June 24, 2012

Childhood, Boyhood, Sonic Youth :: Matt Zacharias

Matt Zacharias, in his solo exhibition at Re:View Contemporary Gallery (444 W. Willis, #112, Detroit) unselfconsciously maps the landscape of his youth in a series of multi-media works that zoom in on the terrain of his formative years. Mr. Zacharias, via technical mastery of collage and subtle brushwork, plus meticulous selection of printed imagery, offers visitors to Re:View between now and July 7th free transportation to a realm of recollections and reflections.

rock star plan, matt zacharias, review gallery, detroit

“Rock Star Plan” (panel II)
Matt Zacharias, Re:View Contemporary Gallery, Detroit
photo: Re:View Contemporary Gallery, Detroit

Mr. Zacharias initiated the most expansive work, “Rock Star Plan”, a series of five panels, each five feet tall and four feet wide, with a visit from “The Wallpaper Lady,” a woman contracted to lay down vintage 1960’s wallpaper on the panels to create a base layer for the collage to follow. The wallpaper approximates wallpaper found in a room Mr. Zacharias inhabited as a boy, a room in a relative’s home, where his foremost concern before moving in was whether or not he could hang his posters on the wall. To his relief, his host agreed he could. That Mr. Zacharias carried a recollection of wallpaper with him for so many years attests to nascent design sensibilities incubated ever since. He remembers that wallpaper, and many more visual components of his youth, and now they form the core of the work in his current exhibition. Old photos, play lists from bands, band posters: they all offer insights into an evolving mind. Here, the whole resolves as other (greater) than the sum of the parts –- stand back and look at the whole “Rock Star Plan” series and comprehend in an instant the essence of this child. Or, move in close and read captions and clippings, focus on individual images as they flicker past your eye and grasp subliminally at your consciousness. You find yourself transported to fleeting moments cached in memories, the artist’s internal past. As the gestalt of the works populating the periphery of the room — the whole other than the sum — grips you, your mind wanders down the shadowy alleys of your own past. Neurons fire and spark memories you think evaporated. Proust’s ghost passes you the magical madeleine. Memory and subliminal perception are potent forces; Mr. Zacharias toys with them in “Rock Star Plan”, and throughout the exhibition.

"Childhood, Boyhood, Sonic Youth," Matt Zacharias, Re:View Gallery, Detroit

“Childhood, Boyhood, Sonic Youth”
Matt Zacharias, Re:View Contemporary Gallery, Detroit
photo: Re:View Contemporary Gallery, Detroit

The title work of the show, “Childhood, Boyhood, Sonic Youth” draws that title from Tolstoy’s first three novels: “Childhood,” “Boyhood,” and “Youth,” published starting in 1852 when Tolstoy was twenty-three. Preternaturally sage for his years (although life appears to have progressed at an accelerated pace back then), Tolstoy wrote: “Will the freshness, lightheartedness, the need for love, and strength of faith which you have in childhood ever return? What better time than when the two best virtues — innocent joy and the boundless desire for love — were the only motives in life?” Tolstoy evoked an expressionistic style with these works, sparking the imagination of readers with flashes of emotion predicated on facts filtered by the lens of perception — the whole is other than the sum of the parts. But Mr. Zacharias borrows only the words from Tolstoy’s titles and fragments of Tolstoy’s themes. “Childhood, Boyhood, Sonic Youth,” is comprised of a triptych roughly the dimensions  – about seven feet square – of triptychs you see propped behind diminutive altars of thousand-year-old village churches in Italy. The work perches on the edifice of expressionism with its evocative flashes of childhood and adolescent years embodied in images of illusive, overly preened TV actors; stark, derivative Warhol-esque opening graphics for the shows the actors starred in; the stylish silhouettes of Stingray bicycles (as my crowd called them) with banana seats, so popular then for their modishness (but way too heavy for their size); a space capsule and spaceman in requisite “high-tech” rubber suit –- innocent and quaint in their technical inadequacy now; excerpts from the so pervasive TV Guide, an ephemeral fixture on the little table beside the La-Z-Boy in every middle class living room. That designers of the opening and closing credits of TV shows borrowed shamelessly from the counterculture work of Warhol amuses Mr. Zacharias. We see images from TV shows like “The Wild Wild West” (in “Childhood, Boyhood, Sonic Youth”) and “The Partridge Family” (in “Rock Star Plan”) that evoke Warhol; images which, at the time, were revolutionary.

