Ragnar Kjartansson, Steve Shaw, Chloe Brown @ MOCAD

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Ragnar Kjartansson – Installation 2016, All Images Courtesy of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit

The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit –  Winter Exhibition: Ragnar Kjartansson, Steve Shaw, Chloe Brown

The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit’s cavernous galleries often echo with sound, from the frequent band shows in the café space (which is my current favorite place to drink coffee and catch up with my emails) and from the steady influx of multi-media works that always lend a distilling element to MOCAD’s exhibitions. Sound really is the cornerstone of MOCAD’s winter exhibition, most notably produced by a solitary, guitar-strumming lady seated upon a revolving dais in a large, empty gallery curtained off by gold tinsel streamers. This is “Woman in E,” a performance piece created by Ragnar Kjartansson.

Parting the gold curtains to enter the space, one is confronted with eerie, resonant chords and dim, sparse space that evoke the strange interstice after a party has ended, a telling shadow of the real action, which took place sometime before. Potent symbols of Motown, glitter rock and funk are all here, with the solemn, oracle-like figure strumming in E Minor (chosen for its melancholy, reflective effect) on an electric guitar as the focal point.

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Film still from Dancing in the Boardroom (Turnin’ My Heartbeat Up), 2013. Chloë Brown.

The theme of after-party fallout and cultural epoch is approached as well in the film and drawing of Chloe Brown, who’s body of work exploring the youth culture and economic gloom surrounding the closing of a Spode ceramics factory in Stoke-on Trent, England pinpoints the essential relationship between music, movement and identity in the face of great loss. Brown’s film, “Dancing in the Boardroom (Turnin’ my Heartbeat Up)” depicts a young couple dancing to Northern Soul music in a spacious, dim room with beautiful parquet floors that once bore the weight of executives, secretaries and free enterprise. Shots of the abandoned Spode factory’s lush interiors and tremulous lighting stand in stark contrast to the couple’s unabashed joy in moving to this Motown-inspired music.

A dose of life on the street is supplied by photographer Steve Shaw. Shaw’s documentary-style images of Detroiters making their way with dance, dress, and grit in a constantly shifting urban landscape supply the unstudied immediacy that is stylized out of the other artist’s work.

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Steve Shaw, Black & White Photograph, Gratiot & Shene 1983, Courtesy of the artist.

In a show anchored in performance, Shaw’s photographs depict people drawing from the same cultural well and making many of the same movements as the performers in Chloe Brown and Ragnar Kjartansson’s works, only in real time, with skin in the game.

The Winter Show is on display at Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit from January 15 through April 24, 2016.  http://www.mocadetroit.org 

 

Coleman, Gardner, & Egner @ N’Namdi Contemporary

N’Namdi Winter Line-Up :Warm Woodworks and Emotional Moving Blankets

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Each work by Johnny Coleman in his main gallery show at the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art http://nnamdicenter.org/ is dedicated to someone; “For Maya Angelou,” some say, or “For Wendall Logan,”—Andre Burbridge, Toni Morrison, Brother Yusef, Kamau Daaood, even one dedicated more generally “For the Poets.” This is fitting with the show’s title, Homage: Regular Folk, which reflects Coleman’s sense that these illustrious names “Are all regular folk…each of them is deeply connected to the people and cultures from which they emerged. They do not set themselves apart.”

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Johnny Coleman “Poem for Brother Yusef”, 2015/16, Mixed media, audio

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Johnny Coleman, “Lifted” (For Shoulders), 2015, Mixed media

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The homage is paid through totemic arrangements of found materials, including musical instruments, salvaged wood, and chalkboards. Coleman speaks of the chalkboards as a visual articulation of memory: “Though erased, one can see traces of what has been written there before.” But all of his materials radiate a residual energy, infusing his precisely finished woodworks with a sense of soul. The central, and most elaborate, installation features a tabletop composition supported by a base made of wood-framed chalkboard segments, which stands before an illuminated fabric scrim, amid a carpet of oak leaves. The scene is peaceful and full of autumn melancholy; gourds loll in the thick, even, scattering of leaves, two little stools support oregano and basil stuffed in bottle gourds. There is sense of an odd and elevated picnic in progress, with the table full of dry brown rice that serves to anchor a spread which includes a medley of spices, a bamboo flute, and a recovered radio set, among other items. Underscoring this ceremonial layout is an improvisation on “12 Bar Blues,” interspersed with found sound, including Yusef Lateef’s breath, and afternoon traffic outside the Detroit Public Library. Says Coleman, “The relationship between “Poem For Brother Yusef” and the blues piece emerging from within the installation, for me, speaks to the manner in which Yusef Lateef in particular, and jazz and the blues in general, serve as vehicles for the transformation of struggle and pain into something more than tenacity.”

