Category Archives: Gallery Exhibition

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beautiful Pig

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Artist Ben Schonberger  and retired Detroit Police Sergeant Marty Gaynor make an odd couple. Schonberger is a photographer, a curator and  a connoisseur of masculine archetypes.  Gaynor  is a matter-of -fact man of action cheerfully going about his work,  seemingly untroubled (although occasionally irritated) by the subtleties and complexities of his job.

The art exhibit Beautiful Pig is a collaboration between the two men and is on view until September 8 at River House Arts in Toledo. In creating this archive and accompanying book with materials provided by Gaynor,  Schonberger says,  “I embarked on an image-making process alongside Marty to see if I could understand the realities of identity, spirituality, and empathy.” This carefully curated collection contains many years’ worth of Gaynor’s Polaroids of police co-workers, suspects and crime scenes. There are meticulously mounted notes, police paper work and official forms documenting the day-to-day interactions between the police and the (mostly black) citizens of Detroit.

“Beautiful Pig is not just a story about police work in Detroit during the late twentieth century, but about the whole world of policing,” 

Barbara Tannenbaum,  Curator of Photography, Cleveland Museum of Art bp perp

Throughout the exhibit there is an unavoidable dissonance  between the high ideals expressed in the Police Code of Ethics and the brutal facts on the ground of everyday police work.  In the ongoing fight against crime in Detroit, it is clear that respect for  individual rights is the first casualty. The requirements of police activity are at war with empathy and respect.  Many of the images in the archive are shocking in their raw depiction of violence on the street.

Schonberger strives to find common ground with his subject, both as a man and a  fellow Jew. He has photographed Gaynor with a prayer shawl over his uniform, next to a neon Star of David, and has added the Hebrew word for gold (also in neon) as a tribute to Gaynor’s post-retirement job as a pawnbroker. He even puts himself in Gaynor’s shoes-literally- posing in a t-shirt  with a gun and police style cap.

   Schonberger clearly feels great empathy  for his collaborator and for  the difficulty of police work with its moral ambiguity, routine drudgery and occasional violence.  In the end though, I had the feeling that the gulf separating these two men was unbridgeable. Or to quote artist and writer Anouk Kruithof, Beautiful Pig is “a loaded puzzle that cannot be resolved.”

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Beautiful Pig is also available in book form. It was shortlisted for the Anamorphosis Prize in 2015.  For more information about River House Arts go here.

 

 

Echos in Ypsi

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Fascia by Riva Jewell-Vitale

Ypsilanti is the next Brooklyn!

Okay…maybe not, but there is definitely something going on in the town we,  here in Michigan, affectionately know as “Hipsilanti.”

After years of suffering by comparison to nearby Ann Arbor’s more affluent economy, Ypsilanti shows signs of becoming  a magnet for area creatives. Cheap work space and the presence of a particularly vibrant studio arts department at Eastern Michigan University are making the logic of locating an arts practice in Ypsi inescapable for many. Look no further for confirmation of this than the terrific work from Ypsi Alloy Studios,  on view now until August 28 at 22 North, a newish art gallery on Huron Street in Ypsi’s downtown.

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Portal by Cathy Jacobs

 Echos is the inaugural exhibition for this talented collective  of artists and makers, many of them graduates of Eastern Michigan University’s art program. 22 North’s exhibit space is thoughtfully renovated, with the rich patina of vintage plaster walls still visible behind pristine white gallery panels that show off these uniformly excellent and well-conceived artworks. Objects on display range from an industrial strength rocking chair by Rob Todd to  ethereal layered weavings by Cathy Jacobs. The exhibit is notable for the variety of approaches and processes demonstrated in the production of artworks.

I particularly liked the aluminum, white gold and thread piece Broken Flag by Aaron Patrick Decker, as well as the felted wool and burl Invasive by Ilana Houten and Stripped/Burned by Lauren Mieczko and Molly Doak.  And as ever, I remain a fan of the death-in-nature sensibility of Jessica Tenbusch’s delicate metal, wood  and bone pieces.

north chair
Rocking Chair by Robb Todd

My hands-down favorite piece, however, was the grave and comic Fascia by Riva Jewell Vitale. This collection of found fragments from the back yard of the artist treats us to a kind of implied storytelling through the  curation of objects. Each shard and scrap seems both ancient and recognizably contemporary.  The careful arrangement of these bits of detritus hint at the unobserved, untold and unknowable everyday history of things and people.

