New Work, NYC @ MET, Whitney Biennial, The Shed

Installation image, Say It Loud, Image courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC, 2019

 

When I experienced the Say It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City it reminded me of the Art of the Motorcycle exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in 1998 and more  recently at the Detroit Institute of Arts with the Star Wars and the Power of Costume exhibition 2018.  These exhibitions speak to a broad interpretation of what belongs in an institutional art museum and I think the broader, the better. The ever expanding role of our art museums provides the viewers with opportunities never before possible. The Say it Loud exhibition was literally packed on a hot weekday afternoon, with young people of all ages (notably young men) and included families of all sizes.

This exhibition was the first dedicated to the iconic instruments of rock and roll that opened April 8, 2019. Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll is co-organized by Jayson Kerr Dobney, Frederick P. Rose, Curator in Charge of the Department of Musical Instruments at The Met, and Craig J. Inciardi, Curator and Director of Acquisitions of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

General atmosphere at the opening reception for “Play It Loud: Instruments Of Rock & Roll” exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on April 01, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images)

Through more than 130 instruments dating from 1939 to 2017—played by artists such as Chuck Berry, Eric Clapton, Sheryl Crow, Bob Dylan, Don Felder, Lady Gaga, Kim Gordon, George Harrison, Jimi Hendrix, James Hetfield, Wanda Jackson, Joan Jett, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Steve Miller, Joni Mitchell, Jimmy Page, Kate Pierson, Elvis Presley, Prince, Keith Richards, Patti Smith, Bruce Springsteen, Ringo Starr, Eddie Van Halen, St. Vincent, Tina Weymouth, Nancy Wilson, and others—Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll explores one of the most influential artistic movements of the 20th century and the objects that made the music possible.

Chuck Berry, Musician, B&W Image, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

The exhibition includes an array of videos where famous artists talk to the audience and perform popular sections of hit songs from the 60s, 70s, and 90s where Chuck Berry’s electric guitar ES-35OT (1957) his primary guitar from 1957 was used to record “Johnny B. Goode.”  Jayson Kerr Dobney and Frederick P. Rose, Curators in Charge of the Department of Musical Instruments, commented: “Instruments are some of the most personal objects connected to musicians, but as audience members we are primarily used to seeing them from far away, up on a stage in performance. This exhibition will provide a rare opportunity to examine some of rock and roll’s most iconic objects up close.”

Up close is Lady Gaga’s custom-designed piano, which she used in her performance of “ARTPOP” on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon in 2014; Steve Miller’s electric guitar that was painted with psychedelic designs by artist Bob Cantrell by 1973; Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Number One” composite Stratocaster, which was his main instrument throughout his career;

Keith Richards’s  guitar known to have been used when the Rolling Stones appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1966 and later hand-painted by Richards; and Jimmy Page’s dragon-embroidered costume (Los Angeles, 1975)—the elaborately hand-embroidered suit took over a year to complete and Page wore it during Led Zeppelin’s live performances from 1975 to 1977.

Keith Richards’s  guitar known to have been used when the Rolling Stones appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1966 and later hand-painted

 

In case you did not know, the Gibson Guitar Corporation has its home in Kalamazoo, Michigan and shown here, painted by Keith Richards. Les Paul Custom electric guitar, 1957; painted 1968.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is home to one of the world’s most diverse and important collections of musical instruments. With over 5,000 examples from six continents, it is unsurpassed in its scope and includes instruments from nearly all cultures and eras. This exhibition will travel to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in November, 2019.

The exhibition is made possible by the John Pritzker Family Fund, the Estate of Ralph L. Riehle, the William Randolph Hearst Foundation, Diane Carol Brandt, the Paul L. Wattis Foundation, Kenneth and Anna Zankel, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

 

The Whitney Biennial 2019

Installation image, Eric Mack, Proposition for Wet Gee’s Bend & Quilts fo replace the American Flag. Whitney Biennal 2019

 

Time flies, as it was just two years ago I wrote about four Detroit artists in the 2017 Whitney Biennial, and here we are two years later with Sam Green and his live documentary who now lives in NYC, and Matthew Angelo Harrison and his grouping of spear-like objects made of resin, who currently lives and has a studio in Detroit. One can’t help notice the differences. This year the content reflects an undeniably intense and polarized time in the country, as demonstrated in Eric Mack’s version of a replacement of the American Flag in this installation image.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wCxSwDWJ8_Y