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John Egner, “Two Tone Plinth 2012, Wood

 

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John Egner, “Al Dente Top”, 2012-15, Wood

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is just one of almost a dozen incredibly thoughtful arrangements in Homage: Regular Folk. The incredible care in finishing these materials creates smooth and engaging tones and surfaces that speak to the sonorous qualities that lend wood to be the base material of stringed instruments. The impact of wood as a versatile material is demonstrated perfectly in the works of John Egner in the Rose Gallery. The simply-titled Wood Constructions tells it like it is, with just over a dozen compact wall hangings that suggest architectural scale models or clusters of frame-shop samples, at a glance. The small, interlocking pieces of each arrangement build up layers of depth and an interplay of colors with natural wood tones, creating little modernist houses that perch somewhere between two and three dimensions. There is glorious tension here; one imagines each piece being constructed like a game of Jenga, with Egner precariously removing and adding little slips of wood, one at a time, to find the perfect stopping point between balance and collapse.

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Saffell Gardner, – Cosmic Spirits, installation view

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Saffell Gardner, One within the “Cosmic Spirits” series, 2015, 72 1/2” x 81 1/2”, Acrylic on moving blanket

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eschewing wood, but picking up on spiritual explorations, a new body of work, Cosmic Spirits, by Saffell Gardner fills the Black Box Gallery and stretches along the corridor. Inside the gallery, large-scale pieces rendered on heavily gessoed moving blankets layer riots of color and form over a base layer of geometrics created by the quilting of the blankets. Gardner first experimented with moving blankets as canvases during the 2014 Big Painting show, and finds them attractive for both the texture and the scale. “The quilting texture added the depth that felt was necessary for the spiritual aspect I wanted to convey in this series of paintings,” says Gardner. With the overlay of painted shapes—including the iconic Xhango, a double-ax shape that has been a recurring motif in Gardner’s work for quite a few years—and the underlying geometries places his work in conversation with Enger’s. The sense of cosmic exploration and connection to influential figures aligns it very much with Coleman’s. “What I see going on is my idea of a tribute to my ancestors the were lost during middle passage,” says Gardner.

All three of the shows, which will run at N’Namdi until April 1st, bring a unique perspective to the table, but the overall effect is quite seamless, with the mastery each of these artists brings to his craft grounding their playful and heartfelt explorations. Whether you’re interested in tributes to regular folk, meditations on cosmic spirits, or just simple wood constructions, N’Namdi’s winter line-up has something inspiring to offer.

52 E Forest Ave, Detroit, MI 48201     (313) 831-8700

http://nnamdicenter.org

 

 

Carlos Rolón/Dzine @ OUAG

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

http://www.ouartgallery.org

 

Tim van Laar @ Simone DeSousa Gallery

 

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Timothy van Laar, Installation All Images Courtesy of the Simone DeSousa Gallery

Moving from one work to the next in “Reliable Data,” Timothy van Laar’s solo exhibition at Simone DeSousa Gallery, is a visual treat and an intellectual puzzle as no painting show that looks like this has the right to be. On the face of it, there’s a lot of painting out there that looks like van Laar’s- his work displays many accoutrements that flip the “contemporary painting that’s coming back and talking about itself” switch in my brain. There’s intentionally bad painting, and there’s a veneer of irony. There’s also ample reference to painting. And yet… “Reliable Data” is so much more than the sum of these parts. In fact, it’s recalibrating how I think about contemporary painting that looks like this. Everybody else is doing it crappily. Van Laar is doing it as it should be done!

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Timothy van Laar, The Book of Black & White

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First, there’s the bad painting. Van Laar engages it as a trope (in fact he renders the clumsy movements of a novice mistreating oil paint so astonishingly well it’s kind of a painting of bad painting) but- importantly- doesn’t take it over the top. Where “the top” is with intentionally bad painting I can’t quite pinpoint, but most of it tends to feel lazy and dull, which van Laar’s work could not be further from. Perhaps it’s in his careful curation of which elements in each work are painted badly and which with razor-sharp technical precision, which becomes a part of the humorous contrast between the elements. Why, for instance, is the hummingbird in “We Hope for Better Things” executed at such huge scale, in such obscenely inappropriate slashes of poorly handled tonalities, while its companion object, an old-timey microphone, diminishes in both size and belabored treatment almost to a crisply blocked silhouette?

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Timothy van Laar, We Hope for Better Things

Speculations about the various groupings and treatments of the visual elements in van Laar’s paintings open a path to divining his content. The paintings have such singular, oddball logic, such crystalline method moving from one to the next, they make you want to do this. The objects that appear in van Laar’s paintings tend to the refined, the intellectual, fragile… In fact the word is dainty. A precious blue and white Chinese vase, various diminutive birds, noble stacks of books. These refined objects are usually the ones given the bad painting treatment, however, as if their value provokes too much devotion to handle with a light or a skilled touch.

