I wrote a review of this conceptually rigorous and visually appealing show for Detroit Art Review recently. To read the full text, go here
Ann Arbor’s Current magazine recently published my preview of the University of Michigan Museum of Fine Art’s winter/spring project Witness Lab, a collaboration between the museum and various segments of the Michigan legal community. The project highlights the importance of storytelling in the courtroom as a space of performance, and the centrality of lawyers as agents of justice. Roman J. Witt artist-in-residence Courtney McClellan designed this extended series of events, films, performances and lectures around a full-sized courtroom replica, now installed in the museum’s Irving Stenn, Jr. Family Gallery. For a complete list of scheduled events and other information go here
I recently wrote a review of Detroit artist Kylie Lockwood’s rough but exquisite porcelain figures at Simone DeSousa Gallery. The artist “aims to reconcile the experience of living in a female body with the history of sculpture.” To read the full review, go here
When I walked into Janice Charach Gallery to see PaperWorks in late October, I experienced a moment of profound confusion. Perhaps because I knew that Meighen Jackson, the curator of the exhibit, had been experimenting in her own art practice with the 3-dimensional potential of paper, torn or cut or folded, I expected to see work that reflected a sculptural approach to the material.
I found though, that PaperWorks is not so much a show about paper, but a show of work on paper by 7 accomplished artists with a diverse array of goals and methods. For them, paper is a given, a starting point, an almost transparent means to an end. They have used it as such, working in a range of styles and toward a variety of ends, producing work that spans a broad spectrum of emotional expression and observation.
The humorous drawings of Constance Bruner employ the visual syntax of comics and animation, and occupy the expressive end of this collection. She playfully engages in a formal dialog between the paper and the marks she makes upon it, calling her drawings evidence of “a process of navigation between control and impulse, emotion and rational thought.” The series of moves and countermoves that she makes within the bounds of the paper produces lively images that swoop and wiggle on the page. Sue Carman-Vian is likewise an artist bent on expression but in a shadowy, ominous mood that delivers an implied critique of feminine roles and constraints. Her five large charcoal drawings, inhabited exclusively by female figures, possess a sinister, storybook quality. The women are not in danger, precisely, but they seem immobilized. Women at their Heights, places women literally on a pedestal where they are idolized but lack agency. In another drawing, Diner Party Dress, the lone figure is implicitly offered as a commodity, to be admired and then consumed.
In a more formal –and three-dimensional–vein, Jiangmei Wu describes herself as fascinated by the tactile qualities of folding. Her two elaborately folded pieces, Boreas and Eurus, are lit from within, and suggest symmetrical forms from nature, crystals or single-celled organisms. Her paper folding is simple in concept, but elaborate in effect. She describes her deceptively simple but sophisticated method, ” I use balancing, connecting, hinging, suspending, pulling and popping in my works. I often fold intuitively, oscillating between states of disequilibrium and equilibrium.” Elizabeth Youngblood shares with Jingmei Wu a preoccupation with the formal and process-related properties of her material. In her drawing Red 1, She arrives at her finished image by means of repeating a single gesture. Some of her other work in this collection depends upon the process of pouring aluminum paint onto paper, yielding an image that is both intentional and fortuitous, dependent upon chance but clearly intentional.
John Hegarty and Armin Mersmann occupy the observational end of the spectrum in PaperWorks, and are engaged in intense looking and recording of what they see, though to vastly different ends. Hegarty has had a distinguished career as an artist and teacher, and his keen interest in his fellow human beings informs his ongoing art practice.“Usually what I draw, or paint, are friends,” he says. His life-size drawings of Pat Duff, a friend of long standing whose face and figure he often draws, are deeply humane and closely observed. Armin Mersmann’s obsessively detailed landscape drawings speak to the artist’s preoccupation with visual perception as an avenue to deep understanding. “Drawing gives me the opportunity to truly see,” he explains. He aims to record the truth beneath the surface appearance of things and to convey that sense of the sublime to the viewer.