Matthew Angelo Harrison and his grouping of spear-like objects made of resin, Whitney Biennal 2019

 

The Whitney Biennial is an unmissable event for anyone interested in finding out what’s happening in art today. Curators Jane Panetta and Rujeko Hockley have been visiting artists over the past year in search of the most important and relevant work. Featuring seventy-five artists and collectives working in painting, sculpture, installation, film and video, photography, performance, and sound, the 2019 Biennial takes the pulse of the contemporary artistic moment. Introduced by the Museum’s founder Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney in 1932, the Biennial is the longest-running exhibition in the country to chart the latest developments in American art. Here are a few picks from the show comprised of 75 artists.

Jennifer Packer, Untitled, Oil on Canvas, 2019 Whitney Biennal 2019

 

Jennifer Packer creates expressionist portraits, interior scenes, and still lifes that suggest a casual intimacy. Packer views her works as the result of an authentic encounter and exchange. The models for her portraits—commonly friends or family members—are relaxed and seemingly unaware of the artist’s or viewer’s gaze.

Packer’s paintings are rendered in loose line and brush stroke using a limited color palette, often to the extent that her subject merges with or retreats into the background. Suggesting an emotional and psychological depth, her work is enigmatic, avoiding a straightforward reading. “I think about images that resist, that attempt to retain their secrets or maintain their composure, that put you to work,” she explains. “I hope to make works that suggest how dynamic and complex our lives and relationships really are.”

Born in 1984 in Philadelphia, Jennifer Packer earned her BFA from the Tyler University School of Art at Temple University in 2007, and her MFA from Yale University School of Art in 2012. She was the 2012-2013 Artist-in-Residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem, and a Visual Arts Fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA. Packer currently lives and works in New York and is an assistant professor in the painting department at Rhode Island School of Design..

Robert Bittenbender, Sister Carrie, Steel, wire, glass, wood, miscellaneous hardware, 2017

 

Robert Bittenbender constructs dense reliefs using traditional art materials such as paint and graphite, but also includes cheap found objects. Each individual element has been meticulously incorporated into the whole.  The overall effect is one of improvisation. Bittenbender treats everything as a potential source of inspiration, so that a wire hanger carries as much potential as paint. His assemblage aesthetic suggests the influence of an artist who came to prominence in the 1960s, including Bruce Conner and Lee Bontecou, both of whom used refuse and rubbish in three-dimensional works that hang on the wall and protrude; not so different from the Detroit Artist, Gordon Newton in 1971. Bittenbender earned his BFA from Cooper Union.

Keegan Monaghan,  Outside, Oil on Canvas, 2019  Image courtesy of DAR

 

With his tactile, heavily worked surfaces and emphasis on subjective points of view, this painting by Monaghan delivers an aspect of Impressionist painting. Monaghan employs visual tricks to make small items appear disproportionately large, skewing the perspective. Keegan Monaghan is a young artist who was born in 1986. His work plays on a sense of inclusion and exclusion, positioning the viewer as a voyeur peering at a scene through a peephole.  It is not always clear in Monaghan’s work whether the viewer is looking out or looking in, excluded or implicated. The work was featured in several exhibitions at key galleries and museums, including the Whitney Museum of American Art and the James Fuentes.

Tomashi Jackson, Hometown Buffet – Two Blues, 2019

 

Tomashi Jackson’s deeply layered abstractions feature found materials, paper bags, food wrappers, vinyl insulation strips, and storefront awnings – many of them with specific autobiographical references.  Jackson’ wide-raging sources also intersect with art-historical, legal and social histories, often using color materially to encourage meditations on painful subjects.  Her three paintings on view focus on housing displacement in New York City by exploring parallels between the history of Seneca Village – which was founded in Manhattan in 1825 by free Black laborers and razed in 1857 to make way for Central Park.  The city’s current government program designed to seize paid-for properties in rapidly gentrifying communities across the city, regardless of mortgage status. Jackson creates dynamic passages of clashing complementary hues and lights her surfaces to resemble stained glass. Tomashi Jackson was born in Houston, TX, and lives and works in New York City.  She earned her MFA from Yale School of Art in 2016 and is an adjunct professor at The Cooper Union. http://tomashijackson.com/

There was an unusual event that occurred at the Whitney Biennal this year when  eight artists asked the Whitney Museum of American Art to remove their works from this year’s Biennial, citing what they describe as the museum’s lack of response to calls for the resignation of a board member with ties to the sale of military supplies, including tear gas.  Warren B. Kanders, the vice chair of the Whitney Museum in New York, said that he will resign from his position after more than half a year of protests against his ownership of Safariland, a company that produces tear-gas canisters and other supplies used by the military and law enforcement. The news was first reported by the New York Times.

