I just wrote a review of this beautiful and devastating exhibit, now on view at the University of Michigan Museum of Art. It makes a powerful case for action on climate change, but will we respond? To read the full review, go here
I recently wrote a review of In Transit for Pulp. Over 70 photographs by current and former students in the Photo Technology Department of Washtenaw County Community College are on display in Gallery 117 at the Ann Arbor Art Center through September 30. To read the full review go here
I just wrote a review of a compelling installation by Parisa Ghaderi and Ebrahim Soltani for Pulp. To read about it go here
What happens when one becomes many? How do patterns, objects, gestures repeated and systematically arranged, reveal thoughts and ideas that are otherwise invisible? The artists of Ypsi Alloy Studios think they know the answer–or answers–to that question.
They have done their homework, comparing and contrasting different definitions of multiplicity and its implications, each coming up with a satisfying working theory of how this relates to them personally. The artists of the collective share a space, and clearly also share ideas and ways of working while also displaying an intriguing diversity of approach and media. In this thoughtful collection of artworks, the artists work both individually and in collaboration, bouncing ideas and methods off each other. The result of their labors, Emergent Effect, curated by Ilana Houten, Elize Jekabson and Jessica Tenbusch, is now on view until January 28 at the Ann Arbor Art Center.
Many of the artists have created meaning through cumulative action in the most direct possible way, fabricating artworks that amount to more than the sum of their parts. Two pieces by Paloma Nunez-Ruguerio exemplify this straightforward approach. One Becomes Many invites gallery visitors to include themselves in the many by writing personal details about themselves on the stickers that make up the installation. The resulting visual effect calls to mind the cells of a beehive. Another Nunez-Reguerio work, entitled 108, is colorful and more lushly decorative than most of the more austere works in the exhibit. Small prints in various colors are repeated and placed in a grid, making a veritable fruit salad of vegetal forms.
Some of the most idiosyncratic yet satisfying work in Emergent Effect is created by Yunhong (Katie) Chang.
Her series Zoo/Joy/Pinwheel/ Whisper/Goodbye features an installation of identical unglazed porcelain plaques that provide grounds for abstract hairline (literally) drawings. Promise, with multiple tiny hanging hair rings encrusted by porcelain slip, suggest precious yet fragile personal relationships.
Elize Jekabson’s sculpture Stacked employs plywood, cut and layered in a way reminiscent of the 3-d printing process to create a kind of anthill-shaped tower. Like many of the pieces in the show, this work refers to both the repetition and addition of forms seen in nature and to industrial ways of making. Works like Jessica Tenbusch’s antler and silver constructions Jaw and Kiss, Wade Buck’s forged steel wishbones (Best of Luck) and Riva Jewell-Vitale’s Fragments depend upon repetition of idiosyncratic natural forms for their considerable visual resonance.
Coming at the question of the one and many from an entirely different direction are the large format photographs of Alexa Borromeo. Too Pussy for Trump features a series of women whose naked bodies provide the canvas for provocative statements on gender and race. Here, once again, societal assumptions are projected onto women’s bodies regardless of their human individuality–a cognitive dissonance that is highlighted in this funny and disturbing collection of images.
Emergent Effect is particularly intriguing for the influences that the individual artists clearly exercise on each other. This talented group displays an emerging sense of shared esthetic interests and some through-lines emerge. I notice in particular a growing emphasis on excellence in craftsmanship, an allegiance to the authenticity of materials and an apparent appetite for repetitious cumulative labor characteristic of natural forms but married to industrial components and processes. Ypsi Alloys Studios continues to develop as an art collective with gifted individual members and a growing sense of shared purpose in its collaborative projects. It will be interesting to see where they go next.
For more information on Ann Arbor At Center and the current exhibit Emergent Effect go here.
Few playwrights–fewer than I can count on two hands–can match William Shakepeare’s popularity over time. Four hundred years after his death, he is universally revered, frequently performed and freely adapted. The compact exhibit Shakespeare’s Characters: Playing the Part, on display now through January 8 in Gallery 6 of the Toledo Museum of Art, celebrates the playwright’s continuing relevance to literature, visual art and theater.
