Rosen & Binion @ Cranbrook Art Museum

Annabeth Rosen: Fired, Broken, Gathered, Heaped and McArthur Binion: Binion/Saarinen, opens at the Cranbrook Art Museum

Annabeth Rosen: Fired, Broken, Gathered, Heaped (installation view), 2017. Photo by Gary Zvonkovic. Courtesy the artist and the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston.

McArthur Binion, Binion/Saarinen: I, 2018, oil paint stick and paper on board, Courtesy Modern Ancient Brown

Two Cranbrook MFA graduates, Annabeth Rosen (81) and McArthur Binion (73), have returned to the Cranbrook campus at the Cranbrook Art Museum (CAM) as seasoned artists with exhibitions that provide a platform to exemplify their accomplishments. The exhibition opened November 17th, 2018 and runs to March 10, 2019, easily utilizing the spacious galleries, especially the Annabeth Rosen exhibit, which is nothing less than mammoth in its scope.

I’ve written about McArthur Binion before and seen his work representing the United States at the Venice Biennale in 2017, so when this exhibition first came to my attention, I assumed Binion would be my focus.  But the exhibition of his work here at CAM is modest in comparison to the work of Rosen in both the Main and the Larson galleries.  Her work is the artist’s first major museum survey that archives more than twenty years of work. A critically acclaimed pioneer in the field of ceramics, Rosen brings a deep knowledge of the material’s history and processes to the realm of contemporary art.

Annabeth Rosen: Fired, Broken, Gathered, Heaped (installation view), 2018. Photo by Detroit Art Review.

Rosen’s work is curated by Contemporary Arts Museum of Houston’s senior curator, Valerie Oliver, and surveys two decades of her ceramic additive work that has a derivative aspect found in abstract expressionistic art. Her studies at Cranbrook under Artist in Resident Jun Kaneko encouraged her to experiment with non-functional forms and separate her work from the traditional role of ceramics as functional craft. Much of Rosen’s work is assembled with already-fired broken parts which have been reassembled, re-glazed, and ultimately re-fired, adding wet clay to the process.

Rosen says, “I work with a hammer and chisel, and I think of the fired pieces as being as fluid and malleable as wet clay.”

Annabeth Rosen, Fired and glazed ceramic, Bundle, and rubber ties.

The ceramic work is divided up into categories: Mash Ups, Bundles, Mounds and Drawings.  Some of the Mounds are bound together by wire, and others are smaller shapes (Bundles) that have been bound using rubber that might be made from a bicycle inner tube. Rosen began vertically stacking these bundles of ceramic and mounting them on a steel frame set on four wheels.  Rosen has developed an acute interest in non-functional ceramic forms as abstract expressionistic sculpture along with painterly compositions of paint on paper.

Annabeth Rosen, Paint on paper, 2014

It would be impossible to ignore the works on paper as a major force that directly relates to the ceramic work.  These compositions that are constructed with a gestural stroke are both studies and stand-alone work that underpins a philosophical and conceptual driven force behind her sense of creation.  The process in the drawing and ceramic work reveals her hand is symbiotic, where one influences the other.  Rosen seems to muster strength in her drawings as inspiration and influence for the ceramic sculpture work that follows. All the drawings, which could easily be considered paintings, are created without the consideration of color and this seems to this viewer to place the emphasis on the compositional creation of line, movement, shape and space. All the work, ceramic and on paper, is a bi-product of her internal meditations and illustrates a unique utilization and application of materials, techniques and concepts.

Annabeth Rosen, Installation view, Fired and glazed ceramic, and steel baling wire.

Annabeth Rosen studied at Alfred University (BFA) and the Cranbrook Academy of Art (MFA), and has gone on to teach at the Rhode Island School of Design, the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and the Art Institute of Chicago. Since 1997 she holds the Robert Arneson Endowed Chair at the University of California, Davis.

 

McArthur Binion, Binion/Saarinen: I, 2 – 2018, oil paint stick and paper on board, Courtesy Modern Ancient Brown

In Cranbrook Art Museum’s North Gallery, the Chicago-based artist McArthur Binion says that he had a note pinned to his wall for decades that read “Binion/Saarinen”,obviously something that came from his graduate studies at Cranbrook Academy of Art during the early 1970s. This idea is obviously generated from literally living on the campus and being surrounded by the Finnish architecture of Eliel Saarinen who immigrated to America in 1923 after the completion of the Chicago Tribune building in 1922 and who went on to be a visiting professor at the University of Michigan before developing the entire Cranbrook campus for George Booth. Perhaps it was the grids inherent in these architectural structures that made a deep impression on Binion, a Mississippi-born African American who developed his own visual language-based graphic elements, particularly circles and grids.

