Fractured Beauty: Alisa Henriquez, Andrew Krieger, Brad Howe @ David Klein Gallery

Gallery Installation and Andrew Krieger photos by R.H. Hensleigh – All others courtesy of Klein Gallery

It was an ironic surprise to discover an exhibition with such seemingly disconnected and ho-hum interests—and so painfully arty—that, at the same time, ran so deep and held up to sustained investigation. While Alisa Henriquez’s assemblages are spectacular “coats of wonder” in their amalgam of artistic gestures (cubist fragmentation, nouveau arabesques, abstract expressionistic slashes), and skillful making, yet their formal arrangement of stacked pill or capsule shapes seemed architecturally random and off-puttingly glitzy. And Andy Krieger’s cast ceramic and wood carved reliefs seemed over worked and Brad Howe’s immaculate metal sculptures seemed antiseptically inconsequential.

Brad Howe, 1 of 2 views of “The Planet is a Wild Place,”2018, Stainless steel, urethane, 13” x 19” x 7”

However, during a second visit, one of Brad Howe’s small, table-top sized sculptures emerged from the arty landscape. In the gallery window, a black semi-circle with rectangular sidebar leaned back and away, and appeared to float independently in the air. It was a visual mystery. It shouldn’t be able to do that without falling. Changing viewpoint slightly, the back side of the sculpture revealed itself slightly showing a supporting back element with a bright red edge and mocha brown triangle floating behind. Changing viewpoint even more, the black semi-circle disappeared and a red semi-circle appeared with a celadon green panel supporting it as well as the mocha brown triangle. Changing positions more and the whole sculpture flattened out into a red, black and green geometric abstraction, somewhat Ellsworth Kelley-like. Titled “The Planet is a Wild Place,” the sculpture is a tutorial in how to see with the unstated lesson to never jump to conclusions. What was nothing became something and challenging.

Brad Howe, 2 of 2 views of “The Planet is a Wild Place,”2018, Stainless steel, urethane, 13” x 19” x 7”

Each of Howe’s four small sculptures and the one large sculpture do similar work. Composed of either stainless steel or aluminum and coated in a brilliant, mixed pastel palette of flat urethane, the geometric volumes are complex puzzles, that tease perception and delight the senses. Simple geometric puzzles, Howe’s sculpture perform a complex task that challenge how and what we see.

Andrew Krieger, “Writing Wrongs: The Snake River Canyon Jump, September 8, 1974,” 2019, oil on wood form, 23 1/2” x 18” x 9”

And similarly, Andy Krieger’s, beautifully constructed, folk-art-like reliefs and dioramas, constructed of either laminated plywood or molded stoneware, slowly unfold personal or historical moments. What seemed like “over worked” craft was part of the process of remembering or memorializing. Like unknown images found in a “collectibles” booth, Krieger’s nostalgically familiar, but really unknown images, celebrate the lost part of ourselves. Sometime they appear as faded color photos that places them historically, probably to Krieger’s own youth or even to the public memory, found somewhere. They suggest archetypal memories, even primal dreams (flying, views from the sky), fantasies that never happened or things that did happen that suggest even deeper levels of meaning.

His painting “Writing Wrongs: The Snake River Canyon Jump, September 8th, 1974,” is a momentous public memory of Evel Knievel’s famed effort to “jump” the quarter mile wide canyon on his “skycycle.” Krieger seems to have internalized the popular event and recast it. The image has been slightly altered (Writing Wrongs) to show Evel Knievel on a Harley Davison, rather than the rocket-like contraption he actually used, to fit Krieger’s own fantasy “memory” of the event. It is also a wonderful aerial view of the landscape that only could be seen from a high-flying plane. In another vicarious version of the Evel Knievel’s jump, “Plywood Bike Jump,” a boy flies over a makeshift slanted plywood jump to get airborne enough to ascend over two playmates lying on the ground, like the deep canyon, beneath him. Krieger’s images are dredged from the public pool of pop culture and recast as to fit memory. It’s what we do.

