By now, everyone has heard of the Heidelberg Project, Tyree Guyton’s 30 year-long outdoor Motown installation of found objects and eccentrically painted houses, but few know about the many other idiosyncratic ongoing art installations that dot the Detroit landscape. A few endure as more-or-less permanent art projects that reflect their creators’ unique ideas of what art is for outside of the more conventional capitalist gallery system. I have profiled three of them in the current edition of New Art Examiner. You can read the story here
Once again, I’ve fallen behind in my postings on Rustbeltarts.com! I’ve been busy though, writing mostly for the Detroit Art Review and New Art Examiner. Here are some of the things I’ve been writing about:
I wrote about Shapeshifters, at Cranbrook Museum of Art for the Detroit Art Review; an encyclopedic tour of the museum’s collection that includes both the work of international art stars like Donald Judd and Joan Mitchell, as well as the work of many young, up and coming artists working in the Detroit area. To read my review in its entirety, go to: Shapeshifters @ Cranbrook Museum of Art – Detroit Art Review
I also wrote about the new sculpture by Jaume Plensa, recently installed in front of the University of Michigan Museum of Art, as well as an interesting project inside the museum that combines curated artworks from the collection paired with classes as diverse as social work, art, architecture and public health, meant to broaden students’ experience both of the subject matter and of related art. For more: Jaume Plensa Sculpture @ UMMA – Detroit Art Review
I’m particularly pleased to have had the opportunity to write about Essay’d, a unique arts writing project in Detroit that aims to create a crowd-sourced body of writing about the city’s contemporary artists, one by one: Essay’d (newartexaminer.org)
And I wrote a few reviews of artists I like:
Blackbird & Paloma Negra (newartexaminer.org) (Sabrina Nelson at Gallery Camille)
Sorry to have been so neglectful of my little art blog–my new year’s resolution is to dutifully provide links to other work I’m writing on art for other publications in 2021!
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
It’s inevitable that a group show juried by a single artist will reflect the preoccupations and interests of that artist. But you would be hard pressed to see a collection of objects in the unique but derelict space on the 7th floor of the historic Secor Building in Toledo that more clearly reflects the esthetic of juror Scott Hocking. Hocking, well known and admired as a keen observer of Detroit’s constantly morphing urban landscape, has juried a show presenting a distinctive collection of artworks that function more as an installation than as individual objects.
Hocking is a connoisseur of solastalgia, a form of existential distress caused by environmental change. It can be either global or local. In Hocking’s case, it centers on the city of Detroit. (His companion show at the Walter T. Terhune Gallery at Owens Community College provides a visual manifesto of his world view.)
Material/Immaterial, on view through October 19th, features the work of 25 young artists from the Great Lakes region. They work in three dimensions and in a variety of materials, some conventional and some not-so-much. It looks like the first art exhibit after the apocalypse.
The venue for Material/Immaterial is as much a part of this exhibition as the works displayed; there is a seamlessness between the environment and the art pieces in it that is quintessentially Hocking. In contrast to the anonymity of a white box gallery, the space exerts a gravitational pull on the objects and seems to absorb them into its orbit. Many of the artworks feel as if they have been discarded or accidentally left behind. The entire installation celebrates the esthetic of the found object.
Many of the pieces in the exhibit seem to be the chance result of natural disasters. I am thinking of Summer Gobrecht’s Serendipity, a cluster of dish-shaped, splashed-plaster objects clustered in a tiled surround, the elegant, ghostly record of a meteor impact on a distant moon. A different, more human kind of calamity is implied in Leather Shoes, by Tom Reihart. Child-sized legs and feet protrude, abandoned, from beneath a dark cloth and suggest a story of personal catastrophe.
A more humorous take on disaster is delivered by Shawn Campbell, who works in diverse media including photography, sculpture, video installation and painting. He specializes in ad hoc celebrations of spectacle involving civil, financial and political power that both provokes amusement and provides some shrewd social commentary on contemporary social and economic trends. My favorite piece of the show is his oil-spouting plywood construction (Untitled). It’s the bastard offspring of a beaux arts fountain and a toxic waste dump, simultaneously hilarious and sinister.
Another favorite piece in Material/Immaterial is by Elizabeth Cote. At first glance you think you see a quilt carelessly thrown over a laundry line, but on closer inspection, it emerges that the “quilt” is, in fact, a folded latex mold pieced together to describe the limp façade of a building. The artist details her process: “This is a latex of a plaster of a clay of a drawing of a picture that I did not take of a building … It is not an impression taken from a physical building, but the impression of the building on me.”
Meagan Smith’s collection of small (mostly) porcelain objects are displayed on the only clean white walls in the exhibit, a free-standing gallery that has landed in the middle of a ruined landscape. These intimate biomorphic doodads are displayed on small glass shelves. They suggest “sacs, tubes, fleshy folds, hives, nets, plants, webs.” The diminutive sculptures simultaneously appear to be carefully crafted fine art pieces and found natural artifacts like fossils or exoskeletons or seashells.
One of the few pieces in Material/ Immaterial that proclaims its status as a work of fine art is I Expand, I am Warm; Blue Cannon Steel; Blue Silo by Laura Dirksen, a cheerful, chunky, colorful stoneware assemblage that’s engaging and energetic. It radiates a kind of infectious animal attraction. Across the gallery, Claudia Tommasi keeps the party going with two small scale wall mounted pieces, bulbous and stringy, that exude Looneytunes humor, Untitled (2).
Although Material/Immaterial might at first glance seem to project existential end-of-the-world gloom, I found that I left the show feeling strangely optimistic. The work that these artists have made seems to imply that although things are bad–well, okay, maybe catastrophic–they still are hopeful and idealistic enough to keep working and making art, and to keep observing the world and commenting on it. Things may turn out all right after all.
