Is it just me , or are there more shows to see this month than usual? This is AUGUST people! Aren’t we supposed to be on vacation?? It must be pent-up demand from the pandemic.
There a couple of interesting shows in Toledo right now in case you, also, have a pent-up desire to get back out there:
Jessica Tenbusch has a solo show at River House Arts through August 22nd. Tenbusch has always been a superb craftsman, and she has lately turned her hand (literally) to finely detailed drawings. The fifteen artworks in the show are extravagant technical feats of draftsmanship, colored pencil and acrylic on paper. The nine medium to small-size pictures of domestic flowers and birds, bisected by thin lines of obscure provenance, have a distinctly mid-century, retro feel due to color choice and the toned paper upon which they are executed. Nostalgia seems to be an animating force for these as evidenced by the titles: Suburban Springs and Floral I (My Father’s Flowers) to name just a couple. There is also a tasty suite of six 4″ x 4″ pencil drawings of anchovies, most of which were already sold when I visited the gallery. to see more go here.
At 20 North Gallery, an artist who is new to me, Jonathan Ralston, is showing a collection of paintings entitled Shadows and Enlightenment through September 25th. Light and loss characterize the notably uninhabited spaces in the artist’s vision, particularly the low, warm light of late afternoon and the textures of ruined architecture. The masonry features appear to be mostly European. None of that gritty American urban decay here; the mood is decidedly romantic. To read more go here.
Pretty Queer, a provocative summer exhibit at River House Arts, closed on August 5 but lingers in the memory as a thoughtful echo of one of contemporary art’s most vexed and vexing preoccupations. The artists in Pretty Queer want us to know that gender identity and gender normativity are far more thorny and ambiguous subjects than we thought, and there are as many shades of sexuality as there are humans to express them.
Over the last fifty years, the issue of alternative gender and sexual identity has taken the foreground in public discussion of how people love, present themselves and interact with the broader culture. The spectrum represented by the initials LGBTQ has fractured, with distinctions increasingly finely sliced and diced, atomized and reconstituted. Pretty Queer is an effort to quantify and enumerate some of these distinctions as they exist now, in this historical moment.
Pretty Queer’s premise is anchored in the exhibit by a work of the late David Wojnarowicz, an art polemicist who is enjoying a moment in the art world now that contemporary concerns with gender identity have caught up with his pioneering AIDS activism. The serigraph, Fire and Water (1990), projects a sense of dislocation and peril, multiple images of a confrontational pugilist overlaid by a grinning red devil. (Wojnarowicz is currently the subject of a retrospective at the Whitney Museum, David Wojnarowicz: History Keeps Me Up at Night.)
The works in Pretty Queer are characterized by a desire to act out and a countervailing compulsion to conceal which might be a core of the queer aesthetic, described by academic sex researcher Iain Morland as “the sensory interrelation of pleasure and shame.” A number of the works in the show address the artists’ compulsion to show themselves as they are, accompanied by a pervasive sense of discomfort in this self-exposure.
Troy Hoffman has nailed this ambivalence with two digital prints. The first is a small, lush close-up of what appears to be a bed of roses, the centers of which turn out to be human anuses. It’s comic, pretty and deeply disturbing. It’s unclear to me what he means by his other entry, a digital collage of a sado-masochistic dog mask on a female human, overlaid by fragmented black and white images of policemen, but it’s one of those images that, once you’ve seen it, you can’t un-see it.
Fiber artist John Paul Morabito has taken a more reticent approach. His woven pieces Frottage 052 and 049, are woven tapestries that at first appear to be elegantly minimalist until (upon close inspection) ghostly images of genitals become visible.
Several of the artists in Pretty Queer have chosen kitsch imagery and objects to describe their response to received gender norms. Robert Fitzgerald’s Boys wear Blue is an example: A set of three deceptively demure boxes contain reproductions of 18th century china figurines in the act of “performing” masculinity and femininity within the confines of a box (could his meaning be any more transparent?) By adding a small mirror in each box, the artist invites the viewer to place him/her/their self in relationship to given norms of gender behavior. Atop and outside the top box, a china figurine rests, his back turned in a gesture of rejection.