Andy Warhol tore labels off mass-produced fixtures of everyday existence to create counter-culture icons; he adopted 8mm movie cameras sold to eager consumers with the promise of capturing idyllic, living, breathing family moments and captured instead unsettling interludes of hedonistic excess. Via co-opted components of consumerism, Warhol challenged the cultural complacency that co-existed amidst “cold” war and looming nuclear armegeddon. Warhol forced us to reassess our assumptions about survival and pursuit of happiness, and Mr. Zacharias does too.

"Flipbook, Vol. II (Pages 60-95)", Matt Zacharias, Re:View Gallery, Detroit

“Flipbook, Vol. II (Pages 60-95)”
Matt Zacharias, Re:View Contemporary Gallery, Detroit
photo: Re:View Contemporary Gallery, Detroit

As innocence gave way to the pragmatic demands of existence, Mr. Zacharias joined the Navy. His tenure with the Navy did not turn out like stories you hear from “The Greatest Generation.” His experience, his generation’s experience, was more prosaic, less heroic, and possibly more revelatory. His spell with the Navy ended abruptly and absent conventional glory, as so often the mostly unvoiced stories of soldiers and sailors do. But out of the rubble, Mr. Zacharias formed the raw, wry, and pervasively satirical reflections that constitute these works. An image of a trench coat clad man running with unmistakable urgency to or from something unseen features in “Childhood, Boyhood, Sonic Youth” and “Flipbook, Vol. II (pages 60 – 95)”. The image lends motion and continuity to these works — we flee from the past and rush toward the future. In “C.O. Accessory Kit” a work comprised of meticulous design elements suggestive of a mass-produced toy, Mr. Zacharias presents the ultimate anti-hero for American culture — the Conscientious Objector (C.O.), the passive alter ego of our militaristic culture and collective impulse to dominate the planet. The execution is flawless, and the satire is unmistakable. We can not help but sympathize with an earnest escapee from the military industrial complex, but at the same time we sense impending doom for the man. The herd will overtake and envelope him, no matter how fast the C.O. in the dark trench coat runs.

Don’t be overtaken by the herd. Go see these works by Matt Zacharias. The show is up at Re:View until July 7th. And visit the gallery next door, See Art + Design. You’ll find a permanent collection, exhibitions, and an emphasis on design that fills a void in the Detroit gallery scene.

Catch a Metro Times interview with Mr. Zacharias here:

“C.O. Accessory Kit” Matt Zacharias Re:View Gallery Detroit

“C.O. Accessory Kit”
Matt Zacharias, Re:View Contemporary Gallery, Detroit
photo: Re:View Contemporary Gallery, Detroit

June 19, 2012

The Flight Show

The Performance Laboratory
at the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit

The Flight Show — 15-June-2012

On one of those warm June evenings in Detroit when the breeze riffles your shirt like a caress, I attended “The Flight Show” at the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit (CAID), 5141 Rosa Parks Boulevard
Detroit, MI 48208, (313) 899-2243,

One installment in an ongoing bi-monthly series (third Friday, every other month), “The Flight Show” presented five short acts — two indoors, and three out.

Opening the show, “Fannie Tupae and (Donald),” by Nick Bitonti & Bridget Michael, offered a send up of everyone’s idea of the most dismal, downright funereal nightclub act imaginable. The act opens with Donald, the morose piano player stuffing the barrel of a pistol into his mouth as Fannie Tupae, a vigorously painted lady in a long, white evening gown and heels introduces herself with a drunken sailor’s assessment of the theatre. The act drifts further into the explicit details of Fannie & Donald’s dysfunctional partnership — they put the fun in dysfunctional! The act ends with a surprise that surprises because it goes exactly where you anticipate they will not have the balls to go. They do. It does. It was a blast.

“They Look When I Enter,” choreographed by Ryan Myers-Johnson, with music by David Johnson, and danced by Ms. Myers-Johnson and Karla Williams, presents a short modern dance piece accompanied by Mr. Johnson drumming. The dance begins with both dancers down near the floor, intersecting and repelling one another like orbiting, charged atomic particles. Gradually, as the drum pace accelarates they ascend to upright positions, but still circle warily. Finally, the piece ends when the dancers embrace, but separate once more. To me, the movement suggested a slow evolution of two beings’ recognition of one another, recognition of common traits and need for companionship, and finally recognition of their persistent isolation, even in the midst of others.