A protest at the Whitney in May over a trustee, Warren B. Kanders, the owner of a company that produces military supplies, including tear gas. Credit: Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

There is an old saying; “There is no such thing as bad publicity.”

The 2019 Whitney Biennial is organized by Jane Panetta, associate curator, and Rujeko Hockley, assistant curator, with Ramsay Kolber, curatorial project assistant.

 

NYC, The Shed @ Brooklyn Yards

Installation, The Shed, Open Call 2 signage, 2019

 

In New York City, Hudson Yards’ the new museum, The Shed,  has dedicated a portion of its space and energy to supporting emerging artists in NYC through its Open Call program. More than 900 artists submitted proposals to be included, and 52 from various disciplines have been selected for the Open Call inaugural season. The artists represented receive funding, resources and support to exhibit their works in one of The Shed’s spaces. The Shed convened six different panels of outside experts to find the talent for “Open Call.” According to Tamara McCaw, the chief civic program officer, “We’re always thinking about what it means to be a civic institution, and located on city-owned land”—in other words, The Shed has taken on the responsibility of representing all of New York.

Early concept illustration of The Shed at Brooklyn Yards, 2018

 

Construction on The Shed started in 2015, using a design from lead architect Diller Scofidio + Renfro and collaborating architect Rockwell Group. The Shed features several architectural features, including a retractable shell that creates a space, named The McCourt, for large-scale performances, installations and events. Senior curator Emma Enderby points out that the exhibition will be a noteworthy complement to the concurrent Biennial, with its more established artists. “Our approach is completely grassroots,” she says, noting that they did everything from post on LinkedIn to contacting the Asian American Arts Alliance to tap into unheralded talent.

Hugh Hayden,  Hedges, 2019. Sculpted wood, lumber, hardware, mirror, carpet. Photo: Stan Narten.

 

Hayden’s sculptural installation Hedges is situated inside three mirrored walls to create the illusion of an infinite row of houses.  Hayden says in his statement, “I conflate an idyllic suburban house with a bird’s nest and challenges the illusion of social and economic inclusivity in the context of the American Dream.” Hayden lives in Harlem and works in the Bronx. He creates sculptures primarily in wood in addition to hosting culinary installations. His work explores ideas of belonging to a social landscape through a lens of camouflage and natural materials.

Hugh Hayden was born in Dallas, Texas in 1983 and lives and works in New York City. He earned an MFA from Columbia University and a Bachelor of Architecture from Cornell University.  https://hughhayden.com/

Gabriela Corretjer-Contreras, Llevatelo To’ No Me Deje Na, 2019. Mixed media: textiles, fabric, fiber, found objects. Photo: Courtesy of DAR

 

Llevatelo To’ No Me Deje Na is an interactive installation set in the bedroom of Nena Corretjer-Contreras’s alter ego. In her statement the artist says, “By juxtaposing the various personal experiences of performing to colonial expectations of Puerto Rican identity while living in the diaspora, the installation explores the history of invasion and exploitation of Puerto Rico. Participants can perform the role of both colonized and colonizer by trying on clothes and masks. In wearing Nena’s clothes and occupying Nena’s space, participants invade both Nena’s bedroom and identity. Through the use of clothing in the installation, memories are used to reconstruct an absent history and identity.”

Gabriela María Corretjer-Contreras is an artist living in Washington Heights, Manhattan, who works in clothing, textiles, installation and performance. Gabriela María Corretjer-Contreras was born 1995 in Puerto Rico and now is a New York-based artist who utilizes textiles and performance as a way of imagining a future for a society with an “identity crisis.” She recently earned her BFA at Parsons The New School for Design, and has begun a comprehensive body of work that encompasses different aspects of the same imaginary universe through bold colors and vibrant clashing prints. INSTAGRAM:GABBAHABBLABABBA

Analisa Bien Teachworth, The Tribute Pallet, shack-like scaffolding construction made of metal, wood, plastic and glass. 2019

 

Analisa Bien Teachworth (full disclosure, my daughter) is a digital media and installation artist from Detroit Metro,  living and working in New York City whose practice encompasses a wide range of digital and physical mediums. In her statement the artist says, “The Tribute Pallet is a multimedia installation that invites the audience into a shack-like scaffolding construction made of metal, wood, plastic and glass. At the center of the space on a table, glass jars hold candy for the audience’s consumption. This free offering of candy evokes sugar’s history as one of the most valuable commodities over past centuries, as well as its connections to the transatlantic slave trade which supported its cultivation. Three animated figures representing the ancestors are projected in the space on the interior walls and recite a hymn over a musical score. The multisensory installation explores histories and possible futures of work and labor.”

