Category Archives: Gallery Exhibition

Girlfriend Material

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Installation components from A Sucker for Jewelry

In Girlfriend Material, multimedia artist, writer and thinker Sarah Rose Sharp examines  the reductive archetypes that provide a distorting lens through which women are often viewed in American popular culture. She has gathered a small universe of cartoon females and set them up to play with and against each other, teasing out from these one-dimensional characters some three-dimensional thoughts on women and their place in the world.

A millennial feminist, Sharp is  aware that a multiplicity of roles are available to women but she also knows that female complexity and nuance are routinely flattened out and simplified in the popular imagination, the more easily to be consumed and digested.  And with the election of a known sexual predator and his cast of sexist cronies to the incoming U.S. administration, it looks as if Sharp’s observations are well calibrated to remain relevant for the foreseeable future.

“This show is a continuation of themes and ideas I’ve worked on for a very long time, but it’s been very much influenced by the recent climate surrounding the presidential election…we must really hate women for someone like Donald Trump to even have a chance, ” says Sharp in a recent Detroit Metro Times interview.

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The Bitch is [IN]
The artworks and installations in Girlfriend Material seem to say that a woman can be a bitch or a doormat, a sexpot or a smart girl,  a princess or a goddess, as long as she doesn’t exhibit the complexity of a real woman. Modern society likes its female role models bite-size.

Sharp has elected to use only pop figures such as Wonder Woman, Betty Boop, Princess Leia, Lucy and Lisa Simpson in Girlfriend Material. She has limited her materials to mass marketed objects such as Pez dispensers, key chains, novelty fabrics and the like, altering and collaging them together to create imaginative games and transactional installations. While many of the artworks are playful, there is an unmistakable  undercurrent of frustration in this work, and an underlying question about how a woman’s life is defined by herself and by others.

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Miss Overachiever (detail)

Miss Overachiever, represented here by a manikin wearing a girl scout/Lisa Simpson beret and a comically over-loaded merit badge sash, is the good girl, the nerdy smart girl who gets all A’s, but is judged by the surrounding  culture in terms that value appearance and popularity over achievement. Or as Sharp says in her statement “Where is the line between smart and too-smart-for-your-own-good?”

The Betting Pool, a circular “game”  with no start and no end, continues the theme of cultural stasis. The glassy surface features bodiless characters in kiddie cars bumping and shuffling against each other, their movement controlled by an unseen motivator that flies  overhead. Who “wins” is determined not by the players but  by gallery visitors who bet on the character they “like” the best.

The sexy but infantilized  Betty Boop in  A Sucker for Jewelry illustrates yet another kind of game that women are sometimes called upon to play with mixed success. Her 1930’s persona has been lovingly updated with tattoos and bondage gear.  (Sharp found the keychain figures in an alley and has not altered them.) Why objects like this even exist is a mystery to the artist–and to us–but she suspects that Betty Boop’s  child-like head on her sexpot body still has plenty of cultural resonance. “I didn’t make this stuff up,” she says, laughing.

It didn’t escape my attention that many of the artworks in Girlfriend Material had a monetary component.  While Sharp may be complaining about the paucity of complex roles available to women, she seems also to imply that any choice a woman makes  is likely to be poorly compensated. Women still earn only 80 cents on the dollar in 2015 as compared to men, and women in the arts are not doing any better (and possibly worse). To cite a common art world benchmark, in 2015 only 8% of the contemporary art for sale at auction was by women. It should be no surprise, then, that Princess Leia is crowdfunding her rescue at 25 cents a pop and Lucy is willing to empathize for a nickel. It’s the going rate.

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Double Wedding Ring

 

In Double Wedding Ring, Sharp finally attempts to synthesize all of the oversimplified traits displayed by her characters into a more  complex picture. The kaleidoscopic collection of images in the quilt, meeting and circling each other, insists that a woman can be sweet and bitchy, strong, smart and sexy and quite a few other things if the surrounding society will only give her a shot. And in other corners of the culture, especially in film and television, there seems to be some movement toward more complex female characters.  Television shows like Lena Dunham’s Girls and movies like In  A World (directed by Lake Bell)  and the recently released Certain Women (directed by Kelly Reichardt) are carving out cultural space for actual women telling actual stories. Comedians like Amy Schumer and Samantha Bee bring humor to the public discussion of feminism.

So there’s hope, even if recent political events might indicate otherwise. It should be noted that all of the films and television shows I listed above are written and/or directed by women. Maybe by the time women reach wage parity with men (in 2152 at current rates!) we can look forward to equal rights  in gender roles too.

