I recently wrote a review of Detroit artist Kylie Lockwood’s rough but exquisite porcelain figures at Simone DeSousa Gallery. The artist “aims to reconcile the experience of living in a female body with the history of sculpture.” To read the full review, go here
Sculptures spill out over the lawn of Kegham Tazian’s neat suburban home as if the restless creative impulse inside can’t be contained. Tazian, a trim and cordial man with salt-and-pepper hair, meets me at the door, and ushers me into an interior where hundreds of sculptures and paintings are neatly displayed, evidence of nearly 60 years well spent as a prolific and productive artist in Detroit. Like architects Eliel Saarinan and Albert Kahn and sculptor Corrado Parducci, he is an immigrant creative who has found a home in the city, nurtured by its energy and sheltered by its community.
Tazian’s story begins in Turkey, where his family was part of a persecuted Armenian minority. His mother, displaced during the troubled times of World War I that culminated in the Armenian genocide, was taken to Beirut, Lebanon as a child to study in a Catholic convent. During a lull in the unrest, her family moved her back to Turkey, but after her marriage and the birth of her 5 children – of which Kegham was the youngest at 1 year old–the entire family relocated to Lebanon with the support of the French government. Tazian’s father died when he was 4, and his mother carried on raising the family alone. Their first years in Lebanon were difficult. “My mom is my hero,“ Tazian says. “She couldn’t read or write, but she spoke 4 languages… She never asked for any help.” Tazian recalls, “[when] I was 7 years old, along with my 3 brothers and my mom, we would walk some 8-10 miles one way to pick potatoes and onions.”
Tazian developed an early ambition to become an artist, even though he had very little exposure to the arts. “My background was completely zero in art. There were no classes in elementary school or high school. I went to two different high schools, and none of them had art, but in my mind I always planned to be an artist.”
“The only person [who encouraged me] was my 5th grade English teacher, Olivia Balian,” he says. “She really opened the doors of art for me. She said, ‘Those students who are interested in art can stay behind after school and I will show you how to paint and draw.’ Somehow [that] changed my life– she gave me that spark.”
When one of Tazian’s older brothers started a successful button-making business, giving the family some stability and making study abroad financially feasible, Tazian came to the U.S. to study at St. Francis College in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Tazian humorously recalls his lack of preparation: “When I came there … to an art school, I had no idea what an art school [was]!” Somehow, in spite of this, he earned a bachelors degrees in art and a masters in art education, and then managed to get admitted to Wayne State University in Detroit, where he went on to receive an MFA in sculpture in 1966. For the next 47 years, he taught art at Oakland Community College’s Orchard Ridge Campus in Farmington Hills, while maintaining an active studio practice, showing his work regularly in galleries around the country and fulfilling numerous commissions for public art in the Detroit area.
Kegham Tazian is a kind of magpie artist, always on the sharp-eyed lookout for materials that spark his creative impulse. Ruined styrofoam from a job site, a cow bone, a battered oil pan, a discarded circuit board – all of these apparently un-prepossessing materials have found their way into his work. He collects and combines objects he finds in the environment and enters into a dialog with them to create a finished painting or sculpture. “I’m open minded …If I see something in nature, then that becomes part of my art work… More than anything else I’m curious about how I can express myself, in what medium.” He continues, “I never know from one day to the next what I’ll do. It all happens in that moment. One of the luxuries I’ve had is teaching – a steady income – so I never [had to] weigh doing something the public likes so I can make my car payments or house payments.”
Asked about his creative influences, Tazian takes a panoramic view. “When it comes to… the idea of uniqueness, I always say, I’m indebted to the first person, man or woman, who did something in a cave.” He is dismissive of the idea of the artist as a solitary, heroic figure. “To me, it’s all work,” he says. “We’re all walking that same road, just maybe in a slightly different way… the idea of originality – I don’t really believe in it…all you’re doing is making a variation on what others who have preceded you have done. So you put your own stamp on it.”
