“Doubly So” @ CCS Center Galleries

Duplicity from Without and Within: Molly Soda, Sheida Soleimani, Sofia Szamosi, and Dessislava Terzieva

Image 1 Installation Shot Doubly So

Installation Image – “Doubly So” All Images Courtesy of Clara DeGalan

“Doubly So,” an exhibition conceived and curated by Samantha ‘Banks’ Schefman of Playground Detroit, that opened last Friday at Center Galleries at Detroit’s College for Creative Studies, features four up and coming artists exploring identity within social media from a (surprisingly illusive) outside perspective. The four engage with what builds an identity in the age of social media which, essentially, comprises being constantly seen, and our conflicted desires both for privacy (another increasingly illusive phenomenon) and for maximum exposure. That frisson between a desire for and retreat from exposure is grappled with most tellingly in the work of two of the artists, Molly Soda, and Sofia Szamosi. Both primarily feature their own faces and bodies in their work in “Doubly So,” and the impression is that they are objectifying themselves in an aim to draw discourse of the exhibitionism of the female body in popular culture back into the hands of women.

Image 2 Molly Soda Mary Kate 2015 Printed Fleece Blanket 60 in x 50 in

Molly Soda – Mary Kate 2015 – Printed Fleece Blanket 60 in x 50″

This practice has been pretty widespread in women’s art since the 1970’s (Szamosi’s archive of selfies strongly reference Hannah Wilke’s photographic self-portraits in content and form, and her film “Tarred and Feathered” channels the visceral imagery of the Abjectionist movement.)

Image 3 Sofia Szamosi Tarred and Feathered 2015 Digital Print with frame 31 in x 22 in

Sofia Szamosi – Tarred and Feathered – 2015 Digital Print with frame 31 in x 22″

In “Doubly So,” Szamosi’s identity unpacking feels a bit outdated at first look- the knee-jerk response is that this argument has already been made, again and again, and is past its vital currency. However, it still possesses the power to unsettle. Moving along Szamosi’s selfie chronology, taken in photo booths between 2005 and 2015, I couldn’t tell whether I was tired of seeing her body or jealous of its beauty. This uncertain response that wells up in me pretty much every time I am confronted with such work is a clue that our relationship with depictions of the female body, even by other females, is far from liberated or resolved.

Image 4 Sofia Szamosi 10 Years of Photobooth Self Portraits detail 2005 to 2015 194 original photo booth strips 8 in x 23 ft

Sofia Szamosi – 10 Years of Photobooth Self Portraits detail 2005 to 2015 194 original photo booth strips 8 in x 23 ft

Molly Soda has gained critical acclaim for her work in and about social media, and she plays with its tropes really cleverly. Her website (mollysoda.biz) is hilarious- for a moment you truly fear you’ve stumbled onto a bit of porn-saturated malware that is going to eat your computer alive, tiny gyrating women and pixilated graphics abounding. Her work in “Doubly So” follows Szamosi’s in winking exhibitionism that seeks to subvert assumptions about the exposure of women in social media. Soda poses as various celebrities caught in paparazzi shots as they fill parking meters, climb out of cars, pause for an ill-fated moment of unselfconsciousness while wading in the ocean.

Image 5 Molly Soda Selena 2016 Printed Fleece Blanket 60 in x 50 in

Molly Soda – Selena 2016 – Printed Fleece Blanket 60 in x 50″

There is an interesting commentary here on the scorn heaped upon these women for daring to appear in public in an un-camera-ready state. The large-scale portraits are printed on fleece blankets in a nod to commemorative kitsch- and perhaps a suggestion that we draw comfort from the exposed humanity of these pop culture goddesses. But should we? Are these images not as objectifying and offensive as the idealized, photo shopped guises we are used to seeing celebrities in? Soda’s work in “Doubly So” left me with a grim suspicion that autonomy of image in social media still alludes women, and it’s a problem we are going to have to spend a few more decades thinking our way around.

