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July 31, 2013

Six Paintings, Six Stalls: A Hamtramck Pop-Up

by Jim Welke

Pop-Up Art Show In Hamtramck

Pop-Up Art Show In Hamtramck by Dylan Spaysky

Artist Dylan Spaysky staged a pop-up art show in Hamtramck on Saturday, 27-July-2013. The pop-up appeared in a defunct car wash near his home. Titled “Six Paintings, Six Stalls,” it featured these artists: Curtis Glenn, Ashley Cook, Robert Sestok, Tiny Little, Josh Smith, Nolan Simon. One of those self-service places, the car wash edifice consists of six drive-through stalls where customers pulled in, dropped their quarters in the machine, selected soap, rinse, or wax, and the hose suspended from overhead supports ejected the desired high-pressure stream to blast the grime and over-applied salt from the vehicle. This establishment fell into disrepair and the owner sold it to an adjacent business owner whose intentions for the site remain unclear. Regularly passing by, Mr. Spaysky concluded that the building, with its six isolated bays would be an ideal forum to show six paintings by six artists, each in a two-walled room devoted to the designated artist.

a stall at the Pop-Up Art Show In Hamtramck by Dylan Spaysky

a stall at the Pop-Up Art Show In Hamtramck by Dylan Spaysky

Above the former washing bays, birds found favorable conditions for nesting in the corrugated steel roofing hardware. Consequently, bird shit rains down and forms a guano laminate on the floor. The hoses and trigger actuated nozzles from the wash mechanisms no longer reside within, either removed for safekeeping by the building owner, or ripped out by metal scrappers who descend like locusts on any undefended ferrous fixtures. In the center of the floor of each stall, steel grids collected run-off from the washers. Now they collect guano, rainwater, and blown in detritus. Broken glass and other urban flotsam litter the floors. In one stall, a hefty wooden beam like you might find as the spine of an ancient trawler resting on the bottom of the Mediterranean (or Lake Huron) sprawls incongruously in this concrete block and steel structure, its provenance a mystery. Outside, the canisters of quarter-fed vacuums stand like sentinels around the perimeter of the building, impotent centurions against the vandals at the gate.

impotent centurion, aka vacuum cleaner

impotent centurion, aka vacuum cleaner

Approaching the structure, down near the eastern end of Holbrook where it turns into Buffalo Street, at the intersection of Norwalk Street, you encounter the building positioned amidst various industrial operations, backed up by residential neighborhoods of modest frame houses, the kind developers threw up eighty years ago all over Detroit metro to house assembly line workers employed at the auto plants and their squadrons of suppliers.

Today, recent immigrants occupy many of those homes, and in choosing paint schemes that reflect those found in their home countries, bring a new palette to the town. That’s the upside. But the residents engage in exactly the same struggle that their predecessors did to carve out a niche in this unsympathetic ecosystem. That struggle comes harder now that crass, uninspired management teams shipped the majority of the once well-paid union jobs overseas, choosing the simplest, most obvious path to short-term profit and positive quarterly earning reports. If you work in the car industry and you’re not in the middle to upper echelons of management you’re a nobody, and management continues to erode hard won protections for labor garnered by once influential unions who now, like puppet states in a declining empire, mostly manage appearances as bystanders to an accelerating demise.

But let’s get back to the art:

Curtis Glenn presented a mixed media work that includes paint and collage. At the bottom, the word “ONE” appears with multiple overwritten characters in front of it, so depending on which your eye picks out, reads: BONE, GONE, or DONE (there seems to be an “A” in there, too). Stapled to the top, the artist added printed photos of this work in what appears to be the artist’s studio. The piece, awash in white space that may suggest uncertainty of intention, bursts with kinetic energy, like it will fling itself off the wall at any moment.

Josh Smith

Josh Smith

Josh Smith

Josh Smith

Josh Smith

Josh Smith

Josh Smith

Josh Smith

Ashley Cook (of North End Studios, Detroit) created a large still life painting that shows fruit and what might be seashells on a black background. An attractive piece on its own, it literally leaps out at you, as she sewed the canvas to a canvas backing and filled the ensuing pillow shape with eighty-nine helium balloons — a not trivial investment in lighter-than-air gas. She said she hoped the work would become airborne, but alas it remained grounded yet still very buoyant, lofting with every breeze that funneled through the car wash stall.

 

Ashley Cook

Ashley Cook

Ashley Cook

Ashley Cook

Robert Sestok contributed two nearly identical paintings, hung one atop the other so they appeared like frames in a strip of film. Each as close to identical to the other as might be achieved with brush and paint, in this case black and gray, with easy brush strokes seemingly tossed off rapidly. But done twice with pretty good accuracy, tossed off probably doesn’t describe the effort. These paintings show beard-adorned mouths that grin at you with abandon; inducing corresponding grins in all but the most morose viewers.

