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.

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

 

Ryan Standfest @ WSU Art Department Gallery

Ryan Standfest: THIS MUST NOT BE THE PLACE YOU THOUGHT IT WOULD BE at the Wayne State University Art Department Gallery

Installation view with view of “Factory Heads” All Photo images by PD Rearick

Aside from the subversively compelling and diverse mix of genres and styles of his art making, the dominant feature of Ryan Standfest’s exhibition is his irreverent, comic graphic sensibility. Whether in dark comic video, social and political satire comic, joke books, painterly advertisements, agitprop theater, or comix strips, everything is subject to its scrutiny. In one of his remarkable “writings” found on his website he narrates the story of his boyhood adventure in a church parsonage storage shed, where he’d wandered, existential 9-year-old boy style, to experience an epiphany of the aesthetic value of comic books. There in the dark shed, in his prepubescent glory, sitting upon a stack of 15 years’ worth of discarded Detroit Free Press newspapers, dating back to 1968, he discovered and proceeded to search for, cut out and scrapbook, the “Dick Tracy” comic strips. The narrative itself is an arch-comic book style self-discovery! Most importantly it is where Standfest began to savor the essence of pulp paper culture and revel in its wanton working class virtues as well as create a method for art making. The rest is his story.

Ryan Standfest, “The Captain of Industry,” gesso, graphite, ink, enamel on cardboard, 34 ¾” x 42 ¼”,2018

The title of the Standfest’s exhibit at the Wayne State University Art Department Gallery “THIS MUST NOT BE THE PLACE YOU THOUGHT IT WOULD BE,” is typical ominous and foreboding language that you might find in a comic strip. Both physical and psychic displacement are the basic tropes of comic strips. In the small, but explosive, little boxes filled with minimal little drawings of “the comic section,” all sorts of mishaps, mysteries, surprises and aporia occur and– whether its Dick Tracy, Beetle Bailey, or Pogo—the comic strip world turns on the displacement of logic and the predictable; expecting Utopia and disappointingly ending in Dystopic visual gag of some kind. Standfest is all about language and his title here has it all: past tense, present tense, future tense; ironic surprise. Part of the issue of looking at his work is precisely unraveling the ball of time and space it encompasses. The exhibition itself proceeds a bit like a comic strip, going from inscrutable painting to painting, with only the barest of word play, letting the audience figure it out for themselves.

Standfest’s overall oeuvre is then one of bewildering sense of time and space, of nostalgia for promised future and the agony of a defeated utopia. His prime invention in this exhibition are the cardboard panels that seem to be 2-D “point-of-purchase” display cases of Standfest’s “Rotland MFG. Co., Detroit, Mi.,” and function almost as heraldic banners that parody the language of advertisements where things are either promised, promoting a bright future, or liquidated, suggesting collapse.  They suggest a time after World War l, when “Developers” were building Detroit and offering a utopian future for everyone.  Standfest’s “The Captains of Industry” painting is an ironic image composed of crisscrossed smoke stacks and canons (the mix of war and industrial culture can’t be missed) and filled with little token statuettes of, probably, Henry Ford, like the Catholic Dashboard statues of Jesus and Mary that people used to put on their car dashboards to protect them from evil. (There must have been a spiritual side to Ford.) There’s thirteen heraldic-like paintings and each, like heraldic coats of arm crests, celebrate moments (victories or defeats) of social and economic organization. “Unearthed Streetcar Rail” celebrates an ironic discovery of an already existing railroad system, made by workers when excavating Woodward Avenue for the new Q-Line and serves as reminder of the redundancy of Detroit’s city planning.  His painting “Vintage Union Handbooks,” ironically promotes the hand book as memorabilia of an institution (labor unions) that saved workers from abject abuse. Libraries, decommissioned schools and factories, dream houses, cheap land are all victims or promises of  utopia.

Ryan Standfest, “Welcome to Fordlandia,” Gesso, charcoal, enamel, and varnish on cardboard, 49 ½ x 31”, 2018

Complementing “The Captains of Industry” painting is Henry Ford’s experimental factory town in Brazil, Fordlandia, “celebrated” by a derelict looking banner painting suggesting the failure of Ford’s colonizing enterprise to build a Michigan style rubber factory in the Amazon jungle.

