Work, NYC @ MET, Whitney Biennial, The Shed

Installation image, Say It Loud, Image courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC, 2019

 

When I experienced the Say It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City it reminded me of the Art of the Motorcycle exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in 1998 and more  recently at the Detroit Institute of Arts with the Star Wars and the Power of Costume exhibition 2018.  These exhibitions speak to a broad interpretation of what belongs in an institutional art museum and I think the broader, the better. The ever expanding role of our art museums provides the viewers with opportunities never before possible. The Say it Loud exhibition was literally packed on a hot weekday afternoon, with young people of all ages (notably young men) and included families of all sizes.

This exhibition was the first dedicated to the iconic instruments of rock and roll that opened April 8, 2019. Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll is co-organized by Jayson Kerr Dobney, Frederick P. Rose, Curator in Charge of the Department of Musical Instruments at The Met, and Craig J. Inciardi, Curator and Director of Acquisitions of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

General atmosphere at the opening reception for “Play It Loud: Instruments Of Rock & Roll” exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on April 01, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images)

Through more than 130 instruments dating from 1939 to 2017—played by artists such as Chuck Berry, Eric Clapton, Sheryl Crow, Bob Dylan, Don Felder, Lady Gaga, Kim Gordon, George Harrison, Jimi Hendrix, James Hetfield, Wanda Jackson, Joan Jett, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Steve Miller, Joni Mitchell, Jimmy Page, Kate Pierson, Elvis Presley, Prince, Keith Richards, Patti Smith, Bruce Springsteen, Ringo Starr, Eddie Van Halen, St. Vincent, Tina Weymouth, Nancy Wilson, and others—Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll explores one of the most influential artistic movements of the 20th century and the objects that made the music possible.

Chuck Berry, Musician, B&W Image, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

The exhibition includes an array of videos where famous artists talk to the audience and perform popular sections of hit songs from the 60s, 70s, and 90s where Chuck Berry’s electric guitar ES-35OT (1957) his primary guitar from 1957 was used to record “Johnny B. Goode.”  Jayson Kerr Dobney and Frederick P. Rose, Curators in Charge of the Department of Musical Instruments, commented: “Instruments are some of the most personal objects connected to musicians, but as audience members we are primarily used to seeing them from far away, up on a stage in performance. This exhibition will provide a rare opportunity to examine some of rock and roll’s most iconic objects up close.”

Up close is Lady Gaga’s custom-designed piano, which she used in her performance of “ARTPOP” on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon in 2014; Steve Miller’s electric guitar that was painted with psychedelic designs by artist Bob Cantrell by 1973; Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Number One” composite Stratocaster, which was his main instrument throughout his career;

Keith Richards’s  guitar known to have been used when the Rolling Stones appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1966 and later hand-painted by Richards; and Jimmy Page’s dragon-embroidered costume (Los Angeles, 1975)—the elaborately hand-embroidered suit took over a year to complete and Page wore it during Led Zeppelin’s live performances from 1975 to 1977.

Keith Richards’s  guitar known to have been used when the Rolling Stones appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1966 and later hand-painted

 

In case you did not know, the Gibson Guitar Corporation has its home in Kalamazoo, Michigan and shown here, painted by Keith Richards. Les Paul Custom electric guitar, 1957; painted 1968.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is home to one of the world’s most diverse and important collections of musical instruments. With over 5,000 examples from six continents, it is unsurpassed in its scope and includes instruments from nearly all cultures and eras. This exhibition will travel to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in November, 2019.

The exhibition is made possible by the John Pritzker Family Fund, the Estate of Ralph L. Riehle, the William Randolph Hearst Foundation, Diane Carol Brandt, the Paul L. Wattis Foundation, Kenneth and Anna Zankel, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

 

The Whitney Biennial 2019

Installation image, Eric Mack, Proposition for Wet Gee’s Bend & Quilts fo replace the American Flag. Whitney Biennal 2019

 

Time flies, as it was just two years ago I wrote about four Detroit artists in the 2017 Whitney Biennial, and here we are two years later with Sam Green and his live documentary who now lives in NYC, and Matthew Angelo Harrison and his grouping of spear-like objects made of resin, who currently lives and has a studio in Detroit. One can’t help notice the differences. This year the content reflects an undeniably intense and polarized time in the country, as demonstrated in Eric Mack’s version of a replacement of the American Flag in this installation image.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wCxSwDWJ8_Y