Robert Sestok

Robert Sestok

Robert Sestok

Robert Sestok

Robert Sestok

Robert Sestok

Tiny Little hung a large canvas depicting what appears to be layers of Jello or candy — at least to this writer — stacked nearly by spectral wavelength (yellow appears out of order). As such, it comes of as a cheerful, playful piece, fitting for a summer day in a carwash — even a broken down one.

Tiny Little

Tiny Little

Tiny Little

Tiny Little

Josh Smith brought what appears to be a woodcut print (there are no nice little title cards in pop-up shows in car washes to describe media, etc). In the work, Mr. Smith’s name appears with the letters askew, and spelled out beneath appears “Susanne Hilberry / Ferndale MI” — an art gallery in that town where, it turns out, Dylan Spaysky did at least one exhibition (In Bloom, 2011) as well as Mr. Smith who did a solo show there back in 2006. The date of that show appears at the top of the print. A bit of self-promotion perhaps — with irony, this being a defunct car wash and all. Reminds one of a print Claes Oldenburg did for a show at the Reuben Gallery.

Josh Smith

Josh Smith

Josh Smith

Josh Smith

Nolan Simon put up a small (8” x 10” -ish) painting of what appears to be a park scene where a horse, fitted out for work and harnessed to a cart bearing an overflowing pile of straw or hay, accepts an offering of a snack, or submits to a touch, from a girl in shorts, tee-shirt, and sneakers. The combination of modern attire on the girl and antiquated harness on the horse creates counterpoint that forces the viewer who might breeze by this dappled and blurred study of daylight and shadow to come back for a second look.

Nolan Simon

Nolan Simon

Nolan Simon

Nolan Simon

Please have a look at our site, artifizz.org, and check out some other reviews.

And don’t forget to like our facebook page ;)

rain brought the show to a close at around 7PM... but provided payback with an enduring rainbow

rain brought the show to a close at around 7PM… but provided payback with an enduring rainbow

 

wash?

wash?

July 30, 2013

muslin.charcoal.brick.sticks.rope.paint @ Butter Projects

by Jim Welke

muslin.charcoal.brick.sticks.rope.paint -- project concept by Alison Wong

muslin.charcoal.brick.sticks.rope.paint — project concept by Alison Wong

Not every gallery group show springs from a gallery operator’s urge to shower accolades on the artists invited. Sometimes the gallery takes a little more capricious approach when formulating a show. As evidence, consider muslin.charcoal.brick.sticks.rope.paint at Butter Projects in Royal Oak MI (opened 26-July, runs thru 30-Aug-2013).

Alison Wong, the director and co-founder of Butter Projects (recently joined by her partner, John Charnota, who will develop additional programming: workshops, publications, and other one-offs), premised this show on the requirement that the artists create works using only the materials indicated in the title of the show. Further, Ms. Wong apportioned those materials equally to each artist. So, participants were faced with the challenge of creating an artwork in a limited period, using a limited set of media.

The artists are: Laura Beyer, Brittany Campbell, Andy Krieger, Sarah Lapinksi, Ash Nowak, and Bailey Scieszka.

The outcome proved engaging. Participants created artwork that reflected their predilections, but all of the works shared the provided common elements: muslin, charcoal (roughly 1/2” thick, 6” sticks), brick (red, with three perforations), sticks (plain, old Michigan branches — maple, oak, whatever), rope (that cheesy yellow nylon, about 3/8”), paint (kind of a grayish, cornflower blue).

To see the ensuing creations felt sort of like watching a bunch of recruits go through induction into the military. All the distinguishing characteristics they show up with are stripped away, and from the other end of the tunnel emerges the same crew, but with more in common than vice versa. That’s a complicated way of saying the artists imbued these works with their personalities, but the materials also imposed themselves on the artists. Factor in the stakes — at least a bit of the artists’ credibility and reputation — along with some inevitable competitiveness, and out of the sausage machine comes some rare specimens.

On one wall of the gallery, near the back, near the administrative/wine-and-cheese-cube section, there hangs a sheet of white sheetrock with samples of the apportioned materials affixed in orderly rows and columns like you might see products proudly arrayed in the lobby of a widget factory. This board represents the starting point for the artists, their mission if they choose to accept it. And their mission was not a nice, linear, point-A-to-point-B kind of assignment, like build a picnic table or leisure suit from these materials. All they got were the materials and no other guidance. Take the stuff and go. And don’t come back until you’ve got something you’re willing to hang on the wall (or stand on the floor) and point to it, and say to the world, “That’s my creation.”

