I just wrote a review of a compelling installation by Parisa Ghaderi and Ebrahim Soltani for Pulp. To read about it 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Newly arrived from the suburbs, Wasserman Projects art gallery is what I hope the future art spaces of Detroit will look like-clean, well lit, and elegant (and open more than once a week for 3 hours!) The museum-quality treatment that Esther Shevel-Gerz’s Space Between Time receives from the gallery convinced me that I needed to look more carefully at her work than I would otherwise be inclined to, since I’m not a great fan of conceptual art generally.
Esther Shevel-Gerz employs a visual idiom that I would call high academic. She combines video, art photography and text to convey her recurring themes: the fugitive nature of memory, the inexorable passage of time and inevitable loss. Although they are a little forbidding at first approach, her art works are actually fairly straightforward (with one exception which I will get to later). They are a kind of institutional art, each one having been installed originally for a specific museum, school or cultural institution. Shelev-Gertz’s works are related very closely to the sites for which they are conceived and often incorporate the people who work at or attend that institution. You, as the viewer, are called upon to imagine them installed in that setting in order to appreciate them fully.
The most accessible and appealing work, to my mind, was created for the Municipal Library of Vancouver and is entitled The Open Page. It is a suite of high resolution, large-format photos of antique rare books selected by the librarians from the locked stacks of their library. Each one is tenderly held in the disembodied hands of its keeper. The reverent love of the librarians for these beautiful objects is palpable.
The most conceptually challenging work, Inseparable Angels, is a quasi-installation. A video with audio, two black and white photographs, two color photos, a clock that runs both forward and back, and accompanying text are displayed along a back wall of the gallery. All of this was originally installed in the upper story of a house at the Bauhaus University in Weimar. In Inseparable Angels Shevel-Gerz imagines a home for Walter Benjamin, a prominent philosopher who committed suicide in 1940 while fleeing the Nazis. The video records a 15 minute trip from Weimar to Auschwitz. The taxi driver recounts various “sights” along the way, all of which appear only in his memory, as they no longer exist in fact. The 2 adjacent color photos represent sites where now-absent places once stood.
The accompanying text refers to his journal, Angelus Novus. This was also the title of a Paul Klee painting of the same name (which Benjamin owned). In spite of its sweet appearance, this angel was far from benign. For Benjamin this was the angel of history:
“His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.”
The work that may resonate most with a Detroit audience though, is Describing Labor, created for the Wolfsonian Museum in Miami Beach, Florida. A split screen video shows interviews with the museum personnel, each of whom has chosen an artwork that shows people engaging in manual labor. The interviews create a peculiar kind of double vision; mind workers talking about manual workers as if they are anthropologists talking about a concept of labor that exists now only as a kind of historical artifact. In a nearby vitrine, the point is driven home even more clearly. Hammers have been cast into clear glass, useful tools no longer having a use.
In the end, to my surprise, I found I liked Esther Shevel-Gerz quite a lot. Her cool, conceptual approach allowed me to thoughtfully contemplate themes that are always in the back of the mind but rarely get our full attention. Her work is also a reminder of the importance of institutions such as museums and libraries. They are repositories of our collective memory that allow us to recall what we might otherwise forget. And she introduced me to Walter Benjamin, who I am coming to know better as I read his essay The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility (more of a page turner than you might think from the title.) So…thank you Wasserman Projects!
Space Between Time is on view until July 9. The gallery, located at 3434 Russell Street, is open Wednesday-Saturday. Parking is available on site. For more information go to http://wassermanprojects.com/
This is the second year for this community-based installation project. Artists are invited to submit work and/or proposals for installations. POP•X 2016 will run September 22 – October 1 in Liberty Plaza Park, Ann Arbor.
Entry Deadline: April, 5, 2016
Submission fee: $35
- Requesting proposals for art installations in 100 sqft. art pavilions.
• Open to all interested artists, designers, and curators, submitting as an individual or team. One entry per individual artist or curator or per team.
• A $1,000 stipend per installation will be given to the individuals and teams selected for exhibition.
Ideal proposals for the interior installations value sustained or interactive engagement of visitors, inspiring them with thought-provoking or fun expressions of contemporary arts. Installations may include any form of artistic expression, including, but not limited to art that responds to the immediate environment or encourages community engagement through social practice.
Accomplished independent curators Rocco DePietro and Gloria Pritschet of Gallery Project are planning their 4th dual-site exhibition entitled Re:Formation. The exhibit will open in August, 2016, in a modified 17,000 sq foot 50’s department store space in downtown Toledo, OH, and then move to the Ann Arbor Art Center in downtown Ann Arbor in mid-September-October. The Toledo site has abundant space for large scale installation and 3-D work. Artists interested in participating in this exhibit should send jpg images and/or proposals to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Re: Formation examines this unique moment when ordinary people are declaring, ala Peter Finch, “I am mad as hell and I won’t take it anymore.” What is different at this time is that people who have been silent, or silenced, are standing up, speaking out, and, mobilizing for needed change. Highly divergent in life styles with broad-ranging backgrounds, beliefs and values, these individuals are expressing justifiable anger at the accumulation of horrific events and unrelenting injustices that characterize our current era. They are teaming up, across race, gender, politics, and social status with empathy and compassion for their fellow human beings. Their actions are reestablishing belief in a positive future based on fairness, equity, and genuine possibility for all. Is this a tipping point, a moment for reform, or even a revolution? Or is it just another blip before capitulation and regression?
The exhibit challenges artists to express, in all media and in any size including large installation, their perspective of this time of Re: Formation. What is shifting? How are these shifts taking form? How do you experience this time of formation? What is your relationship to it, its impacts on you, your participation in this awareness and militancy? What can or should be done? What outcomes might result and what will the future look like? Re: Formation invites artists to actively express this unfolding reality as observers, participants, documentarians, conjurers and critics.
Artwork for Re: Formation depicts:
- the process of pivotal change in perception, perspective, assumptions, beliefs, habits, choices and actions;
- dramatic relationship changes among people, objects, and places;
- bold, redirected thinking and resulting responses about crucial issues;
- new forms and structures of a transformed society;
- movement in a transformative direction such as towards alternative futures;
- recent horrific events and gradual eroding events, their aftermath, and possible solutions;
- classism and prejudice in issues of social justice;
- conditions that force change; and
- challenges to the status quo.
In September, 2015, 45 artists took to the streets of Detroit. Check out the result:
Thanks, Margi Weir, for the heads-up on this project!