Since his retirement from teaching in 2014, Tazian has, if anything, increased his creative output. He is currently preparing for a solo show of his recent work at Detroit’s highly respected Galerie Camille, from October 3 – 10. Among the planned 40 artworks on display will be new limestone and bronze sculptures, multi-media paintings and computer-aided works on paper, evidence – if any were still needed – of the artist’s continuing curiosity and restless energy.
For more information about the exhibit Kegham Tazian: A Journey Through Art go here
This is the first essay in an ongoing series about Detroit artists, curators and gallerists, with an emphasis on the city’s emerging art ecosystem.
The Detroit art scene right now is a funny place, a multi-venue stage for unorthodox performance, experimental installation and a playground for talented art newcomers, recently minted BFAs, and self-taught makers and doers. Art venues emerge, move and close at a disorienting pace, and the skills of a treasure hunter are required to keep track of them all, but constant throughout this ever-changing and evolving art ecosystem are a few artists whose instantly identifiable work shows up regularly all around Detroit.
Alexander Buzzalini, painter, printmaker and installation artist, is one of these itinerant and ubiquitous makers. I’ve seen his work in prestigious galleries like N’namdi Center for Contemporary Art and Wasserman Projects and in less exalted settings like Bumbo’s Bar and Public Pool. In spite of his use of a wide variety of formats and materials, Buzzalini’s work is always identifiable and relatable, with its comic wild west subject matter, saturated color and gestural pizzazz.
I was curious about the source of Buzzalini’s inspiration and motivation, how he gets along in Detroit and why he stays, when other millennial artists might decamp for Brooklyn or L.A. So I contacted him in search of some insights about what it’s like to live and make art right now in Detroit. We arranged to meet at Outer Limits, a venerable Hamtramck dive bar near his studio. When I arrived on a still-chilly April afternoon, I immediately noticed the bar’s proudly retro décor, which clearly hadn’t seen an update since the Carter administration. The bartender and I exchanged a few pleasantries until Buzzalini walked in a few minutes later, bearded and paint spattered, clearly just off work. We ordered our beers and dug right in, in classic Hamtramck fashion, to talk about art.
As it turns out, Buzzalini is a local boy, born and raised in Pontiac, MI, just north of Detroit. He moved to the city in 2012 to attend Wayne State University, where he studied printmaking with Stanley Rosenthal and Pam Delaura. After he got his BFA (summa cum laude), he saw no reason to leave. “I basically just stayed here,” he says. He has found a group of like-minded artists and writers like Steve Hughes and John Charnota, printmaker Ryan Stanfest and designer Jack Craig. Together, they produce publications, organize exhibits and generally bounce ideas off each other for their mutual benefit.
I asked him how he became interested in painting American frontier western themes. “The western has such a deep tradition in American culture,” he replied, adding, ”it’s also that internationally the western is seen as a purely American genre.” The American movie western represents an archetype of what an American is, but Buzzalini is well aware that vintage movie westerns are a reductive and simplistic representation of American manhood. Over time, he said, “I really started looking and paying attention to [these] things, and pointing to that façade. But I liked the idea of [examining] what is real and what is not real.” He went on:
I like to tell the story that when I was 12 or 13, I was in Colorado hiking through the mountains with my uncle and my cousin, and he says, “Stop , wait, look at that rock!”
“What?” And I say, “Yeah that’s a rock.”
And he says, “No, come here, look.” And he poked it, and it’s just a fake rock made of chicken wire and plaster from some John Wayne movie, left here after all this time.”
The anecdote gets to the heart of Buzzalini’s work, questioning received notions of masculinity, nationality and identity.
The images in Buzzalini’s painting are clearly theatrical and satirical. He subverts the manly images he paints. The cowboy boots are red and pointy, his guns droop, and even the cow skulls are wearing lipstick. “That’s my approach to dealing with what is masculinity… today, using the historical references to the western, where male roles are so prominent … I’m taking that example and making fun of it, [to] tell young people today, including myself, what it means to be masculine is just fabricated by Hollywood… I think people are beginning to be interested in ideas about questioning their identities and where those identities came from and [realizing that] they are fabricated by these larger corporate things.”