Girlfriend Material is on view at Public Pool, in Hamtramck until December 17, 2016.  For more information go here

Projections: An Interactive Portrait Project

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“Interactive” is quite a buzzword in the art world these days, but what does it really mean?  The term suggests an expectation  of physical contact between gallery visitor and artwork. It also subtly implies that the mere act of contemplating a work of art isn’t enough to reach the public in this age of the internet and ever-shortening attention spans.

Andrei Rabodzeenko, though, is confident in the power of visual art to engage his audience. It is on this cerebral level that his work invites interaction.rh-rabodzeenko-portrait-2

The freestanding painted figures in Projections grab your attention and demand a response.  Rabodzeenko’s life-size, slickly painted portraits of his friends (and himself) define the boundaries of the space within which gallery visitors  must circle and observe.  There is an intentional roughness to the way the cut-outs are sited, provisionally propped up on wooden supports and sandbagged in place as if they were scenery in a theater.  Arranged in an informal installation throughout Toledo’s River House Gallery, these flat wooden portraits seem to imply some kind of in-the-round  theatrical performance of obscure significance.

Radzeenko, born in Kyrgyzstan but now living and working in Chicago, is first and foremost an accomplished painter, an art chameleon who can paint in any style. He mixes visual idioms for maximum effect, frequently combining several within one artwork.  In Projections, he seamlessly moves from virtuosic tromp l’oeil illusionism to  flat advertising illustration to religious icon painting.rh-rabodzeenko-selfportrait Whether they are engaging in some activity, or merely pausing on their way, the figures often look directly at you.  The artist offers no explanation for the choice of personal emblem (an out-size ginkgo leaf?  A backpack of musical symbols?) or activity. These are clearly portraits of real people, but in the absence of information about them you must invent your own narrative, as is the artist’s intent:

Our identities are an amalgam of ever-shifting and overlapping projections-we create projections of ourselves, our alter egos, and launch them into the world.  At the same time, the world projects its interpretations of us onto us.

Some figures are more mysteriously resonant than others. The black-suited self portrait in the middle of the gallery is especially successful. The roughness of the O.S.B. ground and the square piercing of the subject’s shirt add interest to the accomplished painting.  The direct and slightly sad gaze of the figure is reminiscent of the mood in Rembrandt’s self-portraits.

I also liked the portraits of  two men digging up (or burying?) treasure. The man on the right is focused on someone or something that is invisible, and raises his hand in warning (or greeting?) The kneeling figure on the left looks delighted at the cut-out blaze emanating from the treasure box before him.

Projections also includes a series of painted hangings which ring the gallery’s outside walls. Translucent outlines of male and female figures float weightlessly across the picture plane, intersecting but not interacting, platonic shadows of idealized humans. They are well executed but lack the specificity and bite of the three-dimensional work.

Rabodzeenko’s continuing confidence in the power of visual art to move us is evident in  Projections. His accomplished portrait figures invite visual engagement and convey an air of mystery that will linger in the minds of his audience long after they have left the gallery.

Projections: An Interactive Portrait Project by Andrei Rabodzeenko, is on view at River House Gallery in Toledo, Ohio, until January 7, 2017.  For more information about gallery hours go here.

You Are Here

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Untitled installation by Sophie Eisner

You Are Here, a comprehensive survey of recent work by well over 45 Detroit artists on display throughout the  Carr Center in Detroit through December 17, aims to take a snapshot of where the city stands at this inflexion point of both local and national change.

Curator Anna Schaap says,  “Work in this show will explore location, time/place, Detroit’s future, urban development, ideas of identity, … gentrification, creative and empathetic ingenuity, and whole-brain thinking/making.” In media ranging from painting to photography to printmaking  and especially to installation, artists provide a guided tour of the changing psychic and physical contours of Detroit.

Progress in Paradise, a small installation by Julianne Lindsey and Elton Monroy  Duran is one of the most pointed–and poignant –illustrations of the fugitive nature of Detroit’s built environment in You Are Here. On a simple desk furnished with pens and paper (and  with a toy wrecking ball on the side)  visitors are invited  to describe a place in Detroit that exists now only in memory. There are, needless to say, plenty of examples, the Carr Center soon to be among them.

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Progress in Paradise (detail) by Julianne Lindsey and Elton Monroy Duran

The modestly funded non-profit cultural organization now located in the historic Harmonie Building can no longer afford its increasingly attractive commercial location. They will vacate the premises in April of 2017, possibly moving to a city-owned property in another part of Detroit. The building and the area surrounding it will be redeveloped into the Paradise Valley Cultural and Entertainment District, “a commercially driven entertainment district of retail, restaurants and nightlife reflecting the spirit of Detroit’s once thriving center of African-American economic and cultural life.”