Across the room, Zachariah Szabo returns to the subject of kitsch as a received view of norms, turning the concept on its head with irony and humor. The ultra-adorable china figurine in Pink Planter seems to say “ You want cute? I’ll give you cute!” It calls to mind pieces by Jeff Koons (Balloon Dog, anyone?) but with a sharper satirical edge. Colton Clifford’s digital print of two identical, stereo-typically feminine figures surrounded by flowers and formally arranged and constrained within an under-scale dollhouse continues and amplifies the critique on received gender norms.
Perhaps the most comprehensive and ambitious exploration of queer/gender issues is the large, mixed-media montage by Rowan Renee. Part memoir, part political polemic, the installation recounts a dispute over ownership of nude photographs of the artist with their then-partner and now-adversary, set against a backdrop of gender transition. In a statement, Renee describes their method: “My labor-intensive process centers on the obsessive act of material transfiguration to recast a relationship I am ashamed of into the pleasure of artistic production.”
Pretty Queer, in my opinion, does a good job of placing us within the discourse on gender and sexuality in 2018. The question that comes to mind, though, is what will this discussion look like in 2028? Or 3028? It seems clear that we are in the midst of an evolution that is headed for parts unknown, but one hopes it will get us to a future where equality and respect for difference prevail, when we can be content to merely call ourselves human.
For more information about Pretty Queer and Contemporary Art Toledo visit https://www.catoledo.org/pretty-queer . Artist/arts blogger Loraine Lynn has written a thoughtful review of Pretty Queer which you can access here
In Otherworlds, a 2-man exhibit of paintings and prints by painter-digital collagist Dan Hernandez and master draftsman-printmaker Craig Fisher, is on display now through September 30 at 20 North Gallery in downtown Toledo. These two Toledo art visionaries allow imagination to take them—and us—to places that seem at once familiar and uncanny. The source materials for each artist, along with differences in technique and material, result in two very different, but complementary, bodies of work.
Craig Fisher, who works as a designer of business-to-business learning tools in addition to his prolific artistic output, works within the confines of traditional fine art printmaking. For this exhibit, he has created worlds that incorporate recognizable elements in improbable ways, transforming and recombining features from renaissance landscapes, natural history illustration, classical architectural drawings and more, into intriguing and often surreal scenarios.
The print Astronomie Nova illustrates Fisher’s method: He juxtaposes an aerial view of a gothic church ruin with a schematic drawing of a complex geometric form, setting up a complex tension between physical environment and the unseen— but just as real– universe. One of his most satisfying pieces, Tower of Babble combines an over-scale rotary phone in the foreground with a period illustration of the tower itself in the background, Communication technology-related superstructures surround and top it and it’s difficult to tell if the tower is being built or destroyed.
Sometimes less is more, and Fisher’s strengths as a draftsman can occasionally result in over-elaborate and confusing compositions. But it’s hard to argue with or second-guess the artist’s commitment to his vision and his single-minded pursuit of it.
Dan Hernandez, currently an Associate Professor of Art at University of Toledo, creates paintings where saints and angels mix freely with computer gaming figures. Elements of Persian miniatures, Renaissance urban landscapes and Chinese pavilions collide and morph into a persuasively imagined and often beautiful world. This oddly convincing pastiche of styles and periods is the product of Hernandez’ youthful gaming hobby and his studies in art history, which included a trip to Italy as a college student, where he was captivated by the ancient frescos of Pompeii.
Hernandez maintains a large archive of online images, from haloed renaissance saints to invading space ships, which he repeats and re-combines imaginatively in his world-building endeavors. He uses photo transfers of these seemingly incompatible images to create realities that have internal consistency and project a mood that is both comic and mysterious. In The Annunciation, he has imagined a funny and improbable street rumble between the Virgin Mary and the Angel Gabriel in a medieval Italian town. In another artwork, The Massacre at Intelari Chapel, a battle between computer gaming figures and renaissance-era characters rages across the bottom of the composition, while above, three levels of coins similar to those in a computer game imply ample rewards for the victors, and saints look on from the heavens while consulting a Super Mario map.
In Otherworlds provides a provocative look at imaginative visual storytelling by two talented Toledo artists and is well worth a visit. 20 North Art Director Condessa Croninger comments, “Despite the dramatic differences in media, visual style and subject matter, the works of these two distinguished area artists juxtapose like themes of science & technology with spirituality, as well as the combination of old and new media, to explore the metaphysical concept of the ‘otherworld’—the varying layers of existence between humankind’s experience of the “real” world and the world of belief. This combination creates an intriguing, thought-provoking and unquestionably beautiful exhibit.”