8. The Book of Color

Timothy van Laar, The Book of Color

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The forms of these object’s encasement and amplification- cardboard boxes, a microphone- are presented in a linear, matter-of-fact way. The frisson between these two extremes of representation gets more and more fascinating as one begins to wonder just what is being communicated here. Alongside the visual dialog is a narrative progression- van Laar’s paintings entice like Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Finally, there are the references to art history, which reminds me of my first impression of the work’s ironic air. There’s nothing ironic about van Laar’s paintings, really- my knee-jerk response was wrong. There’s delight, and amusement, and even some reverence, in the recognizable reproductions of forms from Matisse and Calder’s toolboxes- modern art’s relationship with color is distilled by a large, linear disco ball festooned with color swatches sprung straight out of a twentieth century cardboard box. The work in “Reliable Data” makes clear the rock solid scaffolding on which it is built, and its careful curation of visual and intellectual indexes brings the true refinement so amusingly failed at in the poorly painted precious objects. While it’s said that fine art presents a set of problems to which there is no logical solution, I left Timothy van Laar’s exhibition feeling that his read was, indeed, reliable.

“Reliable Data” is on view at Simone DeSousa Gallery until February 28. https://www.simonedesousagallery.com 

Beyond Photography @ Public Pool

Photo Pool Takes Over Hamtramck

Noah Elliott Morrison's photo instrallation

Noah Elliott Morrison’s photo illustration. All Photographs courtesy of Sarah Rose Sharp.

The stated objective of Photo Pool: Photography Based Art Beyond Photographs at Public Pool is clear from the title—Curator Noah Elliott Morrison has assembled a collection of artists attempting to use photography as a jumping-off point for artistic exploration that goes beyond the conventional boundaries of the medium. In this respect, the show is very successful, with five artists (including Morrison) that take their photographic inspiration in wildly divergent directions.

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Brandon Christopher – A Flock of Re-Imagined House Portraits

The immediate impulse is to place these presentations into a kind of hierarchy of relative closeness to conventional photography, but the impossibility of doing so reveals the success of Photo Pool in collecting artists that both embrace the photographic medium and consciously dismantle it. Brandon Christopher, for example, begins with relatively straightforward portraits of abandoned Detroit homes, but violates the purity of these as photographs by pairing them with colored-over versions of the same images, effectively rendering the homes as though drawn by an imaginative child.

Ash Arder - Net Worth 1

Ash Arder – Net Worth 1

Ash Arder uses photography as a logical means for documentation, in her explorations of found objects in and out of context. In “Net Worth 1,” a photograph features a rusty basketball hoop on the street, displayed in juxtaposition with a white-washed version of a similar hoop, its makeshift net hand woven from stinging nettle fibers. Nearby, a second piece of the installation titled “Strange Fruit” is comprised of a set of three (faux) red apples suspended within another matrix of nettle fibers; close viewing reveals a barcode sticker with the unmistakable Air Jordan logo visible through the loose knit of nettles. As with Christopher’s work, the photographic elements ground the subject in physical reality, even as Arder begins to weave these elements of the material and cultural world together to paint a sinister tale.

 

Trisha Holt, on floor

Trisha Holt – Work reaches onto floor

One might argue that Trisha Holt’s piece, which sits a floor level, is the most directly photographic. It appears to be a largely unaltered image of a large body of water in two segments—the serene surface stretching back to fill the plane of an image leaning against the wall, a small wave cresting to break within the piece lying flat on the floor. But Holt’s use of these two vectors plays a neat trick of incorporating this incongruous image seamlessly into the gallery space, having cleverly fitted her floor piece into the trap door that enables basement access from the gallery. Holt’s work often negotiates new dimensionality in photography, playing off the odd tricks of perspective that occur when photographs with their own depth are reincorporated into new images (much like the dislocating effect of posing for a picture next to a cardboard cutout of a celebrity). Her piece manages to create a sense that the wave might break across the gallery floor at any moment.

 

Ben Saginaw's pairings

Ben Saginaw – Couter Intuitive Pairings

Challenging as they are understated, an installation of pieces by Ben Saginaw fall perhaps the farthest outside conventional photography—a great achievement in a show filled with mixed media. Two pillow forms cast from dense plaster are on display above two small photographs that feature indeterminate scenes in progress; in one, a small girl appears to be shooting a handgun. The pillows, which are ostensibly soft and harmless, are in fact heavy. The girl, Saginaw states, is shooting cans with her family on a summer evening in Detroit. So close to the anniversary of the death of Tamir Rice, a young boy shot by police for playing with a toy gun in the open-carry state of Ohio, the image cannot help but remind us the high stakes surrounding what we think we see, when we see things.

Suspended before the gallery’s back wall is Morrison’s own work, which layers semi-translucent photographic images taken in Hamtramck into a dense patchwork of visual information, lit up by a hovering flock of flashlights. Morrison’s intention was to create a metaphor for the densely layered qualities of life in Hamtramck—the installation is best viewed from behind, as the flashlight beams enhance details from each layer that remain distinct in the visual chaos.

From lake views, to the comforts of home, to life on the streets, Photo Pool: Photography Based Art Beyond Photographs lives up to its title in a focused and satisfying way that leaves this reviewer itching to revisit the medium.

Photo Pool: Photography Based Art Beyond Photographs: http://apublicpool.com