Sophie Eisner’s installation, in a notably beautiful but decrepit staircase, enlists the Harmonie building itself as a component in her meditation on the city’s substance. Idiosyncratic art objects of unknown provenance are thoughtfully placed, and visually incorporate architectural elements of the stair and landing, creating complex cross-currents of past elegance and  present squalor.

The city’s architecture isn’t the only element in flux and on view. People too, make up the city, and there are numerous references to the diversity that characterizes Detroit.  The African-American population, with its triumphs and discontents, gets its due in works like Prism Works’ YDNA and Fuck the Police by Monique Gamble. Brian Day’s Boys on Mother’s Day strikes a  more cheerful and hopeful note.

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YDNA by Prism Views

Parisa Ghaderi ‘s installation The Sheer Presence, with its photographs on voile, creates a ghostly family portrait, at once monumental and intimate.   Sunita Gupta, a highly accomplished painter of the domestic environment, employs meticulous pattern painting and well drawn but hazy female figures in a meditative exploration of culture and ethnic identity.

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Destiny by Sunita Gupta

 

Bits and pieces of the city find their way into artworks and installations describing Detroit as it is now.  Anna Kell has carefully painted tromp l’oeil lace patterns onto found mattresses. Fishing For Small Gods, by Jak Vista and Bill Bedell, an installation that takes up much of the third floor of the building, features tree branches, stumps and the occasional cross stuck in dirt, conjuring up a desolate forest floor.

At the Carr Center, we see Detroit right now, a city  that will necessarily be different tomorrow and the day after that. Technology, politics, demography  and economics will all have their say in ways that can’t yet be quantified.  The artworks in You Are Here are a glimpse of this singular moment in the life of Detroit.

Artists in You Are Here: Celeste Roe, Eric Zurawski, Archana Aneja, Brian Spolans, Geno Harris, Dominique Chastenetnde Gery, Parisa Ghaderi, Sophie Eisner, John Neely, Anna Kell, Katina Bitsicas, Morgan Barrie, Jenna Kempinski, K.A. Letts, Donn Perez, Jennifer Glance, Tamar Boyadjian, Molly Diana, The Sien Collective, Donna Shipman, Dawud Shabazz, E. Ingrid Tietz, Darren Pollard, Renee Rials, Neil Allen Flowers, Michael Ross, Kristin Adamczyk, Monique Gamble, Patrick Ethen, Doug Cannell, Jennifer Brown, Seder Burns, Desiree Duell, Jack Vista, Bill Bedell, Sunita Gupta, Jon DeBoer, Benjamin Forrest, Julianne Lindsey, Elton Monroy Duran, Brian Day, Fatima Sow, Prism Views, Kelsey Shultis, Wall of 100 Makers, Mint Artist Guild

For more information on the Carr Center go here.

New Fibers 2016

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Look Out by David Brackett, New Fiber 2016 First Place Prizewinner

In light of current events, art can seem powerless, superfluous, beside the point.

Gun violence, terrorism and war, racism, misogyny and income inequality are very much in the news and on the public mind. And the result of a political election that highlights the division within the country seems to render an artist’s quiet work irrelevant. Yet, in the absence of an alternative,  artists keep working.

Today’s dark mood is reflected in many of the 39 works selected by artist Jennifer Angus for New Fibers 2016, on view in the University Gallery at Eastern Michigan University until December 7. Angus, known for her Victorian wallpaper-inspired installations of wall-mounted insects, is drawn to work that explores the intersection between fiber arts, technology and nature while maintaining a somber atmosphere throughout. In her juror’s statement she states, “My search was for pieces that I felt had heart, raw emotion, an unapologetic political stance, or were life affirming  There is a great range of work in the exhibition with some very contemporary and original ideas.”

Eric Hazeltine’s monochromatic, minimal squares of charcoal, paper and string (Compositions I, II, III), Xia Gao’s luminous dark arch To Own Buddha-Xuan and Liz Robb’s Icelandic wool and horsehair weaving Icelandic Hestur are only a few of many minimal or post-minimal pieces that set the solemn tone.

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Icelandic Hestur by Liz Robb

However, in spite of the generally somber mood of the work in New Fiber 2016, fresh ideas and unusual uses of material abound.  Teresa Paschke’s Train Station with Kites features a digital photographic print on fabric with applied  embroidery and stenciled clouds, her dreamlike vision describing the border  between  the mundane and the visionary. Also lively and original is a video entitled  I AM MY OWN MASCOT (residue) by J. Casey Doyle. In it, a figure shrouded in yellow ribbons dances silently, performing  a  series of slow-motion gestures that seem to combine a cheerleading routine with yoga poses.

References to natural structures provide inspiration for many of the works in New Fibers 2016. Mount by Micaela Vivero recalls the work of industrious ants. Susan Aaron-Taylor’s cute-but-creepy felted creatures both repel and attract.  Lichen Party Frock by George-Ann Bowers  looks like a wasp’s nest re-imagined as fashion statement, and the very stuff of nature is incorporated into the site-specific grass works braided and woven into swirls and lines by Lucy Ruth Wright Rivers.