Yes. I do think it took courage for these artists to accept this mission. Not art school, classroom, what-happens-in-Vegas-stays-in-Vegas courage, but real world, no one forgets, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately-courage.

But for visitors to the gallery the experience was all fun and games, either from now thru the end of August, or at the opening, which was probably the most fun because all the artists where there, and at openings you get to toss out ill-considered observations and the poor folks who struggled to lay gifts at your feet must politely listen and respond enthusiastically. That takes courage, too.

Fun and games with an edge might describe it more accurately. Art never comes devoid of an edge. At least not art worth mentioning. If it lacks edge, then it might be pure craft — even high-quality, worth-owning craft — but not art. So as the visitor moves through the gallery, she observes the works created from these six not entirely complementary materials and wonders what she’s looking at. Is it as simple as it seems?

If you enter through the front door (as you should), a creation by Laura Byer titled Curtain might be the first thing you see. She calls it a window treatment, which sounds too pedestrian for what she did to the windows. She applied bushels of sticks, some painted, some au naturel, all bound into loose, cable and wing-like constructs. Some sticks wrapped in muslin, some loosely bound by muslin so that the muslin becomes sort of a tendon that pulls the bones together. Nylon rope, stripped into its constituent fibers, formed the more structural ligaments along the vertical, supporting columns of sticks. The final element, bricks, formed a foundation line along the bottom of the windows, which the whole affair framed with dramatic effect. Looking through the gallery windows framed with this “treatment,” you feel yourself transported backward into a pre-industrial world of thatch and twine, bones and sinew, rough-hewn existence where you became what you made with your hands. Nothing else, beyond your natural unsympathetic surroundings existed. Curtain doesn’t dress up a window, it creates one — a big one.

Curtain / Laura Byer

Curtain / Laura Byer

Curtain / Laura Byer

Curtain / Laura Byer

Next, on your right, you might spot a smaller-scaled installation, Signals, Shorthand, and other Alerts, by Ash Nowak: a series of three banner-like swaths of muslin, about the size of place mats, suspended from sticks threaded through sleeves sewn in the top — sewn with strands of yellow nylon rope fiber. The sticks, in turn, were attached to the wall by lengths of that yellow rope tied to each end of the stick, and elevated in the center to form a triangle. On the muslin, near the bottom, are marks made with the requisite charcoal stick; marks applied as obtuse-angled hatch marks that take on the appearance of a field of grain, perhaps. Or, the evaporating surface of a fermenting corn mash if you’re into bourbon, which this writer is. Together, the banners, each similarly marked, form a triptych that somehow calms the viewer’s mind (this viewer at least) with its constancy, balance, and gentle assertion.

 

Signals, Shorthand, and other Alerts / Ash Nowak

Signals, Shorthand, and other Alerts / Ash Nowak

Signals, Shorthand, and other Alerts / Ash Nowak

Signals, Shorthand, and other Alerts / Ash Nowak

Moving counter-clockwise, the next object one encounters will be a mixed-media sculpture/installation that should dispel some of the calm found in the previous work. Brick Face Rope Lips, created by Bailey Scieszka, captures an enervating presence. Comprised of a suit of clothing constructed of linen (muslin, with poetic license), the pants adorned with words scrawled on them in charcoal, the jacket painted with a brick-like pattern of muslin-beige and that grayish, cornflower blue. Enshrouded by the jacket, forming the trunk of a headless being, a video monitor plays an endless loop showing a masked, brick-patterned face with lips of yellow rope against a brick-ish background field similar in color and pattern to that painted on the jacket. One hand of a person — a spirit — holds the mask in place, while the other continuously reapplies lip-gloss to the rope lips. Headphones continuously emit a musical beat — a slowed down version of the early 90′s group Ace of Base “all that she wants” (see video). The effect, after donning the headphones, feels sort of disturbing in a voyeuristic way. You can’t be sure what to make of this creature, neither alive nor dead. Zombie-like perhaps. But the sculpture snares you with its disarming, rag-tag uniform, technological spectacle, and ritual-like lip-gloss application to a lifeless mask. You feel sort of ripped out of the moment, whatever moment you were in, and dropped on a remote island where the native non-human beings do strange things for unknown but important reasons.