Lynne Avadenka a printmaker, avid archivist of all things printed and student of the printed word as related to the Jewish experience, rounds out this distinguished roster of master draftsmen/craftsmen with 8 mixed media collages entitled Bomberg Variations. The historic version of the talmud referenced in these cut paper collages established the holy book’s page design into modern times and it’s easy to see why. Even without text, the formal dignity of the design conveys an undeniable sense of the ineffable and transcendent.
It appears from the evidence presented in PaperWorks that rumors of the demise of paper as an artistic medium, to paraphrase Mark Twain, “have been greatly exaggerated.” The artists take advantage of paper’s ubiquity and flexibility as a material, finding it a means ideally suited to their diverse ends.
PaperWorks, curated by Meighen Jackson and featuring the works of Armin Mersmann, Constance Bruner, Elizabeth Youngblood, Jiangmei Wu, John Hegarty, Lynne Avadenka and Sue Carman Vian, will be on view on the main level of Janice Charach Gallery until December 5. For more information go here
It’s inevitable that a group show juried by a single artist will reflect the preoccupations and interests of that artist. But you would be hard pressed to see a collection of objects in the unique but derelict space on the 7th floor of the historic Secor Building in Toledo that more clearly reflects the esthetic of juror Scott Hocking. Hocking, well known and admired as a keen observer of Detroit’s constantly morphing urban landscape, has juried a show presenting a distinctive collection of artworks that function more as an installation than as individual objects.
Hocking is a connoisseur of solastalgia, a form of existential distress caused by environmental change. It can be either global or local. In Hocking’s case, it centers on the city of Detroit. (His companion show at the Walter T. Terhune Gallery at Owens Community College provides a visual manifesto of his world view.)
Material/Immaterial, on view through October 19th, features the work of 25 young artists from the Great Lakes region. They work in three dimensions and in a variety of materials, some conventional and some not-so-much. It looks like the first art exhibit after the apocalypse.
The venue for Material/Immaterial is as much a part of this exhibition as the works displayed; there is a seamlessness between the environment and the art pieces in it that is quintessentially Hocking. In contrast to the anonymity of a white box gallery, the space exerts a gravitational pull on the objects and seems to absorb them into its orbit. Many of the artworks feel as if they have been discarded or accidentally left behind. The entire installation celebrates the esthetic of the found object.
Many of the pieces in the exhibit seem to be the chance result of natural disasters. I am thinking of Summer Gobrecht’s Serendipity, a cluster of dish-shaped, splashed-plaster objects clustered in a tiled surround, the elegant, ghostly record of a meteor impact on a distant moon. A different, more human kind of calamity is implied in Leather Shoes, by Tom Reihart. Child-sized legs and feet protrude, abandoned, from beneath a dark cloth and suggest a story of personal catastrophe.
A more humorous take on disaster is delivered by Shawn Campbell, who works in diverse media including photography, sculpture, video installation and painting. He specializes in ad hoc celebrations of spectacle involving civil, financial and political power that both provokes amusement and provides some shrewd social commentary on contemporary social and economic trends. My favorite piece of the show is his oil-spouting plywood construction (Untitled). It’s the bastard offspring of a beaux arts fountain and a toxic waste dump, simultaneously hilarious and sinister.
Another favorite piece in Material/Immaterial is by Elizabeth Cote. At first glance you think you see a quilt carelessly thrown over a laundry line, but on closer inspection, it emerges that the “quilt” is, in fact, a folded latex mold pieced together to describe the limp façade of a building. The artist details her process: “This is a latex of a plaster of a clay of a drawing of a picture that I did not take of a building … It is not an impression taken from a physical building, but the impression of the building on me.”
Meagan Smith’s collection of small (mostly) porcelain objects are displayed on the only clean white walls in the exhibit, a free-standing gallery that has landed in the middle of a ruined landscape. These intimate biomorphic doodads are displayed on small glass shelves. They suggest “sacs, tubes, fleshy folds, hives, nets, plants, webs.” The diminutive sculptures simultaneously appear to be carefully crafted fine art pieces and found natural artifacts like fossils or exoskeletons or seashells.