Anxiety is also a recurring theme of much of the work in this exhibit.  Michael Rohde’s Asora depicts a menacing hooded figure and  At the End by LM Wood suggests  ghostly limbs confined beneath a hazy screen as they reach for an untouchable thread. Heather Beardsley’s embroidered maps contain packed allegorical figures in a kind of comic horror vacui of unknown dangers and ominous cultural icons.

As might be expected in an exhibition that emphasizes the slow process of craft-based repetition and accrual to make a larger visual statement, New Fibers 2016 reminds us that art is a series of intentional processes that amount to a meaningful whole. And while this whole may seem weak and small right now in the face of current social and political disruptions, it is, nonetheless, important over time. The writer Katherine Ann Porter says it well:

The arts live continuously, and they live literally by faith; their names and their shapes and their uses and their basic meanings survive unchanged in all that matters through times of interruption, diminishment, neglect; they outlive governments and creeds and the societies, even the very civilization that produced them. They cannot be destroyed altogether because they represent the substance of faith and the only reality. They are what we find again when the ruins are cleared away. 

The artists who create the works in this exhibition remind us that life and current events may be fleeting but art endures.      

 

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Train Station with Kites by Teresa Paschke

 

New Fiber 2016  is the seventh biennial exhibit of fiber arts sponsored by the Fiber Arts Network of Michigan, an organization founded on belief in the handmade, one-of-a-kind fiber object and dedicated to promoting its value in contemporary life and art. For more information about FAN, go here.

Artists included in this exhibit: Susan Aaron-Taylor, Heather Beardsley, George-Ann Bowers, David Brackett, Adrienne Callander, Chanjuan Chen, J. Casey Doyle, Holly Fischer, Xia Gao, Eric Hazeltine, Nancy Koenigsberg, Lily Lee, Skye Livingston, Cynthia Martinez, Teresa Paschke, Leslie Pontz, Liz Robb, Michael Rohde, Amanda Ross, Adrienne Sloane, Lauren Sobchak, Peeta Tinay, Betty Vera, Micaela Vivero , Jenny Walker, LM Wood, Lucy Ruth Wright Rivers.

For more information about University Gallery of Eastern Michigan University go here.

Karin Wagner Coron

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Green Fields

From Above,  a small collection of paintings on view until November 26 at WSG Gallery in Ann Arbor,  shows  Karin Wagner Coron continuing her ongoing exploration of the Midwestern landscape.  Working with photos taken from an airplane, this accomplished contemporary artist has created a select group of views of Midwestern fields and vistas  punctuated and bounded by the fresh water lakes and rivers of the region.

These birds-eye views emphasize the agricultural  geometry of Michigan and Ontario fields, delivering the illusion of flying over  the limitless sweep of land that is the Midwest.

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Thames River, Ontario, Canada

Many of the landscapes feature a kind of vertiginous diagonal composition, as if she is looking from the window of a steeply banking airplane (which in fact she is). She describes her process:

“I use photography as a basis for my compositions, to capture a particular time of day, interesting light  or composition.  I perceive and interpret nature while constantly finding a new palette or color scheme to match mood and feeling.”

Landscape paintings from an aerial point-of-view are nothing new, of course. Chinese painters from the Tang Dynasty onward painted nature as if from a neighboring mountaintop,  each landscape  a transcendent  retreat from the banal and everyday. And painters of the Hudson River School such as Thomas Cole and Frederic Edwin Church painted landscapes from overlooks that emphasized the limitless grandeur of the newly discovered American West.

In contrast to the escapist romanticism of Chinese landscape painters and the romantic imperialism of American painters of the West, Coron’s aerial landscapes revel in the orderly section and bisection of the land, with farmers’ fields cut by dirt roads and softened at the edges by hedgerows. This overhead perspective is especially appropriate for topography that is essentially flat. Pattern and color measure the paintings’ depth with the slightly diagonal compositions of many of the artworks leading us into the painted distance.

Coron’s vision of nature only lightly ordered by humans contrasts with that of other noted contemporary landscape artists such as Yvonne Jacquette and Rackstraw Downes, who emphasize the built environment over natural features and imply human habitation and activity. Coron, being a Great Lakes artist,  also gives equal weight to the meandering of rivers and the inchoate shadows of clouds passing overhead even as she  accepts the tamed land below her.

In the end, although these paintings clearly reference the Midwestern landscape they can also be appreciated for their more formal qualities. The color palette she has chosen for this series, with its acid yellows, juicy greens, muted pinks and aquatic blues, is more expressive than descriptive. Coron invites us not only to enjoy these paintings as descriptions of regional topography and atmosphere, but also to appreciate their sophisticated abstract sensibility.