Using paintings, prints and artifacts from the museum’s collection as well as a few pieces from private collectors and from the Blade Rare Book Room of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, Mellon Fellow Christina Larson has curated a fascinating exhibit that traces the path of Shakespeare’s plays through time and taste. She explains:
“We saw this [the 400th anniversary] as a great opportunity to honor the Bard with an exhibition. The focus on Shakespeare’s characters came about after I had looked at Shakespeare-related artwork on view and in storage. This seemed like the unifying theme and one that would likely grasp the attention of the public …Overall, the exhibition is about inspiration and influence. Shakespeare’s characters were greatly influenced by mythology and medieval tales, while his plays and sonnets have influenced visual artists and musicians”
Since she was limited in her curatorial choices to works available in the Toledo area, for Playing the Part Larson has occasionally been forced to draw comparisons between artworks and plays which are not among Shakespeare’s best or most frequently produced. The never popular–and possibly never produced– Troilus and Cressida is represented, rather tangentially, by a beautiful Greek calyx krater attributed to the Rycroft Painter. But Shakespeare’s popular and frequently performed Hamlet seems to have been a great favorite as a subject among visual artists of the 18th and 19th century and is amply represented here. Ophelia in particular was a literary figure of great interest, the pure female victim being a favorite trope of the time, and is seen in this exhibit most memorably in Arthur Hughes’s large portrait of the doomed heroine. This lushly painted canvas, the curator’s favorite in the exhibit, is restrained and moody and loaded with late Victorian symbolism if you know what to look for. This is a major work by the pre-Raphaelite artist and one of the most famous in the museum’s collection. Delacroix’s small lithograph of Ophelia, from a series of 13 he created, treats the same subject in a more theatrical vein, and an etching by Eduard Manet of the actor Philibert Rauviere as Hamlet shows that interest in Shakespeare’s plays was not limited to the English.
Because Playing the Part is a temporary exhibit, the curator was able to include work that, because of its delicacy, age or condition could not be installed in the museum’s more permanently displayed collection.
“Much of the exhibition features prints and photographs. Due to conservation concerns around lighting, this artwork cannot be on permanent view, so an exhibition is the perfect opportunity to feature the artwork for a shorter duration of time,” Larson says.
Photographs by George Platt Lynes (1907-1955), of actors in a production of A Midsummer’s Night ‘s Dream are a particularly good example of rare artworks on limited view. Lynes, a photographer of the 1930’s and 40’s, was noted for his theatrical and fashion photography as well as male nude photographs now in the collection of the Kinsey Institute. Another lovely and more contemporary example of rare book art is Ronald King’s unbound, handwritten text with drawings, of Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra (1979).
Shakespeare’s plays enjoyed renewed popularity across all classes in 18th century Britain as can be seen in the many volumes reprinting and illustrating his plays in this exhibit. For both the social elite and the newly prosperous English middle class of the time, the vogue for reprinted editions of his works illustrated their emerging patriotic and egalitarian ideals as the British Empire became a global power. The Boydell Shakespeare Folio, 5 engravings from which are represented in this exhibit, was emblematic of the veritable Shakespeare industry that developed during this period.
Of the many delights in this eclectic show, my personal favorite is Iago’s Mirror (2009) by African American artist Fred Wilson. This sinister, opaque-yet-reflective baroque mirror of Murano glass is a (literal) reflection on blackness with all its moral, spiritual and racial implications, and shows that Shakespeare’s timeless story of jealousy, villainy and death in Venice remains resonant for contemporary artists and audiences.
Playing the Part establishes without a doubt that William Shakespeare found his genius while rummaging around in the cultural closet of western civilization. The enduring relevance of Shakespeare’s art comes, not from the conceptual novelty of its premises but from the originality of its execution. He could make a threadbare story feel fresh, the unbelievable seem inevitable, the fanciful seem irresistible. His greatness still resonates with visual artists and has inspired them in turn to create works of genius.
In addition to the works on display in this exhibit, Christina Larson and the staff at the Toledo Museum of Art have assembled a packed schedule of related programming, from lectures to film to musical and theatrical performances. And there’s even a Spotify playlist of Shakespeare’s sonnets and music inspired by Shakespeare. For related museum programs go here
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
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.”
How do you describe a big, contradictory, many-faceted place like the United States of America? That is what Real American, the juried group show on view from now until August 13 at the Ann Arbor Art Center aims to do. What you see in this country right now depends on where you are standing and the juror, eminent Ann Arbor-based photojournalist Peter Baker, treats us to his personal view of not just one America but several.