Matthew Angelo Harrison and his grouping of spear-like objects made of resin, Whitney Biennal 2019

 

The Whitney Biennial is an unmissable event for anyone interested in finding out what’s happening in art today. Curators Jane Panetta and Rujeko Hockley have been visiting artists over the past year in search of the most important and relevant work. Featuring seventy-five artists and collectives working in painting, sculpture, installation, film and video, photography, performance, and sound, the 2019 Biennial takes the pulse of the contemporary artistic moment. Introduced by the Museum’s founder Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney in 1932, the Biennial is the longest-running exhibition in the country to chart the latest developments in American art. Here are a few picks from the show comprised of 75 artists.

Jennifer Packer, Untitled, Oil on Canvas, 2019 Whitney Biennal 2019

 

Jennifer Packer creates expressionist portraits, interior scenes, and still lifes that suggest a casual intimacy. Packer views her works as the result of an authentic encounter and exchange. The models for her portraits—commonly friends or family members—are relaxed and seemingly unaware of the artist’s or viewer’s gaze.

Packer’s paintings are rendered in loose line and brush stroke using a limited color palette, often to the extent that her subject merges with or retreats into the background. Suggesting an emotional and psychological depth, her work is enigmatic, avoiding a straightforward reading. “I think about images that resist, that attempt to retain their secrets or maintain their composure, that put you to work,” she explains. “I hope to make works that suggest how dynamic and complex our lives and relationships really are.”

Born in 1984 in Philadelphia, Jennifer Packer earned her BFA from the Tyler University School of Art at Temple University in 2007, and her MFA from Yale University School of Art in 2012. She was the 2012-2013 Artist-in-Residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem, and a Visual Arts Fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA. Packer currently lives and works in New York and is an assistant professor in the painting department at Rhode Island School of Design..

Robert Bittenbender, Sister Carrie, Steel, wire, glass, wood, miscellaneous hardware, 2017

 

Robert Bittenbender constructs dense reliefs using traditional art materials such as paint and graphite, but also includes cheap found objects. Each individual element has been meticulously incorporated into the whole.  The overall effect is one of improvisation. Bittenbender treats everything as a potential source of inspiration, so that a wire hanger carries as much potential as paint. His assemblage aesthetic suggests the influence of an artist who came to prominence in the 1960s, including Bruce Conner and Lee Bontecou, both of whom used refuse and rubbish in three-dimensional works that hang on the wall and protrude; not so different from the Detroit Artist, Gordon Newton in 1971. Bittenbender earned his BFA from Cooper Union.

Keegan Monaghan,  Outside, Oil on Canvas, 2019  Image courtesy of DAR

 

With his tactile, heavily worked surfaces and emphasis on subjective points of view, this painting by Monaghan delivers an aspect of Impressionist painting. Monaghan employs visual tricks to make small items appear disproportionately large, skewing the perspective. Keegan Monaghan is a young artist who was born in 1986. His work plays on a sense of inclusion and exclusion, positioning the viewer as a voyeur peering at a scene through a peephole.  It is not always clear in Monaghan’s work whether the viewer is looking out or looking in, excluded or implicated. The work was featured in several exhibitions at key galleries and museums, including the Whitney Museum of American Art and the James Fuentes.

Tomashi Jackson, Hometown Buffet – Two Blues, 2019

 

Tomashi Jackson’s deeply layered abstractions feature found materials, paper bags, food wrappers, vinyl insulation strips, and storefront awnings – many of them with specific autobiographical references.  Jackson’ wide-raging sources also intersect with art-historical, legal and social histories, often using color materially to encourage meditations on painful subjects.  Her three paintings on view focus on housing displacement in New York City by exploring parallels between the history of Seneca Village – which was founded in Manhattan in 1825 by free Black laborers and razed in 1857 to make way for Central Park.  The city’s current government program designed to seize paid-for properties in rapidly gentrifying communities across the city, regardless of mortgage status. Jackson creates dynamic passages of clashing complementary hues and lights her surfaces to resemble stained glass. Tomashi Jackson was born in Houston, TX, and lives and works in New York City.  She earned her MFA from Yale School of Art in 2016 and is an adjunct professor at The Cooper Union. http://tomashijackson.com/

There was an unusual event that occurred at the Whitney Biennal this year when  eight artists asked the Whitney Museum of American Art to remove their works from this year’s Biennial, citing what they describe as the museum’s lack of response to calls for the resignation of a board member with ties to the sale of military supplies, including tear gas.  Warren B. Kanders, the vice chair of the Whitney Museum in New York, said that he will resign from his position after more than half a year of protests against his ownership of Safariland, a company that produces tear-gas canisters and other supplies used by the military and law enforcement. The news was first reported by the New York Times.