Fascia is also typical of a trend that I  notice in art being made right now. Artists are collecting and curating existing objects and images rather than creating them.  It is as if there is already so much rich material in our world that we no longer need to produce fresh content. And judging from the satisfyingly complex and poignant emotional effect of Fascia, maybe that’s true.

north flag
Broken Flag by Aaron Patrick Decker

Ypsilanti’s downtown is clearly on the upswing. Many of the gallery’s  adjacent storefronts have been purchased and are under renovation according to 22 North gallerist Maggie Spencer.  A number of new restaurants and retail stores (and an ice cream shop!) have opened recently.  There is ample parking and an active First Fridays program, the next one of which is scheduled for September 2.

22 North, like many other arts spaces in the Detroit metro area, is open during limited hours during weekdays and on weekends, or by appointment.  Find out more about the gallery’s exhibits and events (it’s also an active music venue)  here.

Or call:  501.454.6513

Artists in Echos: Kenzie Lynn, Aaron Patrick Decker, Cathy Jacobs, Riva Jewell-Vitale, Ilana Houten, Jessica Tenbusch, Meagan Shein, Lauren Mleczko, Molly Doak, Alexa Borromeo, Elize Jakabson, Lorraine Kolasa, Rob Todd

Are you an Ypsi artist?  What do you think about the art scene there right now?  I’d be interested to hear what you think.

 

 

 

Re: Formation Part 1

reformation tanks
Radical Series 1-6 by Dan Hernandez

When Rocco DePietro and Gloria Pritschett of Gallery Project began planning for the  comprehensive dual site art exhibit Re: Formation, now on view through August 31, 2016 in Toledo’s One Erie Center, they  felt as if “something had shifted” since last year’s exhibit Wish List in the same location.

“We saw that a tipping point had been reached, and artists were beginning to speak out and push back,” said Pritschett.

dana depew-america's creed
American Creed by Dana DePew

By  addressing some of the most pressing issues facing the region — environmental degradation, infrastructure failure, the crisis in social and racial justice– regional artists are expressing a new mood of activism that reflects their  unease with the status quo.  The artists of Re: Formation (over 50 of them) seem eager to address the current troubled state of the nation in the most direct terms.

“Our humanity is being tested” says Rocco DePietro,   “Unless we say something, we are all complicit.”

The cavernous space at One Erie Center in Toledo, with its two rose windows, filtered light  and massive pillars, resembles a cathedral, lacking only a cruciform floor plan to complete  the devotional effect of a sacred space.   There are “side chapels”  edging the exterior walls of the former department store in the form of display windows. Toledo artist Yusuf Lateef (in collaboration with Kevin Gilmore, Daren Mac and James Dickerson) has even supplied a confessional of sorts with his installation/performance called The Reconditioning. Individuals  at the opening on August 5, were  invited to sit in one-on-one booths facing young men of color, who made direct eye contact and recited a litany beginning, “I am not your enemy, I am your Brother.” The performance was powerful and left many in tears.

sheida soleimani-sakinah-shirin
Sakineh, Shirin by Sheida Soleimani

 

The artworks that benefit most from the enormous space and filtered daylight at One Erie Place are large, strongly graphic artworks, installations,  videos and performance. In Toledo artist Dan Hernandez’s Radical Series 1-6,  impressively scaled and domineering war machines rumble along the walls. Also large in size and impressive in impact are two soft sculptures of suffering Islamic women by Sheida Soleimani (Cranston, RI), with accompanying archival inkjet prints on the same subject.

Installations such as Detroit’s Julianne Lindsay and Elton Monroy Duran’s  Del Ray Project and Flint artist Desiree Duell’s  Bodies of Water address a theme which appropriately dominates the consciousness of Great Lakes regional artists: water, its availability, its contamination, its infrastructure.  There are too many to artworks addressing this theme to name them all, but I particularly liked 189 Hydrants by John James Anderson of Saline, MI.  These are small photographs of broken water hydrants arranged in a grid. It tells the story of crumbling infrastructure with matter-of-fact but devastating eloquence.  I was also struck by Detroit Raizup Collective’s video Water Shut-off During Ramadan, which is both  an artwork and a sociological case study of  citizens and city personnel working at cross-purposes despite the best intentions.

Some of the more intimate art works in Re: Formation seemed to me to be swamped by the larger, kinetic videos and installations.  They suffer, as well, from the relatively subdued lighting.  These quieter pieces are likely to enjoy a more compatible environment when the show is re-installed in the Ann Arbor Arbor Art Center’s 117 Gallery.  For now, installations, videos and large scale works in the Toledo location supply more than enough reasons to make the trip to Re:Formation.

Re: Formation contains multitudes and I am glad I will have the opportunity to write more about some of the works when they are installed in Ann Arbor’s Gallery 117 in September. For more information about hours and dates for Re: Formation in Toledo, go here

Have you seen the exhibit?  Did you have a favorite piece?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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