SculptureX is a yearly symposium sponsored by Contemporary Art Toledo and devoted to collaboration and networking among artists and art teaching institutions. Material/Immaterial was juried by Scott Hocking, with curatorial assistance from Brian Carpenter.
I recently wrote a review for AADL Pulp of Works in Progress, a group show at Ann Arbor Art Center. Consisting of work by 24 (mostly) Detroit/Ann Arbor-based designers at varying stages in their careers, the exhibit illustrates the creative process of gifted thinkers and planners who bring functional works to life through fashion, graphic design, furniture, architecture, and industrial design. To read more about them, go here.
Meagan Shein, Jessica Tenbusch and Elize Jekabson in their fine art maker space
I recently wrote an article for Ann Arbor’s Current Magazine about Ypsi Alloy, a creative collective that features work by 17 of the area’s most talented professional artists. You can read about them here
Loraine Lynn here gives a useful description of the main themes of Toledo’s Sculpture X, with its emphasis on art as social practice. I’m dubious about the efficacy of this way of making art, and didn’t see anything in my (admittedly) limited experience of the work on view to change my mind. That said, I appreciate Lynn’s description of the proceedings and her earnest effort to grapple with the inherent internal contradictions and tricky social crosswinds of art as social practice.
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
I recently wrote my first review as Detroit correspondent for Chicago’s New Art Examiner. The May/June issue, which has just been published, focuses on exhibits of work by women artists, including Looking Forward, Looking Back by Howardena Pindell at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and Nina Chanel Abney’s Royal Flush at the Chicago Cultural Center. Rebecca Memoli, who reviews Royal Flush, concentrates her comments on Abney’s latest large, graphic works, which struck me as being very Stuart-Davis-like. My preference is for her earlier, more expressionistic paintings, but Memoli’s essay is a good introduction to Abney’s work. Pindell’s exhibit, reviewed byAniko Berman, is on view until May 20, and it’s well worth a visit.
I want to thank NAE Managing Editor Tom Mullaney and Editor in Chief Michel Segard for giving me this opportunity to get the word out on exciting contemporary art being shown in Detroit and environs. You can read my review of Shaina Kasztelan and Heidi Barlow’s D3PR3$$10N N4P at Hatch Hamtramck here.
Animals. They share our beds, our homes, our back yards. We love them, as friends and as dinner. And in some ways our relationship with them reflects a confused and self-contradictory understanding of our place in nature, a place that is being reassessed in the early 21st century as we confront climate change, animal cruelty and mass extinction.
Our fraught relationship with animals forms the premise of Thinking with Animals, a thoughtful collection of exquisite artworks currently on view at River House Arts in Toledo. Artists Jessica Tenbusch and Morgan Barrie have curated this exceptionally beautiful show, and share the gallery walls with the work of fellow artists Julie Bahn, Emily White and Breanne Sherwood.
Jessica Tenbusch employs silver and bronze casts of natural objects such as animal bones, insect exoskeletons and bits of plants in dialog with highly refined manmade materials to create a series of lapidary landscapes displayed in a grid pattern. The overall effect is one of beauty and order that invites close looking. Each single component of her piece Artifacts/Ecofacts is a complete work of art but together they constitute a world of minute perception.
Morgan Barrie’s two large photo collages riff humorously on the well known Netherlandish Unicorn in Captivity tapestry owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She adapts the decorative plants from the original tapestry by introducing plants native to the upper Midwest, such as purple coneflowers, black-eyed susans and joe pye weed, digitally collaged on a dark background. In the center of the composition formerly occupied by the mythical unicorn are life-size domestic companion animals, the dog and the cat, surrounded by what appears to be modern storm fencing of the type available at Lowe’s or Home Depot. The dog in Tapestry is a handsome boxer and, as it happens, her own family dog . Though chained, he seems to be comfortable in his confinement, while the feral-looking cat in Captivity lurks within the fence, scheming to escape.
Fiber artist Breanne Sherwood is clearly in love with the substance of nature. She shows a particular affinity for the decorative qualities of bird plumage in Relics of Santiam, embellishing disembodied avian wings with carefully embroidered and appliqued threads and tulle. They retain their anatomical identity but the delicacy of the artist’s handling imparts reverence to these relics of departed creatures. Sherwood’s more ambitiously scaled One Yard, One Bird applies human organization and emotional tenderness to a fatal event.
The intimidatingly-sized and accomplished paintings of wild animals native to North America in Emily White’s two artworks Reintroduction II (Grey Wolf) and Velvet (a truly disturbing life-size rendering of a moose shedding the velvet skin of its antlers) dominate the gallery. They look as if they could easily grace the walls of a natural history museum. The landscapes in which the animals stand are surrounded by highly finished birch plywood, framing the wilderness in civilization. Easily missed in the paintings are the artist’s sly additions of human technology into the natural environment.
Julie Bahn’s work is the most directly political of the group. She addresses human consumption of animals for food and consumerism in One Hundred Twenty Eight Days of Protein. A silver plate is piled high with the broken bones of consumed animals, embellished and be-dazzled by Swarovski crystals, ready to be re-cycled and re-consumed as art. Her soft sculpture Hug Me, is a tantalizing visual enigma. The large vinyl fish with strangely human eyes hangs limply from the gallery ceiling, a glittering tag around its neck, inviting us to engage with it as a fellow creature, not just as dinner.
Artists, always the shock troops of changing cultural attitudes, are thinking hard about the way forward in our relationship with nature, and in the process creating art that resonates, questions and inspires with its beauty. The work in Thinking With Animals ably addresses the complexity and ambivalence of our evolving thoughts about animals, humans and our place in the environment.