Brick Face Rope Lips / Bailey Scieszka

Brick Face Rope Lips / Bailey Scieszka

Brick Face Rope Lips / Bailey Scieszka

Brick Face Rope Lips / Bailey Scieszka

Next, you will encounter Cornfields Smell Better In Sunshine, an installation by Brittany Campbell with a more direct application of video — at least in the sense we usually think of video: to present an evolving story or documentary. Here, a flat monitor dominates a dividing wall of the gallery. Elements of the project, and constituents of the video — sticks, charcoal, a brick — surround the monitor, protruding mysteriously from the wall as though transposed there by a quantum anomaly. Cornstalks painted blue, with roots wrapped in muslin and bound with yellow rope, spread out into the gallery and extend the field of this work beyond that one wall where they overtake the room like overfed GMO crops gone astray. In the video, we see hands resting on crossed legs that incrementally carve a point onto a charcoal stick; cut to the hand tracing a delicate outline on a bicep, followed by a series of cuts to bucolic outdoor scenes: the rope as a jump rope, the corn as it is painted blue, a sun-dappled patch of lush grass, a face seen through one of those brick perforations as fingertips apply charcoal to the inner surface, sticks laid down and set alight, sticks propped vertically and set alight (to create charcoal). Here, another ritual, more familiar than that in the previous work, but equally enigmatic — perhaps more enigmatic in its deeper complexity and longer series of unexplained events. You don’t know what you are witnessing, but you know it holds significance for the participant, like a prelude to tragic journey, or the beginning of a momentous, irreversible act.

 

Cornfields Smell Better In Sunshine / Brittany Campbell

Cornfields Smell Better In Sunshine / Brittany Campbell

Cornfields Smell Better In Sunshine / Brittany Campbell

Cornfields Smell Better In Sunshine / Brittany Campbell

Cornfields Smell Better In Sunshine / Brittany Campbell

Cornfields Smell Better In Sunshine / Brittany Campbell

Cornfields Smell Better In Sunshine / Brittany Campbell

Cornfields Smell Better In Sunshine / Brittany Campbell

Next a work by Sarah Lapinski, You Have to Earn the Yes, suspended from ductwork near the ceiling via diaphanous threads, a ladder made of that yellow rope binding together rungs of sticks. Hovering there in space, suspended by all but invisible threads, this ladder does not appear to be for the here and now, for flesh and blood beings of ponderous substance. Children perhaps could ascend it if it were securely suspended. But it’s not. It hangs there, provoking you to wonder if it’s purely a representation of a ladder; a ladder as symbol for some other act or force; a ladder to Heaven or from Hell. Given the latter option, one feels a bit deflated at finding oneself already down here. Given the former, one feels a bit discouraged by the impossibility of safe ascent. Either way you lose. C’est la vie, mes copains. But, on the wall just behind the ladder you find a sort of shrine to hope: a collection of muslin swatches, about the size of handkerchiefs folded in half, pinned to the wall. Adjacent, another bit reads, “Put on this hook.” And adjacent to that, a hook for pieces from the first set, but inscribed with charcoal by gallery visitors. On the right side, you only read the top leaf, unless you’re particularly assertive and lift each one to reveal those underneath. But that would be an infraction. As you pencil in your words with the earthy charcoal stick (coloring your fingers with carbon black) you add a line to a poem or a prayer in progress for which you might not know the preceding lines and certainly don’t know the following. This work presents endless collaborative possibility — at least until the swatches run out. Then one faces a decision: replenish the blanks, or do laundry and wash away the past. Either way, the ladder waits, so write well.

You Have to Earn the Yes / Sarah Lapinski

You Have to Earn the Yes / Sarah Lapinski

You Have to Earn the Yes / Sarah Lapinski

You Have to Earn the Yes / Sarah Lapinski

You Have to Earn the Yes / Sarah Lapinski

You Have to Earn the Yes / Sarah Lapinski

Finally, you come to an installation by Andy Krieger, Mad at the Moon, comprised of a painting on a concave, conic-section of arcing wood overstretched with canvas. A blue moon emerges from a forest of inky, charcoal black branches interlocked as a screen penetrable only by light (and dark). Like a provocative sentinel, a column topped with a miniature catapult (trebuchet, if you’re into Medieval French, we’re told) and a pile of brick fragments stands before the painting. The catapult, constructed of sticks and rope, aims at the center of that gorgeous, ominous werewolf moon. The execution of these constituent elements is so sublime, the moon and trees rendered so lush, you take it all for granted. “Mad At The Moon,” you are invited to launch brick shards into the lunar surface. “Of course,” you say to yourself as you wind up and let fly.

During the run of the exhibition the gallery is open on Friday from 1-5, Saturday 1-3, and by appointment. Closing reception on August 30th at 7pm — get out and see the show, it’s worth it.

 

Andy Krieger, Mad at the Moon

Andy Krieger, Mad at the Moon

Andy Krieger, Mad at the Moon

Andy Krieger, Mad at the Moon

 

Andy Krieger, Mad at the Moon

Andy Krieger, Mad at the Moon

Alison Wong getting it together...