A protest at the Whitney in May over a trustee, Warren B. Kanders, the owner of a company that produces military supplies, including tear gas. Credit: Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

There is an old saying; “There is no such thing as bad publicity.”

The 2019 Whitney Biennial is organized by Jane Panetta, associate curator, and Rujeko Hockley, assistant curator, with Ramsay Kolber, curatorial project assistant.

 

NYC, The Shed @ Brooklyn Yards

Installation, The Shed, Open Call 2 signage, 2019

 

In New York City, Hudson Yards’ the new museum, The Shed,  has dedicated a portion of its space and energy to supporting emerging artists in NYC through its Open Call program. More than 900 artists submitted proposals to be included, and 52 from various disciplines have been selected for the Open Call inaugural season. The artists represented receive funding, resources and support to exhibit their works in one of The Shed’s spaces. The Shed convened six different panels of outside experts to find the talent for “Open Call.” According to Tamara McCaw, the chief civic program officer, “We’re always thinking about what it means to be a civic institution, and located on city-owned land”—in other words, The Shed has taken on the responsibility of representing all of New York.

Early concept illustration of The Shed at Brooklyn Yards, 2018

 

Construction on The Shed started in 2015, using a design from lead architect Diller Scofidio + Renfro and collaborating architect Rockwell Group. The Shed features several architectural features, including a retractable shell that creates a space, named The McCourt, for large-scale performances, installations and events. Senior curator Emma Enderby points out that the exhibition will be a noteworthy complement to the concurrent Biennial, with its more established artists. “Our approach is completely grassroots,” she says, noting that they did everything from post on LinkedIn to contacting the Asian American Arts Alliance to tap into unheralded talent.

Hugh Hayden,  Hedges, 2019. Sculpted wood, lumber, hardware, mirror, carpet. Photo: Stan Narten.

 

Hayden’s sculptural installation Hedges is situated inside three mirrored walls to create the illusion of an infinite row of houses.  Hayden says in his statement, “I conflate an idyllic suburban house with a bird’s nest and challenges the illusion of social and economic inclusivity in the context of the American Dream.” Hayden lives in Harlem and works in the Bronx. He creates sculptures primarily in wood in addition to hosting culinary installations. His work explores ideas of belonging to a social landscape through a lens of camouflage and natural materials.

Hugh Hayden was born in Dallas, Texas in 1983 and lives and works in New York City. He earned an MFA from Columbia University and a Bachelor of Architecture from Cornell University.  https://hughhayden.com/

Gabriela Corretjer-Contreras, Llevatelo To’ No Me Deje Na, 2019. Mixed media: textiles, fabric, fiber, found objects. Photo: Courtesy of DAR

 

Llevatelo To’ No Me Deje Na is an interactive installation set in the bedroom of Nena Corretjer-Contreras’s alter ego. In her statement the artist says, “By juxtaposing the various personal experiences of performing to colonial expectations of Puerto Rican identity while living in the diaspora, the installation explores the history of invasion and exploitation of Puerto Rico. Participants can perform the role of both colonized and colonizer by trying on clothes and masks. In wearing Nena’s clothes and occupying Nena’s space, participants invade both Nena’s bedroom and identity. Through the use of clothing in the installation, memories are used to reconstruct an absent history and identity.”

