Landlord Colors: On Art, Economy, and Materiality @ Cranbrook Art Museum

Landlord Colors artists and curators: Left to Right: Elizabet Cervino, Reynier Leyva Novo, Laura Mott, Ryan Myers-Johnson, Billy Mark (in the back), Taylor Aldridge, Sterling Toles (in the back), Elizabeth Youngblood (in the front/cape), Susana Pilar. Photo by Sarah Blanchette

In “Landlord Colors,” Laura Mott, innovative Senior Curator of Contemporary Art and Design of the Cranbrook Museum of Art, has assembled an ambitious project that takes a look at not only some Detroit art since the 1967 “Uprising,” aka “Detroit Riots,” but situates Detroit’s art production in an international context of art scenes in similar political and economic straits. Focusing on four additional art moments– including Italy’s art provera movement of the 1960-80s; South Korea’s Dansaekhwa painting movement; Cuban art post-Soviet Union collapse, and art in Greece’s after its 2009 economic crisis– with similar political and economic crisis, Mott has, with passionate commitment curated an intellectually engaging and thoroughly researched exhibition. Focusing on the materiality of artistic production, Mott, rather than through an aesthetic lens, has abided by the principle of seeing art as cultural documents and explored them accordingly. Thus, she sees the artist’s choice of artistic materials as a complex expression of sociopolitical dynamics. To echo Marshall McLuhan the material is the meaning.

Punctuating the Cranbrook Art Museum in seemingly random order, the installation is neither chronologically nor thematically arranged but rather it seems organized by visual impact. There are stunning works throughout the exhibition, that, while they invite comparison, regardless of context, are completely remarkable in their inventive use of unusual or unique materials. One almost need not heed the didactic panels that articulate Mott’s theme as it reveals itself in every work.

Gordon Newton, “Diamond Follow,”1975, 112” x 59” x 39,” Canvas, paint, polymer resin, synthetic fabric on wood. Photo by Julie Fracker

Almost as homage to Cass Corridor artist Gordon Newton who recently passed, the first object encountered at the entrance to the exhibit, is one of his large plywood abstract drawing/reliefs. “Diamond Follow” is composed of a plywood panel, one of the most rudimentary and readily available building materials, mounted on an easel and vigorously incised, cut, gouged, punctured with a circular saw and auto-body grinder and dabbed with paint and resin and collaged with canvas and fabric. Newton was singular in his aggressive manipulation and wrangling of just about any material into a platform for an expressive image. Back-in-the-day, a nightly visit to the Cass Corridor’s Bronx Bar was de rigueur where intense conversations about art and politics often took place. On one occasion Gordie, artist Jim Chatelain and poet Dennis Teichman were having a beer there and discussing art making and Gordie expressed with much force, “Anything goes, any material, just no stories, no telling stories!” By which I always thought he meant no narrative in visual art, only the intensely focused image, fraught with emotional information, whether abstraction or figure, regardless of material. Interestingly he avoided conversational storytelling as well and only seemed to be interested in explorational and energetic exchange. That interpretation seems to hold up in most of his work.

Hong Chong-Hyun,” Untitled 72-(A),” 1972, Barbed wire on panel, 45” x 94.5.” Photo by Julie Fracker

Equally edgy and dramatic is Korean artist, Ha Chong-Hyun’s, “Untitiled 72-(A)-1,” 1972, which sees rows of barbed wire stretched across a large, flat gray panel. Minimal in effect, it is an emotionally dark, flat field that expresses no exit from Korea’s war torn moment. Like Newton’s plywood, it thrives on an inventive and semiotic play on (the cruelty) of a simple material.

Two Cuban works express a similar political anxiety, both of which reference desire and peril of escape from oppressive social and political circumstances. Commissioned for Landlord Colors, Reynier Leyva Novo’s “Untitled (Immigrants), 2019, is a huge, colorful tapestry, 16’x16,’ woven of the clothing worn by Cuban immigrants, in Cuba by “paid workers,” during their passage to the United States. The epic rag seems at once celebratory of their escape to freedom and a memorial to the loss of their homeland. As material expression of their Cuban cultural homeland of which they were apart and lost, no material could be more expressive than the clothes off of their bodies.

Installation shot with Reynier Leyva Novo, “Untitled (immigrants),” 2019, clothing, 192”x 192” Commission for Landlord Colors Photo by Paul-David Rearick

Cuban artist Yoan Capote’s astonishing mixed media painting “Island (see-escape),” 2010, is 12’x 32,’ is composed of oil paint and some 500,000 large fishhooks that quite literally suggest the dangerous journey in attempting escape across the hundred miles of the Straits of Florida, from Cuba to the United States.