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Yellow Green Fields #1

Karin Wagner Coron has been exhibiting her paintings and prints  professionally since 1992. A graduate of Eastern Michigan University with a BFA in painting, she is  owner and manager of Format Framing and Gallery in Ann Arbor,  and is a member of WSG Gallery, also in Ann Arbor.

For more information about WSG Gallery and this exhibit, go here.

 

Ann Arbor Art Center All Media Exhibit Awards

am-install-bannerThe winners of prizes for Ann Arbor Art Center’s 94th All Media art exhibit Free Wet Hugz which opened October 14 have been announced.  They are:

Jean-Paul Aboudib (Chaos In Captivity), Louis Boyang (Mother’s Day), CJ Breil (Conduct Becoming: Surveys #3 and #4), Yuling Chuang (Exist, Coexist: Harmony 2), Analicia Honkanen (Dallying (Free Wet Hugz), Nathan Margoni (No Fear),  Robert Mirek (No. 681), Julia Pangborn-Harley (A Brown, Gravelly Road Framed by Barren Plants), Cristin Velliky (Hull), Yuge Zhou (Green Play)

The award winners were chosen by Juror Paul Kotula, who has worked as a gallery director for Pewabic Pottery, Swidler Gallery, REVOLUTION (Detroit and New York) and paulktoulaprojects. Working with an international list of artists, he has formed over 200 solo and group exhibitions pertinent to the field of contemporary art and visual culture.

For my review of the show in Pulp Magazine go here.

 

Quiet Glass in Toledo

 

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Static Puddle by Jessica Jane Julius

When someone says “art glass” do you think immediately of the colorful, often whimsical and crowd-pleasing objects that are staples of  art fairs and craft festivals? Well, think again.

HUSH.ex, a  group show of four artists from Philadelphia’s Tyler School of Art, on view until November 4 at River House Gallery in Toledo, will re-order your preconceptions of what glass as art can be and do.

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Tall Vase with Thorny Vine by Amber Cowen

Working within a narrow range of colors and a broad array of glass types, Megan Biddle, Amber Cowan, Jessica Jane Julius and Sharyn O’Mara have filled the gallery with a collection of visually and conceptually challenging work that refuses the flashy over-stimulation of the digital age. The easy appeal, saturated colors and fluid shapes of conventional art glass have been replaced by a more austere vision that is expressive of solitude and silence. The artworks are predominately black, white and shades in between;  the types of glass include production milk glass, airport grade glass reflector beads,  found and second-life glass and more.  The artists heat, crack, fuse, burn and pour their way to artworks that push the medium of art glass well beyond its previous aesthetic borders.

Jessica Jane Julius’s Static Puddles are made by pouring black matte glass over shards of canework. The story of their production is evident in the jagged centers of black and white surrounded by the  gloppy shape of each piece, but that is secondary to the lyrical appeal of these weightless black blooms.  In another instance of prosaic material transcended by the poetic, Julius has applied airport grade glass reflector beads suspended in paint on four panels to create a wavy, translucent river that flows across the wall of the gallery. The title of the piece is Absorption.

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Milk Glass Installation by Amber Cowan

 

Recycled, up-cycled and second-life glass provides the raw material for the works of Amber Cowan.  Her installation of commonly recognizable milk glass objects, heated and deformed, transforms these everyday vessels into ghostly memorials to their humble use. In Tall Vase with Thorny Vines, Cowan has heated a production vase, pierced it and collaged ceramic plants into it, shaping it into a matte white still life that is both familiar and surreal.

The work of Megan Biddle focuses on process-driven work  that emphasizes the unique qualities of materials and their response to outside forces such as time, growth, erosion, breakage. (In addition to her glass work, she produces installation, sculpture, drawing and video.)  Her Further for Now  series examines the way that layers of cracked glass can create a kind of line drawing on a hazy, semi-transparent field.

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Further for Now 1-4 by Megan Biddle

 

Dog hair, optical fiber and typewriter tape are the eccentric components that characterize the work of Sharyn O’Mara.   Particularly prominent in this exhibit are her carbon burn-out “drawings” on glass.  These hair-on-glass process pieces are abstract, yet often seem to reference seed pods or plants.  They have an ethereal quality, as if they might disappear into thin air, blown away by fugitive winds.

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Botanical IV by Sharyn O’Mara

 

The glass art that is featured in HUSH.ex is neither easy nor pretty nor decorative, but satisfies on a deeper level.  These four artists demonstrate that there are many unexplored avenues for discovery in this medium that is so central to the regional aesthetic. They point the way to a creative trajectory in art glass that is cerebral, experimental and conceptually rigorous.