Soleimani and Terzieva, by contrast, do not place their likenesses into their work in “Doubly So,” which creates a wholly different dialog with identity’s plight in social media. So much of our engagement with the online world revolves around the persona we create for ourselves there, it’s easy to forget what that world is doing outside of our identity-building enterprise, and how the signals we receive (and do not receive) from it are informing or misleading us. Terzieva’s sprawling installation of twining USB cords, false flowers, and technological baubles in various states of decay comments on the mounds of obsolescence we leave in our wake in our hunger for ever swifter, sexier, newer conduits. Her sculptures of moss-coated smartphones embedded in piles of organic material are beautiful, and could have stood on their own without the prefabricated environment installed around them, which becomes a bit distracting. Terzieva’s best sculptures have old-school magnifying glasses affixed to them, through which one sees these objects blown up into delicate terrarium-like landscapes, in which the cell phone becomes strangely monolithic, or dissolves altogether into glittering shells and pebbles.

Image 6 Dessi Terzieva Nostalgia Feels Like Deja Vu 2016 Acrylic Concrete Seaweed Wax Cell Phone Battery iPhone 8 x 7 x 3 in

Dessi Terzieva – Nostalgia Feels Like Deja Vu – 2016 Acrylic Concrete Seaweed Wax Cell Phone Battery iPhone 8 x 7 x 3″

Soleimani’s work, bright and bubbly though its surfaces are, instantly grounds this digital universe in the grimmest of real calamities. Her series of archival pigment prints, and their accompanying soft sculptures, present portraits of Iranian women who have been publicly executed for what the governing regime in Iran defines as crimes, such as defending themselves from rape. Voices of dissent under a totalitarian government are rapidly squelched- the freedom with which we share our political beliefs on Facebook, and other social media is as much taken for granted in the United States as is the objectification of women’s bodies for worship, derision, or personal affirmation. Soleimani’s work achieves ever refining tension between sensual beauty and hard-hitting political content- her elaborate collages juxtapose brilliant colors and moist glittering surfaces with dismembered body parts and visual fever dream montages of oppression, control, rebellion, and terror. Her work in “Doubly So” tones things down a bit formally, maintaining the bright palette but letting the subjects of her portraits engage the viewer more quietly and directly, with stunned but defiant gazes and wringing, desperate hands.

Image 7 Sheida Soleimani Delara 2015 Soft Sculpture

Sheida Soleimani – Delara 2015 Soft Sculpture

 

Image 8 Sheida Soleimani Sakineh 2015 Archival pigment print with frame 41 in x 28 in

Sheida Soleimani Sakineh 2015 Archival pigment print with frame 41 in x 28 in

Soleimani’s soft sculpture portraits of these doomed women call to mind a passage from Lewis H. Lapham’s preamble essay to the Spring 2016 issue of Lapham’s Quarterly, the theme of which is “Disaster.” “…( a joint venture of money and machine), the danse macabre surrounding us onscreen reduces human beings to things- broken toys, smashed dollhouse furniture… Too far removed or arriving too late on the scene, the camera doesn’t grasp the human response in the eye of the storm.” The doll-like construction of Soleimani’s sculptures evokes the loss in translation of the real horror of these women’s lives and deaths, glimpsed briefly via digital stream. As the press release for “Doubly So” is careful to note, “Though it has been an ongoing political struggle for American women to fight for gender justice and equality, it pales in comparison to the totalitarian government of Iran that will sentence one to death for speaking up against them on such social media streams as Facebook.” “Doubly So” attempts to find common ground between the struggle for autonomous identity faced by American women and the daily life-and-death struggle Iranian women must undergo, yet, as the press release cannot help but state, the former struggle simply pales when juxtaposed with the latter.

“Doubly So” is on display at Center Galleries at The College for Creative Studies March 19 through April 23, 2016

 

Cosmologies @ CCS Center Gallery

Making Inner Space of Outer Space

CCS Group Installation

Cosmologies, Installation view – All Images Courtesy of Sarah Rose Sharp

Aesthetically, the three-person show Cosmologies, which opened at the CCS Center Galleries on January 23rd and runs through the 27th of this month, reminds me very much of a Hubble telescope picture series of a formation called formation called Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula—a star-forming region. Works by New York-based painter Assunta Sera draw directly from celestial events to create abstracted landscapes—or more accurately ‘spacescapes?’—and a full wall installation of spills of glass by Kim Harty touches down onto the floor, unavoidably suggesting the Milky Way, by association. These groups of (mostly) hanging pieces provide a lovely backdrop to four freestanding sculptural works by Detroit’s own Robert Sestok, which take pride of position in the center of the gallery. Using anodized aluminum gives a refined, gold cast to Sestok’s sculptures, more usually roughly rendered in crude iron scrap material, and creates a sense of weightlessness around the crumpled aluminum pillars—large-scale balls of metal stacked into well-balanced totem poles.