Alison Wong getting it together…

 

July 26, 2013

Museum of New Art Gains New Ground

by Jim Welke

New digs for MONA in Armada Michigan

New digs for MONA in Armada Michigan (photo: MONA)

With all the benighted talk of art as a luxury Detroit can do without (it isn’t and it can’t) appearing in the local and national press as the city stumbles through an unprecedented bankruptcy, The Museum of New Art is hard at work to quietly expand the horizons of contemporary art in metro Detroit.

The museum, which began as a closet in the back of Galerie Blu in Pontiac Michigan in 1996, now resides in a rambling multi-room gallery space there. But MONA, as the museum is known by acronym, intends to branch out and expand its reach and influence. Recently, a devoted supporter and generous donor, Paul Smith, launched a satellite location adjacent to his residence in Armada Michigan with gallery, studio, and living space for artists in residence. And Mr. Smith, who wears the hat of Project Director, intends to launch two more venues for MONA: one in a rambling, restored 19th century home in Troy Michigan, and another in downtown Detroit.

Before you draw further conclusions about Mr. Smith, know this: he holds a PhD, deals with psychological disorders for a living and in so doing built a formidable business venture. It seems evident that Mr. Smith brings to his undertakings the savvy and gimlet-eyed objectivity of a businessman combined with the academic and practical application of human psychology. He’s no starry-eyed dreamer. Now, he intends to help render MONA a going concern, and if his past is prologue, he will.

As Curator at MONA, Jessica Hopkins brings fresh perspective to the selection of works that appear in MONA shows, winnowing the rafts of artists’ work down to the select few that make into an exhibition gallery with an eye towards thematic consistency and overall quality. Nicole Batchik, Assistant to the Directors, brings logistical support and legwork that keep MONA’s wheels turning.

MONA operates as a 501(c)3 non-profit. The museum depends on patrons like Paul Smith to live and breath. But the museum would never have been born were it not for the almost compulsive persistence of the iconoclast artist Jef Bourgeau. He stood alone in that closet in Pontiac in 1996 and convinced art mavens around the world that he stood in a museum. He seeks to re-define the term museum — “The museum is the medium,” the web page for MONA’s planned August art auction asserts. Note those words, they matter. It should also be noted that the notion of museum as medium precedes MONA. Art historians and curators devote significant mental energy to formulating that idea, and in so doing, breathe new life into art museums and make them more than repositories of the past.

Before the inception of MONA and since, Mr. Bourgeau created digital art the hard way: pixel-by-pixel. He worked in the digital realm before posterize, de-alias, de-speckle, anti-alias, apply lens, edge detect, and gradient flare entered the lexicon.

Mr. Bourgeau paints with mastery too, not to mention irony and wit. And he puts on conceptual and installation shows that startle, offend, and more often delight. Always he provokes us to rethink and reform our interpretations of objects in museums and galleries and the forces that put those objects there.

As he traversed the art landscape, Mr. Bourgeau tipped over a few pedestals, including his own. But he propped his back up while he continues to kick down the status quo. The short form press of today often portrays him as a prankster, but that impression seems deeply mistaken when one takes a close look at his oeuvre. As should any artist worth the appellation, he questions everything that constitutes the cultural milieu in which he operates. If the museum is the medium, one might also argue in the case of Mr. Bourgeau, so is the artist. Sometimes to his peril, but with the courage of true conviction he cuts his own path through a dense thicket of critics, reporters, curators, gallery operators, and collectors. He rejects the imperative to go along to get along. For the advancement of art — “truth and beauty” at large — that constitutes the only true path forward. The work of Mr. Bourgeau, nuanced and subtle — if not sometimes inscrutable and ironic — stands the test of time. Like all art able to span eras, it harbors deep commentary on human nature, and that commentary resonates — if not overtly, then covertly, in the subconscious of viewers. His work sells, and for good reason.

Mr. Borgeau may have conceived The Museum of New Art as a lark, but like any organization, it developed a life of its own. Over the last sixteen years or so, the museum put up regular exhibitions of work by metro-Detroit and other artists in a non-commercial setting. In 2000 MONA achieved non-profit status, and in May 2001, MONA occupied the venerable Book Building in downtown Detroit where it renovated the ten thousand square foot second floor and brought in such shows as DOCUMENTA USA, Art as Game as Art: Current and Past Works by Lucio Pozzi, and Ground Zero. The Book Building space shut its doors for good in 2004 when the landlord refused to renew the lease. That brought MONA back to Pontiac, where it currently resides at 7 N Saginaw St, with several galleries spread between the first and second floors. It’s an impressive array of rooms, and in them MONA often hosts simultaneous exhibitions, including Cranbrook Academy of Art student exhibitions that offer nascent artists real-world exposure and the criticism that goes with it.