HUSH.ex is the second in a series of museum-quality exhibits organized by Contemporary Art Toledo, a collaborative partnership of gallerist Paula Baldoni of River House Gallery with Brian Carpenter, Gallery Director at the University of Toledo.  (Their first exhibit was Beautiful Pig). The goal of CA+ is to  provide a showcase in the Toledo area for provocative and groundbreaking  contemporary artwork by nationally known and regional artists.

For more information about HUSH.ex and River House Gallery hours go here

Big Sculpture

 

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Kiwi by Robert Onnes

The Detroit art scene is in the midst of changes. Over the last year or two, shiny new galleries like Wasserman Projects, David Klein  and Gallerie Camille have established themselves in downtown and midtown, with regular hours and regular shows. But for those of us who like to hunt for art in less established–and less gentrified–corners of the city, there are still new discoveries to be made.The Factory at 333 Midland in Highland Park is one of them.

This rambling, 23,000-square-foot industrial complex, formerly the Lewis Manufacturing and Stamping plant, was recently purchased by New Zealand-born sculptor Robert Onnes and provides studios  for himself and 17 other artists. The space is still in the process of being upgraded–they are raising money to put in heat this winter– but that hasn’t stopped them from putting on an ambitious group show that is installed throughout the  main building and its nearby, newly-opened exhibit gallery. Big Sculpture@The Factory includes work by over 50 artists and displays more than 200 sculptures and installations, both large and small. It is open on weekends only until October 22. Music, food, drink, and scheduled artist talks are thrown in for good measure. On the day I attended there were plenty of visitors taking it all in.

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Melancholy Hammer by Adnan Charara

Artists in Big Sculpture range from emerging to eminent, with a few of my favorites represented by some of their most ambitious work.  Mega Bat, by Tim Pewe, has a wingspan of over 17 feet, and hovers overhead in the studio of the owner, Robert Onnes, who makes visually massive but lightweight formalized figurative sculptures. His Kiwi, a birdlike shape that rests outside the building in an open courtyard with other large scale sculptures, elegantly references his land of origin.

Some of the smaller works in Big Sculpture are displayed in a room  adjacent to the main studio,  and include the delicate, toy-like yet slightly sinister assemblages of Catherine Peet.  Wall sconces made of old metal toy trucks by Alvaro Jurado light the hallway. One of my favorite pieces in the show, Hell in a Handbasket by Sandra Osip, leans up against a wall nearby.  A collection of tiny houses made from scraps of demolished Detroit homes is piled high in a wheelbarrow, stacked and ready to be discarded like so many of the city’s derelict structures. It’s both playful and sad.

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Hell in a Handbasket by Sandra Osip

It’s impossible to describe all of the imaginatively conceived and well-made works in Big Sculpture.  In spite of the rough surroundings, the overall mood of the exhibit is light-hearted and inventive.  There were plenty of visual puns like Melancholy Hammer by Adnan Charara and Chris Zagacki’s Hook, Line and Sinker. Single Digit, by Rick Cronn, literally gives us the finger.

The new exhibit space in the smaller building adjacent to the main structure houses yet another trove of excellent work; Inuit Spirit by Tom Phardel and Beings Connected by Charles McGee were standouts.  A newly constructed balcony  wraps around the periphery of the gallery.  It provides a more intimate venue for smaller works like Architectural Exploration by Leah Waldo, one of a series of block-like objects of cast glass, steel and low-fire soft brick.  Also  notable are the felt and wood constructions of  Susan Aaron-Taylor. I particularly liked Fears, which shows a mouse-like creature trapped in a ribbed structure.  Ann Smith, one of the artists I met during my visit, told me that other exhibits will be scheduled in the new gallery space, though there is no published schedule yet.

There’s still time to see Big Sculpture! The exhibit is on view until October 22 and by appointment.  For more information and to check on scheduled events,  go here.

Artists exhibiting in Big Sculpture: Susan Aaron-Taylor, Anita Bates, Richard Bennett, Peter Bernal, Robert Bielat, Betty Brownlee, Coco Bruner, Scott Campbell, Doug Cannell, Cruz Castillo, Hannah Chalew, Adnan Charara, Christina Cioffari, Leslie Cislo, Rick Cronn, Joe Culver, Olayami Dabis, Pam Day, Sergio De Giusti, Todd Erickson, Mark Esse, Eric Froh, Sean Hages, Al Hebert, Alvaro Jurado, Ray Katz, Dawnice Kerchaert, Eno Laget &Jerome Brown, Terry Lee Dill, Jay Lefkowitz, Lindsay McCosh, Charles McGee, Steve Mealy, Robert Mirek, Carlos Nielbock, Israel and Erik Nordin, Robert Onnes, Sandra Osip, Catherine Peet, Tim Pewe, Scott Pfaffman, Tom Phardel, Kathy Rose Pizzo, Sharon Que, Hayden Richer, zmichael Ross, John Sauve, Robert Sestok, Richard Skelton, Ann Smith, Jeanette Strezinski, Lois Teicher, Kathy Toth, Eric Troffkin, Leah Waldo, Graem Whyte, Albert Young, Chris Zagacki.

