Katherine Gray: (Being) in a Hotshop @ Toledo Museum of Art

Katherine Gray, Installation image, Toledo Museum of Art, 2019, all images courtesy of TMA

There’s more than meets the eye in the exhibition Katherine Gray: (Being) in a Hot Shop, hosted by the Toledo Museum of Art.  This intimate exhibition of glass art and glass-inspired art by Canadian-born artist Katherine Gray is a conceptual and immersive show that aspires to give visitors a sense of what it’s like to be in a glass studio, and it does this through touch, sight, sound, and smell.  It’s a multimedia show, but most of the works are glass, and for this exhibition the medium is the message.

Glassblowing is a multisensory experience for both artists and spectators alike, so this exhibition incorporates nearly all the senses.  Upon entering the space, viewers are welcome to touch the various glassblowing tools used by Joseph Rosenberger, a longtime veteran of Toledo’s iconic Libby Glass Company back in the 19thcentury when it was in its first iteration as New England Glass.

Nancy Callan, Paper, Sleeve, Wax, Block. Blown glass, diffusers, motion sensors, 2015. Courtesy of the Heller Gallery.

Nearby, a sculptural ensemble of four monumental glass vessels playfully subvert the nature of the bottle as a vessel of containment, and they disperse the distinct hotshop smells of steaming wood, beeswax, wet newspaper, and Kevlar, each material of which plays a small but essential role in the glassblowing process—for example, Kevlar gloves are used to transfer the completed work from the blowpipe to a special oven, which safely allows the glass to gradually cool to room temperature over the course of many days (or, depending on the size of the form, sometimes weeks and even months).  For this work, Gray collaborated with master-perfumer Kendra Hart.

Katherine Gray (Canadian, born 1965), Irridescent Aura Diptych. Iridized blown glass, 2017. Courtesy of the Heller Gallery.

Central to the glassblowing process of course is the furnace, which Gray represents in several minimalist sculptures mounted on the wall. Her Iridescent Aura Diptych comprises two squares of iridized blown glass in which viewers see a radiating sunburst of color.  The colors subtly change and pulsate as we move around the diptych, and in this work Gray abstractly visualizes the tactile sensation of working so close to blinding heat.  Similarly, the two works which comprise the ensemble This Makes Me Think of That also subtly change color when we approach.  Here, Gray takes the furnace and the glory hole (from which glassblowers collect molten glass onto their blowpipes) and reduces them into the elemental shapes of the circle and the square.

Katherine Gray, This Makes Me Think of That. Iridized blown glass, steel, 2015. Courtesy of the Heller Gallery.

This exhibition’s pièce de résistance is Gray’s glass and light installation A Rainbow Like You.  Here, Gray illuminates a glass table from below, upon which rest a veritable rainbow of glass goblets, cups, and saucers.  Their luminous reflections are cast onto the wall, where the colors merge and mingle in surprising ways, creating a brilliant and immensely satisfying symphony of color.  The glass vessels themselves are created in various historical styles, so the work is a kind of introduction to the history of glassmaking.  The magic of the installation is in Gray’s ability to take common, domestic glass forms and with them create a work of arresting beauty which even evokes the shafts of light and color we might expect to see in grand spaces like Chartres Cathedral.

Kathrine Grey, Installation image, 2019, image courtesy of TMA

After viewing this exhibit, viewers should complete the experience by wandering over to the TMA’s Glass Pavilion to actually watch glassblowers at work.  (Being) in a Hotshop can ultimately only go so far to convey the sights and smells of the real thing, after all. But Gray’s intention was certainly not to replicate hotshop in the first place, and we should be glad—the  glass furnaces blaze at about 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, after all.  In this exhibition, Gray celebrates glassmaking itself with palpable affection, and it’s abundantly clear that for her the glassmaking process is a labor of love.

Katherine Gray: (Being) in a Hotshop is on view at the Toledo Art Museum through May 12

 

 

 

UNFURLED @ Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit  

MOCAD presents Unfurled: Supports/Surfaces 1966-1976

To enter “Unfurled: Supports/Surfaces 1966-1976” is to discover a wellspring brimming with treasures and pleasures for all seasons. Filling the four walls of a cavernous, big box space, objects large and small, modest and theatrical, plain and comely, are prosaically lined up in tight formation around the perimeter of the space. In the center, jaunty banners, dyed fishing nets (one multicolored, another shaped like a portal), scrims of patterned fabric, and lengths of rope (one red, one blue) hang and dangle from the rafters.