After the dance, the show took a brief intermission and the MC and co-curator, Emilia Javanica, asked us to migrate through a side door beside the stage into the garden, where beer and wine were thoughtfully provided along with a donation bucket for those willing and able to make a contribution. Once everyone was out, David Johnson took up his guitar and performed classical pieces. He played beside an artificial fireplace comprised of fake cardboard brickwork with yellow and orange crepe paper, lighted from behind, billowing in place of real fire (the fireplace would feature in a subsequent act). He played softly and skillfully, and his music became a backdrop for mingled introductions and conversations in the garden. The sun angled through treetops in an adjacent lot and the lush garden surrounded us like a cocoon. Mr. Johnson’s masterful guitar work further enhanced the sense of transport to an idyllic oasis somewhere far away.

When Mr. Johnson finished playing, Laura Pazuchowski and her performance, “Butterfly and Spaceship” were introduced. The monologue Ms. Pazuchowski delivered presented the plight of a butterfly seemingly befriended, but then confounded and possibly destroyed by a spaceship of extraterrestrial origins. Her words stream as though directly from butterfly thoughts as the butterfly puzzles over the plight of the spaceship, come to Earth in search of fuel — butterfly fuel — and the inner turmoil of the butterfly as it moves from an innocent and welcoming encounter to one of fear and betrayal. Unexpectedly moving, given the form of the protagonist and antagonist, the butterfly’s calamity provokes anthropomorphic empathy and convinces us that even the strangest pairings of creatures can be stand-ins for humanity, or equally likely, share humanity’s dilemmas.

Adhering to the ancient premise: always leave ‘em laughing, “An Excerpt from the 1969 Ken Russel film ‘Women In Love’,” by Bridget Michael and Carrie Morris, offered the perfect closing act. Everyone laughed at this one, performed by two women who played the roles of two men in Russel’s film, who in turn played the roles of two characters drawn from the D.H. Lawrence novel, “Women In Love.” The novel created a big sensation when published, with its splashy representation of sexuality in all its forms. Russel’s movie made a big splash too, debuting male genitals onscreen, along with several other angles on scandalous nudity. Michael and Morris, keeping with tradition, trotted out a comical, modernly ironic rendition of a drawing room scene between Rupert and Gerald, whose discussion of their very, very close friendship culminates when the men wrestle — sort of — in the nude — sort of. The men, played by two women don’t forget, strip down and go to town with stylized grapples, and stylish… well, Michael and Morris got balls in this act too.

The Performance Laboratory, curated by Carrie Morris and Emilia Javanica, delivers the goods and graciously delivers a good time. An eclectic and engaging crowd showed up, a testament to the show business networking talents of Ms. Morris and Ms. Javanica, who pull the thing off with a minimal budget (donations accepted!). Show up for the next show, and drop a tenner in the jar… or whatever you can spare. This crowd deserves it.

By Jim Welke

June 18, 2012

Michael McGillis: Reckoning a Peripheral Wilderness

A Public Pool: Reckoning a Peripheral Wilderness

A Public Pool: Reckoning a Peripheral WildernessMichael McGillis creates installations. Mostly outdoors. At A Public Pool, the cooperative gallery in Hamtramck, MI he brings the outside in with “Reckoning a Peripheral Wilderness” (19-May – 30-June, 2012). Found cardboard and phragmites comprise much of the work, which conveys the notion that despite all the apparent permanence and impenetrability of modern civilization with its concrete, steel, glass, and perpetual plastic, numerous species lurk in the background, ready to invade when cracks appear. They wait to fill in the neglected voids in our constructed landscapes, and they evolve to coexist in our midst — in spite of our fearful efforts to repel them. Mr. McGillis delivers both an anthropological study and a trenchant reflection on our consumerist, throw-away culture. The pizza boxes that litter our urban alleys and decorate our suburban curbside recycling heaps fascinate him as a distillation of the disposable society we occupy. Mass-market, take-out pizza represents the worst sort of identity-less food, which we consume simply to eat, to fuel ourselves, not as a culinary experience to delight in, Mr. McGillis asserts.

A Public Pool: Reckoning a Peripheral Wilderness

And that is our mistake, I would to say. When we fail to pay close attention to how we live, how we subsist, then we allow our standards to erode, our cultural signposts and boundaries to crumble. And then lurking peripheral inhumanity encroaches further into our lives. Wilderness is a good thing. Wilderness in myriad forms sustains our planet, and stands in opposition to our callous neglect of our surrounding environment. We need wilderness, but wilderness does not need us — we no longer fit into a symbiotic ecological framework the way all other animals do. Instead we exploit and defy wilderness at our peril.