 

 

 

Takeshi Takahara: In Love with the Process

 

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Transpiration V

Takeshi Takahara believes in the handmade, the one-of-a-kind, the idiosyncratic. This might seem a counterintuitive attitude in an accomplished master of intaglio printmaking, a medium which embodies the aesthetic of the multiple and reproducible. But in his first solo show at WSG Gallery he demonstrates that his unique, eco-friendly hybrid intaglio/woodcut process for creating small print editions (often only 5 to 9  per title) can deliver artworks that pack all the punch of a one-of-a-kind painting.

Imperfection, a meticulously curated and well arranged grouping  of prints on the theme of the lotus, is on view in the gallery from now until October 22. Images that might seem banal in the hands of a lesser artist–who hasn’t seen a thousand pictures of a lily pond?– gain a kind of archetypal resonance through his drawn line which manages to be both awkward and graceful, with an effortful visual stutter that is reminiscent of the knowing clumsiness of Henri  Matisse or Paul Klee. Through constant experimentation in the studio he has adapted the process of intaglio printmaking, replacing the metal plate and acid  with a less toxic combination of materials while still retaining the sharpness of the cut line. His beautiful-but-not-pretty colors are carefully mixed from watercolor and dry pigments purchased in Japan.

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Transpiration II

Takahara relishes the way in which each print is a document which can be seen through multiple stages on its way to the final version. “In printmaking, you can actually print images step by step and have it. By looking at that proof, you make additions or deletions and move onto another print again and compare those two and see the differences…You get to rethink, revise and remake your original ideas.” He describes himself as uninterested in producing large editions of his prints, preferring instead to experiment with the infinite possibilities of  changing and adapting each plate and combining them in endlessly varied ways.  “Repetition is not my forte,” he says, laughing.

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Out of the Mud XV

Born in midcentury China to Japanese parents, Takeshi Takahara came to the U.S. to escape his future as the eldest son of a traditional Asian family. He was expected to get a good education and to enter a respectable profession, which fine art certainly wasn’t. “If I’d stayed in Japan, I’d be working in a bank,” he says.

His first stop in the U. S. was  Smith College, where he studied with renowned sculptor and printmaker Leonard Baskin.  Studies at the newly formed school of printmaking at the University of Iowa followed, where he was mentored by Mauricio Lasansky, considered by many to be one of the fathers of modern printmaking.  Although he is now a veteran artist and teacher, this is Takahara’s first experience with an artist-run gallery.

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Out of the Mud

Takeshi Takahara is currently hard at work creating new prints on the theme of the lotus, which has deep symbolic meaning for him. The lotus rises from the muck and produces a beautiful pure flower, a metaphor for the human condition. “We all come from the same muck, and what we become as human beings is the flower,” he says.

For more information about WSG Gallery’s hours and programs go here

 

 

Re: Formation Revisited

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The Garden of Watery Lead by Michael Nagara

The sprawling multimedia, multi-artist show Re: Formation which recently closed in Toledo has moved to a smaller venue in Gallery 117 at the Ann Arbor Art Center where an edited version will be on view from now until October 8.   Toledo’s Re: Formation was overwhelming in size and scope. Installation and video dominated the cavernous former department store,  contributing to an  immersive experience that viscerally conveyed artists’ current outrage over racism, war, environmental degradation and urban decay.

The rage, the politics, the anger at injustice and environmental ruin  remain in this new iteration  but in a lower, more thoughtful key. Smaller work which was somewhat eclipsed by larger and noisier art in Toledo now gets some well deserved attention.

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Behind the Clouds by Sharon Que

 

Moving an exhibit from one very large venue  to another smaller one presents unique challenges for Gallery Project’s curators Rocco DePietro and Gloria Pritschett.

Pritschett explains, “In downsizing the exhibit for Ann Arbor, I look for the core of the work, so that the artist’s essential intent stays intact and can at least be glimpsed… we want to downsize the installation without giving the sense that we just lopped off a part of it.” 

“ It’s a challenge, but a fun challenge,” adds DePietro.