The America that gets the most attention in this sprawling exhibit is loud, materialistic, individualistic, restless and consumerist. Many of the best works in this vein are photographs, perhaps reflecting Mr. Baker’s special area of expertise. Errol Daniel’s photograph of Florian Ayana Fauna shows a youth in surroundings meant to depict her (his?) highly idiosyncratic values. But this young Goth doesn’t seem happy about it. Bored young men pose with energy drinks in front of an unlovely supermarket in Monster Energy, Tulsa, a large scale photograph by Dan Farnum. Corporate logos, junk food and cars are the stuff of worship in Contemporary Totem by Jonathan Frey.
America as the land of the restless gets some attention in Jaye Schlesinger’s beautifully painted gouaches. In Too Much Fun she captures the backside of a family car (no doubt a gas guzzler), covered in leisure equipment on a mission to have fun at all costs.
Perhaps the most perfect embodiment of this view of America as the sum of its material parts is Shawn Quinlan’s The New American Heritage, which is also the winner of the Best in Show Award. This is an outrageously garish but well crafted and carefully composed quilt that combines a classic American artform with pop imagery, cooking up a chaotic, patriotic, consumerist stew. A melancholy Bozo the Clown towers over the diminutive figures of George Washington, Uncle Sam and Abraham Lincoln surrounded by well-known symbols of the nation. All hell seems to be breaking loose below.
And could any exhibit about America right now not include the current spokesman for America First, Donald Trump? John Posa delivers a hilarious painterly take-down of the Donald, his rough and flaky face topped by a furry coiffure, part toupee, part coonskin cap. In a similar satirical vein, Barbara Melnik Carson’s Armed American is a stern Lady Liberty who stands on guard, no longer welcoming but fully locked and loaded, ready to repel the invading hordes.
There is another America to be seen in Real American, lurking under the surface and often drowned out by the craziness and comedy of the dominant theme. This America is a quieter land of big spaces and solitude. Seder Burns’ photo RV Camped for the Night on BLM Land in CO. is a lyrical picture of the unspoiled land that belongs to every American, claimed for a night by one traveler.
In this America, citizens love their country, sincerely if not uncritically. In Conduct Becoming #24 , C.J. Breil shows a veteran, quietly heroic and proud of his and his family’s service in a prosaic American setting. In the large photo portrait Mitchelene Big Man, Crow Indian/Iraq Veteran by Melissa Lynn, a woman embraces her dual American identity, wearing her Native American regalia while holding an American flag. And Tina Blondell has painted Antimony as Nubia, in which a young African American woman presents herself as a confident, larger-than-life superhero.
A ghostly American flag made of wire and string (Flag by Dietmar Krumrey) seems to say that America is more than its material parts, not just a place but an idea. The flag is again a stand-in for the nation in American Odyssey by Jim Aho, worn and damaged and bullet pocked, but still recognizable.
It’s tempting to pick one America or the other. Is it a nation defined by its materialism, its corporate logos, its crazy politics? Or is it a spacious spiritual home for ideals of freedom, equality and justice for all? Of course, this is a false distinction, or to put it another way, two sides of the same American silver dollar. The same values that favor self expression also favor isolation and alienation. The unbridled pursuit of prosperity can create a nightmarish culture where everything is monetized. The flip side of patriotism can be ugly bigotry.
Being American requires constant balancing and rebalancing, defining and re-defining, in real time, of our shared values: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Real American is part of that ongoing conversation.
For more about Ann Arbor Art Center’s 117 Gallery, go here.