Going forward, MONA’s got ambitious plans, including:

1)            DOCUMENTA USA, (a reprise of the show first held in the Book Building; note uppercase title) collects archival material from artists that relates to their prior shows — catalogues, images, curricula vitae, reviews — and puts them on display much the same as documenta in Kassel, Germany (most recently documenta 13 in June-2012; note lowercase title, which derives from Bauhaus convention, eschewed by MONA). Also in variance with documenta, MONA devotes DOCUMENTA USA to documentary material placed in archival boxes. The show opens 28-September and runs 100 days. Remarkably, the exhibited materials refresh every 100 minutes. Visitors open the artist submitted archival boxes and discover the contents. Long-time art critic Jerry Saltz will be guest speaker and roving raconteur. Accepting submissions through 24-August-2013.

2)            Art Auction: a fundraiser for MONA, the auction will sell donated artworks from around the planet, and includes work by Uta Barth, Pae White, the Gao Brothers, and Annette Lemieux. Apparently, quite a few artists believe in MONA, and auction attendees will validate that conviction and take home some nice art. It happens in Armada Michigan at MONA North on August 24th.

3)            APERTO: (Italian for “open”) like the tradition at the Venice Biennale, artists visit MONA and hang one of their works on the wall, where it remains until another artist decides to replace it with one of their own. The event brings disparate artists together in a festive, self-curated setting.

4)            The Prinzhorn Prize: First presented in 2009, MONA grants this prize annually. The museum invites nominations of influential artists, and an independent jury selects six recipients to receive the prize and exhibit work at MONA. Named for Hans Prinzhorn, a German psychiatrist who formed a collection of artwork made by mentally ill patients at the Heidelberg psychiatric hospital. Jean Dubuffet and others found merit in the work and termed it “art brut (fr.),” later referred to as “outsider art” in English. The Nazi’s displayed several of these in their propagandistic show, Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art).

5)            Online database of metro Detroit artists: open to all, the database will aid research and documentation of local art history.

6)            artCORE: first done in 2003 at seven locations, artCORE renovates and installs artworks in vacant downtown storefronts, and opens them to visitors. Visitors see art they would not otherwise have seen, and lifeless storefronts transform from city liability to asset.

7)            Changing Cities: Detroit artists exchange places (studios, residences) with artists from other cities around the world. To date, exchanges with the following cities occurred: Chicago, Bregenz, Berlin, and Beijing. This stirs the pot of creativity and synergy, adding regional flavors to local art brews.

8)            Film Festival: bleeding edge features, documentaries, and shorts screened in various Detroit metro locations

9)            Instant Gallery: Pop-up art shows throughout Detroit Metro to entertain and enlighten passersby

10)       Art Truck: Brings exhibitions to the people.

11)       Youth Workshops: for inner city kids at MONA North in Armada Michigan, a bucolic 60-acre escape from urban pressure.

12)       Digital Connections: Live streaming video symposia, lectures, and gatherings with global participation.

(read more about these and other project here)

So, after a few meetings with Mr. Bourgeau, Mr. Smith, and Ms. Hopkins, that’s this writer’s spin on MONA. If you believe the metro Detroit art scene is a zero sum game, that the contemporary art museum market is saturated and the region can not support more non-profit venues for new art, then you probably can not get behind MONA and lend your support by attending their events or donating money or art.

But if you believe the Detroit art scene is on the upswing, that the city can once again be known as the “Paris of the Midwest,” then you will understand that there can be more than one game in town. If you are an optimist and not a reactionary, than you will believe that Detroit can be like other towns and be home to numerous art institutions. You will realize that more than one take on contemporary art will foster the emergence of Detroit as a deep well of creativity with a deep pool of resources — both financial and human.

Art begets commerce, and commerce begets art, Detroit history proves that much: the Detroit Institute of Arts sprang from the inspiration of enlightened titans of industry (and their equally enlightened and persistent wives), and the first exhibition they put on was sanctioned by self-appointed arbiters of purity who insisted that paintings of nude women in the inaugural exhibition be covered with drapes. That episode passed into obscurity and the museum remained to become a preeminent force in the city.

But that was over a hundred years ago. Now, in addition to homes for essential historical works, prosperous cities cultivate modern art museums with never seen before programs that compel us to contemplate the modern society we create. Smart people migrate to vibrant places. And vibrancy does not exist without contemporary art. So forget zero-sum, more is better.