Gallery hours are Wednesdays through Saturdays from noon to 4p.m. Patrons also have extended opportunities to enjoy the exhibition during after-gallery hours at Venue, 20 North Gallery’s cocktail lounge, which is open Wednesdays through Saturdays from 4:30 to 9 p.m. (This review is re-posted from the August 15th edition of the Toledo City Paper.)
When someone says “art glass” do you think immediately of the colorful, often whimsical and crowd-pleasing objects that are staples of art fairs and craft festivals? Well, think again.
HUSH.ex, a group show of four artists from Philadelphia’s Tyler School of Art, on view until November 4 at River House Gallery in Toledo, will re-order your preconceptions of what glass as art can be and do.
Working within a narrow range of colors and a broad array of glass types, Megan Biddle, Amber Cowan, Jessica Jane Julius and Sharyn O’Mara have filled the gallery with a collection of visually and conceptually challenging work that refuses the flashy over-stimulation of the digital age. The easy appeal, saturated colors and fluid shapes of conventional art glass have been replaced by a more austere vision that is expressive of solitude and silence. The artworks are predominately black, white and shades in between; the types of glass include production milk glass, airport grade glass reflector beads, found and second-life glass and more. The artists heat, crack, fuse, burn and pour their way to artworks that push the medium of art glass well beyond its previous aesthetic borders.
Jessica Jane Julius’s Static Puddles are made by pouring black matte glass over shards of canework. The story of their production is evident in the jagged centers of black and white surrounded by the gloppy shape of each piece, but that is secondary to the lyrical appeal of these weightless black blooms. In another instance of prosaic material transcended by the poetic, Julius has applied airport grade glass reflector beads suspended in paint on four panels to create a wavy, translucent river that flows across the wall of the gallery. The title of the piece is Absorption.
Recycled, up-cycled and second-life glass provides the raw material for the works of Amber Cowan. Her installation of commonly recognizable milk glass objects, heated and deformed, transforms these everyday vessels into ghostly memorials to their humble use. In Tall Vase with Thorny Vines, Cowan has heated a production vase, pierced it and collaged ceramic plants into it, shaping it into a matte white still life that is both familiar and surreal.
The work of Megan Biddle focuses on process-driven work that emphasizes the unique qualities of materials and their response to outside forces such as time, growth, erosion, breakage. (In addition to her glass work, she produces installation, sculpture, drawing and video.) Her Further for Now series examines the way that layers of cracked glass can create a kind of line drawing on a hazy, semi-transparent field.
Dog hair, optical fiber and typewriter tape are the eccentric components that characterize the work of Sharyn O’Mara. Particularly prominent in this exhibit are her carbon burn-out “drawings” on glass. These hair-on-glass process pieces are abstract, yet often seem to reference seed pods or plants. They have an ethereal quality, as if they might disappear into thin air, blown away by fugitive winds.
The glass art that is featured in HUSH.ex is neither easy nor pretty nor decorative, but satisfies on a deeper level. These four artists demonstrate that there are many unexplored avenues for discovery in this medium that is so central to the regional aesthetic. They point the way to a creative trajectory in art glass that is cerebral, experimental and conceptually rigorous.
HUSH.ex is the second in a series of museum-quality exhibits organized by Contemporary Art Toledo, a collaborative partnership of gallerist Paula Baldoni of River House Gallery with Brian Carpenter, Gallery Director at the University of Toledo. (Their first exhibit was Beautiful Pig). The goal of CA+ is to provide a showcase in the Toledo area for provocative and groundbreaking contemporary artwork by nationally known and regional artists.
For more information about HUSH.ex and River House Gallery hours 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. Andthere’s even a Spotify playlist of Shakespeare’s sonnets and music inspired by Shakespeare. For related museum programs 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.
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.”
Beautiful Pig is also available in book form. It was shortlisted for the Anamorphosis Prize in 2015. For more information about River House Arts go here.
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.
Blown, cast, cut, colored or clear, opaque or translucent, artworks made from glass have a seductive quality that is hard to resist. Hot Spot: Contemporary Glass from Private Collections, marks the tenth anniversary of the Toledo Museum of Art’s Glass Pavilion. The exhibit, on view now through September 18, includes more than 80 works, many of which are promised gifts to the museum.