Cosmo4 Sera

Assunta Sera, Fragments Near and Far, 2015, Oil on canvas

The effect is quite lovely; it is worthwhile to avail oneself of a bench that accommodates time to sit and let the space hang around the viewer. The work is not particularly confrontational, but aside from the seeming tableau of outer space, there are deeper connections at play. Sera’s rejection of the straightforward recto-linear canvas shape in favor of irregular trapezoids and indented triangles is very much in keeping with one of the foundational principles of painting in the Cass Corridor school, in which Sestok is rooted.

Cosmo5 Harty

Kim Harty, Spill, 2016, Hot cast glass and baking soda

Similarly, Harty’s consideration of spills—for each piece of the installation is a frozen puddle of milky glass, arranged into a snaking pathway across the wall and floor—is dealing with incidental moments and commonplace events. Another tenant of the Cass Corridor school was the principle of dealing with materials immediate and available, and these spills, especially with their vague allusion to bodily or cleaning fluids, are an ultimate example of omnipresent daily reality. While the interplay of concepts and aesthetics can sometimes lead to friction, these objects and paintings coexist peacefully, forming a positive ambient space. Taken on their own, or set in another context, each individual body of work could have a different set of associations, but set together, they form a seamless environment.

Cosmo3

Robert Sestok, Anodized Aluminum Sculpture – installation view

“I didn’t start out trying to make a pretty show,” says CCS curator Michelle Perron, in an interview at the Cass Cafe. “The exhibit began with a longstanding interest in Assunta Sera’s paintings, since the 1980s, when I worked at the Michigan Gallery.” An encounter with Sera at a recent CCS grad event triggered a conversation that built into the seed for a show, and a studio visit to review Sestok’s newest “fantastic” body of work brought that seed into sprout. When Harty came on as head of CCS’s glass department, Perron found a previously untapped appreciation for glass as a medium. “Normally you could not get me anywhere near it,” she said. Harty’s full-wall installation draws the whole exhibit together, bringing the show into bloom.

That this serendipitous combination of very different artists has created such lovely celestial synchronicity seems appropriate, given the show’s theme. Perron declares that she had never seen the “Pillars of Creation” before I mentioned it, and the face that a reasonable facsimile has manifested within the CCS Center Galleries seems to me evidence of a higher order in the universe. While Perron demurs to embrace such New-Age association, as a native Californian, I am entirely comfortable characterizing this group show as deeply cosmic.

http://www.collegeforcreativestudies.edu/community-outreach-and-engagement/center-galleries

 

 

Piles of Distinction @ David Klein Gallery

David-Klein-Gallery- Playground Detroit

Mitch Cope, Kari Cholnoky, Lisa Waud, and Patrick Ethen in a group exhibition

There’s a mixture of playfulness and deadly seriousness, grounded in filth and pointing to transcendence, in the current exhibitions at David Klein Gallery’s new Detroit space. Brooklyn-based Kari Cholnoky’s meaty paintings and sculptures, gathered under the brilliant title “Semi Lucid Steaks,” seek to invade the viewer’s physical and psychic space, propelled by bonkers materials like spray foam, pantyhose, synthetic hair, and Cheetos (all of which are listed with deadpan sincerity in the descriptions that accompany each work) and a mind-bending palette of fluorescent hues that could have come straight from my Trapper Keeper circa 1992.

Cholnoky_Specimen

Kari Cholnoky, Specimen 2015, Faux Fur, Insulation Board, Urethane Foam, Epoxy Putty, Synthetic Hair, Acrylic, Collage, Spaghetti 28 x 30 x 10 Inches – All Images courtesy of Clara DeGalan

Cholnoky’s palette isn’t the only oddly scholastic reference I picked up in her work. The template of art class projects- laminated odes to creative expression made with macaroni, textural, day-glo hued paint, and other materials culled from donations by suburban hoarders and civic-minded businesses- is distilled into moments of subtle, sophisticated formalism in Cholnoky’s sheer devotion to these humble, hideous materials, and her loving care in curating their mind-boggling combinations- some works seem to simmer with a low inner fire, others to ooze and swim with primordial energy.

