Is it just me , or are there more shows to see this month than usual? This is AUGUST people! Aren’t we supposed to be on vacation?? It must be pent-up demand from the pandemic.
There a couple of interesting shows in Toledo right now in case you, also, have a pent-up desire to get back out there:
Jessica Tenbusch has a solo show at River House Arts through August 22nd. Tenbusch has always been a superb craftsman, and she has lately turned her hand (literally) to finely detailed drawings. The fifteen artworks in the show are extravagant technical feats of draftsmanship, colored pencil and acrylic on paper. The nine medium to small-size pictures of domestic flowers and birds, bisected by thin lines of obscure provenance, have a distinctly mid-century, retro feel due to color choice and the toned paper upon which they are executed. Nostalgia seems to be an animating force for these as evidenced by the titles: Suburban Springs and Floral I (My Father’s Flowers) to name just a couple. There is also a tasty suite of six 4″ x 4″ pencil drawings of anchovies, most of which were already sold when I visited the gallery. to see more go here.
At 20 North Gallery, an artist who is new to me, Jonathan Ralston, is showing a collection of paintings entitled Shadows and Enlightenment through September 25th. Light and loss characterize the notably uninhabited spaces in the artist’s vision, particularly the low, warm light of late afternoon and the textures of ruined architecture. The masonry features appear to be mostly European. None of that gritty American urban decay here; the mood is decidedly romantic. To read more go here.
The next issue of New Art Examiner has just gone to press. This time around, I wrote three reviews of Detroit artists. Justin Marshall and Rachel Pontious, both painters, are fairly young and their work, to me, showed signs of the trauma they have endured during the pandemic. Carole Harris, a more established artist, seems to have sailed through the past year, producing a body of work that shows that, at this point, she can really do no wrong. You can read my review of her solo show at Hill Gallery here.
You can read my review of Rachel Pontious’s solo show Mise en Abyme at Playground Detroit here.
You can read my review of Justin Marshall’s solo show The End at Public Pool here.
Installation at Cranbrook Museum of Art, Mixing Chamber in foreground
With Eyes Opened surveys the history of Cranbrook Academy since its official founding in 1932. With more than 250 works representing the various programs of study at the school, the exhibition is a huge, somewhat disorganized, survey that’s full of treasures. To read the official account you can go here. I wrote a review of the show for Detroit Art Review which you can read here.
I recently wrote a review of an exhibit entitled Paint Piles at River House Arts in Toledo, Ohio. You can read the full text describing Natalie Lanese’s solo show of colorful abstractions at newartxaminer.org
Once again, I’ve fallen behind in my postings on Rustbeltarts.com! I’ve been busy though, writing mostly for the Detroit Art Review and New Art Examiner. Here are some of the things I’ve been writing about:
I wrote about Shapeshifters, at Cranbrook Museum of Art for the Detroit Art Review; an encyclopedic tour of the museum’s collection that includes both the work of international art stars like Donald Judd and Joan Mitchell, as well as the work of many young, up and coming artists working in the Detroit area. To read my review in its entirety, go to: Shapeshifters @ Cranbrook Museum of Art – Detroit Art Review
I also wrote about the new sculpture by Jaume Plensa, recently installed in front of the University of Michigan Museum of Art, as well as an interesting project inside the museum that combines curated artworks from the collection paired with classes as diverse as social work, art, architecture and public health, meant to broaden students’ experience both of the subject matter and of related art. For more: Jaume Plensa Sculpture @ UMMA – Detroit Art Review
I’m particularly pleased to have had the opportunity to write about Essay’d, a unique arts writing project in Detroit that aims to create a crowd-sourced body of writing about the city’s contemporary artists, one by one: Essay’d (newartexaminer.org)
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.
Swell by Constance Bruner
Diner Party Dress by Sue Carman-Vian
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.
Snow Currents I by Armin Mersmann
Pat Duff with ‘the’ Chair by John Hegarty by
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.