Teachworth earned her BFA from School of the Art Institute of Chicago, is part owner of 4Real, http://4real.io and works out of her studio in The Clemente, http://www.theclementecenter.org   on the lower east side of Manhattan. http://analisateachworth.net

Open Call is The Shed’s large-scale commissioning program dedicated to developing and presenting new works from artists based in New York City who have not yet received major institutional support. Panels of leaders in a wide range of disciplines—from the visual arts to digital media to theater and dance—reviewed more than 900 proposals for Open Call. They selected 52 emerging artists and collectives to receive support, space, and resources to develop their trailblazing projects at The Shed.

Organized by Tamara McCaw, Chief Civic Program Officer, Emma Enderby, Senior Curator, and Solana Chehtman, Director of Civic Programs, with Jesse Firestone, Open Call Assistant, and Alessandra Gomez, Curatorial and Program Assistant.  Audiences can view these works free of charge throughout the program through August 25, 2019.

If you are traveling to New York City this summer, these exhibitions would be good to see at these museums. The MET has other exhibitions, the Whitney Biennial 2019 has 75 artists from all parts of the United States, and The Shed is a new museum that is innovative in its design and multidisciplinary mission.

Life is a Highway & Everything is Rhythm @ Toledo Museum of Art

Claes Oldenburg, Profile Airflow, 1969. Cast polyurethane relief over lithograph. Collection of Flint Institute of Art

For those of us who grew up with the automobile as a ubiquitous part of life, the very prevalence of which (like oxygen) perhaps makes it go largely unregarded, it’s worth giving pause and considering the revolutionary, democratizing effect of the advent of the automobile, a cultural paradigm shift which literarily and figuratively reshaped the 20th Century American landscape.  The automobile takes center stage in the Toledo Art Museum’s exhibition Life is a Highway, the first U.S. exhibition to explore the automobile’s influence on visual culture, with specific attention to the Midwest.  This is not just a show about automobile-inspired art, but it manages to offer some commentary on both the celebrated advances of 20th Century technology and on the social and labor injustices that accompanied them.

Robert Frank,Belle Isle, Detroit, 1955. Photograph. Collection of MFA Houston

Life is a Highway assembles over 150 works spanning a diverse array of media, though photography seems to dominate the gallery suite.  Road signs and traffic cones, in addition to offering playful ambiance, guide viewers through the show.  Arranged chronologically, the exhibition opens with images that suggest the optimistic spirit with which the automobile became an American symbol.  A lithograph by Thomas Hart Benton shows the Joad family (from Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath), rendered in Benton’s characteristically folksy style, packing their belongings into the rickety-looking pickup truck which will transport them from the Oklahoma dust bowl to a better life (or so they think) in Edenic California.  But a looping video from Charlie Chaplin’s iconic film Modern Times suggests the cost on the human spirit of the age of the assembly-line and the automobile; Chaplin’s character must perform menial tasks on an implausibly fast assembly line, his body itself reduced to a mere machine.  And while the crisp paintings and photographs of Charles Sheeler celebrate the sublime grandeur of modern industrial temples (his ant’s-eye perspective reminiscent of the etchings of Piranesi’s views of Roman ruins), Arthur Siegel’s bird’s-eye view of a labor strike offers a different perspective, literally, on industrial progress.

Life is a Highway, Installation image, TMA 2019

After the Second World War, the automobile increasingly became both necessity and status symbol, and the American landscape changed to accommodate its omnipresence in American life. Robert Brown humorously approaches this with a painting of a cartoonified map of America in which every inch of earth has become occupied with shopping centers and parking lots.  In contrast, the photographic pencil drawings of Charles Kanwischer suggest that there really is an understated sublime beauty in the industrialized American landscape: the columns of his US 24 Road Project (presumably meant to support a bridge) here against a barren landscape seem like ruins from an ancient civilization, the Minoan palace of Knossos, perhaps. And Catherine Opie’s photographs of highway overpasses, rendered in elongated horizontal prints, are exquisite examples of 2D design, and one doesn’t even recognize these as roads at first, such is her ability to show the beauty in what we might consider the mundane.