He says, “My work begins at the crossroads—at the intersection of bebop improvisation and Abstract Expressionism”, and at times he has described his work as rural Modernist.Binion uses oil stick, crayon and, more recently, laser-printed images to create his lushly textured and colored geometrically patterned works. The work in the Cranbrook exhibition is produced on board with small photo printed images as a background field for this tightly knit grid produced with hard pressed oil paint stick. These carefully measured grids and hand-done hatchings cover tiny images that usually have some personal meaning to the artist. In the past, the work often incorporated biographical documents, such as copies of his birth certificate or pages from his address book.

McArthur Binion, Binion/Saarinen: 2018, oil paint stick and paper on board, Courtesy Modern Ancient Brown

These new paintings use autobiographical photo imagery of both Saarinen and himself in their early thirties as a background for his delicate squared-off grid that could be easily described as minimalist abstraction from a distance.  Upon close examination, this personal element attempts to bond the two together, at least from Binion’s perspective.  In addition, the gallery space includes painting, drawings and furniture by Eliel Saarinen.

McArthur Binion’s paintings are largely symbolic and achieve an expressive resonance that defies the reductive materialism of minimalism. They are formed out of an unlikely confluence of influences, including such Modernist masters as  Piet Mondrian, and Wifredo Lam, as well as his own southern African-American heritage, reflected in his mother’s quilts and West African textiles. Persistence and discipline fortifies Binion’s practice and his succinct, richly personal compositions.

His work is included in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, D.C.

Binion/Saarinen: A McArthur Binion Project is organized by Cranbrook Art Museum and curated by Laura Mott, Senior Curator of Contemporary Art and Design.

Annabeth Rosen: Fired, Broken, Gathered, Heaped and McArthur Binion: Binion/Saarinen, at the Cranbrook Art Museum runs through March 10, 2019.

 

 

 

 

Bill Schwab @ Halsted Gallery

Detroit Photographer has a Survey Exhibition of Work at the Halsted Gallery

Installation, Bill Schwab talking at open, 2018

Photography celebrates its 180th anniversary in 2019. This art form has fascinated us from its early beginnings with its ability to record time and aide our memories of people, places and objects. Photographs are magical things, credited with the power to steal a person’s shadow and provide a mysterious interaction of silver and salt akin to alchemy. That was pre-digital era, of course.

If you are anywhere near my age (and studied art in the 1960s) you may have taken a class in photography in your college years. You may have purchased a Pentax, Cannon, or Nikon 35-millimeter single lens reflex (SLR) camera and exposed a series of rectangles that captured an image of your family, friends and possibly your pet. After loading the camera and recording images, you rolled your black-and-white Tri-X film back into its cannister, removed it in a darkroom under a mysterious red light, and developed the celluloid impressions, each producing a negative image. The negative was then placed into a photo enlarger which projected a lit image onto photo sensitive paper, usually Kodak or Afga, creating a sensation that when wiggled around in a developing solution, magically forms an image right before your eyes. Life’s moment became concentrated, condensed and captured in a split second of time.

Bill Schwab, Metropolitan, Gum over Platinum Print, Detroit 2012

The Halsted Gallery was the only photo gallery in the Detroit metro area back in the early 1970s and, as part of the gallery archive, there are letters from photographers whom Tom Halsted represented, including: Henri Cartier Bresson, Andre Kertesz, Edward Weston, Edward Steichen, Ansel Adams, Berenice Abbott, and Imogen Cunningham to name only a few. In the year 2000, the Halsted Gallery had an opening for Bill Schwab, who was then a young and emerging photographer. The exhibit included small prints made from long exposures in the early morning fog of Belle Isle, Detroit. I bought his small, beautiful 36-page book and a limited-edition signed print.

Bill Schwab, House on Dearborn Street, 30 x 40″ Pigment Ink print, 2016

Fast forward to December 1, 2018, where the Halsted Gallery, now under the ownership of Wendy Halsted Beard, has reopened in a new location and mounted an exhibition, Relative Importance, of Bill Schwab’s photography that covers his work for the past two decades, including  his more recent digital, aerial and wet plate collodion photographs. As professional and artistic photography still exists in this world of “everyone is a photographer,” Bill Schwab has endured with a prodigious reputation that many admire and he rightly deserves. Just because we all have smart phone cameras doesn’t mean we can compose, acutely observe and most importantly understand light. Circumstantial light considers not only all the properties and behaviors of natural light, but also how that light interacts with the objects around (you), transforming those objects into light-shaping tools.