MONA currently has a show on at the Pontiac location called, “THREE-FOR-ONE: 1)THE MEMORY OF SKIN by Ann Sunwoo / 2)THE MASTERPIECES: new work by Odu Nakkara / 3)TIME @ DCCP, Juror: Bill Schwab” up thru 10-August. And on 24-August, they will hold their benefit Art Auction from 6-10PM at 15655 33 Mile Road, Armada MI 48005. Remember, these are non-profit, non-commercial endeavors that bring you world-class art — let’s show these hard-working people some love. :)

 

July 24, 2013

Robert Platt: Insubstantial Pageants of The Mind’s Eye

By Jim Welke

Enkephalon, 2013 64 x 72” / oil and pigment on linen

Enkephalon, 2013
64 x 72” / oil and pigment on linen

Robert Platt: Insubstantial Pageants of The Mind’s Eye
June 20, 2013 – July 27, 2013

Robert Platt’s solo show at the Butcher’s Daughter Gallery in Detroit consists of a series of big rectangular canvases; several round pictures; a round, onyx-like, semi-reflective mirror; a sprayed in-situ graffiti work; and a big, faux fur tepee in the center of the room.

Ridolon, 2013 13ft x 8ft / mixed-media

Ridolon, 2013
13ft x 8ft / mixed-media

The pictures share a color range suggestive of fall foliage: orangey-red-brown, golden-yellow earthy tones. In some, nebulous halos and clouds of brighter shades appear like the fluorescing remnant gases of deep space supernovae. In others, pixel-like rectangles appear as though a digital image exploded, sending virtual-reality data fragments shearing off into virtual space (a testament to the mutability of vision). All eleven pictures seem abstract, given the non-representational forms that inhabit them. Yet, most if not all contain figures of men, animals, and plants. Perhaps blurred, fragmented, representational imagery better defines them.

IMG_2036

IMG_2025

IMG_2021

IMG_2019

IMG_2018

IMG_2015

Rather than set a semantic trap, to better understand where Mr. Platt is coming from you should read several gallery descriptions and artist statements.

From the Butcher’s Daughter exhibition description:

This large-scale painting exhibition features nearly a dozen works by Robert Platt that explore concepts of mediated and domestic nature and the liminal spaces of contemporary life. Platt investigates how human interaction is effected by imported cultural constructs and, further, how these ideas and thoughts affect the world we live in, our shared social experiences, and the impact and resonance within the individual.

Platt, born in 1974 London, England, states:

“As in Plato’s cave allegory we content ourselves with illusions of reality. As our lives become more intertwined with technology, our constructions of multiple realities increase. While we distance ourselves from nature, we glorify the appeal of the wild and the image of solitude and simplicity.”

This simultaneous simulation and detachment will be manifest in the exhibition through a spatial intervention containing multi-channel camera obscurae.

Platt explains:

“The ideas behind the subject matter attempts to communicate a critique of the increasing loss of social and interpersonal relations today, but at the same time it creates a social event, which invites people to share ideas and consider the role of our personal detachment to nature, the impermanence of structures, and ways to rethink our relation to nature and our social interaction within it.” Exhibition description, Butcher’s Daughter Gallery, Detroit Michigan

From Mr. Platt’s artist statement posted at the Chelsea River Gallery website:

The Post Modern era is a confusing time. We are no longer living in a simple age where definitions and categories are easily assigned. As a contemporary artist my research attempts to reveal the complex contradictions between nature and technology and between aesthetic conventions in our social relations to the natural world. Rather than being ‘about nature’ my work can be better characterized as being focused on ideas about nature. …As a way of working, I collate a bricolage of source material and images which are manipulated through various technological processes then re-inscribed through painting in an attempt to uncover traces of the more fugitive aspects of seeing and recognition. Robert Platt, Chelsea River Gallery, Chelsea Michigan

Note the artist’s reference to Plato’s Cave allegory; it serves well to illuminate the essence of Insubstantial Pageants of The Mind’s Eye — this title itself a reference to that pageant in the cave. In that dialectic from The Republic, Plato describes a group of prisoners held captive in a cave from birth. Forced to peer at a single wall in the cave, they see a series of shadows cast by actors in a pit backlit by a fire. The actors carry on their heads figures of men and animals. The shadows of these figures are all the prisoners see. For them, these figures comprise reality. Nothing else exists. Released from captivity, a prisoner who ventures out of the cave could no longer trust his sense of the real, and could never again see the world of shadows in the same way. These shadows might now constitute for him a version of reality, but not the only reality. If this former prisoner returned to the cave and described what he learned of the larger world beyond the cave, he might be distrusted and feared, even killed by the other prisoners he attempts to free, Plato tells us. They prefer the reality they know to any alien landscape beyond their immediate perception.