Gabriela María Corretjer-Contreras is an artist living in Washington Heights, Manhattan, who works in clothing, textiles, installation and performance. Gabriela María Corretjer-Contreras was born 1995 in Puerto Rico and now is a New York-based artist who utilizes textiles and performance as a way of imagining a future for a society with an “identity crisis.” She recently earned her BFA at Parsons The New School for Design, and has begun a comprehensive body of work that encompasses different aspects of the same imaginary universe through bold colors and vibrant clashing prints. INSTAGRAM:GABBAHABBLABABBA

Analisa Bien Teachworth, The Tribute Pallet, shack-like scaffolding construction made of metal, wood, plastic and glass. 2019

 

Analisa Bien Teachworth (full disclosure, my daughter) is a digital media and installation artist from Detroit Metro,  living and working in New York City whose practice encompasses a wide range of digital and physical mediums. In her statement the artist says, “The Tribute Pallet is a multimedia installation that invites the audience into a shack-like scaffolding construction made of metal, wood, plastic and glass. At the center of the space on a table, glass jars hold candy for the audience’s consumption. This free offering of candy evokes sugar’s history as one of the most valuable commodities over past centuries, as well as its connections to the transatlantic slave trade which supported its cultivation. Three animated figures representing the ancestors are projected in the space on the interior walls and recite a hymn over a musical score. The multisensory installation explores histories and possible futures of work and labor.”

Teachworth earned her BFA from School of the Art Institute of Chicago, is part owner of 4Real, http://4real.io and works out of her studio in The Clemente, http://www.theclementecenter.org   on the lower east side of Manhattan. http://analisateachworth.net

Open Call is The Shed’s large-scale commissioning program dedicated to developing and presenting new works from artists based in New York City who have not yet received major institutional support. Panels of leaders in a wide range of disciplines—from the visual arts to digital media to theater and dance—reviewed more than 900 proposals for Open Call. They selected 52 emerging artists and collectives to receive support, space, and resources to develop their trailblazing projects at The Shed.

Organized by Tamara McCaw, Chief Civic Program Officer, Emma Enderby, Senior Curator, and Solana Chehtman, Director of Civic Programs, with Jesse Firestone, Open Call Assistant, and Alessandra Gomez, Curatorial and Program Assistant.  Audiences can view these works free of charge throughout the program through August 25, 2019.

If you are traveling to New York City this summer, these exhibitions would be good to see at these museums. The MET has other exhibitions, the Whitney Biennial 2019 has 75 artists from all parts of the United States, and The Shed is a new museum that is innovative in its design and multidisciplinary mission.

Landlord Colors: On Art, Economy, and Materiality @ Cranbrook Art Museum

Landlord Colors artists and curators: Left to Right: Elizabet Cervino, Reynier Leyva Novo, Laura Mott, Ryan Myers-Johnson, Billy Mark (in the back), Taylor Aldridge, Sterling Toles (in the back), Elizabeth Youngblood (in the front/cape), Susana Pilar, Cornelius Harris.  Photo by Sarah Blanchette

In “Landlord Colors,” Laura Mott, innovative Senior Curator of Contemporary Art and Design of the Cranbrook Museum of Art, has assembled an ambitious project that takes a look at not only some Detroit art since the 1967 “Uprising,” aka “Detroit Riots,” but situates Detroit’s art production in an international context of art scenes in similar political and economic straits. Focusing on four additional art moments– including Italy’s art provera movement of the 1960-80s; South Korea’s Dansaekhwa painting movement; Cuban art post-Soviet Union collapse, and art in Greece’s after its 2009 economic crisis– with similar political and economic crisis, Mott has, with passionate commitment curated an intellectually engaging and thoroughly researched exhibition. Focusing on the materiality of artistic production, Mott, rather than through an aesthetic lens, has abided by the principle of seeing art as cultural documents and explored them accordingly. Thus, she sees the artist’s choice of artistic materials as a complex expression of sociopolitical dynamics. To echo Marshall McLuhan the material is the meaning.

Punctuating the Cranbrook Art Museum in seemingly random order, the installation is neither chronologically nor thematically arranged but rather it seems organized by visual impact. There are stunning works throughout the exhibition, that, while they invite comparison, regardless of context, are completely remarkable in their inventive use of unusual or unique materials. One almost need not heed the didactic panels that articulate Mott’s theme as it reveals itself in every work.