Glass, in industry and in art, has a particularly symbiotic relationship with Toledo. When Edward Drummond Libbey moved his family-owned business, New England Glass Works, from Massachusetts to Ohio in 1888, he brought the technical expertise that would make Toledo a center for manufactured glass, first as tableware and then as a producer of electric lights, automobile parts and building materials. Libbey was also one of the co-founders in 1901 of the Toledo Museum of Art and its most important benefactor. Along with initial funds donated for building the museum, Libbey remained a major donor until his death in 1925, after which Florence Scott Libbey continued to give generously to the museum. In 1962, The museum allowed a glass studio to be built in a garage on the museum grounds and with expert advice from glass makers at Libbey-Owens-Ford, the studio glass movement was born. In 1969, the Toledo Museum of Art became the first museum ever to create a glass studio to train artists in the use of glass as a medium. In 2006, the Glass Pavilion, housing the glass studio and the museum’s extensive glass collection, was built.
From my walk through Hot Spot, it became clear to me that glass is a protean medium, hard to pin down or to quantify. Some pieces are very focused on the impressive craft involved (Mantidi Cruising by Emanuel Toffalo), others are more conceptual in ambition (Point of View by Christopher Ries). One of the great challenges in the installation is to create a sense of logic and organization from objects disparate in color, translucency, method, and most of all, in intent. The curator has here chosen to group the artworks by category for clarification (Built Environment, Natural World, Human Figure and the like) but it seemed to me that the objects could have just as easily been organized by color, type of glass technique employed or source of the piece (I found I liked the works collected by Margy and Scott Trumbull the most).
The general effect of the exhibit is a bit diffuse. The space itself has a kind of unfocused quality due to the wall-less, all-window architecture and the variously translucent or transparent qualities of much of the work. I seemed to be looking through things rather than at them much of the time. But in spite of these distractions, I liked some of the individual pieces very much. In particular I was delighted to find a large piece by Steffen Dam, my favorite glass artist of all time. His hybrid blown and hot-worked glass compositions are a magical evocation of the natural world, at once matter-of -fact and ethereal. I also liked Light In by Ann Wolff, a cast glass piece which seemed to illustrate a body in motion over time.
Some of the pieces were a bit too decorative to please and gave off a whiff of art fair whimsy, but on the whole this is an impressive survey of fine art in a medium much beloved in the Glass City.
…and this strangeness differentiates it from prettiness, which is no ordinary thing.” Fred Tomaselli 2008
In Keep Looking: Fred Tomaselli’s Birds, now on exhibit at the Toledo Museum of Art, the artworks first soothe and attract, then disquiet and disturb. This show is part of a series featuring bird-related imagery which is held biennially in conjunction with a prominent yearly convention of birders in the Toledo area. While this is as good a pretext as any for bringing this work to the rust belt, it doesn’t begin to describe the importance and interest of this artist.
I have been a fan of Fred Tomaselli’s paintings for years, and looked forward to this golden opportunity to see them in person without buying a plane ticket (thanks TMA!) This show includes 5 paintings, a tapestry and a few assorted works on paper, all installed in Gallery 6 of the museum’s contemporary art wing.
The first thing you respond to in looking at a Tomaselli painting is its sheer obsessive and hallucinatory beauty. The paintings feature layers of meticulously collaged images covered in resin and then over-painted. The black backgrounds evoke night skies and acid trips. Though it isn’t mentioned in the accompanying museum text, it’s clear that Tomaselli is no stranger to altered states.
I loved all these paintings, but my favorite was Bird Battle (1997). The subdued palette and obsessive repetition of cutout birds with human eyes and (actual) hemp leaves put me in mind of some outsider visionary art. From a distance the painting delivers a pleasurable punch of decorative pattern. But as you draw near you see that this is a savage battle of all against all. Birds attack each other in the air and in the trees, with many lying newly dead on the ground. Tomaselli has distilled in one image all the beauty and all the cruelty of nature. In other pieces in this show, birds attack each other (Bird Mob), eat insects (Starling) and steal fruit (Migrant Fruit Thugs) but because the paintings are so intricately gorgeous you can’t look away. You must keeplooking.
Keep Looking: Fred Tomaselli’s Birds is on exhibit until August 7. To see this must-see work and to get more information about hours and directions to the Toledo Museum of Art go here