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 afternoon featured a visit to Olayami Dabls’ ever growing, Phoenix-like installations that adorn a building and surrounding lots on Grand River Avenue. Composed of a magnificent series of African inspired collaged murals, ceramic and mirror mosaics that celebrate Detroit’s African-American heritage, Dabl’s 19 installations, entitiled “Iron Teaching Rocks How to Rust,” is quite simply a Detroit treasure. Dabls’ project probably illustrates the curatorial theme of artist’s material resourcefulness and invention as well as any of the artists in the entire exhibition. The inscrutable Elizabeth Youngblood, inaugurates Dabl’s new gallery space with a mercurial painting from her new series of metallic paint on mylar and paper, two textile hangings, a geometric abstract painting and a series of small black ceramic vessels. Letting the molten-like metallic paint find its sensuous resting form and the blackened clay its universal metaphoric being is Youngblood’s deft handed genius.

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

Elizabeth Youngblood @ Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center

Elizabeth Youngblood :: New Knowns :: New Work @ Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center

Elizabeth Youngblood at BBAC exhibition opening, photo courtesy of Stewart Shevin

Many years ago, Elizabeth Youngblood wrapped a tiny silver spoon in cotton swaddling. Perhaps it was exhibited in a show of her work but at the time I saw it in her studio at the vast complex now known as the Russell Industrial Center. Designed by Albert Kahn and John William Murray for J.W. Murray Mfg., his automotive sheet metal manufacturing company, the Russell Industrial Center now houses artist’s studios, small businesses and cottage industries and shops, but it was then known as “an apartment house for industry.” The irony of this tiny swaddled silver spoon having been created in an enormous automotive factory that stamped car bodies, did not escape me at the time. As a tiny conceptual sculpture, it was very moving to me. Youngblood’s mother had recently passed and we talked of her mother’s influence on her art, and I’ve often thought since then about the vulnerable swaddled teaspoon as an image of tenderness and delicate caring as well as protection against the monstrous, repetitive brutality of big industry.

Elizabeth Youngblood, “Obelisk with Window,” Paint, Mylar. 43”x 55,” 2018  –   Remaining images courtesy of  Glen Mannisto

The current Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center’s exhibition, “New Knowns :: New Work :: Elizabeth Youngblood,” is a collection of over twenty-five paintings, drawings and small sculptures. The paintings are silver paint on Mylar or paper; the sculptures are small drawings made with wire and the drawings are ink on paper. The silver paintings hark back to Youngblood’s swaddled teaspoon. Each work in the show seems to turn on the idea of swaddling or wrapping. Thick, creamy silver paint, strangely sensuous, is applied in a gesture of wrapping, as if an object is being contained, or protected by swaths of paint. The gestural swaths accumulate and become images that are abstracted, slightly askew shapes, some almost container-like, others abbreviated marks as if a beginning of something. They are forms that are on the verge of meaning, and in their gestural immediacy they deny machine reproduction, asserting the enigma of individual identity.

The shape of “Obelisk” suggests a container, something as small as a cup or as large as a nuclear power plant such as Fermi in SE Michigan which it resembles. Appearing almost logo like, its lack of symmetry proclaims its disconnect from the world of branding and independence from the commercial graphic world in which Youngblood has worked and knows well. Throughout “New Knowns::New Work,” Youngblood is always asserting the individual hand, that character of the eccentric hand. The wabi sabi of personal gesture, the imperfect and anti-engineered or anti-corporate.

Elizabeth Youngblood, “Yet Untitled,” Paint, Mylar, 44”x 54”, 2018

The larger paintings reveal that imperfection best. “Yet Untitled,” the perfect title, because it is a thing in process of becoming, with drips and vertical wrapping brush strokes, draping the illusion of becoming a vessel or a contained identity. The metallic paint seems almost primal and molten, pre-industrial and pre-corporate. To assert the connection with the very early swaddled teaspoon is “Swaddle 1,” which also is in the process of becoming and containing, with swathes of reflective paint articulating its form suggesting a tail of wrapping swaddle loosely hanging.