Gordon Newton, “Diamond Follow,”1975, 112” x 59” x 39,” Canvas, paint, polymer resin, synthetic fabric on wood. Photo by Julie Fracker

Almost as homage to Cass Corridor artist Gordon Newton who recently passed, the first object encountered at the entrance to the exhibit, is one of his large plywood abstract drawing/reliefs. “Diamond Follow” is composed of a plywood panel, one of the most rudimentary and readily available building materials, mounted on an easel and vigorously incised, cut, gouged, punctured with a circular saw and auto-body grinder and dabbed with paint and resin and collaged with canvas and fabric. Newton was singular in his aggressive manipulation and wrangling of just about any material into a platform for an expressive image. Back-in-the-day, a nightly visit to the Cass Corridor’s Bronx Bar was de rigueur where intense conversations about art and politics often took place. On one occasion Gordie, artist Jim Chatelain and poet Dennis Teichman were having a beer there and discussing art making and Gordie expressed with much force, “Anything goes, any material, just no stories, no telling stories!” By which I always thought he meant no narrative in visual art, only the intensely focused image, fraught with emotional information, whether abstraction or figure, regardless of material. Interestingly he avoided conversational storytelling as well and only seemed to be interested in explorational and energetic exchange. That interpretation seems to hold up in most of his work.

Hong Chong-Hyun,” Untitled 72-(A),” 1972, Barbed wire on panel, 45” x 94.5.” Photo by Julie Fracker

Equally edgy and dramatic is Korean artist, Ha Chong-Hyun’s, “Untitiled 72-(A)-1,” 1972, which sees rows of barbed wire stretched across a large, flat gray panel. Minimal in effect, it is an emotionally dark, flat field that expresses no exit from Korea’s war torn moment. Like Newton’s plywood, it thrives on an inventive and semiotic play on (the cruelty) of a simple material.

Two Cuban works express a similar political anxiety, both of which reference desire and peril of escape from oppressive social and political circumstances. Commissioned for Landlord Colors, Reynier Leyva Novo’s “Untitled (Immigrants), 2019, is a huge, colorful tapestry, 16’x16,’ woven of the clothing worn by Cuban immigrants, in Cuba by “paid workers,” during their passage to the United States. The epic rag seems at once celebratory of their escape to freedom and a memorial to the loss of their homeland. As material expression of their Cuban cultural homeland of which they were apart and lost, no material could be more expressive than the clothes off of their bodies.

Installation shot with Reynier Leyva Novo, “Untitled (immigrants),” 2019, clothing, 192”x 192” Commission for Landlord Colors Photo by Paul-David Rearick

Cuban artist Yoan Capote’s astonishing mixed media painting “Island (see-escape),” 2010, is 12’x 32,’ is composed of oil paint and some 500,000 large fishhooks that quite literally suggest the dangerous journey in attempting escape across the hundred miles of the Straits of Florida, from Cuba to the United States.

Yoan Capote, “Island (see-escape),” 2010, Oil, nails, fish hooks, on jute on panel,106” x 384” x 4” Photo by Paul-David Rearick

One of the most seemingly traditional works in Landlord Colors is Cuban artist Diana Fonseca Quinones’ painting “Untitled,” seemingly a classic abstraction of energetic splotches, almost like a topographical map, of paint that in fact are chips or flakes of paint collected from derelict buildings in Havana, Cuba. Laura Mott’s description of the painting in her own energetically, exhaustive monograph sees Quinones’s project as a “portrait of the Cuban psyche itself” as well as a “record over the years of economic trial.”

Diana Fonseca Quinones, “Untitled,” from the Degradation series, 2017, Paint fragments on wood, 47.244” x 47.244.” Photo by Julie Fracker

There are sixty works spread across the museum floors and walls that explore the diversity of, mostly, non-traditional art materials, each with its own resultant form of reflection of troubled times. But Motts curatorial intervention went further and the day after the opening, a series of installations and performances, entitled “Material Detroit,” commenced: starting with Detroit poet Billy Mark’s surreal performance/installation of the raising up a flagpole of a symbolic Hoodie with twenty-five foot arms. Audience participation allowed for audience members to wear the hoodie as its arms were raised, like a parody of a military ritual, and were invited to talk about the emotional experience of wearing this emancipating hoodie. The performance will become a ritual celebration of healing and empowerment in Mark’s North end neighborhood as it will be performed daily for thirty-seven days.