Cholnoky_Slideshow

Kari Cholnoky, Sideshow 2015, Faux Fur, Acrylic, Collage, Urethane Foam, Epoxy Putty 52 x 60 x 6 Inches.

Moving from one piece to the next is an increasingly heady experience that ropes synesthesia in with wild visual confusion- you begin to almost smell the work. Cholnoky’s present exploration seems most fully realized in her handmade book, part of an ongoing series, which turns everything that defines “book” on its head. It is a cumbersome, overwhelming object that looks as if it would be sticky to touch, which doesn’t lessen one’s urge to touch it (a latex-gloved gallery attendant will turn its leaves for you, worse luck.)

Cholnoky_Book

Kari Cholnoky, Real Book 2015, (detail) Mixed Media, 15 x 14 x 9 Inches

The formal puzzle of Cholnoky’s materials jumps out from page after page. Grasping their meaning, and their point of entry into the psyche, might be as difficult- and seductive- as grasping the book itself.

“Totems,” Mitch Cope’s body of photographs, sculptures and documentary film, dovetails neatly with “Semi Lucid Steaks” in its focus on curated combinations of low materials- garbage, in this case- that seek to question our relationship with them. Cope’s exhibit is accompanied by a gorgeous piece of writing titled “Zen and the Art of Garbage Hunting and the Protectors of Refuse.” It describes the garbage hunter’s process of identifying “Piles of Distinction,” or garbage heaps that have drawn the protection of a totem, seen here as hilarious spirit-animal beings preserved on film via a “highly sensitive and specialized machine.”

Cope_Garbage_Totem

Mitch Cope, Garbage Totem Scrap-a-House, 2014, C-Print, 30 x 46 Inches

Once identified, these piles of distinction are transformed by yet another machine (the documentary film is taken from the machine’s point of view, so only its powerful front incisors are seen- it stacks old tires and charred furniture into imposing piles to an oddly perfect Bach soundtrack) into vertical plinths of stacked garbage assembled in honor of their original owner, “recently deceased friend and neighbor,” in hopes of attracting permanent protection to the vicinity, as well as honoring the inherent power individuals leave behind with their earthly belongings. The piece is funny, sentimental, and serious all at once, maintaining a light touch with its potentially problematic content- garbage-strewn, run down neighborhoods, excesses of objects that have outlived their owners and practical usefulness, death itself.

Accompanying “Totems” and “Semi Lucid Steaks” are a playful, sensual floral installation by Lisa Waud, the magical mind behind Hamtramck’s Flower House project, and a light installation by Patrick Ethan, who is also currently exhibiting at Playground Detroit.

Chonoky_Waud_Installation shot

Cholnoky/Waud Installation Image

Pile of Distinction Group Exhibition,  on display at David Klein Gallery’s Detroit space from February 6 through March 12, 2016.

www.dkgallery.com

Desire Bouncing @ Wasserman Projects

Three Person Exhibition – Alejandro Campins, Nancy Mitchnick, and Alex Schweder

Installation image

Installation image, Courtesy of Clara DeGalan

The warehouse-scaled galleries at Wasserman Projects are a fitting site for an evolving, and continuously intriguing, dialog about architecture that began with its grand opening show, a glittering event featuring a life-sized, polychromed modular house- a spectacular building within a building. The vast space seems barely enough, however, to contain the work of the three artists in its current, architecturally themed exhibition, “Desire Bouncing.” It’s not so much the work itself that strains the capacity of the space (in fact everything is so gracefully installed and lit that one can fully experience each work on its own) as the raw ideas, romantic (and sometimes sexual) yearnings, and visceral snippets of emotional engagement that come spilling out of the work of these three mature, accomplished artists and ricochet around in the rafters, drawing emotional investment, in turn, back from the viewer. It’s surprising to be confronted with that so immediately in a show that turns on architecture. Make no mistake, this is not some dry, conceptual survey. I need to stick “chthonian” in front of “architecture” to begin to get my head around this work.

