Category Archives: Studio Visit

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.

 

 

 

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Re-imagining the Art Gallery

 

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Steel Skin 2016 by George Rahme

 

Usually when I walk into a contemporary art gallery, I expect to see a clean white space with curatorially approved artworks tastefully displayed and carefully lit.  So I found my visit to The Other Limits at Popps Packing last week a disorienting experience at first.  The exhibit illustrates how the gallery model in Detroit is evolving to allow a more experimental approach to showing, thinking and talking about art. Popps Packing is a rough and intimate space, open at irregular hours. The lighting is ad hoc. Two big, friendly black dogs lounging on their beds in the gallery add  a feeling of domesticity. The  grand piano and what, at first, seem to be random objects strewn about, suggest a party about to begin or just concluded.  On the day I visited, the back room of the gallery was occupied by several artists-in-residence from Germany, working furiously at their own projects. I could see I was in for a different kind of experience from what I had been conditioned to expect.

The gallery’s exhibit space is currently given over to the work of long-time friends and artists George Rahme and Chris McGraw. This is the latest in several exhibitions they have mounted together in the ten years since they graduated from Detroit’s College of Creative Studies. The two  feel very close in their life circumstances and in their art.  The pieces are conceived individually, but installed so as to resonate visually and thematically with each other. The result isn’t exactly collaboration but rather symbiosis.

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Installation by George Rahme and Chris McGraw

Georg Rahme  was on hand to talk to us, which made our visit feel more like a studio consult and less like a gallery exhibition. He described how his earlier work, a tumultuous phantasmagoria of painted figures collected from both pop and fine art sources, has given way to work that features a single central image. It appears at first to be an explosion, but is in reality a photographic image of sparking from a factory floor with the surrounding visuals carefully cut away. In this way he honors the past labor of Hamtramck’s factory workers with whom he shares a common Lebanese heritage. Rahme, like many Detroit artists, has a reverence for work, both in the productive  labor of manufacturing/making and in his own creative process.  This is evident in his choice of rich backing materials and in his appetite for intricate detail.  He uses velvets,  jacquard tapestry or reflective luxury fabrics as grounds for his pieces, these made especially meaningful by their provenance as gifts from individuals in the Hamtramck community.  In spite of the explosive imagery, these pieces are devotional and meditative.

Chris MacGraw seems to feel markedly less commitment to the physical act of making art; he contents himself with  gathering and curating found objects. He depends upon their innate poignancy and nostalgia status to engender meaning and emotion in the mind of the viewer. Two of his more successful efforts are provisionally assembled, slightly comic stand-ins for human figures, one of which could be a kind of homeless Mary Poppins, and the other a ghostly column of cloth and styrofoam. But an artist who depends for his inspiration on the collection and curation of found objects to create successful art needs a very high level of judgement and a keen understanding of the intrinsic emotional content of any given object, something McGraw achieves only in fits and starts. 

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objects curated by Chris McGraw

A visit to Popp’s Packing is a reminder that in life and in art the only constant is change.  What we know as the classic contemporary art gallery,  part temple of culture,  part gift shop,  is only the most recent iteration of a type of cultural institution that stretches back to the late 17th century when the Paris Salon became the first central commercial gathering place for art and the public. There are some very successful examples of the more traditional art gallery in Detroit now (Wasserman Projects, Gallery Camille, Simone DeSousa being only three of many), but the Popps Packing model of exhibition seems to be a thoughtful response to conditions on the ground in Detroit and a useful addition. Maybe what we need most right now is a forum for charting the way forward as a creative community and an opportunity for artists to think out loud in dialog with the art-going public about the direction and content of their work.

For more about Popps Packing go here:

Ypsi Alloy Studio Collective

“Ypsi is the Brooklyn to Ann Arbor’s Manhattan”… or so I’ve heard. What’s meant by that, I suppose, is that despite Ann Arbor’s reputation as a cultural mecca, the increase  in real estate prices and taxes over the last few decades has driven artists and creatives of all kinds to relocate from Ann Arbor to cheaper digs in neighboring Ypsilanti. A vibrant underground arts scene has emerged there recently and I got  a chance to at least start exploring it by visiting Ypsi Alloy Studio Collective during First Friday’s monthly crawl of studios and galleries.

Ypsi Alloy Studio Collective  is a new kind of art animal, part open studio, part maker space. It’s  located in a big warehouse- type building in an industrial park on the outskirts of town.  The  artists share space, tools, utility costs  and inspiration.  I was immediately struck by the collegial atmosphere.

All the artists, most of whom are graduates of Eastern Michigan University, (5 of 12 were in attendance) are very focused on the making of objects that occupy the intersection of craft and fine art. The zeitgeist of southeastern Michigan is still very much  one of the manufacturing of things and these graduates of  Eastern Michigan University’s Art Department seem to reflect that.

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Jaw by Jessica Tenbusch

I knew only one of the artists going in: Jessica Tenbusch, a metalsmith and sculptor with whom I had shown work at the Walter E. Terhune Gallery in Perrysburg, Ohio, earlier this year.  Jessica was awarded a  prize for her sculpture, no doubt  the first of many honors to come. In her art practice, Tenbusch combines silver metalwork and  found natural objects such as bones, antlers, animals preserved in resin and the like. You can see more of her art here. Her work is mostly small scale, reflecting the size of the natural objects she incorporates into her sculptures.  Her objects and silver jewelry evoke her interest in the interplay between life and death in the natural world.

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Window in Aqua by Cathy Jacobs

I had an interesting conversation with Cathy Jacobs about her journey from painter to fiber artist; One particularly thoughtful piece was Window in Aqua, a series of handwoven translucent scrims suspended from a wooden framework.  The artwork is meant to be both seen and seen through.

I was also impressed by the furniture  of Lauren Mleczko and Molly Doak of Lomo Collective. They make furniture from an inventive array of re-purposed chair parts, laminated plywood and found woods, sometimes going so far as to hand weave and dye the fabrics they employ in their upholstery.

Plenty of art remains still to be seen in Ypsilanti (I barely scratched the surface), but I will have to wait until the next First Friday in July.  And I’m looking forward to seeing the work of the other 9 artists at Ypsi Alloy Studio Collective soon.

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Handmade bench with hand woven upholstery fabric by Lomo Collective

First Fridays Ypsilanti is a self-guided art walk that happens on the First Friday of each month.  All venues provide free art events including displayed art, live music, art workshops, puppet shows and more.  For more information go to FirstFridaysYpsi