Many of the paintings suggest this sense of becoming or evolution, and even a sense of failure to become and an unraveling or failure of material. “Silver and Graphite 1,” beautiful in its chance patterns of curing and drying, is a composed of a mixture of graphite and metallic paint whose process of becoming has been arrested, the paint’s coagulating and dripping is remarkable in its incomplete state.

Elizabeth Youngblood, “Silver & Graphite 1,” Mixed Media, 55” x 45,” 2018

Both the “Wire Drawings” and ink drawings exhibit Youngblood’s considerable sensitivity and patient engagement, commitment and deliberate execution of line and form. The fragile wire drawings are coiled and anchored in a porcelain base and express a similar imperfection to the metallic paint paintings and are not machine coiled but seem scribbled and overlapping. While they might suggest figurative drawings, their intrigue is their specific wonky lack of balance. Yet each has a delicate presence and are read by their ever slight (animist?) difference. The same holds true for the ink drawings. Wrought like nerve endings, the inked lines almost quiver by proximity and some fail by some metaphorical disturbance of hand or mind and simply express the fragility of process.

Elizabeth Youngblood, “Six Wire Drawings,” Porcelain, wire, 2016

Some of the metallic paintings forgo the swaddling brushstrokes and simply allow the soft silvery glow of the molten-like paint to show itself by contrast. The beauty of a rough swatch of metallic paint bordered by a cloud of graphite and a line of chartreuse on the background of Mylar substrate is a wonderful invention by itself.

Elizabeth Youngblood, “+Graphite and Chartreuse,” Graphite, Mylar, 55” x 34.25,” 2019

The overall orbit of Youngblood’s “New Knowns :: New Works” describes her physical engagement with mark making, with being engaged, with touching materials and creating processes. In all of the works there is a palpable sense of her presence in the materials rather than with the spectacle. We read the visual results metaphorically but experience the work as a path, not a fully known, but “new known,” and realize that the process of seeing is a process and is continuous.

Elizabeth Youngblood, “Clare Gatto,” ink, paper, 20” x 15,” 2016

Elizabeth Youngblood, New Knowns :: New Works, Through June 6, 2019
Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center

Nancy Pletos & Henry Crissman @ Simone DeSousa Gallery

Nancy Pletos:  “Besides, I did not want to do anything but be here” and Henry Crissman at Simone DeSousa Gallery

Nancy Pletos & Henry Crissman @ Simone DeSousa Gallery Installation Image, Courtesy of DAR

 

Continuing to focus on the local art landscape, Simone DeSousa Gallery has combined Detroit history and future in two solo exhibitions in the work of Cass Corridor artist Nancy Pletos, one of the central figures of that moment in Detroit’s vibrant art scene and Henry Crissman. Crissman, like Pletos, is an innovative, multidisciplinary young artist whose ever adventurous exploration of materials and forms challenges notions of artistic production and aesthetic value.

Taken from her personal writings, the title of Pleto’s exhibition, “Besides, I did not want to do anything but be there,” encapsulates Pletos’ conception of her engagement with the personal, ever private, use of everyday materials of everyday life in her work. She gathered, and made, the bits and pieces of mirror, beads, dried flowers, even banal building materials such as Masonite and pine molding, constructing, small intriguing objects and large elaborate sculptures and complex wall sculpture/drawings. It was a modest desire and modest project that ended up as a diverse and complex engagement with artistic process and vision.

Nancy Pletos, “Yellow Spiral /Farm IV,” 1978, Wood, wooden beads, paint, glue, mirror glass, craft jewels, shellac

Her iconic works are elaborate vertical sculptures composed of thousands of wooden flower and plant petals cut on a small, manual miter box from various sized quarter-round pine molding. — each piece of molding, glued together to create flowers and plant petals. Throughout her work there is evidence of a preoccupation with mathematics and geometry and even a consideration of the role of geometry in the formation of DNA and the Genetic code. Beside the geometry of flowers her large “Yellow Spiral/Farm IV,” as well as many of her plants representations, resemble the spiral construction of the double helix chain of nucleotides that carries the genetic instruction for reproduction for all living organisms.

