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

Ruben and Isabel Toledo: “Labor of Love” @ the Detroit Institute of Arts

Ruben Toledo, “Broomstick Librarian Shirtwaist Dresses,” 2008, Designed by Isabel Toledo, Painted by Ruben Toledo, image by DIA – William Palmer.

We normally think of industry as the machinery of the production for making a particular thing, like the steel industry, or, especially in Detroit, the auto industry, but entering the current exhibition, “A Labor of Love,” at the Detroit Institute of Arts, we are greeted by a magnificent image of twisted swirls of colors and pleats of seven dresses. This very energetic image was composed and painted by Ruben Toledo of his wife, Isabel Toledo’s dress designs for Anne Klein, one of the leaders in the Fashion Industry. It’s not a huge leap of the imagination to go from car design, with its annual turnover and retooling for the latest, sexiest, avatars of human desire, to the fashion industry and its latest adjustments of hem and neckline and introduction of the latest color to elaborate on the human body. That’s just what this famous New York husband and wife team of artist and designer did in “Labor of Love,” their investigative interventions in the encyclopedic collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Ruben and Isabel Toledo, “The Choreography of Labor,” 2018 Remaining images by DIA Eric Wheeler

Situated in the DIA’s Special Exhibitions galleries, the main thrust of their installation is an exploration of Diego Rivera’s “Detroit Industry Murals,” the heart and soul of the museum and, art lovers might say, Detroit itself. In her exploration of the collection, Isabel Toledo saw the connection in Rivera’s fresco murals between the fashion and auto industry immediately and brought them together in a large collage (Image #2) that depicts a flowing dance of her dress designs across silkscreened representation of Rivera’s painting of the factory with workers depicted engaged in car production. The darkened gallery, filled with sculpted manikins wearing formal gowns of various cultural origin, suggests a grand promenade celebrating immigration and integration of world cultures to Detroit.

Installation image of Special Exhibitions Gallery with Isabel Toledo’s first sewing machine in foreground.

There is a haunting tableau composed of Isabel Toledo’s first sewing machine wrapped in black taffeta, with ghostly gowns floating in the air above, with a quote on the wall from Isabel that offers the idea of the fashion industry and (by proximity) the auto industry, as a metaphor for the generational influence of migration and change, of death and rebirth: “The combination of ideas, time and imagination can all be triggered by fashion and how people dress, undress, expose, or cover their bodies, fashion offers the perpetual next—the never ending now, the reinvention of inventions.” It is a twist on Darwinian Evolution that goes back to LeCorbusier’s use of it to explain the evolution of design. (Incidentally Isabel’s sewing machine, in looking like a little animal, echoes Rivera’s drawing of an V-8 engine block that looks like a dog).

Diego Rivera drawing from DIA Collection

Throughout the exhibition the female body is explored as the medium of exchange for cultural expression and happily this exhibition gives us the opportunity of seeing four of Rivera’s breathtaking Detroit Industry preparatory cartoons, two of which are female figures representing the seed and fruit of the female body. Because of their fragile paper the cartoons are not displayed often.

Much of the “Labor of Love” exhibition becomes a treasure hunt. Spread throughout the museum are nine Isabel Toledo’s playful, sexy, even downright erotic designs for female adornment which are in response to particular themes and moments of the history of art arranged in the chronological galleries. It is intriguing to ferret out the connections to the specific art or gallery theme. A map is provided but, even for a seasoned museum visitor, it’s a joy to walk through the museum, with chance encounters of things that catch your eye, trying to find Isabel’s interventions. It is a clever way to break the museum’s “ideology” and cast a completely different agenda on its organization, and get the public into the galleries.

Isabel Toledo, “Synthetic Cloud,” 2018, Nylon

There are many intriguingly inventive responses and fashion interventions by the Toledos including Isabel Toledo’s design for Michele Obama’s inauguration outfit found in the American Colonial house and interesting twists on the shenanigans of the surrealists, and to Alison Saar’s “Blood/Sweat/Tears” sculpture, but the most engaging is “Synthetic Cloud.” Installed in the “minimalist” gallery and inspired, it appears mostly by Robert Irwin’s diaphanous acrylic disc, “Untitled, “ but as well by the hard-edged paintings and sculpture of Donald Judd, Sol Lewitt, Eva Hesse and Ellsworth Kelly.  Above Irwin’s chimerical disc, the most mysterious piece of art in the museum, hang eleven multicolored, nylon, tulle tutus that float like a formation of clouds high above our heads. Layer upon layer of pastel underskirts support the dancing figures that also support the rigid wire bodices of the imaginary ballerinas. Somehow echoing Irwin’s ineffable image of light and shadow, Toledo’s fantastic ballerina clouds are worth the trek.

Panoramic installation view of gallery

Isabel and Ruben Toledo: Labor of Love, Detroit Institute of Arts    –  Through July 7, 2019