All of the banner paintings employ the graphic style of early 20thcentury Futurists and Russian constructivists, with their explosive, geometrical angularity, always suggesting machines and speed, such as the Italian and Russian designers Fortunato Depero and Gustav Klutsis; a mix of Industrial Capitalism and Bolshevik revolution, perhaps implying they were both failures. The image on the eroding Fordlandia banner seems to be a throne for Henry, the king of industry, himself.

There’s a host of Standfest’s heraldic-like paintings and images to unpack and sort through and they accumulate into a mapping of Detroit and Michigan’s industrial production and the havoc it rained on the city. There’s even a black painting of the outline of the mitten of the state of Michigan belching out a plume of oily smoke from Detroit, its catastrophic epicenter, and featuring locations of all of the products, from cars to copper, of the state.

Ryan Standfest, “A Child’s Picture Map,” gesso, acrylic, wood, oil, chalk, collage and mixed media on Arches, 47 ½ “x 47,” 2018

Standfest’s black humor, about which he writes on his website, is employed in a B&W digital video, “THE DIRT EATER,” which sees a broken Chaplinesqe character, Mister Ricky, played by himself, sitting down in a gloomy basement at a T.V. tray to eat a plate of dirt. Photos of Gramps, who was laid low by alcohol and tobacco, punctuate Mr. Ricky’s dinner of dirt, meanwhile Grammy sits by the old radio upstairs listening to Irving Berlin’s chestnut, “I Want to Go Back to Michigan,” a song about nostalgia for farm life in Michigan. The dirt that Mister Ricky eats is from Gramp’s garden behind the garage. While “The Dirt Eater” is a painfully humorous satire on the working-class nostalgia, it is a not a misrepresentation and is realistic in its portrayal of the dark, melancholia of the lives of the burned-out working family.

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 by 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.

Ryan Standfest, “Factory Head No.1,” archival inkjet on Epson, 32 ½ x 32 ½,” 2018

The quandary that we are left with in sorting out Standfest’s vision is the ultimate one that we are always left with: what to do with Modernism. Standfest’s comic satire of the machine age that left a wake of psychologically and physically maimed humans and a derelict social order was, at the same time, an emancipation from the tyranny of an old aristocratic ownership production and design. Standfest engages the Beckettian dilemma with a robustness which propels his excavations along with digging for and exposing another ironic gag.

Standfest is ruthlessly hilarious in his Dick Tracy-like comic strip satire of Adolf Loos’ famous critique “Ornament and Crime,” that helped define modernism, of how ornamentation in design is a crime against humanity. Standfest turns the scales, puts his detective Wolfe (Standfest’s version of Dick Tracy) on the case to expose the “villainous operation known as “International Style,” a crime wave of bare, spare, impersonal, and highly abstract architecture forced upon the innocent dwellers of the city by a group of European thugs.”  Humorously dark critiques of the festishization of modernist design and designers, including of LeCorbusier and Mies van der Rohe abound, as well the opposite, fetishization of worker’s clothing and lifestyle that fill out and balance Standfest’s salient humor.

Ryan Standfest, “Unearthed Streetcar Rail,” gesso, graphite, ink, enamel on cardboard, 36” x 20,” 2018

Ryan Standfest: THIS MUST NOT BE THE PLACE YOU THOUGHT IT WOULD BE –  at the Wayne State University Art Department Gallery  – through December 7, 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

Desire as Politics @ Valade Family Gallery

Eight Video Installations at Valade Family Gallery at the College for Creative Studies

Installation image of Desire as Politics, Valade Family Gallery CCS 2018

The staging of the current exhibition at the Valade Family Gallery creates an enigmatic equation. Eight separate, strategically arranged, large-screen video installations by eight renowned video artists occupy the darkened gallery. Like the theory of “intersectionality” itself, which holds that all issues of gender, race, and class are interconnected, each video performs a drama of identity construction issues that might face the LGBTQ community; and each has extraordinary dramatic value with captivating characters and stories. Thanks to Exhibitions Manager and co-curator Jonathan Rejewski, the Valade space is perfectly articulated to allow for quiet, meditative viewing, but at the same time demonstrates, like a Venn diagram, the overlapping issues from piece to piece, from artist to artist, of sexual, racial discrimination, homophobia, and class elitism. The layout is a compelling stage for one of the most compelling issues of our time. By the same token, “Desire as Politics” performs a galvanizing a vision of the crippling emotional effect of our dire human landscape.