The centerpiece of “Desire Bouncing” lurks behind a huge theatrical curtain toward the back of the space. Though you can’t see it at first, you hear it everywhere, it’s the heartbeat of the show. That feeling you’re getting that the work here is not quite what it seems, is maybe alive? Yes. The slow beat that affirms it is the soundtrack of Alex Schweder’s sculpture The Sound and the Future. Enclosed in its own cavernous, red-lit space, The Sound and the Future is a massive, inflatable cluster of rectilinear and phallic forms crafted from silver and faux fur fabric that expands and contracts as air is pumped in and out of it.

Wasserman sculpture

Alex Schweder’s – The Sound and the Future – 2016 Image Couresty of JeffSusan Cancelosi

The sound that accompanies it is a track by Underground Resistance, one of Detroit’s and, as Detroit is the birthplace of Techno, the world’s first Techno groups. Reduced to a tenth of its speed, the track sounds like a slumbering dragon’s heartbeat. Stand in front of it and spend a few (or a lot of) moments being hypnotized by the constantly shifting forms that rise and droop in desire and repose, forming vaguely architectural structures as they engorge with air, and then breath-takingly yonic mouths that gape and close as the seductive silver fabric deflates. While two other works by Schweder describe, in two and three dimensional mock-up, alternatively designed living spaces that elaborately endeavor to keep their human occupants separate at all times, The Sound and the Future suggests no specific model for living, while emphasizing connection- juxtaposing the swaying stamens of the sculpture, a “women’s urinal,” also installed by Schweder, winks in a dark corner.

Image 2

Female Urinal, Quahog, – 2001 – Vitreous china 18″ x 32″ x 26″ Image Courtesy of Clara DeGalan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is a similar dialog with romance through form, albeit a quieter one, in the work of Alejandro Campins, which come from a series exploring interiors of historic theatres in Detroit.

Image 3

Alejandro Campins -Eastown Theater, 2015 Oil on canvas 59″ x 78″ Image Courtesy of Clara DeGalan

There’s a fine balance of linear and painterly effects in Campins’s big paintings, and he gets the iconic outlines of theatrical architecture just right, combining these solemn interior forms with interesting landscape embellishments, blurring landscape and interior in a now iconic view of Detroit’s half fallen, once grand temples to culture.

Image 4

Close-up section of Eastown Theater

The paintings seem to have been smoothed over with a squeegee at the finish, both drawing the eye back to dwell on the finesse of his surfaces, and enclosing the works tidily.

Where Campins’s works are quiet, somber, and canny, Nancy Mitchnick’s group of paintings and works on paper, which are the first you see as you enter the gallery (and which take a walk-through and return to begin to properly grasp) express the desire of the theme in a very different way. As an artist who lives in Detroit while making paintings about it, Mitchnick naturally has more skin in the game, and this work is raw, unfurling, and pulsating like a wound- or, perhaps, a damp flower unfurling its petals. Mitchnick’s works depict structures, abandoned, half fallen, lapsing into neglect, patched over, mantled in snow and drenched in directionless, otherworldly light.

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Nancy Mitchnik, Framed, 2016 Oil on linen 77″ x 111″ Image Courtesy of Clara DeGalan

Mitchnick builds these skeletal structures- alternating bars of multihued wood and sky- in slabs, scrapes, flourishes and caresses of paint that lay both her innocence and her deep knowledge utterly bare, valuing neither above the other.

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Nancy Mitchnik, Close-up Section of Water Damage, 2016 Oil on linen

What she is able to channel, through an intuitive understanding of form, color and the nature of paint, is the desperate, howling human element of which these empty structures have become the symbol. This narrative slips the bonds of language and history, running parallel to each while being neither. Bypassing all traditional means of visual storytelling in the landscape genre- objectivity, language, handsome technique- Mitchnick wrings a wildly romantic, purely emotional insight about death and the fecund, unglamorous resurgence that inevitably follows it, as naturally as certain forms and grids, for reasons we cannot put into language, draw on our very souls.

Desire Bounsing – Wasserman Projects  Detroit, Michigan – February 5 through April 9, 2016

http://wassermanprojects.com

 

Carlos Rolón/Dzine @ OUAG

Oakland University Art Gallery invites the audience to an installation that includes objects and performance.