But while the automobile became a symbol of freedom for many, the exhibition also turns its eye to the racial injustices painfully prevalent in automotive America.  Well into the 1960s, many restaurants and hotels refused service to people of color, necessitating the Green Book, a travel guide authored by Victor Hugo Green which listed establishments deemed safe for African Americans travelling in the Jim Crow South.  Several Green Booksare on display, alongside photographs from Jonathan Calm’s series Journey Through the South: Green Book, for which Calm traveled through the deep south, photographing locations from the Green Book as they appear today (some are now just vacant lots).  Among the establishments is the Lorraine Motel, which played host to, among others, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, and Dr. Martin Luther King the fateful night he was assassinated.

John Baeder, Stardust Motel, 1977. Oil on canvas. Collection of Yale University Art Gallery

Perhaps those who grew up during the pervasive automobile culture of the 50s and 60s, when cars had a Baroque lavishness entirely unburdened by any regard for efficiency, will find this exhibition especially resonant.   But one certainly doesn’t have to be an automotive know-it-all to appreciate Life is a Highway, which manages to be interdisciplinary in its scope, touching at once labor history, social (in)justice, economics, the environment, and so much more.

In addition to Life is a Highway, the TMA is concurrently exhibiting a vibrant show in its newly re-opened new-media gallery suite.  Everything is Rhythm is a multisensory show which explores intersections between music and the visual arts.  The show pairs fourteen paintings with corresponding works of music, which viewers can listen to by plugging in headphones (provided by the museum) into ports located at listening stations scattered throughout the gallery suite.  The exhibit gently challenges preconceptions of what an art exhibit ought to be, and in its tactful paring of image and sound manages to achieve an effect best described as cinematic.

In most cases, the pairings reflect a direct relationship between the composer and the painting. Harold Budd’s 1996 album Luxaserved as a musical tribute to some of his favorite artists, such as Anish Kapoor and Serge Poliakoff.  Here, his airy, meditative, and sinuous electronic composition Agnes Martin seems an apt musical interpretation of the British painter’s work, characteristically space and serene.   Composer Morton Friedman very much admired the paintings of Mark Rothko, and in 1971 even composed a moody and somber instrumental and vocal composition for the equally moody and somber Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas.  For this exhibit, an untitled 1962 Rothko is paired with Friedman’s Madame Press Died Last Week at Ninety, a morose symphonic work which rhymes with the tragic emotion Rothko so ardently tried to convey in his art.

Hans Hofmann (American, 1880-1966), Night Spell, 1965, oil on canvas, 72 x 60 in. (182.9 x 152.4 cm), Toledo Museum of Art (Toledo, Ohio), Purchased with funds from the Libbey Endowment, Gift of Edward Drummond Libbey, 1970.50

Some pairings emerged as curatorial decisions, regardless of whether or not the respective artists and musicians were conscientiously responding to each other.  While admittedly quite subjective, the pairings seem to work quite well.  The soulful, improvisatory trumpet of Miles Davis is paired with Hans Hofmann’s abstract expressionist Night Spell, itselfthe product of improvisation and intuition.  And the myriad of rhythmic vertical lines in Julian Stanczaks And Then There Were Three, a spellbinding tour de force of the Op Art movement, seems the logical visual equivalent of the hypnotic repetition of Philip Glass’ Metomorphosis III, a solo piano work which, while repetitive, manages to be undeniably beautiful, much like ocean waves breaking on the shore.

Everything is Rhythm, Installation, TMA 2019

Everything is Rhythm is a delightful show.  It’s also a great introduction to abstract art for those who dislike abstract art.  After all, music is abstract insofar as it’s transient and ephemeral, and we can appreciate an instrumental work even if it’s not about anything in particular, but merely succeeds in evoking a certain mood.  Over a century ago, American artist James McNeil Whistler advanced the argument that the same ought to be true for the visual arts, and he began giving his increasingly abstract paintings musical titles (arrangementsand nocturnes).  Were he to magically time travel to the present day, he’d certainly view this exhibition approvingly.