Yoan Capote, “Island (see-escape),” 2010, Oil, nails, fish hooks, on jute on panel,106” x 384” x 4” Photo by Paul-David Rearick

One of the most seemingly traditional works in Landlord Colors is Cuban artist Diana Fonseca Quinones’ painting “Untitled,” seemingly a classic abstraction of energetic splotches, almost like a topographical map, of paint that in fact are chips or flakes of paint collected from derelict buildings in Havana, Cuba. Laura Mott’s description of the painting in her own energetically, exhaustive monograph sees Quinones’s project as a “portrait of the Cuban psyche itself” as well as a “record over the years of economic trial.”

Diana Fonseca Quinones, “Untitled,” from the Degradation series, 2017, Paint fragments on wood, 47.244” x 47.244.” Photo by Julie Fracker

There are sixty works spread across the museum floors and walls that explore the diversity of, mostly, non-traditional art materials, each with its own resultant form of reflection of troubled times. But Motts curatorial intervention went further and the day after the opening, a series of installations and performances, entitled “Material Detroit,” commenced: starting with Detroit poet Billy Mark’s surreal performance/installation of the raising up a flagpole of a symbolic Hoodie with twenty-five foot arms. Audience participation allowed for audience members to wear the hoodie as its arms were raised, like a parody of a military ritual, and were invited to talk about the emotional experience of wearing this emancipating hoodie. The performance will become a ritual celebration of healing and empowerment in Mark’s North end neighborhood as it will be performed daily for thirty-seven days.

Billy Marks, “Wind Participation Ritual,” (Hoodie performance), 858 Blaine Street, Unidentified participant and Billy Marks. Photo by Glen Mannisto

In the afternoon Havana-based, Afro-Cuban artist, and celebrated feminist, Susana Pilar, led a group of Detroit musicians in a magical performance at the site of the infamous Algiers Motel, 8301 Woodward Avenue, where multiple murders, with Detroit Police accusations, occurred and where the R&B group The Dramatics (“Me and Mrs. Jones”) were staying-out the Detroit uprising that night. Ceramicist and installation artist’s Anders Ruhwald’s “immersive” installation in “Unit 1: 3583 Dubois,” a charred black multi-room apartment with iconic anthropomorphic ceramic forms haunting the darkness, conjuring ghettoized nightmares was on the agenda. The day ended with a visit to still-one-more brilliant epic installation, “Bone black,” by Scott Hocking of a metaphorically messianic vision of abandoned boats, rescued by Hocking (an ongoing theme in Hocking’s work), ethereally floating in an abandoned crane warehouse on the Detroit River front.

Scott Hocking, “Bone Black,” Installation image at former Detroit crane factory with Elizabeth Youngblood, 2019. Photo by Glen Mannisto

Laura Mott, and co-curators Taylor Renee Aldridge and Ryan Myers-Johnson’s project is over-the-top outrageously, assertively and critically engaged in its obsession with Detroit’s and our fragile global history. There is a continuing schedule of amazing events into the Fall including: Kresge grant winning, hip-hop artist Sterling Toles will occupy Gordon Park (where the Detroit uprising started) in Detroit in a performance of his “Resurget Cinerbus,” a sound work based on Detroit’s Rebellion. Curator Taylor Renee Aldridge will lead a series of Discussions. Check out the website for a list of other Fall events.

From painting to sculpture to installations the Landlord Colors makes inescapable the palpable relationship between art and sociopolitical conditions and ultimately as political action. Laura Mott’s startling curatorial intervention has profound implications in further negotiations of art history. Not only did the uprising of Detroit’s black citizens against a calculous of racism create a pall of pain over the city but shows, as do all of the five sites she explored, that art in fact springs from the isolated provinces of the local and defines the global condition.

An exhaustive and beautifully produced exhibition catalogue, Landlord Colors: On Art, Economy, and Materiality, written by Laura Mott with essays and interviews by artists and curators accompanies the exhibition.

Artists in the exhibition:
Italy) Giovanni Anselmo, Pier Paolo Calzolari, Riccardo Dalisi, Lucio Fontana, Jannis Kounellis, Maria Lai, Mario Merz, Marisa Merz, Giulio Paolini, Michelangelo Pistoletto (Korea) Ha Chong-Hyun, Kwon Young-Woo, Lee Ufan, Park Hyun-Ki, Park Seo-Bo, Yun Hyong-Keun (Cuba) Belkis Ayón, Tania Bruguera, Yoan Capote, Elizabet Cerviño, Julio Llópiz-Casal, Reynier Leyva Novo, Eduardo Ponjuán, Wilfredo Prieto, Diana Fonseca Quiñones, Ezequiel O. Suárez; (Greece) Andreas Angelidakis, Dora Economou, Andreas Lolis, Panos Papadopoulos, Zoë Paul, Socratis Socratous, Kostis Velonis; (Detroit, USA) Cay Bahnmiller, Kevin Beasley, James Lee Byars, Olayami Dabls, Brenda Goodman, Tyree Guyton, Carole Harris, Matthew Angelo Harrison, Patrick Hill, Scott Hocking, Addie Langford, Kylie Lockwood, Alvin Loving, Michael Luchs, Tiff Massey, Charles McGee, Allie McGhee, Jason Murphy, Gordon Newton, Chris Schanck, and Gilda Snowden.