Buzzalini’s cowboy paintings are quick and loose, with gestural, almost cartoonish, brush strokes, “I tend to work quick, and on multiple things at once, because I have a hard time sitting and working on one painting and waiting for it to dry. I like [to make] quick paintings… they’re kind of like drawings, and [the speed creates] a good kind of pressure.” He continues, “It’s drippy and sometimes… I use certain mediums, mix it with paint and add water… part of it is I like the drips. It adds fluidity, gives immediacy, and from the physical aspect of the actual painting I can make one continuous brush stroke. I work fast, it’s gestural, it’s the way I’ve always painted except when I was forced not to, (and then it didn’t turn out too good.”)
When asked about what media interest him most now, given his background in printmaking and the numerous installation pieces he has exhibited recently, Buzzalini still pledges his allegiance to painting. “[I’m interested mostly in] painting, [even though] the last show I did was a two person show with John Charnota … at Public Pool. It was called 100 Beavers and I did do a couple of wood block prints for that, and a series of silkscreens…that involved doing this installation of a beaver dam on the back wall with all these sticks that were cut outs. …The beaver show was kind of a leap and speaks to [my aim for] a [high] level of productivity … it was a lot of work, and [I was] speaking of productivity as a way of projecting self-worth–that we’re not lazy.” He admitted this might be a particularly midwestern way of thinking about art, in terms of productivity and hard work.
We talked briefly about his current project, some funky, gloppy plaster lamps he made and recently showed at Butter Projects. He says, “I’ve been working on a series of lamps using plaster, inspired by work I did assisting Jack Craig–It’s very strange, weird design–and I thought, “I want to try this!” His description describes nicely how the cross pollination of ideas occurs right now in Detroit.
Our discussion circled around, inevitably, to why he stays in Detroit, what still excites him about it and his future plans. His answer returned to the openness of Detroit’s artist community, the ease of artistic exchange, the wealth of places to show work, and of course, the cheap rents.
“Rents are going up–It’s not as cheap as when I moved here, when you could pay $400 a month for a 1000 square foot flat — now it’s more like $900, he says. “I recently purchased a house. I stay here because the community’s been really good, and it’s growing, not stagnant, and new people are constantly moving in. It’s easy to have a show, even at your house, and get enough people to make it worth your while to set it up. The community’s tight like that. Mostly a lot of my friends are Cranbrook graduates and a small group of people from University of Michigan have started to move in. The community’s close so there’s also the exchange of social gatherings and something [that] has to do with the walkability of the town. That’s what’s keeping me here, stuff like that.”
The mother/child relationship over time, through sickness, care and–finally–death, forms the emotional core of Kathyrose Pizzo’s moving solo exhibit After A Thousand Mornings, now on view through March 25th at Hatch Gallery in Hamtramck. Multiple sclerosis, her mother’s diagnosis, has given the artist a front row seat at this most mysterious and universal human rite of passage, and she has clearly thought long and deeply about the experience of her mother’s decline and her part in it. She observes in herself the shifting emotional dynamics of care and conflict, love and resentment, grief and recovery, rendering them in physical space through the patient assemblage of sticks and strings.
The artworks are binary in nature, with wooden constructs that seem to either support or confine cloud-shaped gray pillows. The softness of the cloth clouds, juxtaposed with the hardness of the provisionally composed structures, shifts in meaning from piece to piece, the cloud in one artwork seeming to refer to the artist, in another, to her mother. Sometimes the cloud is imprisoned by the scaffolding and at others it seems to float above and away. Throughout, the two elements circle and collide, metaphors for a kind of emotional dialog between these intimately connected human beings.
Caught eloquently captures the dilemma of the cared-for and the caregiver, mutually trapped by circumstance. A wire net that mimics the failing synapses of her mother’s brain confines both the cloud and the wooden support to the ground, metaphorically trapping both mother and daughter beneath the disease.