One of the few pieces in Material/ Immaterial that proclaims its status as a work of fine art is I Expand, I am Warm; Blue Cannon Steel; Blue Silo by Laura Dirksen, a cheerful, chunky, colorful stoneware assemblage that’s engaging and energetic. It radiates a kind of infectious animal attraction. Across the gallery, Claudia Tommasi keeps the party going with two small scale wall mounted pieces, bulbous and stringy, that exude Looneytunes humor, Untitled (2).
Although Material/Immaterial might at first glance seem to project existential end-of-the-world gloom, I found that I left the show feeling strangely optimistic. The work that these artists have made seems to imply that although things are bad–well, okay, maybe catastrophic–they still are hopeful and idealistic enough to keep working and making art, and to keep observing the world and commenting on it. Things may turn out all right after all.
SculptureX is a yearly symposium sponsored by Contemporary Art Toledo and devoted to collaboration and networking among artists and art teaching institutions. Material/Immaterial was juried by Scott Hocking, with curatorial assistance from Brian Carpenter.
My article in New Art Examiner, The Medium and the Message: New Media and the Democratization of Fine Art in Detroit, has just been published. In it, I cover the the city’s street art scene, the radical egalitarianism of SaveArtSpace.org and make a visit to a 9-hour new media marathon, live streamed from Detroit to Chicago. Go here to read more.
Paula Baldoni can hardly believe that the tenth birthday of her Toledo gallery, River House Arts, is coming up, but she’s ready to celebrate. “The ten years have flown by. If you had just asked me, I’d have said it was 5,” she says.
Baldoni recalls opening her first exhibition space in Perrysburg in 2009 in an unused portion of her photographer husband Bill Jordan’s studio. She opened the gallery because she observed that many Toledo artists with international reputations had no place to show their work locally. She says, “I knew that there were artists living in the area and working here, but who didn’t have a place to show their work. They were showing in Europe and Asia–everywhere but home.” She adds, “We thought that if we could make our mark during the worst part of the Great Recession, then maybe we had something.”
A decade later, River House Arts has found a new, more spacious venue in the historic Secor Building in downtown Toledo. Baldoni has expanded from her original main floor gallery to fill several new exhibition spaces in the newly renovated structure, filling those spaces with art from Toledo and beyond. And in 2020, Contemporary Art Toledo, a non-profit arts organization that she founded in partnership with Brian Carpenter, an artist and professor of art at University of Toledo, will open the doors to its new gallery for the first time. She gives ample credit for the expansion to building owner Jim Zaleski. “He did a lot of work on the new space–he’s been extremely generous. We would not be doing what we’re doing if it wasn’t for Jim Zaleski,” she says.
Reflecting on the past ten years, Baldoni describes herself as a hunter gatherer of artists’ private obsessions, which she then introduces to the larger Toledo arts audience. “There has to be a place to show cutting edge and experimental work. The more people become accustomed to seeing contemporary art, art that they don’t have to imagine having in their living rooms, the more they are open to other [new] ideas.”
Baldoni views the upcoming 10-year milestone at River House Arts as a birthday celebration for a ten-year-old child. The exhibit, entitled Cake, though it coincides with the anniversary, is not intended to be a dignified affair. It’s meant to be “a show of fun, light work (with possibly a dark side because we don’t know how to do it without having a dark side). It will be light with depth…much like a cake!” She promises clouds and butterflies, mixing bowls, rugs and plates in media from glass to painting to fiber and neon. Artists will include Joanna Manousis, Boryana Rusenova-Ina, Loraine Lynn, Alli Hoag, Madhurima Ganguly, Katy Richards, Crystal Phelps and more. Cake will be on view at River House Arts from Nov. 21 through January 19.