Andrew Krieger, “A Brief History of Transportation,” 2019, Pressed molded stoneware with sgrafitto, black lava glaze, oil paint, 16 1/2” x 21 ½” x 6 ½”

In the main gallery, there’s four of Krieger’s stoneware reliefs on platter-like forms, with etched images, (sgraffito Italian for scratched) a classical European ceramic process of drawing on pottery or even on building walls. Each is etched with an uncanny image that confounds easy reading. In two of them a horse gallops through a working-class neighborhood (a boy hood fantasy?). In another, four rather rough looking men standing at an intersection, stare down the camera (viewer). Each of these looms out as a fragment of memory combined with fantasy. The scratched drawing and painting is elegant, and the process suggests s kind of tinkering with memory and desire. The fourth piece, “A Brief History of Transportation,” is a magnificent image of the Detroit River seen from high above the Ambassador Bridge with a thousand-foot freighter traversing the river, a huge jet going by (Air Force One?) and the Renaissance Center and Belle Isle in the distance. Beside a kind of folk elegance, the sgrafitti process suggest a tramp art-like perspective on the world, positioning the artist in a nomadic kind of relationship with history.

Alisa Henrique, “Makeover Culture Disfigured No.3,” Mixed media on wood panel, 2016, 52” x 68”

One of the most remarkable features of Alisa Henriquez’s assemblages is their complete, all over, optical assault. Her sure handed cut and paste gathering of peekaboo glimpses of everything from parts of women from media advertising—eyelashes, hands, eyes (iris and pupil), flowing images of hair and actual hair, little girls faces, breast cleavage and nipples, eyebrows, lips, body crevices, elbows, feet, toes, navels, breasts, nostril openings— to glossed advertising styling–all arranged within capsule and erotic body shapes and seamlessly inlaid amidst an array of cosmetic colors and materials, mascara and rouges and sprays, licks, sparkles and hard edges of every pretty thing–amazes. Like everyday life in America’s all over blitz on curating the female surface, Henriquez’s critical assault on that industry is relentless. Images of her work don’t do them justice. Her hand cut inlays seem laser cut and her syrupy, glistening surfaces, frightening. Interestingly there is only one male eye and a male hand (with a wedding ring), that I can find, gazing out at the empty landscape.

Alisa Henriquez, “Makeover Culture Disfigured No. 4,” 2016, Mixed media on wood panel, 39” x 19 ¾”

 

 

Fractured Beauty: Andrew Krieger, Alisa Henriquez, Brad Howe, David Klein Gallery,  Through March 23, 2019

Mirror, Mirror @ College for Creative Studies Center Galleries

The Dresner Foundation Soul Studio artists occupy the College for Creative Studies Center Galleries in the Manoogian Visual Resource Center until March 30.

Installation View, Mirror, Mirror

The works fill the space but are not cramped. Sufficient wall space between the pieces allows individual focus. However, upon entering the gallery one is struck by how the pieces speak to each other across the large room. The artists of Soul Studio collaborate, consciously and/or unconsciously, and their works seem to be enriched for it.

A primary example of this collaboration, “Celebration of Chaos” is credited to all the Soul Studio Artists. It is one of 3 pieces which hang from the ceiling trusses, casting shadows of additional dimensions to the subject piece. On the wall, the “Celebration of Chaos” shadow looks like a crown of thorns – perhaps representing the sometimes buffeting trials of life? On the floor, the shadow is interspersed with bright highlights – are they lumens of joy and hope in the middle of chaos?

Soul Studio Artists, Celebration of Chaos, yarn, wire, bamboo

These are expressive works, make no mistake. They hang together as a cohesive unit, yet each piece calls for attention and inspection on its own terms. The eponymous “Mirror, Mirror” by Aislinn Wendrow, is an actual antique dresser-case mirror with carefully crafted, curved wood sides. It has all been painted over in bold strokes, obliterating the reflective and frame surfaces with colors juxtaposed and contrasted. It is as though the time for reflection has gone – this is the time for expression. “I recognize myself. Take me for who I am!”

Aislinn Wendrow, Mirror, Mirror, acrylic on mirror

Pretense is shunned here, as evidenced even in the titles. The first piece in the show is: “Untitled (9 Squares with Spaghetti) by Jonathan Barrett, with painted yarn arranged in knots like spaghetti, or “This is Sew Abstract” also by Wendrow, which features handstitched details. The work is sometimes playful, sometimes mischievous, such as the handmade book “Prankbook” by Andy Feinberg. They are large format canvases, hanging pieces, or entire series. The viewer should expect edgy and challenging work that is ultimately a delight to see.