Nancy Pletos, “Parental Guidance (2),” 1982, Wood, mailing cardboard, found objects, paint, shellac. With “Library” in foreground.

All of Pletos’s work is a nod to either nature’s or man’s built world, of how things– whether flower, or animal, or building—fit together to compose the world. Sculptures of elaborate flowering plants, cartooned sections of wooden logs, miniature buildings and jewel-like architectural details. There is a progression from the small “occasional” objects to her elaborate sculptures and her wall collages that, like amber inclusions with entrapped insects, are filled with “found objects.” Her wall relief “Parental Guidance” is gorgeous construction of an assortment of humble objects and images embedded in a thick amber shellac that seem to compose a narrative from her life. Including children’s toys and silhouettes of heads and hands, birds and butterflies, “Parental Guidance” is, like amber inclusions of fossilized insects, a personal time capsule that composes a frozen moment into a beautifully “drawn” structure that occupies a brilliant intersection of science, mathematics, a deep passion for nature and personal memory.

Henry Crissman, “New Balance # 1 & #2,” 2019, oil paint, oil pastel, vinyl New Balance advertisement

Henry Crissman’s new work occupies the “Edition” side of the Simone DeSousa Gallery and as such seems to suggest an introduction of Crissman’s work to the DeSousa collection of artists. Two large paintings and eight ceramic works introduce us to a mix of expressionist painting and a diverse group of aggressively kitschy ceramics, including a chia-pet self-portrait (that’s a guess), a Transformer chicken/eagle and “Bust,” which is a mass of ceramic, epoxy and molten plastic bottles, all of which test the limits of material and form. Crissman suggested that painting was the ultimate model and stimulus for his work and the overall effect of his work reveals as much. He has always painted his energetically expressive ceramics with abandon.

Henry Crissman, “Bust,” 2019, plastic bottle, ceramic, epoxy.

The two paintings are painted on appropriated vinyl from New Balance athletic shoe advertisements. Other than to redact its corporate BS message by hiding or blocking it out with spectacular color, how much the ad was a prompt for the paintings marks is up for grabs. With the loose, scroll-like, vinyl hanging like an unstretched canvas, Crissman’s New Balance paintings hang comfortably like a banner, rather than with the pretension of a painting. In both there is a depiction of a head with a semi-readable text insinuated, as well as dates and numbers. In many of Crissman’s previous ceramic pieces, as in the New Balance paintings, there are messages to the viewer, phone numbers, even an invitation to call him, creating a seamless, personal aesthetic that combined with the expressionistic painting becomes a diaristic narrative. In conversation Crissman suggested that each of the ceramic works are plays on personal incidents or “stories” as well. Echoing Nancy Pletos’ exhibition title, Crissman said: “I am constantly thrilled to be in the world, to be translating my experience into objects, onto surfaces, not to fetishize but to celebrate.”

Nancy Pletos, Installation view of logs, 1975, Plywood, paint.

 

Nancy Pletos  “Besides, I did not want to do anything but be here”
and Henry Crissman at Simone DeSousa Gallery: Through May 25, 2019

Fractured Beauty: Alisa Henriquez, Andrew Krieger, Brad Howe @ David Klein Gallery

Gallery Installation and Andrew Krieger photos by R.H. Hensleigh – All others courtesy of Klein Gallery

It was an ironic surprise to discover an exhibition with such seemingly disconnected and ho-hum interests—and so painfully arty—that, at the same time, ran so deep and held up to sustained investigation. While Alisa Henriquez’s assemblages are spectacular “coats of wonder” in their amalgam of artistic gestures (cubist fragmentation, nouveau arabesques, abstract expressionistic slashes), and skillful making, yet their formal arrangement of stacked pill or capsule shapes seemed architecturally random and off-puttingly glitzy. And Andy Krieger’s cast ceramic and wood carved reliefs seemed over worked and Brad Howe’s immaculate metal sculptures seemed antiseptically inconsequential.