Pizzo is also interested in examining the end of life through the lens of social rituals in cultures past and present. She particularly acknowledges the influence of Joseph Campbell, a philosopher known for his work in comparative mythology and religion. She says of these rites, “Tributes to the departed are the events that make us human, that define the distance between us and the stars.”
This influence is most directly referenced in Departure. The artist has created a small scale replica of a funeral pyre, upon which a lovingly pillowed figure rests. Underneath, a chaotic and disordered pile of kindling mirrors the artist’s mental state.
Many of the works in After a Thousand Mornings refer to the passage of time and convey a sense of waiting. Wall pieces such as Calypso and Episode 1: The Ladder are improvised and complex structures created by the artist using aluminum tape, which is then partially stripped away as the composition emerges. The title work of the show takes on the theme of time’s passage most directly, with 30 tiny wooden scaffolds topped by cotton clouds and arranged in a grid –a kind of calendar–quietly and elegantly filling one wall of the gallery.
The incremental passage of time that forms the rhythm of life and death is the ultimate theme of After A Thousand Mornings. The artworks are a physical manifestation of this process, small moments turning into large ones, one moment adding to another, making up a life and bringing us inevitably to its end. Kathyrose Pizzo has found meaning here: “Personally witnessing both how disease can bring forth greater understanding of the human condition and the unavoidable destiny of all life is central to my work.”
For more information about Hatch Gallery and After a Thousand Mornings, go here.
In this dreary and discontented winter season, Public Pool in Hamtramck aims to treat our tired eyes to Printers Without Presses, an exhibit of informal and mostly one-of-a kind printed artworks that “by hook or crook explore ingenious methods of printmaking.” This loosely organized collection of Public Pool regulars (and their friends) showcases artists who are fully literate as conventional printmakers but who, for the purposes of this show, have discarded the more technical aspects of the printmaking process to create work that is personal and playful. Several of the artists are gifted writers as well as visual artists, so text and narrative content play an important role, resulting in a roomful of fresh, unassuming and conversational artworks.
Chicago/Milwaukee artist and accomplished printmaker Tyanna Buie seems not limited but liberated by the simplicity of her means. She employs hand applied ink, hand-cut stencils, collage and photo-based digital images to create Object and Ritual an ambitiously scaled, three-dimensional sculptural print that dominates the center of the gallery.
The seamless connection that the artists display between their online worlds and the lo-tech, hands-on life in the studio is striking. Matthew Milia describes “What’s a Print”, his hand-stenciled rendition of a cell-phone text complete with reception bars and battery status, as an attempt to playfully “subvert the instantaneous, sometimes mindless facility modern technology has afforded correspondence.” Dessislava Terzieva freely admits her piece “We didn’t Start The Fire” is the result of an internet search.
Three of the artists share an interest in the urban natural world of Hamtramck and have clearly influenced each other. In Baby’s Breath and Obsolescence, Keaton Fox compares and contrasts the marks created by inked baby’s breath with the trail of a computer mouse as it is dragged along the surface of the paper. Teresa Peterson and Anne Harrington Hughes have each put together a collection of leaves which they have subsequently used to create print series that are visually related but thematically distinct.
Jeffrey Evergreen and Bayard Kurth III rely on text to convey their colloquial content. Evergreen’s small printed brown bags fit seamlessly into the world of Hamtramck’s bars and he has humorously directed gallery visitors to take one but only “wrapped around a beer.” In addition to prints in the exhibit, Kurth has produced a zine “Improve Your Fishing” which establishes that he is a writer and thinker as well as a doodle-ist. Though not formally included in the show, another zine Stupor/Soft Gun, part of an ongoing series by Knight Fellow Steve Hughes and with illustrations by Alexander Buzzalini (who is in the show), merits attention and you can buy it for the low, low price of $2.