Artists in “Material Detroit”:
(Installations) Dabls’ MBAD African Bead Museum, Jennifer Harge, Scott Hocking, Billy Mark, Anders Ruhwald, The Fringe Society, Elizabeth Youngblood. (Performances/Events) Big Red Wall Dance Company, Susana Pilar, Michelangelo Pistoletto (Third Paradise performance and a Detroit Rebirth Forum), Sterling Toles. The project culminates with the Landlord Colors Symposium at Cranbrook Art Museum in the fall.

Landlord Colors: On Art, Economy, and Materiality  – June 22-October 6, 2019
Cranbrook Art Museum     39221 Woodward Avenue, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan

Elizabeth Youngblood @ Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Extraordinary Gift @ Detroit Institute of Arts

Horned Mask, early 1900″s, Unknown Artist, Wood, Natural Fiber, Kaolin, Fang Culture, Gabon

Extraordinary Eye, Extraordinary Gift: The exhibition focuses on the patronage and recent bequest of art from the late Margaret Herz Demant. This exhibition celebrates her gift of artworks to the museum’s permanent collection, and her passion for African and modern Western art. Demant collected these pieces with the sole purpose of enhancing the DIA’s world-class art collection, purposefully purchasing art to fill in gaps within the various departments

Margaret Herz Demant in her living room surrounded by her collection. Image Courtesy Patricia Beck / Detroit Free Press

The exhibition displays 35 works in a variety of media, by artists of different cultural and historical backgrounds with a wide range of relevance to the DIA’s collection of African art, modern Western works and prints and drawings. African works dominate in the exhibition with a total of 24 pieces, representing Margaret’s primary passion and the majority of the bequest. Other pieces of the exhibition include an etching by Pablo Picasso among other drawings and prints, a painting by French artist Jean Dubuffet and 3-D works by French artist André Breton and American artist Joseph Cornell.

“The Solitary One,” 1955, Jean Dubuffet, French, paint on canvas.

Demant joined the DIA in the early 1960s, becoming a member of the board of trustees, a patron, benefactor, and a dedicated volunteer before her death on May 20, 2018. As an experienced interior designer and lifetime collector, she viewed her collection as an integral part of her home’s décor. While the quality of her pieces showcased her incredible eye and taste, her use of art within her home spoke to her sophistication. “Extraordinary Eye, Extraordinary Gift” attempts to recapture her personal approaches to collecting and experiencing art.

Joseph Cornell, Speed of Light #2, Collage and Oil on Board, 1969

“Margaret, a devoted supporter of the DIA, was an astute collector whose enthusiasm for art and its display was contagious,” said Salvador Salort-Pons, DIA Director. “The works in this gift will enhance our already world-class collection and enrich the lives of the residents of southeast Michigan. This is a gift to the community in which she lived and thrived.”

Pablo Picasso, Four Nude Women and Sculpture Head, from the Vollard Suite

Extraordinary Eye, Extraordinary Gift at the Detroit Institute of Arts through May 26, 2019, and then dispersed through-out the collection.

Decade at the Center: Recent Gifts and Acquisitions @ GRAM 

The Grand Rapids Art Museum Showcases Five Years of Acquisitions

Adonna Khare (American, b. 1980) Elephant Whirlpool, 2014, carbon pencil on paper, 96 x 72 inches. Grand Rapids Art Museum, Museum Purchase, with funds from Bill and Marilyn Crawford and the Artist, 2014.10 copyright: Adonna Khare

In 2007, the Grand Rapids Art Museum opened the doors to its newly-completed, ultra-modern exhibition space in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids.  Rounding out a year of celebratory programming commemorating the GRAM’s first decade in its new location, the show A Decade at the Center: Recent Gifts and Acquisitions brought together over a hundred works acquired by the museum over the past five years.  It was an eclectic but strong ensemble of works spanning a diverse array of media across both the fine and applied arts.

As an introspective exhibition which took the GRAM’s collection itself as its subject matter, A Decade at the Center was necessarily a bit of a mish-mash—these works came from all over the world, and were created by artists ranging from Rembrandt to the Apple Design Team.  But the explanatory wall-text curated and structured the experience, lending insight into what exactly goes into building an art collection, helpfully addressing questions like “How does a collection grow,” “who decides what’s acquired?” and “how permanent is a permanent collection?”