Brad Howe, 1 of 2 views of “The Planet is a Wild Place,”2018, Stainless steel, urethane, 13” x 19” x 7”

However, during a second visit, one of Brad Howe’s small, table-top sized sculptures emerged from the arty landscape. In the gallery window, a black semi-circle with rectangular sidebar leaned back and away, and appeared to float independently in the air. It was a visual mystery. It shouldn’t be able to do that without falling. Changing viewpoint slightly, the back side of the sculpture revealed itself slightly showing a supporting back element with a bright red edge and mocha brown triangle floating behind. Changing viewpoint even more, the black semi-circle disappeared and a red semi-circle appeared with a celadon green panel supporting it as well as the mocha brown triangle. Changing positions more and the whole sculpture flattened out into a red, black and green geometric abstraction, somewhat Ellsworth Kelley-like. Titled “The Planet is a Wild Place,” the sculpture is a tutorial in how to see with the unstated lesson to never jump to conclusions. What was nothing became something and challenging.

Brad Howe, 2 of 2 views of “The Planet is a Wild Place,”2018, Stainless steel, urethane, 13” x 19” x 7”

Each of Howe’s four small sculptures and the one large sculpture do similar work. Composed of either stainless steel or aluminum and coated in a brilliant, mixed pastel palette of flat urethane, the geometric volumes are complex puzzles, that tease perception and delight the senses. Simple geometric puzzles, Howe’s sculpture perform a complex task that challenge how and what we see.

Andrew Krieger, “Writing Wrongs: The Snake River Canyon Jump, September 8, 1974,” 2019, oil on wood form, 23 1/2” x 18” x 9”

And similarly, Andy Krieger’s, beautifully constructed, folk-art-like reliefs and dioramas, constructed of either laminated plywood or molded stoneware, slowly unfold personal or historical moments. What seemed like “over worked” craft was part of the process of remembering or memorializing. Like unknown images found in a “collectibles” booth, Krieger’s nostalgically familiar, but really unknown images, celebrate the lost part of ourselves. Sometime they appear as faded color photos that places them historically, probably to Krieger’s own youth or even to the public memory, found somewhere. They suggest archetypal memories, even primal dreams (flying, views from the sky), fantasies that never happened or things that did happen that suggest even deeper levels of meaning.

His painting “Writing Wrongs: The Snake River Canyon Jump, September 8th, 1974,” is a momentous public memory of Evel Knievel’s famed effort to “jump” the quarter mile wide canyon on his “skycycle.” Krieger seems to have internalized the popular event and recast it. The image has been slightly altered (Writing Wrongs) to show Evel Knievel on a Harley Davison, rather than the rocket-like contraption he actually used, to fit Krieger’s own fantasy “memory” of the event. It is also a wonderful aerial view of the landscape that only could be seen from a high-flying plane. In another vicarious version of the Evel Knievel’s jump, “Plywood Bike Jump,” a boy flies over a makeshift slanted plywood jump to get airborne enough to ascend over two playmates lying on the ground, like the deep canyon, beneath him. Krieger’s images are dredged from the public pool of pop culture and recast as to fit memory. It’s what we do.

Andrew Krieger, “A Brief History of Transportation,” 2019, Pressed molded stoneware with sgrafitto, black lava glaze, oil paint, 16 1/2” x 21 ½” x 6 ½”

In the main gallery, there’s four of Krieger’s stoneware reliefs on platter-like forms, with etched images, (sgraffito Italian for scratched) a classical European ceramic process of drawing on pottery or even on building walls. Each is etched with an uncanny image that confounds easy reading. In two of them a horse gallops through a working-class neighborhood (a boy hood fantasy?). In another, four rather rough looking men standing at an intersection, stare down the camera (viewer). Each of these looms out as a fragment of memory combined with fantasy. The scratched drawing and painting is elegant, and the process suggests s kind of tinkering with memory and desire. The fourth piece, “A Brief History of Transportation,” is a magnificent image of the Detroit River seen from high above the Ambassador Bridge with a thousand-foot freighter traversing the river, a huge jet going by (Air Force One?) and the Renaissance Center and Belle Isle in the distance. Beside a kind of folk elegance, the sgrafitti process suggest a tramp art-like perspective on the world, positioning the artist in a nomadic kind of relationship with history.