Artists in Real American: Jim Aho (Huntington Woods, MI), Mark Bleshinski (Bay City, MI),Tina Blondell (Minneapolis, MN), C.J. Breil (Ann Arbor, MI), Sarah Buddendeck (Ann Arbor, MI), Seder Burns (Ann Arbor, MI), Barbara Melnik Carson (Ann Arbor, MI), Vanessa Compton (Greensboro, VT), Errol Daniels (East Amherst, NY), Keith Downie (Muskegon, MI), Dan Farnum (Tulsa, OK), Kathie Foley-Meyer (Los Angeles, CA), Heather Freeman (Charlotte, NC), Jonathan Frey (Lewisburg, PA), David Gardner (San Francisco, CA), Sarah Hahn (Cleveland, OH), Amber Harrison (Ann Arbor, MI), Christian Helser (Grand Rapids, MI), Dietmar Krumrey (Clare, MI), Melissa Lynn (Denver, CO), Astrid Muller-Karger (Ann Arbor, MI), I.B. Murphy (Marine on St. Croix, MN), John Posa (Ann Arbor, MI), Shawn Quinlan (Pittsburgh, PA), Jim Rehlin (Ann Arbor, MI), Jaye Schlesinger (Ann Arbor, MI), Geoffrey Stein (New York, NY), Marilynn Thomas (Warren, MI), Seth Trent (Chandler, AZ), Tamara Wasserman (Chicago, IL), Timothy Wells (Ypsilanti, MI), Chad Yenney (Wenatchee, WA), Micah Zavacky (Dayton, OH)
In a week when human folly and violence are on full display, it can be a relief to view our world through the wrong end of a telescope, reminding ourselves that we inhabit only a small and relatively unimportant corner of the cosmos. Artist Eric Zeigler has made this possible and palatable in underlying, a handsomely curated collection of archival pigment prints from sources as diverse as the Hubble Space Telescope and Fermilab’s particle accelerator. The show, which is on view from now through July 30 at River House Gallery in Toledo, Ohio, is an exploration of images made possible by our ever increasing technological means of perception.
In underlying, Zeigler casts his photographer’s curious gaze over the universe, examining everything from a minute and rare instance of subatomic neutrino interaction to a star’s birth and death. Since the artist must rely (mostly) on images gathered from public sources, the essence of his unique work lies in his editing choices, framing, print color and scale. He has captured a few images directly, such as his Meteorite, a slice of which he has photographed. But I’m aware even as I write this that I am making a false distinction, because like all photographers, Zeigler’s considerable talent is in his eye and mind, translated through the technological devices that capture visual information, no matter how rudimentary or advanced.
Zeigler describes his wonder at seeing for the first time in 2015 a clear image of Pluto, previously visible only as a “several pixel-wide blur”. He marvels too, at how our perception of time is altered by the knowledge that many of the images coming through our telescopes are of objects many light years away which, in fact, no longer exist. And in Milky Seas, he shows that even in our own natural world there are mysteries yet to be solved.
Since its widespread introduction in 1839, photography has put documentation of the visible world within reach of just about everyone. Now with technological advances, human perception has gone beyond what we can see and record with the naked eye. And it can be argued that these most recent advances in our ability to quantify the universe are simply a development and elaboration of inventions–the telescope and compound microscope– by Dutch scientists in late 16th and early 17th centuries, during a period in history when observation of the natural world held particular fascination. The creation of lavish botanical encyclopædias recording discoveries in the Western Hemisphere and in Asia, the beginning of scientific illustration and the classification of specimens and even the invention of still life genre painting were all features of this seminal period of humanist thought. Eric Zeigler’s work can be understood as another step on a road already well paved with discovery and invention.
The theme of underlying is, ultimately, that mystery still surrounds us, both near and far. The natural world and the universe beyond it is full of marvels yet to be discovered. And we can take some comfort in the knowledge that the thrill of discovery so intrinsic to human nature is still available to us.
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/
I am delighted to be included in the upcoming juried exhibition Borders, hosted by River House and the Owens Community College Center for Fine and Performing Arts. The opening reception will be held on Thursday, March 3, from 6-8. The juror, Sarah Rose Sharp will be speaking at the opening reception. She is a 2015 Kresge Literary Arts Fellow for Arts Criticism.
The exhibit will run March 4-31 at the Walter E. Terhune Gallery in the Owens Community College Center for Fine and Performing Arts, located at 30335 Oregon Road, Perrysburg OH 43551. Check here for more information.
A total of 17 artists have been selected to exhibit 27 pieces of work in the juried exhibition. Artists were asked to consider these questions in submitting their works: Where do we find borders and how do they shape us? Why do we embrace or reject them? When does a unifying contour become a divisional line?
The selected artists: David Burke – PA, David Cuatlacuatl – IN, Mary Fortuna – MI, Maureen Joyce – PA, Lindsey Landfried – PA, Yusurf Lateef – OH, K.A. Letts – MI, Zach Lihatsh – IL, Mary Mazziotti – PA, Laurenn McCubbin – OH, Sidney Mullis – PA, Gabrielle Roach – IN, Whitney Sage – OH, Jina Seo – IL, Meagan Shein – MI, Kathryn Shinko – OH, Jessica Tenbusch – MI