The significant presence of applied arts and design resonated nicely with Grand Rapids’ historic contribution to 20thcentury furniture manufacturing—the city is famously home to such design powerhouses as Hermon Miller and Steelcase.  Among the acquisitions on view included examples of design that fudge the porous boundary between functionality and art. A zany bench and table set designed by the Danish-born Nanna Ditzel seemed more like sculpture than interior design, as did the radiating  Metal Spokes Wall Clock by George Nelson and Associates, which helped define the American interior aesthetic of the 1950s.  While most of these examples of applied design pointed to the recent past, a set of dinner cutlery by Iraqi-born megastar architect Zaha Hadid seemed decidedly from the future—no surprise given the other-worldly appearance of her architectural output, which includes Michigan’s very own Broad Art Museum in Lansing.

Also on view were examples of design which illustrated the rapidly changing shape and form of technological devices, including an original Walkman cassette player, an early handheld Kodak camera, and a rotary telephone.   There’s even a first-generation iPod Shuffle, which, though not even fifteen years old, is a relic rendered just as archaic as the Walkman by the ubiquitous iPhone.  Given the rapidity of technological change, one can’t help but reflect that fifteen years from now the iPhone itself may very well be added to this pantheon of the obsolete.

William E. Gundelfinger (1900–1976) KM ‘Flatwork Ironern’ Iron, Model no 444, 1939. Chromium-plated steel, Bakelite. Made by Knapp-Monarch Co., 5 x 7 3/8 x 7 3/4 inches. Photo by Shane Culpepper, Tulsa OK.

 

 

Some of the more traditional works on view also had regional significance, like the paintings of Carl Hoerman, Matthias Altan, and Reynold Weidenaar, the latter of whom was featured in a massive retrospective here in 2015, occasioned by the centennial of his birth.  All three artists lived and worked in West Michigan, and their work, which took Michigan’s landscape as its subject matter, reflects their affection for the natural beauty of the state.

Mathias J. Alten (American, 1871–1938) The Gravel Pit, 1909. Oil on canvas, 22 x 28 inches. Grand Rapids Art Museum, Gift of the Estate of Peter M. Wege, in memory of Peter and Louise Wege, 2016.14

Historically, the strong suite of the GRAM’s permanent collection has always been its holdings of European and American art post-1800, and many works have been added to this number. These include offerings by such recognizable names as William Blake, Audubon, Picasso, Marsden Hartley, Emil Nolde, Warhol, Frank Stella, Ellsworth Kelly, Calder, de Kooning, Dubuffet, Chuck Close, Kara Walker, and Louise Bourgeois.  Among the oldest works acquired include a pair of 15thcentury engravings by Martin Schongaur and a small nude figure study by Rembrandt.

Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606-1669). Nude Man Seated on the Ground with One Leg Extended, 1646. Etching on paper, 3.88 x 6.63 inches. Grand Raids Art Museum. Gift of Margaret Goebel, 2017.27.

 

Kara Walker (American, b. 1969), Boo-hoo, 2000, linocut, 40 x 20 ½ inches. Promised Gift of Martin and Enid Packard © Kara Walker and Parkett Publishers, courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York.

While European and American works make up the majority of the GRAM’s new acquisitions, there’s nevertheless a robust international presence, and these works hail from all six inhabited continents.  These include a large, reflective, geometric glass sculpture by Monir Farmanfarmaian, the Iranian superstar artist who enjoyed a handsome retrospective in this same gallery suite last summer.  Inspired by Sufi geometry, her composite sculpture throws reflected light across the floor of the gallery space like a stationary disco ball, and echoes the geometric tessellations of an untitled pen and ink drawing, also by Farmanfarmaian, included elsewhere in the show.

Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian (Iranian, b. 1924) Untitled, 1980, ink and pen on paper, 18 x 25 inches. Grand Rapids Art Museum, Gift of the Artist and Haines Gallery, 2018.12 ©Monir Farmanfarmaian

This exhibition serves as a veritable who’s who in art and design– all the more impressive given that it comprised just five years’ worth of acquisitions and promised gifts.  Furthermore, in addition to established masters, the show included works by emerging talent, such as Elephant Whirlpoola massive graphite drawing by Addona Kharre, who in 2012 was the winner of Art Prize, the city’s celebrated annual art festival.  Recent Gifts and Acquisitions is an exhibition that will live on in perpetuity as these works join the 6,000 other artifacts that form the museum’s permanent collection, ever on rotating view in the GRAM’s gallery spaces. 

Grand Rapids Museum of Art 

Nancy Pletos & Henry Crissman @ Simone DeSousa Gallery

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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