Life is a Highway at the Toledo Museum of Art runs through September 15, 2019, and Everything is Rhythmis on view through February 23, 2020.

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

 

Cass Corridor @ Simone DeSousa Gallery

Cass Corridor, Connecting Times: Brenda Goodman, Kathryn Bracket Luchs, Ann Mikolowski, Nancy Mitchnick, Ellen Phelan, and Nancy Pletos

Cass Corridor, Connecting Times: Brenda Goodman, Kathryn Bracket Luchs, Ann Mikolowski, Nancy Mitchnick, Ellen Phelan, and Nancy Pletos. Image DAR

Until very recently driving into Detroit from the nearby suburbs on Friday night was hassle-free and at most a 15-minute drive. For the opening of Simone DeSousa Gallery’s current exhibition, “Cass Corridor: Connecting times,” the last in the series to explore art of the 60s and 70s in Detroit’s infamous bohemian community, the drive was a delightful pain in the ass. The freeway was clogged with impatient drivers going to the Red Wing Hockey game, or the Tiger game or the half dozen art openings in the cultural center or music concerts or to hang at all manner of clubs and bars or to dine at the literally dozens of new restaurants in the new Foodie capital of the United States. We always knew the city would come back and we knew that we would regret it and also rejoice.

Nancy Mitchnick, “Dog Party,” 2017, oil on canvas. All images Courtesy of Simone DeSousa Gallery.

Forty or so years ago when the six women artists in this exhibition came down to Wayne State University or the Detroit Society of Arts and Craft to begin their art education, from each of their nearby homes in the broad reaches of Detroit’s working class neighborhoods, they were adventurers in a pretty much strange land. The exodus from racially torn Detroit had begun and the seamy, derelict parts were rising; the city seemed abandoned. Rents were cheap and studio space abundant.

These young women had the freedom to grow and become what they would without the usual college routines. Each did grow and develop as artists in their own unique way, for a while each living in the intellectually and artistically energetic Cass Corridor, staying the course to become fully, accomplished artists.

Brenda Goodman, “Balance,” 2017, Oil on Canvas

For years, the Brenda Goodman that Detroit knew had been the stalwart painter of a personal, iconography that was always executed with a masterful surface and line but left us waiting for a little more expansive, less inward preoccupation. Her drawing always had an underlying tenderness that contrasted with its moody, psychological content.

It appears that Brenda has broken out of her reflexive imagery, to do what John Yau has said about another fine artist, making “improvisation and surprise central” to her practice. In the two paintings at DeSousa, fresh new shapes and forms are the message and they are both wrought with Goodman’s characteristically sure hand and architecturally acute eye. “Tomorrow’s Promise” is a wonderful folding of trapezoids, ribbons and biomorphic shapes into an enigmatic etched space of brilliant thin orange and lime green wash activated by black and gray outlining. An inscrutable, colorful triangle sits in the center challenging the whole.

“Balance,” a black and white phallic yoga posture abstraction, has a sculptural presence and carries a memory of Goodman’s earlier cartoony symbolism.

Nancy Pletos,”Topsy Turvy,” 2001, Cardboad, paint, glue, found objects

 

Nancy Pletos, the spiritual linchpin of the Corridor art scene, and always one of its most formally inventive artists, transformed bits and pieces of wood molding and found objects into imaginary gardenscapes and architectural dreamscapes. At once zany as well as magical, she also recomposed sheets of Masonite back into 2-dimensional log forms. There are a number of her childlike gardenscapes (“Standing Gardens”) and wood sculptures in the exhibition, but the centerpiece of her work there is “Topsy Turvy,” 2001, the last wall reliefs she did before turning to smaller works. A multimedia piece of cardboard, paint, glue and found objects, “Topsy Turvy” is a hybrid wall relief, at once flora and fauna, creature and plant, serpent and garden, lacking a fixed identity and a wonderful synthesis of Pletos’ realizations of the natural world.

Ann Mikolowski, always a magical presence herself in the Cass Corridor, is represented by six of her famed miniature portraits of the movers and shakers of the art world. She of course did large paintings that always surprised with their unique subject matter and perspective. She did wonderful paintings of Lake Huron in various states of being and an enormous black and white cow, but her miniatures are her iconic works. Among the six portraits exhibited her portrait of “Mike Knight,” 1991, 3”x 5,” playing guitar, with the Ghost Band at the Third Street Bar, is a small miracle in capturing Knight’s singular presence, with red bandana and Harley-Davison T-shirt, on the stage. The detail of the stage setting is comical with a blue plastic milk crate supporting guitar player Ron Kopac’s Fender amp behind his cowboy boots, and two beer bottles hiding under the drum kit.