A Public Pool: Reckoning a Peripheral WildernessAmidst the found cardboard and phragmites stalks, Mr. McGillis inserts translucent, vacuum-formed sculptures of coyotes. The ultimate peripheral creature, by his reckoning. Coyotes are alternately aloof and aggressive. They move in when your back is turned, and scavenge what they can get. Revered for their resilience and resourcefulness by American aboriginal cultures, we collectively regard them as pests — another indication of our degeneration toward profligacy and arrogance as a species.

Blood red painted frames, meticulously crafted by Mr. McGillis from oriented-strand-board (OSB), follow the form of an inter-modal shipping container and envelop and contain Mr. McGillis’ interior landscape. Sort of an inside out representation of humanity’s relationship with nature: normally, it contains us. Corrugated cardboard, arranged in interleaving, parallel stacks that evoke sandstone or shale, pack the bottom of each of five or six frames, each about eight feet tall. Sheets of plastic are suspended above the cardboard in two or three frames, like pools of water or morning fog, and projecting from every A Public Pool: Reckoning a Peripheral Wildernessstack of cardboard are phragmites stalks with their feather duster heads swaying in the gusts of street wind that penetrate an open gallery door. Phragmites, like coyotes (and possibly, artists?), are a marginal species, growing readily in disturbed fragments of wilderness. Beyond the five or so frames that occupy most of A Public Pool gallery, the gallery window, a large storefront space where you expect to see manikins milling about or sun-bleached product displays, Mr. McGillis placed a carefully lighted diorama that includes two female coyotes who gaze warily, in their characteristic surveying way, at passersby on the street. A Public Pool opens its doors only once a week, Saturdays, 10AM – 6PM, but the rest of the time, the coyotes, perched in a thicket of phragmites, stand in observance of us, illuminated by our clever electric lights. Waiting.

A Public Pool: Reckoning a Peripheral Wilderness
by Jim Welke

A Public Pool: Reckoning a Peripheral Wilderness

A Public Pool: Reckoning a Peripheral Wilderness

A Public Pool: Reckoning a Peripheral Wilderness

A Public Pool: Reckoning a Peripheral Wilderness

A Public Pool: Reckoning a Peripheral Wilderness

A Public Pool: Reckoning a Peripheral Wilderness

Clinton Snider — Susanne Hilberry Gallery



Clinton Snider May/June 2012 — Susanne Hilberry Gallery — Ferndale MI
photo: Susanne Hilberry Gallery


Paintings by Clinton Snider, a 1997 graduate of the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, are on display at the Susanne Hilberry Gallery, Ferndale MI through June 30 (the show has been extended, disregard the closing date indicated on the gallery website).

The works, oil on board, represent a subdued survey of mostly urban scenes, mostly Detroit if my guess is correct. A few rural or park scenes punctuate the series, but the majority of the fifty(?) or so paintings depict a city in various states of decrepitude — or nascent renewal, depending on your point of view. Many of the scenes lack a discrete human presence, but all include the enveloping embrace of nature. Sidewalks, streets, and alleys are permeated with grass, vines, and shrubs insinuating themselves into neglected corners. The scenes that do include human forms show people almost as appendages of that insinuating nature. They exist as organic extensions of the landscape, altering it perhaps, but only incrementally and symbiotically — men tend backyard gardens, a sullen couple observe a rabbit emerging from tall grass, a woman perches against a tattered wall as if she too had forced her way up between the cracks, against the odds. Above her, scrawled on the wall, the work “Stuff.” The sly title of that work? “We need more stuff.”

Snider applies minimalist titles to his works, almost purely descriptive, like captions in a medical journal. They convey detachment, or a reluctance to imply an interpretation of the scenes he creates. Painted on boards, the works seem to execute a form of symbiosis of their own: re-use of scraps from the landscape they depict; and ultimately, at least some of the works will hang in Detroit buildings. A matte, un-glossed finish tops all of the works, the paint applied sparingly, as if the melancholic scenes demanded subtlety, not baroque flourishes. Melancholic? Perhaps I bring that interpretation. The artist may call them hopeful, I’m not sure. I sensed lurking despair, but hope often follows despair; re-birth follows destruction. I suspect optimistic viewers find hopefulness in these images. After all, art so easily conveys hope, even when it abandons glitter and light.

See the show. Mr. Snider does good work; you will appreciate it. Take it as an auspicious sign that the fates granted you two more weeks to see it.

Through June 30, the Susanne Hilberry Gallery, Ferndale MI.

More about Mr. Snider here:

By Jim Welke