In Mr. Platt’s work, he offers an altered reality of shadow and light. Hence, the struggle defining these pictures as either abstract or representational. At first glance, at least to this writer, the figures inhabiting these pictures were not all immediately apparent. But with a sustained gaze, the figures emerge. The pictures transition from abstract to representational. They distort our concept of reality; abstract it, but present familiar signs. Remember what Mr. Platt stated above: his paintings are an “attempt to uncover traces of the more fugitive aspects of seeing and recognition.” He creates them from a bricolage of collected imagery. He projects that imagery and paints it. And out of this process he transforms the ostensibly objective into the subjective. And so we see familiar things in an unfamiliar way and one hopes, learn something about our perception of reality — or the reality we perceive in images.

From the exhibition description and artist statements above, what Mr. Platt seems most interested in are the images — or symbols — of the natural world that inhabit our media-saturated lives. Sometimes these images are merely snapshots that provoke nostalgia, sometimes they are part of a crass marketing attempt to associate products with our pre-conceived — but abstracted — positive notions of nature. But they always remain images, not the reality they represent, and as such remain inherently manipulative and untrustworthy like the prisoner returned to the cave. It seems that Mr. Platt, in his work, seeks to play the role of Plato and remind us of this, and possibly provoke us to look deeper into the sea of imagery we drown in, recognize its inadequacy to sustain us physically or psychically, and instead re-emerge in the living breathing world — to find truth.

The obfuscation of figures in these paintings works to great effect to further Mr. Platt’s thesis. For a moment, your mind wanders into the swirls and emerging squares of color, and then snaps back with a flash of recognition of a man, bird, or plant. The figures seem archaic, mythical, primal. Perceptions flicker.

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The paintings demonstrate careful, deliberate execution (even where paint peals away, or was sprayed on the wall with abandon — measured abandon). The paint mostly appears thin and light on the canvas, ink-like. Brushstrokes land precisely, without visible signs of re-work or second thoughts, as though Mr. Platt worked out technical details elsewhere and undertook these pictures with definite ideas of what he meant to get down on the canvas. Perhaps this could be called Mr. Platt’s formal purity: clear, refined intentions planned and executed according to plan. It’s nice to see such masterful application of media, it’s indicative of well-learned craft.

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Looking at these pictures, one recognizes in Mr. Platt an orderly mind, devoted to achieving a rational thought process. Some might even criticize Mr. Platt for excessive single-mindedness in his work, obsessive devotion to his self-assigned mission for this series of paintings. It’s possible that in achieving a cerebral, philosophical objective, Mr. Platt washes traces of emotion out of his work that might otherwise be there. The paintings in this show can feel a bit cold. But maybe that’s not a bad thing. These pictures I think seek to enlighten; they pack a message. And perhaps to convey a message requires the suppression of emotional racket — emotion grips the viewer later with the realization and recognition of a deeper understanding of the world. The effect of this show comes like an ever-accelerating slow burn rather than an instantaneous blast.

Now for the big tepee in the center of the gallery: it contains four camera obscurae that project images of Mr. Platt’s paintings on paperback-sized screens inside. One enters the tepee on hands and knees, stands within, and like Plato’s prisoner returned to the cave allows eyes to adjust to the surrounding darkness. Then you see the camera obscura screens. On the screens you view hazy, dimmed images of the paintings on the gallery walls. The tepee and its screens remove you from the reality of the gallery, and for a moment at least — enveloped in inky blackness — your only true reality resides on those screens. Your world becomes the shadows in Plato’s cave.

One almost wishes you entered the tepee first, before ever seeing the pictures on the walls. And after seeing the dim camera obscura versions, emerged into the surrounding lightness to appreciate Mr. Platt’s work in its true majesty. As it happens, the tepee feels a bit contrived. The intent may not be immediately apparent to casual visitors, and perhaps that’s how it should be — enlightenment comes to those who work for it (and even then not always). Still, I suspect the paintings could stand on their own without the added spectacle of the tepee. Many visitors, especially at a crowded opening, will not experience it, self-consciously disinclined to crawl in. (Visitors also might not read the description and statement that explain the show and tepee within.) This writer went to the well-attended opening, but avoided the tepee until a second visit to the gallery during a slack time when only one other visitor showed up.

But if Mr. Platt overreached a bit with the inclusion of the camera obscurae (and black acrylic mirror that submerges viewers in a simulacra of Mr. Platt’s work), he hit the mark with his paintings, and likely will continue doing so given his measured approach and technical mastery. The Butcher’s Daughter did well to show these works for their inaugural exhibition in these new Detroit digs. Detroit art fans should be gladdened by such galleries showing such work in their midst.