Bill Schwab, Van Road Stars, 30 x 40″, Pigment Ink print, 2017

The first digital camera was created by Steven Sasson of Eastman Kodak in 1975, but the first consumer products didn’t arrive until the late 1980s and early 1990s. It wasn’t until 2010 that digital cameras were integrated into smart phones and by 2003, digital cameras out-sold film cameras. According to Info Trends, 1.2 trillion photos were taken in 2017. The technological change has had a tremendous effect on photography and photographers, but that is not to say it hasn’t been a natural advancement of capturing an image. Schwab is a good example of how photographers have embraced the new technology and used its tools as leverage to produce new kinds work. The digital image Van Road Stars, is a good example of how the manipulation of light and exposure can produce a rather engaging image, in part due to scale and incredible detail.

Bill Schawb, Mack at Lennox, Pigmented Ink Print, Detroit, 2016

What makes this Mack at Lennox image interesting has nothing to do with the recording device, but rather the sensibility to light, color and thought. You end up asking yourself how odd is that? Was it an ice cream stand or a dairy shop?  But the cow has horns making it either a he, or a she. Formal in its composition, he makes the print large, 30 x 40 inches, which adds to its strength as a photograph. And then there is the light. Where is the light source coming from?  Did he set a light up high against the darkened sky? These considerations are what set an artist apart from your average snapshot taker..

Bill Schwab, Five Trees in a Field, Pigment Ink Print, Detroit, 2016

Bill Schwab was early to take an interest in drone technology, something that most professional photographers now consider a necessary tool.  He has a series called the Human Stain, largely made up of a decade of images taken of crumbling farm houses in rural areas, but this aerial image is of five trees with low light shadows and tractor trails that become the marks of visual artists with respect to placement and composition.  It provides the viewer with a different point of view of the landscape, something that painters have been doing for hundreds of years.

Bill Schwab, Tidal Flooding – Hofn, Silver Gelatin Print, Iceland, 2015

Photography captures reality in distinct ways that were rarely available to painters.  There once was debate over whether or not photography is fine art?  I am not sure when that got answered, but the answer is clear: yes and no. If you’re photographing a still life for a garden magazine or a car for a showroom brochure, it is commercial photography.  But when you are making abstractions, as Andre Kertesz or Ernst Haas did, or capturing precious moments in time based on light and composition as Henri Bresson did, it is fine art.  The difference might be analogous to the difference between illustration and painting, although in the case of Norman Rockwell, the debate drags on, at least in some critics’ minds.

Bill Schwab, Rouge Steel, Silver Gelatin Print, 1994

Beginning at an early age, Bill Schwab developed an interest in photography with his Kodak Brownie camera and a home darkroom kit he got from his father as a gift.  Like they say, give a person a fish and it’s a meal for that day, teach him how to fish, and it’s a lifetime of meals. Photography is Bill Schwab’s life, and great photography is about the depth of feeling, not the depth of field.

Bill Schwab earned his B.F.A in photography from Central Michigan University and worked for a short while in NYC assisting commercial photographer Alen MacWeeney before traveling the world as a commercial photographer.  He has taken students of photography on workshops to Iceland, founded the Northern Light Press and coordinates the Photostock Festival yearly each June, changing and influencing photographers in his path. He has published four books on his photography, and his work is part of many museum, corporate and personal collections.

Bill Schwab, Relative Importance, at the Halsted Gallery runs through   January 30, 2019

Detroit Group Exhibition @ Oakland University Art Gallery

The Oakland University Art Gallery (OUAG) has opened an exhibition, Who Were They Then, on October 20, 2018, that puts together visual artists with ties in and around Detroit. Five artists working in different media create a biographical sketch of their work spanning back to what they might consider as early beginnings.