Alisa Henrique, “Makeover Culture Disfigured No.3,” Mixed media on wood panel, 2016, 52” x 68”

One of the most remarkable features of Alisa Henriquez’s assemblages is their complete, all over, optical assault. Her sure handed cut and paste gathering of peekaboo glimpses of everything from parts of women from media advertising—eyelashes, hands, eyes (iris and pupil), flowing images of hair and actual hair, little girls faces, breast cleavage and nipples, eyebrows, lips, body crevices, elbows, feet, toes, navels, breasts, nostril openings— to glossed advertising styling–all arranged within capsule and erotic body shapes and seamlessly inlaid amidst an array of cosmetic colors and materials, mascara and rouges and sprays, licks, sparkles and hard edges of every pretty thing–amazes. Like everyday life in America’s all over blitz on curating the female surface, Henriquez’s critical assault on that industry is relentless. Images of her work don’t do them justice. Her hand cut inlays seem laser cut and her syrupy, glistening surfaces, frightening. Interestingly there is only one male eye and a male hand (with a wedding ring), that I can find, gazing out at the empty landscape.

Alisa Henriquez, “Makeover Culture Disfigured No. 4,” 2016, Mixed media on wood panel, 39” x 19 ¾”

 

 

Fractured Beauty: Andrew Krieger, Alisa Henriquez, Brad Howe, David Klein Gallery,  Through March 23, 2019

David McMillan’s Chernobyl @ OUAG

“McMillan’s Chernobyl: An Intimation of the Way the World Would End,” at the Oakland University Art Gallery

David McMillian, Pripyat Rooftop, Inkjet Print, 23 x 30″, 1994

If you are a Detroiter, it is impossible not to find an uncanny similarity between the (de)evolution of the Ukraine city of Chernobyl after the nuclear disaster there in 1986, as photographed by Scottish born, Canadian photographer David McMillan, and the photos of demolished-by-neglect Detroit over the roughly same years. Both cities became subjects for photographers, both became, are, victims of romanticizing modern urban ruins. One was an economic disaster and the other a technological accident. Both have tour agencies that offer tours of the spectacle of the, seeming oxymoronic, modern industrial city ruins. Both have artists whose photos and sculptural works have been celebrated as significant contributions to contemporary culture and art. But most significantly, both have had profoundly detrimental effects on the people who lived there, and somehow it seems like the least significant.

David McMillan, Pripyat Rooftop, Inkjet Print, 23 x 30″ 2017.”

“McMillan’s Chernobyl: An Intimation of the Way the World Would End,” currently at Oakland University Art Gallery, is the result of McMillan’s twenty-two sojourns to Chernobyl since 1994 to photograph the heart wrenching changes over two decades in the radioactive urban landscape. It amounts to lifetime commitment.  His photographs range from capturing the rapidity of nature’s (time is nature) eroding effects on the built landscape, the infrastructure that structures everyday life and the forgotten, forlorn artifacts of everyday life itself. From his first picture of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor from a rooftop in the nearby city of Prypiat one can sense absence and desolation. A complete city with proud looking apartment buildings and roads and landscaping but not a person or automobile evident, not a clothesline with a drying towel visible. A forced abandonment. Another photo taken from the same rooftop twenty-three years later palpably reveals the built world, having lain fallow for over thirty years, being swallowed and digested by nature.

David McMillan, Hotel Room, Inkjet Print, 23 x 30, 1996.