The show is held together by the vision of Anthony Marcellini. He is the director of Soul Studio in West Bloomfield, a project of the Dresner Foundation through the Friendship Circle, providing studio space and artistic direction to artists with special needs. Creative opportunities are offered in a wide variety of media, from fine art to design of all types, both 2D and 3D: http://www.friendshipcircle.org/soul/

Diverse and Highly Wide-Ranging Work @ Wasserman Projects

 

Installation Image, Wasserman Projects, 2019, Image courtesy of DAR

The Wasserman Projects gallery opened a multi-faceted set of exhibitions on January 25, 2019 that is eclectically diverse. The work is divided into a solo show by Esther Shalev-Gerz, an exhibition that premiered at the Swedish History Museum, a group show, Portray, that includes fourteen artists from a variety of geographical locations that draws on previous artists represented by the gallery and includes new artists from Detroit, New York City and beyond.  In addition, there is a retrospective by the American-Israeli artist Felice Pazner Malkin, introduced up front and continues in the rear gallery with representational works of art.  The exhibition also leverages the space at Wasserman which has more square footage than any major gallery in the Detroit Metro area, providing the viewer with a feeling that elevates the work to a near museum-like ambiance.

“Part of Wasserman Projects’ mission is to provide a platform for artists to show their work and to connect with the creative community in Detroit. For our upcoming season, we have the opportunity to present several artists with whom we’ve previously collaborated, like Esther Shalev-Gerz, Ken Aptekar, and Matthew Hansel, among others, creating a continuity of experience and support,” said Alison Wong, Director of Wasserman Projects. “And at the same time, we are excited to introduce new artists to our community to further enrich and explore timely and topical dialogues within contemporary practice”

Esther Shalev-Gerz, An Answer to Jorge Luis Borges’ Text – The Scandinavian Destingy, 40 Minute Video, 2016, Image Courtesy of DAR

The Esther Shalev-Gerz selections from The Gold Room, are unique in that the artist invited five  individuals who recently found refuge in Sweden to speak to the personal importance of an object they brought with them when they migrated. The exhibition requires the viewer to slow down and understand the process where a golden square floats over the center of the screen.  The work is a combination of photo portraits and a video installation, and which depict some of the featured participants and objects with their faces obscured by a golden panel.

Installation Image, Susan Silas, Felice Pazner Malkin, Esther Shalev-Gerz, Wasserman Projects, 2019, image courtesy of DAR

As you move into the large open space and start to take in the Portray exhibition, it is hard not to notice the marble sculpture Aging Venus, where  Susan Silas photographed herself over the course of a decade and created a 3D scan of her changing body, which served as the basis for the sculpture.  She says, “As a child, my bedroom was covered with reproductions of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, torn from an art book in my parents’ library. It seems to me that at an early age, two of the core values that would inform me throughout my life and career had already established themselves—a love of beauty and love for the female heroine at the center of meaning. Later there were ample quotations from writings and rock and roll lyrics added to the walls. For me, image-making and writing remain intertwined.”

I have not experienced such a pristine marble full-figured self-portrait juxtaposed to a large screen video where the artist sings 1960 TV theme songs into a mirror, creating a double image of herself.  These theme songs include “Happy Trails” from the Roy Rogers Show, and other themes from The Mickey Mouse Club, Star Trek, Superman, Yogi Bear, and Bat Masterson, to name a few.  It does occur to me how that might be perceived based on one’s childhood experience and how that carries an emotional nostalgia for those of a certain age. As in our experience with all art, we bring our own individual experience to the moment.

Susan Silas titles the sculpture A Study for Aging Venus, and in reading her history of this work, one finds out just how much technology was used in its creation and her plans for a larger sculpture.

She says, “The body scan for Aging Venus has generated a set of 2D photographic studies and a set of photographic portraits, created by shooting stills within the 3D space. The object file was used to create a 3D model that stands 11 inches tall which will become an edition. The large-scale sculpture will be cut by a high performance robotized 3D scanner that cuts stone with laser technology. The stone will be Carrara marble chosen from a quarry in Italy and the carving will be done in Italy as well. After the cutting is complete, a traditionally trained sculptor will help me finish and polish the marble. The sculpture will stand roughly seven feet tall from head to foot.”

Susan Silas is a Hungarian-American national living and working in Brooklyn, NY.  She earned her MFA at the California Institute of the Arts.

Continuing with the female figure is the work of Bruno Walpoth, where the artist carves life-sized human figures from blocks of wood and finishes the sculptures with acrylic paint. He repeatedly covers and sands down the surfaces to mask evidence of the wood grain and achieve a translucent, skin-like appearance. The Italian sculptor is the son and grandson of wood-carvers, who grew up in a town known for its centuries-old carving tradition. He traces his inspiration even further back, to the deeply human portraits of early Renaissance painter Piero della Francesca. Within the context of figurative sculpture, it’s interesting and refreshing to see an artist reach back and create something so totally new, a metaphor for all visual art being made today.