Pritschett continues, “In reassembling the exhibition in a much smaller space, the work is tightly placed, so the specifics of relationships among the works is more crucial. No one piece has a place apart to sprawl on its own as it could in Toledo.   I really enjoy the challenge in the patient work of positioning and repositioning individual works and groups of works, until they cohere visually and conceptually and relate to each other comfortably and meaningfully. For example, the group of Mark Hereld, Endi Poskovic, Tohru Kanayama and Barry Whittaker, and the interactive works Yusuf Lateef, John Anderson and Anthony Fontana, each in some way expresses formation and reformation as a process.  Placing them was really satisfying”

“After spending a month with the exhibit in Toledo, we discovered new relationships among various pieces — themes, shapes, colors, concepts — that we exploited in installing the exhibit.  For example, the interplay of blacks and reds, strong concept works, and the iconic water towers in Flint,” says DePietro.

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Boom Series by Boris Rasin

Pieces with an environmental theme,  such as Jessica Tenbusch’s Veil and  Mark Hereld’s white-on-white Becoming@42Mx are often necessarily scaled to the size of the natural objects they contain, and this new, smaller space allows them to shine. Tenbusch’s work, which  frequently includes taxidermy such as preserved frogs, snakes and the like, can be seen and appreciated for its meticulously detailed and finely produced craftsmanship.

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Becoming @ 42Mx by Mark Hereld

Paintings  which were a bit overwhelmed in the large, dim Toledo space come into their own here. John and Sandy: Voices for Social Justice, a large painted allegory (notice the small winged figure of Governor Rick Snyder in the upper left hand corner) by Ken Milito is impressive, and Michael Nagara’s Garden of Watery Lead  seems at home in this smaller scale and more brightly lit gallery.

Equally successful in both Toledo and Ann Arbor is John James Anderson’s photo series 189 Hydrants, which documents, hydrant by hydrant, Washington D.C.’s  decaying infrastructure. His Omikuji also stands up well to the move.  Based on a Japanese cultural custom meant to end  a curse, gallery visitors are encouraged to participate in a ceremonial exorcism  to end police killings.

“In the wake of the recent deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling,  I took a moment to consider the thousands of other lives lost in recent years during an encounter with the police,” says Anderson.

He adds, “While the circumstances behind each are different, in sum, it is as though there was a great curse within our culture that causes these issues to persist.

In this improvised and sobering ritual, the name of a young man of color who has died at the hands of the police is printed on a strip of paper along with the Kanji for “end curse” and tied to the wooden structure in the gallery.

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Opening reception at Gallery 117, Ann Arbor ArtCenter, with Omikuji by John Jacob Anderson’s Omikuji at center right.

 

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Yusuf Lateef in an encounter with Saganaw photographer Mary E. Foster

The single most memorable work in Re:Formation remains The Reconditioning, an experiential performance and personal encounter designed and executed by Toledo artist Yusuf Lateef in collaboration with Chris Rogers,  Kevin Gilmore, Daren Mac and James Dickerson.  Lateef was initially apprehensive about reproducing The Reconditioning for an Ann Arbor audience after a previous cathartic experience with audiences at Re:Formation in Toledo.  He was afraid he would be “reproducing this thing that wasn’t a personal and individual experience.”  The placement of the installation at the entrance of the exhibit made him feel as if he and his fellow performers were in danger of becoming objects in an art show.  But The Reconditioning, once again, found an audience of eager participants willing to engage the artists/performers on the subject of race and connection.  Lateef, encouraged by recent experience, plans to refine and simplify these encounters in the future.

“It took time to get out of my own way,” he says.

For more information about Ann Arbor Art Center go here

Artists exhibiting in Re:Formation are: Heather Accurso, Hiba Ali, John James Anderson, Michael Arrigo, Siobhan Arnold, Nick Azzaro, Darryl Baird, Barchael (Barry Whittaker and Mike Bernhardt), Morgan Barrie, Carolyn Barritt, Beehive Design Collective (Meg Lemieur), Mark Bleshenski, Jada Bowden, Seder Burns, Ruth Crowe, Dana DePew, Rocco DePietro, Desiree Duell, Dianne Farris, Susan Fecteau, Anthony Fontana, Mark Hereld, Dan Hernandez, Stephanie Howells, Tim Ide, Doug Kampfer, Tohru Kanayama, Yusuf Lateef, K.A. Letts, Kate Levy, Julianne Lindsey, Jeremy Link, Melanie Manos, Shanna Merola, Ken Milito, Michael Nagara, Jefferson Nelson, Endi Poskovic, Gloria Pritschet, Sharon Que, Raizup Collective (Antonio Cosme), Boris Rasin, Roger Rayle, Jesse Richard, Arturo Rodriguez, Gary Setzer, Meagan Shein, Anna Schaap, Sheida Soleimani, Brian Spolans, Jessica Tenbusch, Alex Tsocanos, Ellen Wilt, Robin Wilt, and Viktor Witkowski.