Barbershop

Carlos Rolon Dzine, Barbershop, Mixed Media & Three Channel Video 2016 All images Courtesy of the Detroit Art Review

The installation work by Carlos Rolón/Dzine at the Oakland University Art Gallery is called Commonwealth and was created by this first generation Puerto Rican artist from Chicago.

Its title makes reference to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, a self-governing unit voluntarily grouped with the United States even though it remains an independent country. A post-colonial perspective melds Rolón’s memories of his youthful Hispanic cultural that includes a diverse hybrid of carefully crafted objects, installation, and performance that inform his work.

One entire gallery space is devoted to the re-creation of a 1940’s urban Barbershop that includes wall paneling, flooring, barber’s chairs and four surrounding video panels that display the hair cutting process. Rolón says “My intention is to introduce the Barber as artist/sculptor and how the barbershop creates a home and safe-haven to allow for freedom of expression.” The site-specific installation is inspired by a photograph by Jack Delano, Barbershop in Bayamon 1941, and on the opening night, two barbers were on site to provide haircuts to attendees. My interest was piqued because of my relationship with the Puerto Rican culture after having been immersed via my marriage for forty years. The food, music, religion and way of life have been part of my life since the early 1970’s.

Fine China object

Carlos Rolon Dzine, Fine Regal China, Hand Made Porcelain, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The porcelain vase/pitcher was designed by Rolón but produced in China and replicates some of the faux objects his mother collected when he was a child. For a family steeped in religious traditions, these type of porcelain objects represented high cultural art based on objects that you might think belong to an aristocracy, as do silk flower arrangements and clocks imbedded in ceramic frames. Adding these types of objects to the exhibition recreates markers or icons within Hispanic cultural traditions. Typically, these pieces were on display in ornate wooden display cabinets along with wedding favors and family photographs, all part and parcel of the culture.

Afro Comb

Carlos Rolon Dzine, Afrocomb, High Density Urethane, Resin, Paint 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Included in the exhibition is a large and carefully crafted ‘pop art’ object, the Afro hair pic that includes a clenched fist as part of the handle, both symbols during the 1970s in urban cities. The cultural object here is used to shape hair and represent the Black Power Movement, prominent in the struggle against the establishment and a promotion of self-determination. This is yet one more part of Rolón’s installation, creating an environment that paints a picture of his early personal and cultural memories.

Vendor Cart

Carlos Rolon Dzine, Nomadic Habitat, Mixed Media & Merchandise 2016

In cities like New York or Chicago, there was a time when the vendor cart was commonplace. These carts represented all kinds of ethnic food, from hot dogs, pretzels, bagels, and blintzes to the Hispanic cart that sold tostones, empanadas, fritas and pasteles. The nomadic vending carts were located in neighborhoods where people sought a bite on the go. In his piece, Nomadic Habitat, Carlos Rolón/Dzine intentionally uses the memory of the cart to recreate a replica as a symbol of his cultural. First on exhibit in “The Potential of Spaces: The Arts Incubator helps bring the Chicago Architectural Biennial to the South Side” from the Chicago Art Institute, the piece articulates the relationship of culture to the community.

For me, writing about installation and performance art feels a little like a rubber band, causing this writer to stretch his experience to include new and emerging forms of artistic expression. Certainly there is a tradition in installation that includes British Artists Andy Moss, and Jamie Wardley, who created The Fallen, a visual display at D-Day landing on the beach of Arromanches in France, and Rain Room, by Berlin-based collective Random International where at Rice University you experience the rain without getting wet. Most recently at Art Prize 2014 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Anila Quayyum Agha’s installation Intersections, casts a delicate web of shadows by filling a room with carefully crafted patterns from a laser cut wooden cube powered by a single light source. The result was a room illuminated with lace-like geometries cast onto the surrounding walls, and like Carlos Rolón/Dzine, she says, “For me the familiarity of space visited at the Alhambra Palace, created memories of another time and place from my past.” Both artists used memory and culture to form their biographical oeuvre.

Perhaps this brings me to the role of the Oakland University Art Gallery in exposing its audience of students, faculty and community to new trends in all forms of art, free from commercial purpose. The Oakland University Art Gallery has been leading in this respect for a number of years and continues to set the bar for others. University based galleries have the financial base to support such important endeavors and play an important role in educating the community in Metro Detroit.

http://www.ouartgallery.org