The eight artists were selected by College for Creative Studies assistant professor Scott Northrup of the Entertainment Arts faculty. As an artist and experimental filmmaker himself, whose own work is concerned with identity construction, Northrup’s selection covers a period in which the language and politics of sexual identity have undergone radical changes. From the catch-all term “queer,” to “gay or lesbian,” to LGBTQ, from basically 1985 to present, the shift from a binary language (queer or straight) to a nuanced dialectic has broken down the binary into open forms, and has become part of mainstream culture.

Cecilia Dougherty speaking in “Gay Tape: Butch and Femme,” 1985

 

The earliest video, Cecilia Dougherty’s 1985 “Gay Tape: Butch and Femme,” is a strikingly complex and even, in retrospect, humorous documentary, for its diverse representation of lesbian identity. Shot in Ollie’s Bar, “a lesbian dive on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland (CA),“ it features five women’s impromptu statements about their sexual identities. At one point Dougherty herself bemoans the need to “validate our homosexuality” while heterosexuals don’t have that pressure. What is borne out in the work is the complex semiotics of the old terms of “femme” and “butch.” At one point a black woman who self-identifies as butch does a veritable standup comic routine on the semiotics of butch and femme clothing, behavior, and mores. It is brilliantly detailed and really funny how much, like a semiotician, she has paid attention to the difference between herself and “femmes.”

Like any social critique, each of the videos is complex and supports multiple readings. Filmmaker Matt Lambert’s “His Sweat,” 2016, is a four-minute, erotic exploration of sweating male nudes, and while homoerotic in style, could be seen as simply an exploration of the sculptural beauty of the male form. It’s in that difference that “Desire as Politics” is a polemic as much as a collective documentary on sexual identity.

Ira Sachs, “Lady,” 1994, 28-Min. and Matt Lambert, “His Sweat,” 2016, 4-min

 

Even more complicated is Ira Sachs’ “Lady” (1994), an engaging, 28-minute narrative portrait of a female “actress” who rambles from one identity to another, from lesbian portraying a gay man, to playing a gay man portraying straight women. We really are never sure of the psychic make up of the speaking subject. Emotionally “Lady” is suffused with a strange, unresolved longing for something, for a satisfaction that is stalemated by indescribable forces. The piece prefigures Sachs’ later film, Leave the Lights On (2012), that develops this frustration into a critically acclaimed feature, where uncertainty of sexual identity between two male characters is the prevalent dynamic.

While seemingly humorous, “Women’s Size Eight” (2017), a four-minute video by College for Creative Studies’ student Zachary Marsack, portrays the torturous effort to “shoe-horn” a battered “male foot” into a dainty, spike-heeled shoe. The physical torture notwithstanding, the metaphor of fitting a masculine-assigned figure into a feminine form is perfectly and simply stated. Marsack’s video is the only one projected on a TV, which appropriately sits on the floor where feet belong.

“Desire as Politics” executes an amazingly astute, while very human, analysis of our hybridized sexual landscape and, by so doing, suggests the deep critical readings of the so-called heterosexual landscape as well. Because of the dazzling collection of images and voices, the most eye-opening video is Rashaad Newsome’s “Stop Playing in My Face,” 2016. The title was taken from a performance by transgendered Samantha James Revlon and, through a video collage of baroque jewelry and architectural elements, Newsome designed a head-shaped sculpture and video that speaks of the patriarchy of straight life and the desire and need to break it down. In this he has employed the voices of various feminists, such as bell hooks and trans activist Janet Mock, to speak their critiques from collaged mouths in the sculpture. The selection and arrangement of videos in and of itself creates a stunning deconstruction of our gendered landscape.

Group installation view, Valade Family Gallery, 2018

“Desire as Politics” at College for Creative Studies’ Valade Family Gallery – through March 10, 2018.