Morgan Barrie, Pest 1, 40 x 50″ digital archival print, 2018

Morgan Barrie photo collages are landscapes that usually include an animal, as in the example Pest 1, a 40 x 50-inch digital archive print, in which the artist places an animal on a pedestal and surrounds the subject with flowering plants native to the Midwest.  The formal arrangement and centered fox, with a solid background and this array of plants carefully placed, would seem to be an application in composition, shape, and color. Needless to say, all of these elements are brought into a digital environment, carefully placed, where the light varies slightly.  There are five of these vertical compositions, each with an animal at the center: a dog, a fawn and a cat.    Her work in Re: Formation, at 600 Jefferson Avenue, Toledo, Ohio where she places a female figure in the landscape with floating Plasticene bags in Future Seasons, suggests an interest in environmental issues. In fact, she has created a body of work dominated by these bags set against clean water and open sky as subjects.

She says in her statement, “I view landscapes as teeming with millions of constantly changing factors…I like to have sections of the frame that are overwhelming to capture that idea.  All my work is a way to have a dialogue with my fear and confusion as I try to understand the way we as humans relate to the rest of the natural world, or rather don’t relate to it.”

Morgan Barrie earned her Bachelor of Arts in photography from Columbia College Chicago and her M.F.A in Photography from Eastern Michigan University.

Mel Rosas, Rooftop III, 6.5 x 9.75″, lithograph, 1981

 

Mel Rosas, Professor of Painting and Drawing at Wayne State University takes us way back to his lithograph Rooftop III, 1981 as a starting point for his magical realism in a landscape. There are few artists from Detroit who have had a long and successful career being represented in New York City by a major gallery.  For Mel Rosas, it was 1991 when he began his relationship with Davison Contemporary then located on 724 Fifth Avenue, and in 2014 moved to Chelsea on West 26th street.

These images over the years have shared common components.  The apparent elements are his use of a flat picture plane facing the viewer, and always an opening to space beyond, whether it’s the ocean, a sky, a room or just around a corner.  The settings are Latin American culture and ethnic identity, an influence that may come from his father’s homeland of Panama. The symbolism included on his street walls is often of graffiti, old movie posters, religious iconography, traffic signs and automobiles from the 1950s. Occasionally the figure of a man in a white suit appears in his work, as in Searching for the Romantic, where he places himself in the painting. In visual art, as in literature, it’s hard to get beyond oneself.

Mel Rosas, Gentrification, 36 x 36″ Oil on Panel, 2016

In Gentrification, Mel Rosas gives us the iconography of a Latin urban landscape with suggestions of construction and rebirth. Traditionally, he places his focus on composition, color and space with extraordinary detail to texture in this one-perspective rendition of a street scene.  Most who are friends of the artist know he has always added two numerals indicating his age at the time he executed the work.

He says in a statement, “I have developed an interest in Latin American Literature, both realism (Bolano) and magic realism (Borges, Marquez). I am fortunate to have traveled through several Latin American countries; my research is an ongoing investigation addressing questions of place, culture, and ethnic identity.”

Mel Rosas earned his Master of Fine Arts from Tyler School of Art, Temple University, and he has been a recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts Grant, Charles H. Gershenson Distinguished Faculty Award, and a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant, New York, NY, 2009.

Bryant Hillman, Honda Accord, 16 x 20″, Acrylic on Canvas, 2014

Bryant Tillman is a Detroit artist who has been painting Detroit expressionistic landscapes for over thirty-five years.  In this exhibition, he presents ten works of art, fluid representational compositions of cars, people and buildings.  These high-contrast acrylic works are probably executed in a short time, from start to finish before the acrylic dries. In his painting, Honda Accord, he paints in his shadow as he takes his image during low light.  Back in the studio, the “moment in time” gets rendered with a loose, painterly brush stroke with surfaces that grab the viewer’s attention.

He says in his statement, “Painting like a dead Frenchman, you tend to often think like one when selecting subject matter, locale, or method. Natural scenes and surroundings, like freshly manicured lawns and gardens or wildly verdant wooded areas, are not alien to Detroit.  Also, the impressionists often included subjects that are considered contemporary to that time…steamships and steam locomotives, for example. So I felt it only natural to include in my work an occasional late model car in my urban scenes.”

Selected as the Visual Arts Fellow in 2013 by Kresge Arts in Detroit, Tillman shows things as they are, and lets the viewer bring their experience to the work. With his use of long, low shadows of light and color, the viewer sees a more vibrant, fertile reality than what actually exists.  He puts a painterly face on the landscapes of Detroit.