Ann Mikolowski, “Mike Knight,” 1991, Oil on canvas

Both Nancy Mitchnick and Ellen Phelan were powerful artistic, intellectual, and social forces in the Cass Corridor, before moving to New York City in 1973, to establish extraordinary careers. Composed of narrative comedy, painterly gymnastics and intuitive invention Mitchnick’s “Dog Party,” 2017, is just that, a delightful playdate for six dogs of diverse shape, color, and breed. Situated in a Southwestern-like landscape, with pink sky caressing distant mountains and arid green foreground with three horizontal canals articulating the space, the dogs, are dispersed like notes on a music scale. It’s a marvelous painting and arch illustration of Mitchnick’s enchanting inventions.

Ellen Phelan’s most notable works are her atmospheric and luminescent landscapes and her soft-focus doll paintings, but there is clearly a relationship between the early wood and paint sculpture in the exhibition and those later works. “Untitled,” 1976-77, is composed of three vertical wood boards painted gray, green and one unpainted, creating a column which is mounted to the wall. It has a black horizontal panel bifurcating it. Like her landscapes and soft focus dolls, “Untitled,” has an atmospheric presence. Its ambiguity is its definition. The black horizontal panel makes it a cruciform but only adds to it’s minimalist autonomy. Like Mitchnick, Phelan, in exploring multiple artistic tropes throughout her career, imposed an artistic and intellectual rigor to the Cass Corridor art scene.

Last, but spectacularly not least, is the Kathryn Brackett Luchs’ “Open,” 2018, a carved, 4’X8,’ birch plywood wood block and print diptych. Intensely gouged and carved with naturalistic patterns, and skimmed with green patina, resembling a landscape topography, it is imposing as a gorgeous monumental wall relief. Paper thin glassine was pressed into the block to create a gossamer, textured, echo-like print that was treated with sumi, a kind of printer’s ink, to insinuate a haunting aura.  Luchs’ wood block and print is reminiscent of the early Cass Corridor artist’s experiments with gouging and violently attacking plywood panels with a circular saw. Overall there is a beautiful coppery patina that fills the room with a beautiful glow.

With its focus on women, this last installment of “Cass Corridor: Connecting Times” couldn’t be more timely. The Cass Corridor moment is past, and this exhibition is palpable proof of the power of social and political forces in compelling and honing an engaged, creative community and, in this revolutionary moment, it is fitting that its revisiting ends with powerful women artists.  Simone DeSousa Gallery’s ambitious undertaking to revisit this artistic reaction to a dystopic Detroit is a resounding success. More important than anything else is that the Cass Corridor cultural scene was a collective community response, not to just a local crisis, but a worldwide psychic calamity. The art was one was one element of an incredibly complex time.  Celebrated here are six women artists whose work emerged from that moment and of course many equally fine artists, political activists, and intellectuals, who ultimately created and defined it, have not. It was the actual experience of that community, that was life/mind changing. It will be interesting to see what forms of a community and art loom out of the new Detroit.

Kathryn Bracket Luchs,  “Open,” 2018, Wood block—carved birch plywood with ink. Print—layered glassine with sumi on canvas, varnished.

 

Cass Corridor, Connecting Times: Brenda Goodman, Kathryn Bracket Luchs, Ann Mikolowski, Nancy Mitchnick, Ellen Phelan, and Nancy Pletos at Simone DeSousa Gallery through Oct 14, 2018

 

 

 

 

 

Mirrors and Intersections @ Grand Rapids Art Museum

Anila Quayyum Agha (American, b. Pakistan 1965). Intersections, 2013. Laser-cut wood, 6.5 x 6.5 x 6.5 feet. Courtesy of the Artist.

Anila Quayyum Agha’s ethereal sculptural installation Intersections is likely the most photographed work of art in Grand Rapids at the moment, surpassing even the city’s iconic, blazing-red Calder.  At Artprize 2014 (the city’s annual public-art festival), Intersections won both the People’s Choice and Judges’ Choice awards, and now, through the end of Summer, it returns to the Grand Rapids Art Museum where it made its auspicious debut.  It was a work calculatedly fashioned to appeal across social and cultural demographics, and if Instagramability is a worthy criterion of a work’s public appeal, then the artist certainly succeeded.