More purely visual, as opposed to text-based, pieces are provided by Jide Aje and Tim Hailey. Although they trend toward painting with a more distant nod to printmaking, they still fit within the rather loose parameters of the show and provide some nice shots of color.
Alexander Buzzalini contributes a Giacometti-esque branding iron that somehow also recalls his characteristic gloppy painting style. This is accompanied by several branded discs that might be coasters, and the whole thing ties in with his ongoing interest in imagery of the mythic old West. For more about Alexander Buzzalini you can go here to read an essay written (not too co-incidentally) by Steve Hughes, his collaborator on Stupor/Soft Gun.
Like many of the non-profit art spaces in Hamtramck, Public Pool has limited hours, but it’s well worth your time and effort to see this work, on view until February 25. Artists in Printers Without Presses are: Jeff Evergreen, Jide Aje, Bayard Kurth III, Teresa Petersen, Alex Buzzalini, Mathew Milia, Tyanna Buie, Keaton Fox, Anne Hughes, Tim Hailey and Dessislava Terzieva. The gallery is open on Saturdays from 1 to 6. For more information on Public Pool, go here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Lewisburg White Lace by Anna Kell
Peace Love and Understanding by Archana Aneja
Number All My Bones by K.A. Letts
Suburban Camouflage Detection #1 by Seder Burns
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
It’s August and it’s hot. I’m tired of thinking about politics…and art and politics. But it looks like it’s going to be at least 76 more days until the end of our collective season of discontent, so I’m treating you and me to a staycation of some fun art that’s available for your viewing pleasure in the Detroit metro area right now.
First up, there’s the fizzy pop-up show Ultimate Stars in Gallery 117 at the Ann Arbor Art Center from now until September 3. Musician and photographer Doug Coombs and his talented friends have put together this eclectic free-for-all: drawings, paintings, puppets, posters, music. It’s all playful, colorful and occasionally silly (but in a good way). Check out a wall full of tacked- up, un-framed doodly watercolors by Jim Cherewick or take a look at the funny/creepy black and white ink drawings of Chris Pottinger. And, if you want to hear catchy tunes by the musicians who performed at the opening go here.
Artists in Ultimate Stars are: Scott Allen
Misty Lyn Bergeron, Sarah Campbell, Jim Cherewick, Michael Dykehouse, Patrick Elkins, Greg McIntosh, Tadd Mullinix, Chris Pottinger, Fred Thomas.
Wasserman Projects, near Eastern Market in Detroit, is hosting its Summer Selections right now in a portion of the gallery, while also working on their upcoming installation Cosmopolitan Chicken by Dutch artist Koen VanMechelen. (Cosmopolitan Chicken, opening this fall, features–yes, you guessed it–chickens.) The Summer Selections paintings are smart and humorous and well worth a look while we wait for the poultry to make its appearance. Artists in Summer Selections are: Ken Aptekar, Peter Zimmerman, Jason Yates, Michael Scoggins, Emilio Perez, Kent Henricksen, Ed Fraga, Jose Vincench, Nancy Mitchnick, G. Bradley Rhodes-Aubrey, Josh Bolin, Koen Vanmechelen, Willy Verginer.
Anemic Royalty by Josh Bolin
Smile Everyone by Jason Yates
God Complex by Michael Scoggins
Just down the street from Wasserman Projects is Tyree Guyton’s current solo show, Face-ology, on view throughout the month of August at Inner State Gallery. These appealing, simply composed pictures with their bright, flat house paint colors on recycled grounds have the rough urban feel of the Heidelberg Project but in a gallery-friendly format.
“Face-ology is a reflection of everything that is changing about Detroit; the face of the landscape, the face of the people and even my own face,” says Guyton.
And last but not least, you still have time (just barely) to see Intersection: Jef Bourgeau/ Matt Eaton at Galerie Camille. Until August 27, these bright and sophisticated paintings and digital prints from two of Detroit’s best known independent curator artists are available to soothe your sore eyes.