Carole Harris, Time and Again, 43.5 x 37″, cotton, silk, linen, 2018

For this writer, what is interesting about the biographical sketch of Carole Harris is the earlier work, as in View from the Kitchen on Preston Street, from quilt/ fiber artist to abstractionist, as in Time and Again, 2018.  Having written about Harris’s work when exhibited at the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art and recently in her exhibition, Repetition, Rhythm, and Vocab, with Allie McGee, at the Detroit Institute of Arts, you see a unique path to non-representational art. Here in the OUAG exhibition, you view the 1999 piece, cluttered with improvisational polygons, triangles, rectangles and squares to the 2018 work, Time and Again, that depends more on the subtlety of stitchery, layers upon layers of cloth and color, while establishing a more distinct composition working from a dark background to a light off-set foreground.  One can trace back to pre-Reconstruction in the South, where quilts were necessities, and female artists went unrecognized for their aesthetics, but Carole Harris had her beginnings in textile work in the mid-1960s and gradually evolved to a pure abstract narrative, with original gestures, layered textures and innovative compositional ideas.

She says in her statement, “As an art student in college, I remember seeing the work of Romare Bearden as one of the first artists I can remember who depicted African American imagery, which made an impact even though, and probably because, it was abstract.”

Carole Harris earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Wayne State University and was the recipient of the 2015 Kresge Visual Art Fellowship.

Clinton Snider, The Last Winter, 42 x 84″, Oil on Panel, 2013

A familiar artist in Detroit, Clinton Snider’se work in this OUAG exhibition stands by itself in a separate corner space. His expressive post-industrial landscapes vary in both size and shape, occasionally including a figure.  In this sizeable rectangular work, Last Winter, Snider creates an eerie light that sets a mood as a low sunset casting long shadows across the snow.  It almost feels apocalyptic.  Trimmed and truncated trees surrounded by old debris speaks to a time gone by in a once thriving era, perhaps Detroit, waiting to be repurposed. The architecture in Snider’s buildings are almost always pre-world war II, reflective of an older neighborhood, and sometimes nostalgic, as in Back Forty, where the extra wide angle image plays heavily into the composition with extended shadows from objects spread out across a lush lawn.

Not many visual artists collaborate, and one collaboration that includes Clinton Snider is with fellow artist Scott Hocking. Most notably, their installation, Relics, consists of some 400 identical square boxes of Detroit’s discarded found objects and rummage, that were connected and set up as a grid in the exhibition Artists Take on Detroit at the Detroit Institute of Arts in 2001.

Snider says in a statement, “I think that simply growing up in and around a city with a post-industrial status like Detroit has had the greatest effect on my work over the years. It feels like walking through the texture and material substance of history. Still, within this crumbling of infrastructure and architecture, a spirit remained intact that manifests itself in creativity, innovation, and a tenacity of people, that changes one’s perspective on how society functions. “

Clinton Snider earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the College for Creative Studies and was represented by Susanne Hilberry gallery.

Who Were They Then was curated by Dick Goody, Professor of Art, Chair of Department of Art & Art History and Director of Oakland University Art Gallery. In recent years he has reached out to curate many new types of exhibitions that would include installations, conceptual work and leading types of experimentation by artists from all parts of the country and beyond. Here, Goody comes back to an exhibition of Detroit artists, largely made up of representational work (with the exception of Carole Harris) that survey the artists’ work over time, and in some way feels like he comes full circle.

Who Were They Then at Oakland University Art Gallery runs through November 18, 2018.

 

 

Arab & Cuban Artists @ N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art

Exhibitions, Mitli Mitlak, & Open Scene, Installation, All images courtesy of N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, and DAR

The N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art has a history of bringing art from various parts of the world to expand the exposure of cultural arts to the audiences of Detroit. This extensive exhibition is no exception.  Present is an under riding theme that rings true for many people, which is that in times of extreme tribulation, visual artist, musicians, actors, writers, and dancers endure hardships to tell stories.  There are two distinct exhibitions: Mitli Mitlak (Like You, Like Me) curated by Biba Sheikh, reflects the work of thirteen artists, many of whom are current residents of occupied territories throughout the Middle East; and Open Scene, the figurative expressionism by Manuel Lopez Oliva, one of the most recognized Cuban artists whose theatrical masquerades form the heart of his expression.