Bruno Walpoth, Sara, Wood, Paint, 26 x 21 x 11″, 2015 (foreground) Adnan Charara, Masquerade, Acrylic and Oil paint, 60 x 60″ (background) Image Courtesy of DAR

In the background and nearby is the work of Adnan Charara, a Lebanese-American artist from Dearborn, Michigan who has lived and worked in the U.S. since 1982. His collage-like oil painting, Masquerade , assembles classical imagery that strikes a compositional balance using shape, line and color that draws the viewer into his imaginary figure. Adnan bought the historic Astro building in midtown in 2011 and developed it into a multifunctional space, including the Gallerie Camille, gift shop, two store-fronts and his sprawling subdivided studio.In his statement he says, “In general, my art should be viewed as a visual representation of the human condition. The realization of my thoughts and emotions through the creation of my art is a way for me to express my inner self. In turn, I understand that my inner self is merely a particular manifestation of the human condition that connects everybody, and so it may be said that by expressing my inner self and revealing personal truths, I am attempting to reveal truths about us all.”

Donald Dietz, Untitled, From a series Everything Changes, Digital Pigment print, 28.5 x 38″, 2018 Image Courtesy of Wasserman Projects

I was drawn to the photographic image by local photographer Donald Dietz, because it seems to transcend the bulk of conventional photographic work in a multitude of ways.  The translucent field of color seems to seep through the backdrop of this kneeling figure and the painting. The composition is based on this large space with objects that feel like drawings as bookends at the very bottom of the frame. It’s as if Dietz is holding up two images like a sandwich and creating a third image.  He says in his statement, “I love finding something that I think would make an interesting photograph and then doing what needs to be done to translate what I saw into the image I imagined it could be. I hope my work leads people to look at things they see every day, and take for granted, in new ways.”

Ryan Standfest, Factory Head No. 1, Archival Inkjet on paper, 30 x 30″ 2018 Image Courtesy of Wasserman Projects

Other than some prints at the Simone DeSousa gallery, a recent exhibition at Wayne State University ( THIS MUST NOT BE THE PLACE YOU THOUGHT IT WOULD BE) was my introduction to the artist Ryan Standfest with a graphic arts approach to an Americanized Constructivist sensibility that seemed dominated by his Rotland MFG. Company motifs post World War I. These formal industrial constructions of paint, ink, and enamel on cardboard reminded me of the Russian Constructivism that rejected the idea of autonomous art. This photograph, Factory Head 1, came from that exhibition and is better explained in that review. For the Detroit Art Review, Glen Mannisto writes, “The diversity of Standfest’s art stretches to performance theater and is represented by an installation of three “masks,” called “Factory Heads,” that he employed in a performance at MOCAD with an accompanying musical composition of factory noise created by Chris Butterfield and Mike Williams. In a sense Standfest’s “Factory Heads” sculptures and performance, covers of Bolshevik agitprop theater, are again in the Russian Constructivist spirit modeled after machine-like factory architecture with smokestacks and are accompanied by a Standfest poem that delineates the abject evolution of the working class.”  He says in his statement, “My enthusiasm for obsolete print ephemera such as comic strips, tabloid newspapers, postcards, catalogs, manuals and advertisements, is intended to highlight the fugitive value of authoritative cultural currency as it advertises our vision of the ideal.”

Portray includes paintings, photography, sculpture, works on paper, and mixed-media installations by Ken Aptekar (New York/Paris), Adnan Charara (Detroit), Donald Dietz (Detroit), Matthew Hansel (New York), Robert Raphael (New York), Michael Scoggins (New York), Esterio Segura (Cuba), Susan Silas (New York), William Irving Singer (Detroit), Ryan Standfest (Detroit), Koen Vanmechelen (Belgium), Jamie Vasta (Oakland, CA), Bruno Walpoth (Italy), and Hirosuke Yabe (Japan).

Wasserman Projects was conceived by Michigan-native Gary Wasserman and opened its doors in a former firehouse in Detroit’s historic Eastern Market, one of the oldest and largest year-round markets in the U.S., in fall 2015. Wasserman Projects is guided by a spirit of collaboration, recognizing that artist projects are best realized and most meaningful when they engage a broad range of cultural organizers, community leaders, and the dynamic and diverse populations of Detroit. The organization works with artists from across disciplines and around the world, presenting exhibitions and performances that will spark a discourse on art, but also cultural, social, or political issues, which are particularly active and timely in Detroit.

Wasserman Projects three Concurrent Exhibitions run through March 23, 2019

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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