There’s been some discussion online lately about the state of the art scene in Detroit. Is it healthy? Has it reached “critical mass”? Where are the collectors? I don’t know how other artists and art lovers define a successful art ecosystem, but to me it revolves around whether you can walk from gallery to gallery for a full day and see art. I decided to test this theory by doing a Detroit gallery crawl. And yes, it is possible to walk from one gallery to another in the city’s midtown, downtown and Eastern Market neighborhoods and see lots of art in a day. Although you’d better wear some comfortable shoes, since this crawl was about 6 miles long.
My crawl companion and I started in the midtown area with Gallery Camille’sIntersection where two of Detroit’s curatorial heavy hitters are showing their artworks. Jeff Bourgeau, artist and art world provocateur, is the power behind the Museum of New Art, artCORE and the Detroit Center for Contemporary Photography. Matt Eaton is the director/curator of Red Bull House of Art and a founding partner of Library Street Collective. Bourgeau claims to have “digitally eaten the brains and guts of the first hundred years of abstraction” and it shows here in these smoothly rendered digital prints on canvas whose ovoid forms recall Jules Olitsky. Eaton’s paintings, while equally appealing, seem to be arrived at more provisionally through painting techniques commonly associated with street art. Paint is thickly applied to the surface, sprayed, dripped and poured. This is a satisfying show of two talented artists working at a high level, and (even better) the artworks are amazingly affordable.
From Camille we put our heads into nearby Simone DeSousa’s opening of EDITION, a companion to her more traditional space next door. There is plenty to like in this new approach, which offers reasonably priced limited editions of works on paper, ceramics, art books and housewares. I particularly liked a series of (very) limited edition silk screen prints by Wes Taylor of the experimental Detroit design studio Talking Dolls.
The area near Simone DeSousa also features a number of upscale retail stores specializing in designer objects. In Hugh I stumbled upon a line of cocktail mixers cooked up by Steven and Dorota Coy of Hygienic Dress League in cooperation with Joe McClure of McClure’s Pickles in Hamtramck. Right next door is Nora, which carries hand made gold jewelry and a whole lot of other cool stuff. Then we headed for Eastern Market
Murals In The Market
One of the great pleasures of walking from gallery to gallery in Detroit is that lots of great wall painting is right out there on the street. Eastern Market is awash with murals, many created during last year’s event Murals in the Market. The second iteration of this highly successful project is due this September and will add another 50 works. The show at Inner State Gallery , Inertia, features three artists from last year’s event. Jarus, a street artist from Toronto, seems the most comfortable in a traditional gallery which plays to his considerable skills as a draftsman. His fellow Canadian Kwest has a misfire with his aimless and desultory bas relief panels. David “Persue” Ross of New York performs in his signature style with smaller scale works. From this aptly named show it appears that a traditional gallery isn’t necessarily the best setting for artists used to working outdoors on a large scale where the grittiness of the streetscape adds energy and verve. All of these artists have better work in the neighborhood outdoors.
We were disappointed that Wasserman Projects was closed for installation, but you can read a review of their previous show here. Red Bull House of Art was also closed for installation, so we proceeded to downtown and the next galleries on our crawl list.
On our way we ran into a little street theater and audience development project being conducted by John Dunivant, creator of Theater Bizarre, a party/performance piece held yearly in the Masonic Temple around Halloween. The way he described it, Theater Bizarre sounds exotic, entertaining, unwholesome and irresistable. He also said cheerfully “It’s the worst business model ever,” due to the labor intensive, immersive nature of the event.
Our crawl continued to The Belt, “a culturally redefined alley in the heart of downtown Detroit.” The Belt is full of street art as practiced by some of its most famous and accomplished practitioners and curated by the nearby Library Street Collective. I particularly liked Scratching the Surface by VHILS (Portuguese artist Alexandre Farto) and Facet by Tiff Massey, a Detroit sculptor. The Library Street Collective (which, by the way, is not a collective) currently features banal, overpriced and dispiriting paintings by 70’s graffiti artist Futura (formerly Futura 2000).