Sinan Hussein, Iraq, “Just a Concert”, Acrylic on Canvas, 63 x 85″, 2018

Part of the Iraqi Fine Arts Society and a member of the Union of Iraqi Artists, Sinan Hussein graduated from the University of Fine Arts in Bagdad. These large acrylic figurative paintings deliver a type of surrealism that is filled with whimsical characters, both human and animal that intrigue the viewer and pull them into his world.  The work, Just a Concert, could just as easily be titled Just a Wedding, where the setting is aglow with a couple standing side by side holding animals, some realistic, some contrived, with an observer to the left that is part human, part animal. These works by Hussein speak to the confusion in his world, where the uncertainty of life and the political and historical apparatus that surrounds him and his family are in flux.

Sinan Hussein, Iraq, Untitled, Acrylic on Canvas, 63 x 85″, 2017

This Untitled work presents the first-person perspective of figures in a state of limbo, in the interior of what looks to be a bathroom amongst flying surreal animal-like shapes with faces and wings. There is a noted concern for composition and color surfaces with textures and colors that keep the viewer searching for meaning. Who is to say what a profound effect in the lives of humans under such dismantled circumstances of life and survival, will produce expressions of such disjointed life.

“I hope that through this exhibition and in the future of the company Mediterranean Fire, the meaning can be of westerners or non-refugees coming to the realization that these people are not much different than them,” says Biba Sheikh. “That we have much more in common and are part of the same.”

These two paintings by Sinan Hussein, are among fifteen other artist works that include: Hani Alqam (Jordan) Thameur Mejri (Tunisia) Taghlib Oweis (Jordan), Wael Darwish (Egypt), Ahmed Nagy (Egypt), Klaudja Sulaj (Albania) Luca Paleocreassas (Greece), Manal Kortam (Lebanon), Abbas Yousif (Bahrain), Basel Uraiqat (Jordan), Mohammed al-Hawajri (Palestine), Haitham Khatib (Syria) May Murad (Palestine), and Hassan Meer (Oman).  All of these works give voice to a variety of media and themes that are dominated by the refugee experience.

Manuel Lopez Oliva, Robert le Diable, Acrylic on Canvas, 2005

The other exhibition that compliments the extensive collection of work from the middle east, is the solo work of Manuel Lopez Oliva, a Cuban artist: Open Scene,whose acrylic work on canvas mesmerizes his viewer with an allegorical collection of figurative portraits that imbue the surface with small designs of shape, line and color.  The deep and usually dark earthy background color field most often sets the stage for a variety of female motifs.

Manuel Lopez Oliva, “Ornamental Discourse” Acrylic on Canvas, 2015

The artist was present for this exhibition and described the influence of growing up in Manzanillo, Cuba, where his father conducted workshops for people who participated in the decorations of making carnival masks. He relates to me the influence of the theater on him as a young boy, caught up in the “art of acting and stage design” where symbolism would abound and dominate the magical transformation of regular people into characters of color and light. I asked the artist about the snake-like motif that dominates much of the work, and he describes the shapes coming from the head as thoughts, and from the mouth, representing language, both in the abstract.

These masks, with a refined technique, reveal a sensual utopian aesthetic and provide a formal, chromatic, ideographic and textural intensity. Working out of his house-studio, he lives in Leonor Perez district among the streets of Havana, Cuba.

Manuel Lopez Oliva, “Seduction has a Mask”, Acrylic on Canvas, 2009

Manuel Lopez Oliva is a consulting professor at the Superior Art University and Art History Faculty of Havana University.  The exhibitions Open Scene and Mitli Mitlakare now on display at the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art and run through January 5, 2019.

Michael E. Smith @ What Pipeline

What Pipeline, Exterior image, Southwest Detroit

I had heard and read about What Pipeline gallery tucked back off of Vernor Highway in Southwest Detroit, and I finally got to attend the opening of Michael E. Smith’s work there recently, September 28, 2018.  Smith, a native Detroit artist who was the recipient in the very first round of Kresge Artist Awards, earned a B.F.A from the College for Creative Studies and a M.F.A. from Yale University of Art.

What Pipeline owners Alivia Zivich and Daniel Sperry have leased the small building and renovated the space into four white walls, concrete floors and a small backroom where they have mounted more than 16 exhibits since May of 2013.