When asked about lessons learned from past experiences and plans for the future, Baldoni responds, “The trajectory of a gallery is the same as that of an artist–you have highs and lows, good times and bad times. We are really not that different, we have the same struggles. This is such a crazy business, and it’s not even a business, it’s a life.” She continues, ”I think I’ve hit my stride. I still have goals [for the future]. I want to continue to show work by emerging artists, promoting them to a broader audience. As we move forward one of the opportunities we’re looking at for artists is working more with businesses, both in terms of bringing corporate people in to see our collection and to see the shows we have here and also introducing artwork to go to their locations. She finishes, “I’m still committed to glass [as a medium] and to showing glass work that we don’t normally see, like the work we recently showed in JB Squared, by Brooklyn glass artists Jane Bruce and John Brekke.”
But in the future, she adds, “There must also be cake!”
It’s fitting that Meighen Jackson’s solo exhibit Climb is located at the top of a flight of stairs. Her paintings, drawings and paper constructions, which fill and overflow the second floor space at Janice Charach Gallery through December 5, serve as declarations of her endurance and resilience in the face of life’s inevitable personal blows.
Jackson’s recent work marks a major transition in her art practice, with paintings and drawings that bring the human figure to center stage. In her recently completed series of 10 artworks referencing the figure, lined up along one wall of the gallery, she employs an idiosyncratic process, layering and gluing cut and torn colored art papers on canvas. She then over-paints the surface, and rips and cuts away the featureless white to reveal the vibrant hues underneath. The brutal physicality of her process yields a surprisingly lyrical result. Though she demonstrates her familiarity with the language of modern art history, metaphorically nodding to Henri Matisse’s paper cutouts and Francis Bacon’s fluid, curvy lines, Jackson has arrived at a means of expression that is uniquely her own, a seamless fusion of drawing, collage and painting.
Also included in Climb are many works on paper that showcase her virtuosity, as she wields her brush in elegant calligraphic strokes. In her artist’s statement, Jackson pledges her allegiance to line or, as she puts it: “Lines that begin as solid, upstanding geometric citizens and end, like dying fireworks, in an explosion of dots and scratches.” The 23 black ink on paper drawings that rest in acetate sleeves at either end of the gallery are testaments to Jackson’s creative fluidity and productivity as a draftsman.
Ranging around the perimeter of the gallery, Jackson continues her ebullient way, painting the movement within waterfalls and cloud formations, with intimations of a few naiads thrown in for good measure. Bits of cut paper applied to the surfaces of the artworks are a consistent element throughout the collection, though they may perform different functions from one composition to the next. At times they form a loose grid that anchors the composition within the picture plane, at others they may indicate the atmospheric hue of a cloud or the motion of water crashing downhill. The constant from one piece to the next is her delight in the natural world.
Suspended within the oculus at the center of the gallery, several figurative paper constructions float, suspended. These three dimensional figures represent a new project for Jackson, and they seem to ride the air, like kites or sails. There are endless possibilities suggested by these first steps in a direction that the artist has only begun to explore.
Meighen Jackson’s Climb allows us to observe the artist during her journey toward a destination that only she can see. Her exploration of the infinite possibility within her creative practice can only grow as she sharpens her formal tools for the ascent to come.
I recently reviewed Landlord Colors for New Art Examiner. It’s a comprehensive overview of Detroit artists in a global context at Cranbrook Museum of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. The exhibit advanced a convincing argument that contemporary Detroit artists who have synthesized their unique, place-specific art from the substance of a distressed city have earned membership in an exclusive club of similarly inspired artists from around the world. To read the full review go here
Subscribers to this blog might think that I’ve taken the summer off from writing about art in the Great Lakes region. But I haven’t, I swear!
I’ve written about experimental printmaker Takeshi Takahara, Ann Arbor painter Sarah Innes, Detroit artists Lester Johnson and the late Gilda Snowden, and about Detroit’s public art, past and present.
I just neglected to include links on this blog–so… sorry, I’ll try to do better going forward.
In its September edition, New Art Examiner will be printing my review of Landlord Colors at Cranbrook Museum of Art. I will be sure to alert you.