We perked up, though, when we entered nearby David Klein Gallery, a Detroit outpost of the space by the same name in suburban Birmingham MI. We were greeted at the door by Revelator to the Diasporic Subterranean Homesick, a terrific plaster, burlap and plywood sculpture by Ebitenyefa Baralaye. Also impressive were some scrimshawed panels by David Sengbusch and colorful small collages by Liz Cohen. We were delighted to find two small pictures by noted African American artist Beverly Buchanan in the back room and happy to hear that more of her work will be shown in the fall at the gallery.
We completed our loop tour by walking back to the midtown area, stopping to rest our feet and get a bite at Cass Café, a restaurant and neighborhood gathering place that doubles as a gallery. Here we saw Writings on the Wall, a one-person show by Vagner M. Whitehead featuring multi-part panels on which the artist has collaged and painted the imagery of verbal communication: hand signals, braille, letters and the like.
Our last stop (finally!) was at the George N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, where the launch party for Essay’dwas well underway. Essay’d, the brainchild of gallerist Steve Panton of 9338 Campau in Hamtramck, is a series of long form essays about artists of note in Detroit. The first collection in this annual series will be coming out in book form in August from Wayne State University Press and can be pre-ordered here. The diverse exhibit currently at N’Namdi features works by recently reviewed Essay’d artists and defies easy description, but I did particularly like Alexander Buzzalini’s rude cowboys and and Carl Demulenaere’s unearthly pre-Raphaelite inspired icons.
So we’ve come to the end of our little walking tour, and it seems to me that the answer to the question of whether the Detroit art scene is healthy and whether it has reached critical mass is a big “yes“. We saw a full day’s worth of great artworks both on and off the street. And in the galleries we visited there is lots of beautiful and accomplished art priced between $300-$2000 that is just waiting to be snatched up by savvy collectors. It’s only a matter of time before the rest of the art buying public discovers Detroit, so local collectors should be out there buying nowbefore we are priced out of the market. Writer Patrick Dunn has written an excellent piece about the Detroit art scene recently, and you can read it here.
Somewhere over the Rainbow is Another Rainbow at Hatch Hamtramck is Shaina Kasztelan’s poison pen love letter to kitsch and consumerism. This Detroit artist and recent CCS grad seems to simultaneously love and hate the symbols and materials that she uses to create her wildly entertaining installations, paintings and sculptures.
Many artists in Detroit are enthusiastic collagists of gritty urban substance, their artworks depending on the inherent material integrity of the parts to lend credibility to the whole. In contrast, Kasztelan employs the same assemblage method but uses materials that are the antithesis of authenticity. They are, in fact, intentionally notable for their fakeness. The color is super-sweet, the forms mass market. She combines polyester fur, hobby shop jewels, plastic inflatables and synthetic hair in obsessive aggregations, reaching new heights of over-saturated, over-the-top visual hysteria.
I was surprised to learn that this is Kasztelan’s first solo show. The work seems confident, the installation expert. The friendly yet knowing mood of the exhibit reminds me most of John Waters’s movies with their gleeful embrace of low-brow mass culture and transgressive imagery.
Kasztelan seems especially at ease in three dimensions. The most assured and ambitious work in the show, entitled The Alien with the Drake Tattoo/Dedicated to the Butterfly, is a kind of altar (complete with Juggalo nativity) that seems to burst out of a black cloud (of depression?) She seems less at ease in the conventional rectangular format of her paintings, which felt a bit awkward to me. But she has very cleverly circumvented this unease in The Devil’s Vibrating Smile by applying the imagery to clear vinyl. My favorite piece was a fake fur potted plant infested with tiny toy babies and topped by a pink plastic bouffant, entitled Baby Cactus is Happy. This show made me happy too.
Somewhere over the Rainbow is a Double Rainbow is at Hatch Hamtramck until May 28. For more information for hours and events go here.