“Unfurled: Supports/Surfaces, 1966-1976,” Installation view, Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, 2019 (All images courtesy of MOCAD and Ceysson & Benetiere; photography by Tim Johnson)

Nothing feels heavy or portentous; rather, an osmotic “lightness of being” builds as the eye and spirit bounce and rocket from object to object: a tall, naked stretcher listing against one wall, irregularly shaped fabrics and bedsheets rudely tacked to walls with nails or pushpins, constricting frames and stretched canvases nowhere in sight, a wooden pole tilted into a corner, dyed dishrags suspended from a drying rack, a crisscross arrangement of stubby logs skittering across the floor, and so on…

In a word, the art on view, in one way or another sheds de rigueur formalities of content and presentation. Fusty aesthetic tropes are deconstructed and dematerialized as bespoke ideals rip and split with invigorating impact. Such radical upheavals both in art and society at large in the mid-to-late 60s occurred not only among the loose federation of French artists who dubbed their experiments “Supports/Surfaces” but also among Arte Povera practitioners in Italy, the Mono-ha cohort in Japan, and the anti-form post-minimalists in the United States.

Of all the loose congeries of rebellious unfurlers the French cadre is perhaps the least well known, although the Mono-ha rebels also fly pretty much under the radar. Hence, the value and high voltage appeal of the “Supports/Surfaces” exhibition organized by MOCAD and curated by Wallace Whitney. Refreshingly, this survey brings to the fore fourteen countercultural artists of the far-flung 60s youthquake whose fertile experiments continue to inform the dynamics of contemporary art practice.

Louis Cane, “Cut-out Canvas,” 133 x 74 ½ in., Oil on canvas, 1974

One of the prime examples exhibited in this 2019 iteration of “Supports/Surfaces” is Louis Cane’s Cut-out Canvas of 1972. Here the color blocks of primary hues resemble an upright apparatus. The blue “legs” not only flank blocks of yellow and red, but also suggest overtones of anthropomorphic hoisting and supporting. Close up, one notes that the creases visible in the canvas reveal where the unstretched yardage is folded, unfolded, and subsequently refolded into a compact parcel for storage, transport, and reinstallation. In effect, a formal Mondrian has been nimbly informalized.

Patrick Saytour, “Deployed,” 157 ½ x 315 in., Fabric and PVC pipes, 1972

Patrick Saytour’s festive Deployed (1970), in contrast, exudes barely suppressed mobility and incipient celebration. It all but dares observers (a family, gaggle of friends, school tour group) to liberate the PVC poles, merrily dipping and swaying the brazen pink swags as they process through the museum. When not in motion Deployed, like a number of other works on displayis simply propped against the wall, and accommodatingly expands or shrinks in width depending on space available.

Louis Cane, “Wall/Floor,” 112 x 94 ½ x 84 ½ in., Oil on cut fabric, 1974

More delights, veering from transcendent to quotidian, await the spectator.  At a far remove from the entrance to the exhibition, a plush yellow installation by Cane beckons from an awkward corner.  As its title, Wall/Floor (1974) intimates, it radiates warmth from wall to floor, projecting its sun-splashed chroma across the viewer’s territory. The wall element, simply cut and left unhemmed, is almost invisibly framed by a matching length of dyed fabric, a sly play on a traditional frame. For the ultimate quotidian encounter, one discovers, in the corner opposite Cane’s luminous install, Noel Dolla’s cheeky Dyed Dishrags and Metal Drying Rack (1968). Distinction is conferred upon the humble ensemble by the realization that the process of drying kitchen rags on metal bars is not unlike hanging art on a wall.

Noel Dolla, “Dyed Dishrags and Metal Drying Rack,” 34 ½ x 25 x 11 ½ in., Dyed dishrags and metal structure, 1968

The iconic Grand Stretcher (1967) by Daniel Dezeuze, towering high above many other pieces in MOCAD’s central gallery, signals the structure/support dichotomy at the heart of the movement with terse, succinct economy. Stripped of its canvas, the bare, leaning stretcher, bereft of a painterly surface, nonetheless looms lofty and unbowed. Its stark grid, absolutely foundational to the age-old enterprise of painting, is both passe and grandiose.

Daniel Dezeuze, “Grand Stretcher,” 172 x 106 in., Wood stain on stretcher, 1967

Claude Viallat, “1970/056,” 85 ½ x 234 in., Methylene blue and acrylic on fabrics, 1970

Hanging nearby is Claude Viallat’s airborne 1970/056 from 1970. Bold in shape and broad in contour, its 19 ½ ft. width resembles the unfurled wingspan of a super-entity that is perhaps talismanic: Imagination Incarnate. Unstretched and unframed, its gusset of ruffly fabric at midpoint wittily violates the sacrosanct flatness of two dimensional art.  Shorn of the familiar trappings of pre-1970 aesthetic practice, Viallat’s 1970/056 epitomizes the unbridled freedom and irresistible laissez-faire of the art and artists in this spirited, revelatory exhibition.