The exhibits have consisted of mostly contemporary art that is sometimes representational, like Mary Ann Aitken’s work, as well as abstract, performance, installation and conceptual work, using their four white walls and floor space with florescent ceiling bulbs. In addition, they have curated exhibitions in spaces outside their gallery, that include:  Henning Bohl at Balice Hertling, Paris, Dylan Spaysky and Mary Ann Aitken at Andrew Kreps, NYC and Bailey Scieszka at Paul Soto/Park View, LA.  When you visit their website, they have shown artists from all over, but also some Detroit artists like Bailey Scieszka, who earned her B.F.A. from Cooper Union in 2011, and got reviewed by Clayton Press of Forbes, where he says, “…where she continues to develop a truly original, almost meat-grinder blend of object and performance art that resists categorization.” They are currently in the throws of publishing a book about her work.

When I walked into What Pipeline’s single large space, all I saw was a large commercial video camera on the floor.  Behind the lens was an embedded potato. There must be more? I thought.  Turns out, that was it and a white chair with a turtle skull in the back room. (additionally, two objects that were not officially in the exhibition)

Michael E. Smith, Untitled Image courtesy of What Pipeline

Michael E. Smith, Untitled, 2018 Image courtesy of What Pipeline

I experienced the space with only the video camera off set from the middle of the room, took an image or two, and started to ponder.  The only context I could muster was Dada, sometimes referred to as Dadasim.  The movement started with European artists who found materials and abstract forms to distance themselves from the establishment and remove themselves from everyday life. The setting for Dada came into being in Zurich around 1916, and was clearly a reaction to the chaos of World War I, where the discourse in art was dominated by a rationalist philosophy from expressionistic representation, impressionism, and cubism.  It was the famous work by Marcel Duchamp, The Fountain,signed R. Mutt in 1917 that became the icon of Dada. It was the salon writer, Hugo Ball, at the Cabaret Voltaire, who began to rebel against the rationalist philosophy and encourage artists to experiment with nontraditional materials.

Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, Image Alfred Stieglitz, 1917

Could the artist be reacting to the societal scene in today’s world, with politics, violence, climate change, and sexual assaults all on the rise?  Could this be “nothing” as a grand idea where art is in rebellion?  The other option is the Conceptual art movement in which the concept or idea takes precedence over the traditional aesthetic of many forms of representational material. Not far from that would be Installation as a genre of three-dimensional works that often are site specific and defined by the space they occupy. It could be that Smith is working against traditional contemporary forces and uses bland objects as a point of departure: a way to protest.

The artist Michael E. Smith is represented by Andrew Kreps Gallery in New York City. Their description of his work goes like this:

“Michael E. Smith’s sculptures strip everyday objects down to their most minimal state. In his constructions, Smith employs materials both natural and manmade, highlighting a tension between a culture of abundance and the rapid loss of reserves. Organizing the installation of his sculptures and videos around existing architectural features, Smith builds an emotional tenor throughout the spaces of his exhibitions. Tied to their sources, the works reveal the social and economic factors involved in their making. Originating from the discarded elements of our society, they bear with them the accumulated traces of human experience, evoking simultaneously their future and their loss.”

Michael E. Smith, Untitled, 2018 Image courtesy of DAR

As in this exhibition, Smith has used chairs in several pieces, like his exhibition at Susanne Hilberry Gallery in 2014 where he attached a pipe to the side of a similar white chair and made an ear-like object from an old-fashioned leather football. The artist seems to strip everyday objects, both natural and manmade to a minimal state and proceed to build a tenor throughout the gallery space.

Michael E. Smith, Untitled

Michael E. Smith, Untitled Image courtesy of What Pipeline

In the smaller space at the back of the gallery there are some objects that are not officially part of this exhibition but interesting to this writer because they provide more information about the artist and his sensibility.  This work is sometimes simultaneously dark and comic, not to mention unclear, leaving the viewer with a lot to contemplate. And perhaps that is the point.

I think it is fair to say that Smith works with discarded and mundane objects hoping something will resonate with a certain population in search of art that is “everyday ambiguous” and challenging to the intellectual process of discernment. When spending time at an exhibition of visual art, I ask myself would I want this on the wall in my living room? The answer, with respect to the work of Michael E. Smith, is sometimes yes, and sometimes no.

What Pipeline has been involved in publishing books: Mary Ann Aitken, Black Abstract 1983-2011, Isaac Pool’s work in Light Stain, Diary of Steit, work by Veit Lauren Kurz & Stefan Tcherepnin, Pope.L Flint Water Edition, and most recently, More Heart Than Brains: The Collected Plays of Bailey Scieszka, where this publication will premiere at the Detroit Art Book Fair at Trinosophes, October 13, 12-6pm, and October 14, 12-4pm.

What Pipeline,  Michael E. Smith through November 10, 2018