McMillan’s are not romantic landscapes photos that aestheticize the ruins but revelational: he photographs the same site periodically to show change.  At least eight sites in the exhibition were photographed periodically to show the invasive dynamics of nature. Aside from the photo of Chernobyl from the rooftop, dramatic changes can be seen in a number of intimate spaces. In 1996 he photographed a hotel room with an elm sapling growing in the middle of the room surrounded by small plants including a couple of ferns. Eight years later he photographed it again, revealing multiple saplings thriving in the small room. Photographed again nine year later, the sapling has become a full-fledged tree with large roots reaching out across the room. Meanwhile the atmosphere (fluctuating hot and freezing, humid and dry air) has stripped the walls of paint and plaster, leaving the room an inhospitable ruin.

David McMillan, Portrait of Lenin, Inkjet Print, 25 x32, 1997.

McMillan isn’t without appreciation for the beauty of the derelict ruin and the well composed image. “Portrait of Lenin” is a beautifully decomposing school room with gorgeous scabs of paint peeling off the wall, children’s chairs upended and strewn around the room, one chair supporting a broken, abandoned doll, all watched over by a portrait of Soviet Russia’s famed leader Vladimir Lenin that sits on the floor, leaning against the wall. A subtle slant of light illuminates the room and particularly Lenin’s eye and a dark doorway in the back corner of the room balances the image.

David McMillan, Photo Studio, Inkjet Print 30 x 38″, 2016.

There are a number of interior photographs, especially in the kindergarten rooms, that in their fragmented, disintegrating state, appear as constructed collages and, pardon the painting model, even abstract paintings. In a recent visit, he photographed a “Photo Studio, 2016” with a ream of moss covered photo paper, strewn and evolving toward becoming dirt. “Floor with Slippers, 2006,” while beautiful with its toxic looking pigments and randomly dispersed shoes, has the terrifying intimation of the wearers of those various shoes having been vaporized. While they might suggest a romantic indulgence with ruins, McMillan is much more interested in exploring the processes and results of decay, its inevitability everywhere.

David McMillian, Floor with Slipper, Inkjet Print, 38 x 48″ 2006.

Yet we must abide by McMillan’s visual essay here and realize that there is a persistent optimism throughout. Everywhere we look there is a process of rebirth. McMillan focuses his camera on the ironic dispersal of berries, all kinds of fruits of bushes, as a counterpoint to decay. Rose hips (the fruit of rose bushes), blackberries, rowanberries, Mountain Ash berries, Wolfeberries, all photographed as if in competition with the chaos and the democracy of entropy.

Ironies and wry surprises abound everywhere you go in in McMillan’s Chernobyl. Photographed in 2006, “Trees and Fence” sees a galvanized fence enmeshed in a thicket of tree branches and shrubs making the fence a visual redundancy.  “Blue Slide, 2009” reveals a children’s playground slide in the middle of an overgrown area, its graceful arc mimicking the desperate new growth of neighboring trees preventing any kind of play.

McMillan’s quiet, somber meditation on the phenomenon of nuclear disaster in Chernobyl is then always close to emotional grief as well as a bemused recognition of the dynamic resolution that is nature. It seems that in the course of twenty-two visits he himself evolved toward this passive acceptance and understanding of decay and rebirth. The baroque image “Geometry Classroom, 2015” with its wire models of geometric forms and it images of famed mathematicians, such as Sophie Germain and Johannes Kepler, framed by a lyrical geometric bookcase, is the arch commentary on human endeavor. Amidst the best laid plans of geometricians, the corrosive power of time has turned the geometry classroom into a geometric molecular nightmare.

David McMillan, Geometry Classroom, Inkjet Print, 28 x 42″ 2015.

Curated by Oakland University professor of art history, Claude Baillargeon, in conjunction with the publication of McMillan’s monographGrowth and Decay: Prypiat and the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (Steidl, 2018).

“McMillan’s Chernobyl” will run through March 31, 2019 at Oakland University Art Gallery