“Unfurled: Supports/Surfaces 1966-1976” remains on view at MOCAD through April 21, 2019

Oscar Tuazon: Water School @ MSU Broad Museum

Rural Rockets and Rainbenders

In 1972, the pioneering architect and inventor Steve Baer created the “Zome Home,” a passive solar-powered house that allowed him to live completely off the grid.  Wildly inventive, the angular, dome-shaped structure looks like something that might exist in the Star Wars universe.  Dispersing his ideas through publications like Dome Cookbook, Baer garnered a small but devoted cult following of environmentally conscientious do-it-yourself amateur architects. Breathing fresh life into Baer’s ideas, California-based artist Oscar Tuazon represents the next generation of zero-waste domestic architecture.  Water School, on view at Michigan State University’s Broad Art Museum, brings together a cross-section of Tuazon’s experimental works which collectively suggest practical possibilities for more environmentally sustainable living.

Tuazon’s work has appeared in a host of major venues in America and abroad, including Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, the Whitney, the Centre Georges Pompidou, Art Basel, and the Venice Biennale.  His interactive Water Schoolat the Broad complements two other similar “schools” Tuazon created in California and Minnesota (both locations that experienced moments of water crisis: drought in California, and the Dakoda Access Pipeline in Minnesota).   The schools serve as spaces that cultivate discussion about sustainability.

Oscar Tuazon, Zome Alloy, Plywood, aluminum sheeting, and hardware, 171 x 826 1/4 x 768 7/8″ , 2016 – Courtesy the artist and Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich

The centerpiece of the exhibition is Tuazon’s Zome Alloy (2016), a full-scale plywood prototype of several rooms inspired by Baer’s signature polygonal “Zome Home” (a term coined by Baer’s friendSteve Durkee, referencing the dome shape of each module).  Here, Tuazon erected three interconnected rooms taken from the complete structure which was originally displayed at Art Basel, 2016 (the other rooms are on view in his other Water Schools).  Zome Alloy isn’t functional as an actual home, but serves as interactive sculpture/architecture.  Its rooms contain a library of books selected by Tuazon from the MSU library because, as Tuazon says, “ever school begins with a library.”  The subjects range from art and architecture to science and activism.  For the duration of the exhibition, the space will host interactive sessions, variously termed read-ins, write-ins, and speak-ins.  So while Zome Alloyis displayed as sculpture, it will also quite literally serve as an interdisciplinary school, creating space for conservation conversations to occur.

Oscar Tuazon,  Rainbender (E 3rd) Velux skylight, aluminum, steel, borosilicate glass, vinyl, Sharpie, enamel, and water – 41 x 61 x 35″, 2018  – Image Courtesy the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York

Unlike conventional solar-powered homes, Baer’s Zomes applied passive solar power, meaning that the architectural elements of the home harness solar energy without the aid of any electronics or waste-producing fuel.   For example, the south face of Baer’s home (which faced the sun most of the time) contained large window bays which held dozens of large drums filled with water, serving to cool the house by day and insulate the house at night.    Working in the same spirit, Tuazon created experimental prototypes for architectural elements that serve as examples of how we might live more efficiently.  His Rocket-Stoveis a highly efficient heating system that produces almost no smoke, and his Rainbendersare designed to capture water in regions that receive less than 15 inches of water per year.  Perhaps the most inventive architectural element is his Curtain Wall, a window comprised of two large panes of glass set within a frame (imagine a glass shadowbox); during the day, it functions as a window and lets in sunlight, but at night the space between the panes can be filled with polystyrene beads, which serve as highly effective insulation.

Oscar Tuazon, Curtain Wall, Steel, acrylic, electrical components, steel drum, loose polysterene beads, and tinted Plexiglas – 91 3/8 x 67 7/8 x 46 7/8″, 2013, Courtesy The Brant Foundation, Greenwich, Connecticut

A final room in the exhibition displays selected ephemera and publications produced by the first-generation environmentalists (Steve Baer, Buckminster Fuller, and Stewart Brand) which inspired Tuazon’s own work.  These writings include Baer’s Dome Cookbook (1969), which disseminated Baer’s ideas and encouraged a movement of do-it-yourself sustainable architecture.

The works on view in Water School might admittedly be disappointing if approached purely as aesthetic objects, though the unabashed zaniness of the Zome is undeniably visually satisfying.   But more importantly, Tuazon’s practical experimentation makes the point that zero-waste living is a real possibility.  Furthermore, his work carries an enduring relevance.  After all, in Michigan we have over 3,000 miles of freshwater coastline (more than any other state except Alaska), but issues like the Kalamazoo Oil Spill and the Flint water crisis demonstrate that water, though necessary to sustain life, is hardly something we can take for granted.

Oscar Tuazo, Water School will be at the MSU Broad Museum through August 26, 2019.

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

 

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