The work is the star of a pair of closely related solo exhibitions on view in adjacent gallery spaces, one showcasing Agha, and the other featuring Iranian artist Monir Shaharoudy Farmanfarmaian. There’s a thematic continuity between their distinctive styles that make the pairing work almost as a single show. Both artists apply sophisticated tessellations and kaleidoscopic patters so characteristic of visual culture in the pan-Arab world, and both artists explore the visual possibilities of reflected light and cast shadow.  Their works are also both—to some degree– participatory and interactive.

Monir Shaharoudy Farmanfarmaian, Installation image, Courtesy of the Grand Rapids Art Museum

The first exhibition space contains Mirror Variations, Farmanfarmaian’s luminous glass sculptures which represent an inventive fusion of traditional Persian art mixed with the American abstraction the artist encountered during her formative years in New York between 1945 and 1957, where she met art-world luminaries like Willem de Kooning and Louise Nevelson.  (In 2015 her work came full circle; New York’s Guggenheim awarded the artist her first solo American show—perhaps a curiously late honor for an artist and socialite of such import that she and her husband once played host to President John and Jackie Kennedy in Tehran.)

Inspired both by Arabic architecture and by principles of Sufi geometry, Farmanfarmaian’s work applies repetition and progression of simple shapes.  Like mosaics in 3D, her sculptures comprise tens of thousands of individual glass components which reflect light, diffusing fragmented geometric shapes across the gallery walls, ceiling, and floor.   One pentagonal sculpture—though prohibitively stowed behind glass on a pedestal—reflects light onto the ceiling and into the viewer’s space, directly involving the GRAM’s architecture into her work.  The lack of artisans in the United States able to help execute such detailed cut-glass work as this is partly why the artist eventually returned to her home country in 2004 after over 20 years of exile initiated by the Iranian Revolution.

Monir Farmanfarmaian (Iranian, b. 1924). Tir (Convertible Series), 2015. Mirror, reverse-glass painting, plaster on wood, 63 x 63 x 6 inches

These stately, ordered sculptures might seem the polar opposite of the often noisy, raucous world of the Postwar New York School, but some of her hanging sculptures invite a certain relinquishment of control that seems to parallel the likes of Robert Rauschenberg—particularly his playfully interactive Synapsis Shuffle (incidentally, a series of paintings which the GRAM exhibited in this very room back in 2012). Her Convertible series explores the myriad of varying geometric possibilities that can be created with a set of identical, interlocking shapes.  Each polygonic component is a fairly complex work in its own right, but the specific way they are arranged on the wall remains entirely fluid, ever-changing wherever they happen to be installed.

The second major gallery space is entirely devoted to Agha’s Intersections.  The work is a suspended black cube (about 7 feet square) crafted out of laser-cut wood, and inside a high-power bulb blasts the form’s intricate geometric shadows onto the gallery’s walls, ceiling, and floor, transforming every cubic millimeter of the space.  Its patterns derive from architectural elements of Spain’s Alhambra,the famed 14thcentury Nasarid dynasty palace and fortress.   It’s visually striking, but the work is conceptual as well.  Agha states that growing up in Pakistan as a female, she was not allowed to enter mosques, and with Intersections, wished to create a work which was open and accessible across all demographics.  Indeed, there’s something democratic and participatory about seeing yourself silhouetted on the gallery wall alongside the shadows of other visitors, all invariably with phones drawn, ready to share the moment on social media.

Video interview with Agha

In an auxiliary exhibition space, viewers confront a final bit of shadowplay.  A circular sculpture comprising  hundreds of identical triangular shapes is affixed from a wall and tactfully illuminated from three different angles.  The shadows it casts resemble a mash-up of a Venn-diagram and a series of tessellations by M.C. Escher.

Together, Mirror Variations and Intersections both manage to tactfully translate centuries-old Arabic visual culture into the language of 21stCentury abstraction.  And both artists manipulate light to transform a gallery space, creating works that transcend the beautiful and perhaps approach the sublime.  Their works slow us down—even in an art museum, after all, one is tempted to rush through to take everything in, spending, according to one study, less than 30 seconds in front of each painting.  But here the artists invite us to linger, and these exhibitions suppress our impulse to hurriedly move on the next thing.

Grand Rapids Museum  – through August 26, 2018