Billy Marks, “Wind Participation Ritual,” (Hoodie performance), 858 Blaine Street, Unidentified participant and Billy Marks. Photo by Glen Mannisto

In the afternoon Havana-based, Afro-Cuban artist, and celebrated feminist, Susana Pilar, led a group of Detroit musicians in a magical performance at the site of the infamous Algiers Motel, 8301 Woodward Avenue, where multiple murders, with Detroit Police accusations, occurred and where the R&B group The Dramatics (“Me and Mrs. Jones”) were staying-out the Detroit uprising that night. Ceramicist and installation artist’s Anders Ruhwald’s “immersive” installation in “Unit 1: 3583 Dubois,” a charred black multi-room apartment with iconic anthropomorphic ceramic forms haunting the darkness, conjuring ghettoized nightmares was on the agenda. The day ended with a visit to still-one-more brilliant epic installation, “Bone black,” by Scott Hocking of a metaphorically messianic vision of abandoned boats, rescued by Hocking (an ongoing theme in Hocking’s work), ethereally floating in an abandoned crane warehouse on the Detroit River front.

Scott Hocking, “Bone Black,” Installation image at former Detroit crane factory with Elizabeth Youngblood, 2019. Photo by Glen Mannisto

Laura Mott, and co-curators Taylor Renee Aldridge and Ryan Myers-Johnson’s project is over-the-top outrageously, assertively and critically engaged in its obsession with Detroit’s and our fragile global history. There is a continuing schedule of amazing events into the Fall including: Kresge grant winning, hip-hop artist Sterling Toles will occupy Gordon Park (where the Detroit uprising started) in Detroit in a performance of his “Resurget Cinerbus,” a sound work based on Detroit’s Rebellion. Curator Taylor Renee Aldridge will lead a series of Discussions. Check out the website for a list of other Fall events.

From painting to sculpture to installations the Landlord Colors makes inescapable the palpable relationship between art and sociopolitical conditions and ultimately as political action. Laura Mott’s startling curatorial intervention has profound implications in further negotiations of art history. Not only did the uprising of Detroit’s black citizens against a calculous of racism create a pall of pain over the city but shows, as do all of the five sites she explored, that art in fact springs from the isolated provinces of the local and defines the global condition.

An exhaustive and beautifully produced exhibition catalogue, Landlord Colors: On Art, Economy, and Materiality, written by Laura Mott with essays and interviews by artists and curators accompanies the exhibition.

Artists in the exhibition:
Italy) Giovanni Anselmo, Pier Paolo Calzolari, Riccardo Dalisi, Lucio Fontana, Jannis Kounellis, Maria Lai, Mario Merz, Marisa Merz, Giulio Paolini, Michelangelo Pistoletto (Korea) Ha Chong-Hyun, Kwon Young-Woo, Lee Ufan, Park Hyun-Ki, Park Seo-Bo, Yun Hyong-Keun (Cuba) Belkis Ayón, Tania Bruguera, Yoan Capote, Elizabet Cerviño, Julio Llópiz-Casal, Reynier Leyva Novo, Eduardo Ponjuán, Wilfredo Prieto, Diana Fonseca Quiñones, Ezequiel O. Suárez; (Greece) Andreas Angelidakis, Dora Economou, Andreas Lolis, Panos Papadopoulos, Zoë Paul, Socratis Socratous, Kostis Velonis; (Detroit, USA) Cay Bahnmiller, Kevin Beasley, James Lee Byars, Olayami Dabls, Brenda Goodman, Tyree Guyton, Carole Harris, Matthew Angelo Harrison, Patrick Hill, Scott Hocking, Addie Langford, Kylie Lockwood, Alvin Loving, Michael Luchs, Tiff Massey, Charles McGee, Allie McGhee, Jason Murphy, Gordon Newton, Chris Schanck, and Gilda Snowden.

Artists in “Material Detroit”:
(Installations) Dabls’ MBAD African Bead Museum, Jennifer Harge, Scott Hocking, Billy Mark, Anders Ruhwald, The Fringe Society, Elizabeth Youngblood. (Performances/Events) Big Red Wall Dance Company, Susana Pilar, Michelangelo Pistoletto (Third Paradise performance and a Detroit Rebirth Forum), Sterling Toles. The project culminates with the Landlord Colors Symposium at Cranbrook Art Museum in the fall.

Landlord Colors: On Art, Economy, and Materiality  – June 22-October 6, 2019
Cranbrook Art Museum     39221 Woodward Avenue, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan