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October 17, 2014

Elements of Whimsy: Adnan Charara at N’Namdi

N'Namdi

Elements of Whimsy: Adnan Charara
N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art,
Black Box Gallery

by Jim Welke

 

Elements of Whimsy: Adnan Charara

N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, Black Box Gallery

thru 25-October-2014

Adnan Charara brings a sly sense of humor to his work. He paints, does collage, and creates sculpture from found objects. Found or not, nearly all of the works in this exhibition possess elements inherently in conflict, while to the eye they maintain aesthetic harmony. Conflict creates dramatic tension, imposes a narrative arc, but in Charara’s work it brings the funny too. In this show, the work projects wry humor. That’s the hook to bring you closer.

Picture a rusty washing machine standing in a yard beside a house. In the background, a sun-dappled meadow sprawls languorously. Beyond, snow-capped peaks press against a drape of cobalt sky. If the house were small and decrepit, your thoughts at the sight of the washing machine go in a specific direction. If the house were a well-maintained, super-sized McMansion your thoughts trend in a different direction.

Paint either of these scenes and satire emerges; a philosophical observation manifests. The painter nails down her point of view not only of the washing machine, but also of the world and its human folly.

If the painter painted either of these scenes without the washing machine, she would express elements of her philosophy, but missing the dramatic tension, or at least expressing much less.

Laughter might be a first impulse on sighting artwork built around rusting refuse. But the thoughtful witness sees more. The laughter subsides and a vague melancholia sets in. Thoughts depart the scene and progress to the larger world and society with all of the contradictions, insults, and disappointments therein.

Adnan Charara

Give Me A Chance I Will Grow
Adnan Charara
Found objects

Charara’s work draws you into his tunnel of love; then before comfort and complacency set in, shoves you back out into that harsher, colder world. But it’s a joyful world, too. Only the joy does not spread as evenly as it could… as it should.

That seems to be the existential contradiction that troubles and impels Charara: the uneven allocation of security and prosperity. To this viewer, his work in the N’Namdi show declares, “This is no meritocracy we inhabit. Men clownish and petty hold the power in this world. Suffer fools at your peril.” And the fools we suffer have no sense of their own foolishness. Charara presents several images of self-satisfied, pompous phonies decorated with the signs and symbols of status; of position gained through felonious duplicity.

Those signs and symbols, burned into our media-saturated brains, set off conditioned responses; even sub-conscious sparks. That’s how advertising works its magic, and it’s how Charara’s images work, as did those of his collage-making predecessors Picasso, Duchamp, Schwitter. Charara’s sculptures telegraph hidden messages too, but a bit more subdued; less freighted.

Adnan Charara

The Velvet Man
Adnan Charara
Acrylic and oil on canvas

Adnan Charara

Standoff
Adnan Charara
Acrylic on canvas

At first glance, the figures in the work at N’Namdi merely seem clownish, fanciful, but as conditioned responses kick in–unless you feel nothing but admiration for those who clothe themselves in status symbols–you soon feel an ineffable sense of unease, sort of like meeting a guy in a fancy bespoke suit, fourteen-karat cuff links, and a ten pound Rolex. He speaks, and malapropisms sneak into every sentence–you realize immediately this is a privileged and insecure charlatan with a potent sense of entitlement and a shriveled sense of humility.

Charara does not parody wealth, he parodies those who will do anything to obtain it and then happily misdirect it; who value lucre above all else and churlishly deny it to others more deserving. Look at louche “Colonial Man” with his monogrammed cigar-like nose; or “Masquerade” with the elegant pocket watch of privilege beside George Washington torn from the dollar bill–the most potent symbol of acquisitiveness on the planet–and those ears from a bisected violin suggestive of patronage and noblesse oblige; or the fat cigars, bottle of Madere Cuvee (reminiscent of Picasso’s bottle of Suze), and dueling pistols in “Standoff” like a scene extracted from a repressed, liquor drenched Victorian sitting room; the diamond-studded, pistol-poised, sartorial splendor of “Velvet Man;” or the ‘Prince of Savoy’ headline in “Open Minded Man.” Open minded indeed. Mais, bien au contraire.

Adnan Charara

Colonial Man
Adnan Charara
Acrylic on canvas

Adnan Charara

My American Gothic
Adnan Charara
Found Objects

Charara by no means appears a one-trick-pony. His talent ranges wide through various media and stylistic forms. All of the paintings described above precisely mimic smaller-scale collage executed with such exacting precision a chill runs down your spine to contemplate it. Those collage stood as muses for the larger paintings, but demand attention on their own. Seen together with the paintings, you witness evolution of one man’s art-making process. Not to mention an ardent expression of devotion to the creative journey. Charara makes pure abstracts too–including painting, sculpture, and collage–more enigmatic compared to the work up in N’Namdi, but no less engaging. His abstract work conveys a joyous infatuation with the charms of earthly existence and all the material temptation those charms elicit. The abstracts percolate atavistic, nebulous color and boiling motion. The small sculptures exhibited in this show animate with the effervescence of Charara’s blessed infatuation; they never succumb to static speechlessness. His work never offers mute testimony, it runs more toward loquacious, but in the best way possible.

“My American Gothic” quotes Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” with a diminutive, three-dimensional, dark-skinned couple. The man grips a dinner fork in place of the pitchfork in the painting. There’s the funny. But the title might play on the term Gothic–as in Southern Gothic. This association, along with the complexion of the figures, leads you to recall that slaves created much of the prosperity in the early days of the United States and laid the foundation for its future. And in these latter days, this nation’s wealth–apportioned with top-heavy avarice–emanates from the toil of corporate wage-slaves no less indentured to their masters (claims to the contrary by the fatuous rich guy flashing his ten-pound Rolex notwithstanding).

Adnan Charara

Masquerade (detail)
Adnan Charara
acrylic and oil on canvas

Adnan Charara’s work encompasses historical, art historical, and social relevance. His work operates with subtlety, and surely allows for deeper and different interpretation than that given here. But to this writer, he offers the gifts of a jester. And remember the jester speaks truth to power, and shadows with wit insights harboring potential to demolish empires. Watch as prosperous collectors flock to his work for both its aesthetic grace and to demonstrate savoir faire and the impervious armor of affluence. Ain’t life grand?

Get out to see this show, and the rest of the work up at N’Namdi before it comes down on 25-October.

 

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

And don’t forget to like our facebook page

Adnan Charara

Collage
Adnan Charara

Collage Adnan Charara

Collage
Adnan Charara

Adnan Charara

Standoff
Adnan Charara
Acrylic on canvas

Adnan Charara

The Velvet Man (detail)
Adnan Charara
Acrylic and oil on canvas

Adnan Charara

Colonial Man (detail)
Adnan Charara
acrylic on canvas

 

September 30, 2014

Elene Usdin–Awake While I Am Dreaming

by Jim Welke

Elene Usdin–Awake While I Am Dreaming

The Museum of New Art brings the work of a new photographer to Detroit, Elene Usdin–denizen of the Paris Rive Gauche and 15th Arrondissement. Her photos will be up through 25-October at the MONA Photography and New Media annex in Troy, Michigan.

Elene Usdin--Awake While I Am Dreaming

Elene Usdin–Awake While I Am Dreaming
Museum of New Art Photography & New Media

 

Usdin began to practice photography only eleven years ago, yet her efforts yield prodigious output.

Most of her work, and nearly all of the photos in the MONA exhibit consist of portraits: self, group, and otherwise. While Usdin’s portraits of others demonstrate a keen eye for color, composition, and lighting, as well as personality, her self-portraits press hardest on the viewer’s psyche.

Portraits challenge a photographer in way that goes beyond color, composition, and lighting. In addition to those readily manageable demands of image creation, the photographic portraitist deals with a volatile primary subject as well. Just as the landscape photographer (or painter for that matter) reacts to and adjusts for ever-changing light and shadow, the portraitist must deal with the ever-changing visage of their subject. And unlike passing sunshine, clouds, and shadow, human subjects bring instantaneous mood changes and morphing attitudes.

Unless the portrait subject is fleeting–as in street photography like that shot by Cartier-Bresson, Doisneau, or Robert Frank–the expression on the subject’s face becomes a plastic element of composition; unconscious body language does too. But a posed subject yields to mood and fatigue and will not maintain the desired countenance and position indefinitely. One wrong word spoken by the photographer, one gesture too many insisted on, and the subject will turn rigid and non-compliant, if not outright hostile. In that case, the photographer might end up with an image more like a mug shot than a personality-steeped representation of a singular human.

 

Elene Usdin--Awake While I Am Dreaming

Elene Usdin–Awake While I Am Dreaming
Museum of New Art Photography & New Media

Elene Usdin--Awake While I Am Dreaming

Elene Usdin–Awake While I Am Dreaming
Museum of New Art Photography & New Media

 

These are the perils of portraiture. The rewards undoubtedly justify the risk. Humans remain social animals to the last. As such, we gravitate toward others, even others who inhabit pictures. And we remember photos populated with humans more distinctly than we remember images packed with buildings, trees, animals, etc. Probably the most memorable photos capture victims trapped in the cauldron of war. Images of anguish provoke reactions in the empathetic nearly as intense, unforgettable, and scarring as the event itself might. Perhaps more so: in the real-time shock of the event such an avalanche of input engages our senses that subtle details get lost, leaving imprinted a simple blur of horror.

Portraits attract universal interest and touch us at visceral level. Elene Usdin’s images, with their dramatic affectations, amplify the inherent archetypal attraction of the portrait. Many, if not the majority of Usdin’s images are self-portraits, but she often adds a magical twist to these shots with the addition of masks. She also uses props out of context: an ironic lampshade on her head, her nude body sandwiched between two tattered mattresses; wearing a crocheted strap-on dildo; lying on her back across a series of coin-operated washing machines.

The masks obviate the need for a prescribed expression–or no expression–and supply instead the intensity of a fabricated and exaggerated projection of emotion: the garish scowl of a red-faced demon, for example. These potent distortions of the human form inject added visual piquancy to the deliberate repetition of a series of self-portraits shown in the MONA exhibition, but they also cut through the ambiguity of a natural human expression–you don’t wonder what a scowling demon thinks, you simply register the unambiguous radiated malevolence that the demon symbolizes.

 

Elene Usdin--Awake While I Am Dreaming

Elene Usdin–Awake While I Am Dreaming
Museum of New Art Photography & New Media

Elene Usdin--Awake While I Am Dreaming

Elene Usdin–Awake While I Am Dreaming
Museum of New Art Photography & New Media

 

On the other hand, there is a magical component in a portrait complemented by a mask similar to the effects of magical realism in literature. The mask elevates the scene from the realm of the banal. In Usdin’s work, the effect is less surreal than theatrical. The props, rather than embed the subject in an otherworldly realm, instead alienate the subject within their own realm–and ours. This detachment of the subject in relief from their recognizable context forces the viewer to consciously scrutinize them more intensely as they would a single word uttered in absence of context.

While the masks distill the emotional subtext of her portraits into a potent elixir with an unmistakable flavor, she and her subjects gravitationally alter their surroundings too, pushing them out of the ordinary, imbuing them with import like elements of theatrical stage sets. This is not an impromptu effect. Usdin designs her scenes much as a stage designer might: she works out the details with notes and sketches. When the time comes to shoot, she leaves little to chance. From facial expression to furnishings, she is the deus ex machina, and her efforts pay off with diminished ambiguity and clutter; like an optical shout, her images grab hold of your imagination in a jarring instant.

 

Elene Usdin--Awake While I Am Dreaming

Elene Usdin–Awake While I Am Dreaming
Museum of New Art Photography & New Media

 

Elene Usdin--Awake While I Am Dreaming

Elene Usdin–Awake While I Am Dreaming
Museum of New Art Photography & New Media

 

Her photos appear to tackle serious topics: isolation; fear; purposelessness; our prescribed, and proscribed, roles in society; feminism. Not every image carries the burden of dourness, though. On the contrary, many of Usdin’s works expose the playful, whimsical facets of her artistic persona.

The risk of such carefully orchestrated theatrical imagery is that the pictures sometimes feel aloof just as a stage play can deftly address universal human struggles while at the same time feel distant from personal predicament. Eliciting an empathetic response might be a tough thing for art to achieve, but when achieved it propels art out of the closet of academic exercise and into the daylight of broad accessibility; it extends an ineffable force on the human mind like a magnet on iron filings. Usdin’s work does not always achieve this transcendent state, but often does. Her journey continues with promise.

 

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

And don’t forget to like our facebook page

 

Elene Usdin--Awake While I Am Dreaming

Elene Usdin–Awake While I Am Dreaming
Museum of New Art Photography & New Media

 

Elene Usdin--Awake While I Am Dreaming

Elene Usdin–Awake While I Am Dreaming
Museum of New Art Photography & New Media

Elene Usdin--Awake While I Am Dreaming

Elene Usdin–Awake While I Am Dreaming
Museum of New Art Photography & New Media

Elene Usdin--Awake While I Am Dreaming

Elene Usdin–Awake While I Am Dreaming
Museum of New Art Photography & New Media

Elene Usdin--Awake While I Am Dreaming

Elene Usdin–Awake While I Am Dreaming
Museum of New Art Photography & New Media

 

Elene Usdin--Awake While I Am Dreaming

Elene Usdin–Awake While I Am Dreaming
Museum of New Art Photography & New Media

Elene Usdin--Awake While I Am Dreaming

Elene Usdin–Awake While I Am Dreaming
Museum of New Art Photography & New Media

 

Elene Usdin--Awake While I Am Dreaming

Elene Usdin–Awake While I Am Dreaming
Museum of New Art Photography & New Media

Elene Usdin--Awake While I Am Dreaming

Elene Usdin–Awake While I Am Dreaming
Museum of New Art Photography & New Media

September 4, 2014

Gao Brothers DISSIDENTS ABROAD at Detroit MONA

By Jim Welke

Gao Brothers DISSIDENTS ABROAD at Detroit MONA
Opens: 13-September-2014
Reception with the artists: 6-10pm
Midtown MONA, Suite C
4130 Cass Avenue Detroit MI 48201

MONA FUNDRAISER, Friday, September 12
Meet the Artists @ Fundraising Reception: 6-9pm
$50 Donation – Support MONA programming for the coming year… meet the Gao Brothers… with wine and hors d’oeuvres… and a  chance at a signed exhibition catalog.

 

For those of us who witnessed the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 from a dozen time zones away–give or take–and with information incoming via the fledgling cable news service, CNN, the scenes at hand compelled interest and enervated at the same time. Beginning in April 1989, the events un-spooled in slow motion, with commercial interruptions and misinformation forwarded and corrected as reporters fed us raw data followed up by fact checking. At first, the motivation for the mass protests at the heart of the Chinese power center eluded reporters, and with facts out of reach, they offered on-air speculation–a new concept suggestive of Hunter S. Thompson’s Gonzo Journalism. Reporters lived the story they reported; myopia and biases induced by the flow of real-time impressions colored it. Such coverage violated every code of broadcast journalism nurtured by guys like Edward R Murrow, Walter Cronkite, and during the Tiananmen Uprising, Bernard Shaw at CNN. Tiananmen revealed not only the depth of opposition to oppression by the Chinese government, but revealed too the fallibility of that government; that any government could be shaken off balance. According to a story on CNN’s site by Mike Chinoy, the Beijing bureau chief at the time, “How covering June 4 Tiananmen Square crackdown kicked off ‘CNN Effect’,” the students and activists in Beijing tore away the veil of diplomatic subterfuge that once sheltered every government from direct exposure to daylight:

The protests generated unparalleled international coverage, and became a defining moment in the Information Age. It was the first time a popular uprising in an authoritarian state was broadcast live across the globe.

According to Bernard Shaw, who anchored CNN’s live round-the-clock coverage from Beijing for much of the crisis: “You could say that that was the beginning of the ‘CNN effect’” — the idea, which became widespread after Tiananmen Square, that the immediacy of live TV news available 24 hours a day played a crucial role in influencing the behavior of key players during major crises.

Prior to the birth of the Tiananmen protest in April 1989, and its sudden demise at the hands of troops on 4 June, the Gao Brothers, Zhen and Qiang, born 1956 and 1962, began their ongoing critique of government-induced social injustice with their debut in a group show at the National Art Museum of China (NAMOC) called “China/Avante-Garde.” The show opened on 5 February 1989 after “three months of intense preparation” and meticulous vetting by Communist Party apparatchiks. A wiki page on the ArtSpeakChina.org site describes it:

The historical import of the event, clearly perceived by the participants, did not just derive from the nature of the works on display but also from the association of such extreme art with that museum. The China Art Gallery–a Sinified socialist-style building managed by the Chinese Artists Association and, at the time, only a few steps from the Ministry of Culture–functions as China’s national museum of modern art. For the first time ever, authorities were allowing a prominent exhibition that openly broke with the fundamental principles of artistic creation laid down since the beginning of the People’s Republic.

The exhibition assembled many of the artists who had been a significant driving force behind art in China since 1985. By allowing the artists and their works to cross the threshold of the most important official art hall in the country, the exhibition conferred on these artists a kind of officialdom. The show’s alternate title, “No U-Turn” was reflected by the “No U-Turn” traffic signs hung as banners and emblazoned on floor mats.

 

85 movement-uturn

 photo: artzinechina.com

Three hours after “No U-Turn” (as the artists called it) opened, government bureaucrats shut it down. And then it re-opened. And then it was shut down again. And re-opened. And shut down.

Needless to say, the conversation between party functionaries and bilious, long-stifled artists percolates with vigorous intensity at times. But the show marked the culmination of the “85 New Wave Movement” and offered an alternative to the ubiquitous Social Realism fostered and infused with propaganda by the Communist Party. According to ArtSpeakChina.org:

Between 1985 and 1990, a group of over one thousand young Chinese artists living in an environment without galleries, museums, or any systematic support for art and with unprecedented enthusiasm and passion, led a globally influential artistic movement. It marked the end of a monolithic artistic model in China, achieving unprecedented individualism and opening a path for Chinese art to march toward internationalization and contemporaneity.

Most groups from the urban areas were in favour of a conceptual approach, regardless of the kind of media employed. The two major conceptual approaches adopted were Rationalistic Painting, represented by the artworks and writings of the Northern Artists Group from Harbin, the Red Brigade from Nanjing, and the Pond Society from Hangzhou; and the Zen-Dada-like conceptual art, epitomized by the Xiamen Dada Group from Fujian and the Red Humour from Hangzhou. On the contrary, art groups located in the northwest and southwest–areas still overwhelmingly based on traditional peasant lifestyle and home of most of the ethnic minorities–were interested in a frank expression of their intuitive feelings and favoured “primitive” themes. The term “currents of life” was used to define their approach. Among these groups, the most influential was the Southwest Art Research Group, consisting of artists mostly from Yunnan and Sichuan provinces.

Raised in Jinan in Shandong province, Zhen attended the Shandong Academy of Fine Arts. Qiang attended Qufu Normal University. Geographically the brothers originated near the midpoint between Hangzhou to the south and Beijing to the north, between the focal points of prevailing art philosophies. During their formative years perhaps their position at this fulcrum alleviated pressure on them to blend in with either end of the geographic and philosophical spectrum. Wherever their coordinates on the sketch of the Chinese art milieu, their debut in Beijing propelled their careers and further affixed these men in collaborative symbiosis. Now, they live and work in Beijing, with studios in the retired military industrial center, the 798 Art Zone, part of the larger Dashanzi Art District.

Their art suggests a worldly, outward sensibility as opposed to inward self-regard. Often they address social injustice. They seem troubled by the inevitable alienation that infects swarms of naïve migrants from small towns and farms to swelling urban metropolises in China and elsewhere. But their work also suggests a wry, ironic view of human existential angst and ennui. The gentle humor in their work often seems overlooked. Their work might be wisely circumspect, but witty all the same. They seem to say that laughter follows inevitable tears like moon and stars follow a thunderstorm.

The brothers also venture into the unknown with exploration of nearly every available medium. They turn out fiberglass and bronze sculpture with equally deft precision. Their reflective chrome sculptures pull the viewer in with self-made reflections, while bronze suggests solemnity and gravity. They do printing and photography. Their photographs often affix human forms in unforgiving, even merciless un-human surroundings. Their map of China comprised of clippings of a beehive populated with humans scaled to fit the cells of the honeycomb invites uncomfortable insights and comparisons. They paint. And they write books.

Frequently, the brothers bring nude human forms into their work. This challenges established law as well as established sensibilities. The nudes do not recline demurely. They drop into landscapes that would naturally proscribe nudity. Subjects find themselves naked in concrete clefts or cavernous halls or shoehorned into wooden compartments. These images shake us up; shatter our complacency. They force us to ponder our imponderable insignificance in a universe if not infinite in time and dimension, then close enough to provoke acute angst. And that’s our lot, our reason for being with our opposable thumbs, self-awareness, and free will: to create in the face of engulfing nothingness and laugh at the spectacle of it. The brothers do this.

Compare the spirit and philosophy that leads the Gao Brothers to such varied art-making to the spirit and philosophy of early adventurers who set out it in fragile sailing ships on journeys of discovery motivated by far more worthy goals than material gain: they sought knowledge, enlightenment, and the opportunity to change the world for the better. Usually none of those things resulted, but the inspiration the rest of us derive from these efforts are reward and justification enough for at least tempered admiration. The difference is that artists set out on adventures that generally do no permanent damage like that done by men in sailing ships. Admiration for artists need not be tempered by guilt. They toss gifts at our feet. How we profit from art is up to us.

GaoBrothers--Midnight Mass

Midnight Mass, 1989

(from debut group show, China/Avante-Garde)

photo: artworldnow.com

Gao-Brothers-Road-to-Dawn-n°1-2001-93x150cm-ed.5-sur-10

Gao Brothers, Road to Dawn n°1, 2001, 93x150cm, ed.5 of 10

photo: Galerie Albert Benamou

Gao-Brothers-Beyond-Zebra-Crassing-2000-83x100-5-sur-10

Gao Brothers, Beyond Zebra Crassing, 2000, 83×100, ed.5 of 10

photo: Galerie Albert Benamou

GaoBrothers_Ghost-Image-The-Raft-of-the-Medusa-Tiananmen-Square-Protests-of-1989.-oil-on-canvas.-300x400cm-560x420

Ghost Image – The Raft of the Medusa & Tiananmen Square Protests of 1989. Oil on canvas, 300x400cm, 2011

photo: guernicamag.com

For a while, the brothers embraced Mao Zedong as muse. Their father died while briefly detained by Mao’s party apparatus during the Cultural Revolution. Undoubtedly this, along with the awareness that millions of others suffered similar humiliation, torture, impoverishment, and death at the hands of double-speaking minions of Mao Zedong affected their worldview. Art offered the Gao Brothers an eloquent voice; a means to comment, even criticize, while maintaining plausible deniability–as American government fixers call it–of outright dissent. Their images and sculptures of Mao depict him either in maudlin caricature, or straight on in compromising positions. In either case, the figures speak of a fragile man with an iron will who saw the world in only two shades, and fellow citizens as either acolyte or enemy. They imply a warning of caution when choosing leaders since no matter their charisma, they remain troubled humans subject to petty human appetites.

GaoBrothers--Miss-Mao-No.2--570x420

Miss Mao No.2. Painted fiberglass sculpture, 210x128x125cm, 2006

photo: guernicamag.com

GaoBrothers--The-Execution-of-Christ-.2009-594x420

The Execution of Christ. Bronze sculpture, life-size, 2009

photo: guernicamag.com

The “Execution of Christ,” in bronze, a departure from previous fiberglass, was originally intended to feature Lin Zhao (b.1932-d.1968), a persistent and persecuted Chinese activist who converted to Christianity and was later executed after repeated refusals to disavow her dissent. The Gao Brothers chose instead to portray Christ. They did so to make the sculpture more accessible, or as they put it in an interview (http://kcur.org/post/interview-artists-gao-brothers-part-2), “If we used Lin Zhao, people would be more puzzled, and the work would require more explanation.” This implies a certain savvy, not necessarily commercial, but an awareness of their audience both in China and over the border China. The sculpture also reveals the brothers’ art historical roots: the poses closely parallel Edouard Manet’s “The Execution of Emperor Maximilian.” That painting depicts Maximilian, a puppet installed as emperor of Mexico by Napoleon III, as he is executed in 1867 by forces loyal to the deposed president who presided over an incipient democratic republic. In a way, the painting is the inverse of the Gao Brothers’ sculpture in that it depicts the meek taking control of the establishment, not the other way around. Similar to the single abstaining sergeant off to the side in Manet’s picture, one of the seven Mao figures in the sculpture installation holds his rifle in abeyance–he does not fire at Christ (yet nor does he prevent his other manifestations from firing).

Manet--800px-Edouard_Manet_022

The Execution of Emperor Maximilian, Edouard Manet, 1867-1869

Numerous exhibitions have honored the Gao Brothers since 1989, most recently at the Kemper Museum in Kansas City Missouri, and at the Hua Gallery in London. The Hua Gallery show presented new work by the brothers, almost exclusively photography. With one exception: a bit of their memorable performance art. The tradition of such performances began with a group embrace in their hometown of Jinan:

On 10th September 2000 we brought more than 150 volunteers, mostly strangers, to the suburbs of Jinan. Getting them to embrace was really difficult; in China, hugging is not a common habit, it is generally considered as a western custom or an intimate action between lovers.

At midnight in the square some policemen started to suspect us and came over to investigate, but we explained what we were doing and we invited them to get involved and eventually they took part in it. Fortunately they understood us clearly, in Beijing this would be unimaginable. It seems that regardless of one’s profession everybody can communicate with each other. As long as one does not consider himself a machine or a tool, art is open to people. …

Their performance work evokes the indisputable intention to shatter artificial boundaries, and evaporate the sense of alienation that plagues modern humans detached from former tight familial kinship and clans. The performances also appear to be fun, warm, enlightening moments for the participants. They literally embrace their audience, and become happenings in the truest sense. That’s a bonus of art we so often forget. It’s not all blood and guts. Sometimes art just wants to be happy. The brothers work hard to bring the happy along with enlightenment and we passive observers should be grateful–and less passive.

 

Read our interview with the Gao Brothers here.

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

And don’t forget to like our facebook page

 

Gao Brothers Interview

By Jim Welke
Gao Brothers Interview: An interview via email with Beijing contemporary artists, the Gao Brothers in August 2014
Gao Brothers / Mao's Guilt

The Gao Brothers and Mao’s Guilt (2009)

Q: At what point did your interest in art develop? At what point did you commit yourselves to art-making as your primary life endeavor?
A: Our interest in art has developed since our boyhood. But we began to commit ourselves to art-making as our primary life endeavor when our students days were over.
Q: At art school, did you focus mainly on theory or craft? What were your primary media?
A: At art school, Gao Zhen focus mainly on craft,his primary media was ink and wash painting. Gao Qiang focused mainly on theory at university.
Q: Government policy aside, are artists honored and admired in China, or are they compelled to live on the margins of society? Is there a strong urban/rural divide between popular perceptions of artists?
A: Usually artists are honored and admired in China if they are successful, if they are not successful, they are compelled to live on the margins of society. There is not a strong urban/rural divide between popular perceptions of artists. but usually artists are urban.
Q: The government in your country appears to (to an outsider from a society oppressed by class divisions and despair) impose many constraints on the goals and aspirations of its citizens. If that is true, do you think those constraints might inspire more thoughtful, more expressive art with broader appeal than might be the case in less restricted but possibly more complacent and individualistic societies? A poet whose name I forget once said that the restrictions of writing in rhyme and meter force a more thoughtful and precise use of artistry. Could the pressures of a society have the same effect?
A: We don’t think those constraints might inspire more thoughtful, more expressive art with broader appeal.The government of Mao’s times in China imposed much more constraints on the goals and aspirations of its citizens,but those constraints never inspire more thoughtful, more expressive art, actually,those constraits killed any thoughtful and expressive art. We prefer a society with less pressures and restrictions.
Q: As political ideals in China become diluted by the inevitable materialism that follows consumerist aspirations, do you fear that people will forget past tragedies and let the spiritual aspects of their existence atrophy? Do you fear political apathy more than political oppression? Do you think art can be be the primary antidote for spiritual and political apathy?
A: Yes, it is terrible to forget past tragedies…  We think political apathy is from political oppression, it is as terrible as political oppression.  You can say art can be be the primary antidote for spiritual and political apathy.we agree.
Q: Do you think that the generation of artists that follow will continue to look outward for inspiration, as you seem to have done, or will they become more introspective, solipsistic, and selfish?
A: We are not sure. it depends on what an artist wants to do, to be.
Q: As your commercial success grows, do you worry that you may feel compelled to soften or blur the messages in your work to insure continued appeal amongst collectors? Are most of your collectors in China, or abroad? Have you ever encountered collectors who turn away from your art out of fear that they might be somehow punished for their support of you?
A: As our commercial success grows, we can do bigger work, we have never feel compelled to soften or blur the messages in our work to insure continued appeal amongst collectors. we seldom think of collectors when we are working on art. Most of our collectors are abroad. Many of our works are not able to be exhibited in China because of censorship. Many collectors and curators turn away from our art out of fear in China.
Q: Which do you think is worse, imprisonment for expression of your views, as might happen under a totalitarian regime, or the utter invisibility and obscurity talented artists and activists often find themselves condemned to in other societies? Is the disinterest in politically motivated art and activism that ensues as byproduct of materialism a more dangerous form of oppression (i.e. the bread and circuses of Rome)?
A: It is hard to say. all forms of oppression are absolutely terrible. If we say one of them is more terrible,it will make others seem less terrible.But actually they may be same terrible.
Q: You have said (http://kcur.org/post/interview-artists-gao-brothers-part-2) that you originally intended Lin Zhao, the political activist executed for her persistent pursuit of her goals to the point of writing in her own blood in prison, to be the subject of your “Execution of Christ.” You said, “If we used Lin Zhao, people would be more puzzled, and the work would require more explanation.” Did you mean Chinese people would be more puzzled, or people abroad? Did changing the subject to Christ also change the message, or simply broaden it? Do you often find yourself choosing subjects for your work that might be too obscure, and subsequently make changes to make the work more accessible?
A: When we said people would be more puzzled,we meaned all of people, Chinese people and people abroad. Considering Lin Zhao is a Christian, we think changing the subject to Christ didn’t change the message,but simply broaden it.
Actually,we don’t often find ourself choosing subjects for our work that might be too obscure, and subsequently make changes to make the work more accessible.
Q: In in interview for an IFA Gallery exhibition at Art Basel (http://www.ifa-gallery.com/exhibitions/artbaselhk13/interviews/gaobrothers.html), you said, “If a a system is bereft of a legitimate foundation, and is marred by countless misdeeds, it doesn’t matter if the system dreams of Communism, or Reform, or anything else, it can only become a nightmare of the people. …the artist has a responsibility to express it, dream or nightmare.” This could apply to many political systems around the globe. Do you think art is the best hope everywhere for replacing dishonest political systems with more fair systems? Or are violent revolutions inevitable in some places?
A: We don’t know if art is the best hope…  We believe revolutions are inevitable in some places, but revolutions don’t have to be violent. We prefer the Colour Revolutions.
Q: As you grow older, do you ever find that cynicism battles your better angel idealism and wins? What do you do to preserve a hopeful tone, or at least avoid a despairing tone in your work?
A: Cynicism has been battling our better angel idealism, but seldom wins. We don’t try to preserve a hopeful tone, or avoid a despairing tone in our work. We just try to be honest, follow our heart to be ourselves.
Q: Do you brothers ever argue to the point of turning your backs on one another for a time, or do you remain consistently warm, even empathetic, to one another? Has either one of you ever destroyed one of your works of art?
A: We never argue to the point of turning our backs on one another. Yes,we remain consistently warm and empathetic to one another. Neither of us ever destroyed one of our works of art.

Catch the Gao Brothers in Detroit, and visit their exhibition:

Gao Brothers DISSIDENTS ABROAD at Detroit MONA
Opens: 13-September-2014
Reception with the artists: 6-10pm
Midtown MONA, Suite C
4130 Cass Avenue Detroit MI 48201

MONA FUNDRAISER, Friday, September 12
Meet the Artists @ Fundraising Reception: 6-9pm
$50 Donation – Support MONA programming for the coming year… meet the Gao Brothers… with wine and hors d’oeuvres… and a  chance at a signed exhibition catalog.

 

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

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May 16, 2014

Jackie Rines and Hamilton Poe at North End Studios–Detroit

by Jim Welke

Jackie Rines and Hamilton Poe at North End Studios 15-May-2014

Jackie Rines and Hamilton Poe at North End Studios 15-May-2014

North End Studios opened a show on 15-May-2014 with work by Hamilton Poe and Jackie Rines. A print and a sculpture, both over twenty five feet long, spool across the gallery to anchor the show. The print, by Mr. Hamilton, presents a horizontally stretched version of one of his black and white pencil drawings. Possibly he came on this idea while sharing studio space with Ms. Rines at Bagley-Parks Studios where he undoubtedly observed the laterally extended sculpture she assembled there (in six sections–the whole would not fit in the studio). Both the extended drawing and the serpentine sculpture offer an unreeling narrative bursting with existential impressions and leftover detritus of acquisition. In Ms. Rines case, the existential leftovers were not metaphorical–she departs soon for UCLA in pursuit of an MFA and found her studio space overflowing with collected objects as yet unused and needing to be dispatched. Faced with the pressure of limited disposal options she dug in, found inspiration, and assembled a magnificent and joyous mobile artwork.

sculpture by Jackie Rines at North End Studios 15-May-2014

sculpture by Jackie Rines at North End Studios 15-May-2014

In his drawings, Mr. Hamilton does not collect physical objects, but he does seem to collect imagery. A rare sort of athlete, he ventures out on self-made challenges to his endurance such as long bicycle rides that include a six-week trek out to California as well as day trips around Detroit. In fact, according to his bio at infinitemile, cycling comprises his sole means of locomotion aside from walking. As he mentioned, imagery forms in his mind during these tests of endurance and the drawings offer a means of expressing and preserving these spontaneous inspirations blown into his being by hovering muses unseen. Figures and forms tumble across the paper sheets that contain them, rein them in, but offer a landscape where they form their own self-sustaining ecosystem.

horizontally stretched print of a drawing by Hamilton Poe at North End Studios 15-May-2014

horizontally stretched print of a drawing by Hamilton Poe at North End Studios 15-May-2014

Hamilton Poe

Hamilton Poe

 

horizontally stretched print of a drawing by Hamilton Poe at North End Studios 15-May-2014

drawing by Hamilton Poe at North End Studios 15-May-2014

horizontally stretched print of a drawing by Hamilton Poe at North End Studios 15-May-2014

drawing by Hamilton Poe at North End Studios 15-May-2014

Ms. Rines does most of her work in ceramics, so the sculpture here at North End Studios represents a departure. According to a statement on her website, “The work is always about personal and cultural circumstances with which I feel dissatisfied or unresolved. I use humor to cope with this lack of resolution and find a greater place of understanding with my audience.” You feel that understanding and humor in this expansive sculpture formed of lath, chicken wire, fabric, and tchotchkes too varied and numerous to mention. We all share some propensity to collect the stuff of consumerist culture, and equally share the need to periodically purge ourselves of it. Suspended by a single cable attached to the ceiling, the work tips and rotates at the merest touch and to a viewer in proximity, the motion of the sculpture transfers into apparent motion of the room–as though the room rotates and tips as the cirrus-shaped assembly holds stationary. A cat inhabits the gallery, and during the event, found his way into the sculpture, upset the balance and imposed unexpected motion–the artwork incorporated the cat with grace, tipping and creaking slowly as though digesting the animal. The cat emerged unscathed.

sculpture by Jackie Rines at North End Studios 15-May-2014

sculpture by Jackie Rines at North End Studios 15-May-2014

sculpture by Jackie Rines at North End Studios 15-May-2014

sculpture by Jackie Rines (right) at North End Studios 15-May-2014

Mr. Poe does other work besides drawings. In fact, he does not typically display his drawings in galleries. He does some vexing and inspired installations, of which you can catch a glimpse on his site. One, “Balloons” will enchant you with its simple and wondrous elucidation of natural forces (have a look). Perhaps the drawings may be thought of like the notebooks of Da Vinci–raw materials mined from imagination.

The show, Jackie Rines and Hamilton Poe, at North End Studios, captures the spirit of art-making in Detroit–fluid, vibrant, spontaneous–sort of like those self-assembling molecules that instigated life from protean muck billions of years ago and yield ineffable beauty all around us. Catch these works while they are still up (closing date unknown), and visit a Detroit gallery with very-Detroit architectural chops.

drawing by Hamilton Poe at North End Studios 15-May-2014

drawing by Hamilton Poe at North End Studios 15-May-2014

drawing by Hamilton Poe at North End Studios 15-May-2014

drawing by Hamilton Poe at North End Studios 15-May-2014

drawing by Hamilton Poe at North End Studios 15-May-2014

drawing by Hamilton Poe at North End Studios 15-May-2014

drawing by Hamilton Poe at North End Studios 15-May-2014

drawing by Hamilton Poe at North End Studios 15-May-2014

sculpture by Jackie Rines at North End Studios 15-May-2014

sculpture by Jackie Rines at North End Studios 15-May-2014

sculpture by Jackie Rines at North End Studios 15-May-2014

sculpture by Jackie Rines at North End Studios 15-May-2014

sculpture by Jackie Rines at North End Studios 15-May-2014

sculpture by Jackie Rines at North End Studios 15-May-2014

drawing by Hamilton Poe at North End Studios 15-May-2014

drawing by Hamilton Poe at North End Studios 15-May-2014

drawing by Hamilton Poe at North End Studios 15-May-2014

drawing by Hamilton Poe at North End Studios 15-May-2014

 

drawing by Hamilton Poe at North End Studios 15-May-2014

drawing by Hamilton Poe at North End Studios 15-May-2014

collected words by Hamilton Poe at North End Studios 15-May-2014

collected words by Hamilton Poe at North End Studios 15-May-2014

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

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March 4, 2014

‘Do The Yale Thing’ at N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art Detroit

by Jim Welke

IMG_4916

Do The Yale Thing: An Exhibition of Exceptional Artwork by Recent Yale MFA Graduates, Curated by Dexter Wimberly, at N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, Detroit

Do The Yale Thing shows the work of eighteen artists with one thing in common: they did “the Yale thing.” That is, they managed — with no shortage of blood, sweat, and tears — to be accepted and ultimately graduated from the famed Master of Fine Arts program at Yale in New Haven Connecticut.

Dexter Wimberly curated the group show to offer an engaging mix of art where the whole exceeds the sum of the parts — no small feat when you consider the deep pool of artists and work he drew from. Narrowing the selection to these eighteen artists with about forty works in the show surely did not come without a struggle. The art he chose rambles through an eclectic range of topics and styles that manage to find among themselves something to talk about, a reflection of disparate life experience, but glued together by, if not common, then parallel perceptions of the world. These artists, it seems, felt the same forces emanating from the zeitgeist, yet produced widely divergent commentary on it through their artwork. Through this divergence and the bright contrasts of individuality it engenders you appreciate more what each artist achieves as they bend to common external forces yet snap back with a unique expression of those forces. You leave the room feeling the effects of a singular, cohesive experience like it were a voyage through a strange land that turns out in the end to be your own land seen through new eyes.

Caroline Wells Chandler

Bear Culture (top), Power Lines (bottom) / hand-crocheted assorted wool, polyfil / 2012-2013 / Caroline Wells Chandler

Bear Culture  and Power Lines might be the first works you encounter. Crocheted sculptures from Caroline Wells Chandler, they recline on the floor and against the wall in two clusters. A stack long of tubes with dendritic fingers at one end comprises Power Lines. Beyond, a group of crocheted bears recline against the wall. You notice some of the bears have “tubes with dendritic fingers” for legs, If we associate the works, do we witness a stylized act of violence? The crocheted bears embody sweetness and light: they smile and clutch one another. Yet those same bears might have assembled this heap of limbs nearby; the aftermath of a savage massacre. Bear culture, perhaps, shares aspects of our own. Or, not. You need to contemplate this scenario for yourself–therein lies the fun.

Lucia Hierro

YOLO: In Memoriam / digital on jacquard tricot fabric, felt, industrial felt / Lucia Hierro

YOLO: In Memoriam, by Lucia Hierro, offers a quirky but arresting assemblage of objects, imagery, and text that evidently pay homage to the expression “you only live once” — the meaning of the acronym in the title. The centerpiece, a page from a New Yorker short story with selected words highlighted, presents in first person a description of the exploration of another woman’s apartment while the narrator suffers existential angst and regret for her “unlived” life. A cartoon captioned with the eponymous acronym “YOLO” presents the grim reaper knocking at an old man’s door. The artist pinned this page to a felt backing decorated on top with felt flowers, and on the bottom by a felt mockup of a Yankees cap — like a memorial to the dead. Despite the narrative elements, the work remains cryptic and unresolved, pressing us to embrace mystery and get on with life. YOLO.

Micah Ganske

Bethlehem Steel: The Yard / acrylic on muslin / Micah Ganske

Micah Ganske offers three paintings with outsized shadows looming across each. Somehow these shadows — of airplanes in one, the others less clearly defined — produce an ominous effect on these otherwise benign pictures of landscapes seen from above. One, a steel mill (Bethlehem Steel: The Yard), almost seems to celebrate its huffing monstrous achievement, except for that shadow that weighs on the celebration.

Mario Moore

Herstory / oil on copper / 2013 / Mario Moore

Three portraits by Mario Moore project moody introspection. Herstory he painted on copper, and used the metallic sheen to form a glowing frame for his subject, integrated into the room painted behind her. You might think that effect would feel forced, but somehow the artist lets the copper melt into the scene as though a perfectly natural component of a room. Another portrait comes set behind a translucent screen with clear text like bars, “I REALLY DO LIKE COPS I THINK THEY DO A GREAT JOB TEACHING ME HOW TO POLICE MYSELF” — a riff on the police state we find ourselves in, and the especially profound implications a police state has for black men.

Amy Rinaldi

Untitled #3 / rubber, wood, concrete, enamel, acrylic, plastic on panel / 2013 / Amy Rinaldi

Amy Rinaldi’s four wall sculptures with their raw, glossy, rumpled surfaces dare you to react with distaste, but before you know it you move closer and dig in to their varied forms and textures. You find yourself charmed by these warped and stretched rubbery sheets that suggest something precious within.

Thomas Gardiner

Untitled #1 / photo print on paper / Thomas Gardiner

Thomas Gardiner shows three large prints of photographs, each a portrait of decisively different circumstances, but each leaves you wondering how much he staged, and how much he chanced upon. Untitled #1 shows a young black man in a rundown neighborhood poised either to flee or dance. His neutral expression reveals little of his intention, but through sharp focus of the subject, magical lighting, and limited depth of field, the man seems to project from the surface of the image as though animated by the tension contained therein.

Nicole Maloof

The Woods / oil on canvas / 2013 / Nicole Maloof

Nicole Maloof’s three paintings make good use of lighting and feathery brush strokes to produce snapshot like imagery of unforeseen moments. One of her portraits, The Woods, seems at first lighthearted, but the radiant glow of sunlight behind the nude figure, and the figure’s slightly averted face, imbues the picture with a reverent, contemplative aura that grips you unexpectedly.

Gabriela Collins-Fernandez

YOU BOO / oil and glitter on crushed velvet and plastic / Gabriela Collins-Fernandez

Gabriela Collins-Fernandez shows two abstract paintings, each overlaid with assertive text, the third a mixed-media work titled YOU BOO — the letters of which peer out through a gap in some noisy orange crushed velvet. The effect feels playful, but also like an un-deciphered artifact.

Sol Sax

Masqueraders Are The Ancestors of Protestors, The Exclamation Print: From the Dog On Protestor series / digital print / 2013 / Sol Sax

Sol Sax shows a tall, composite photograph, Masqueraders Are The Ancestors of Protestors, The Exclamation Print: From the Dog On Protestor series. The image shows a cop setting a dog on a masquerader in a parade — this suggests the establishment attacking and oppressing “the other” as we so famously have and do in the United States to woeful effect.

Mark Thomas Gibson

Gluttony / acrylic, glitter, ink on paper / Mark Thomas Gibson

Mark Thomas Gibson’s Gluttony presents a mad collage assemblage of toothy maws dripping with purplish slop and spattered with bluish detritus. A funhouse feeling pervades this work, yet the message in the mayhem condemns with unsettling certainty our tendency toward boundless excess.

Rushern Baker IV

Indented Figure / mixed-media on canvas / 2013 / Rushern Baker IV

Rushern Baker IV offers three abstract works, one of which, Indented Figure implies a man merging with his background, sublimated into a hollow schematic of the original being. Seeing this, you can not help thinking of those ghostly profiles left on walls in Hiroshima.

Pao Houa Her

Mom shirtless in bedroom (Desire series) / digital inkjet print / 2012 / Pao Houa Her

Pao Houa Her’s three intimate photographic portraits from her Desire series dispense with flattery. Instead, Lucian Freud like, they invite a cringe; almost urge you to avert your eyes. But from either curiosity or schadenfreude, you stick with these images until you’ve knocked around in their complexity long enough to feel at home in the world therein; a world that offers comfort to the imperfect.

Kenny Rivero

Lady Dancing / oil, acrylic, enamel on canvas / 2012 / Kenny Rivero

The paintings of Kenny Rivero feel reductive, defined as much by what he leaves out as what he includes. But the pictures do not lack for visual interest. While The Water By My House feels vibrant, even (forgive the term) splashy, Lady Dancing induces a sense of stylistic vertigo with a faceless figure as the main subject. Your brain searches to resolve detail that will never appear, but the exercise feels refreshing.

Richard Lewis

Tracy Wearing A Hat / oil on canvas / 2011 / Richard Lewis

Richard Lewis brings two thoughtful portraits. Both present the subject straight on with seemingly objective clarity, but both — like good portraits do — induce an ineffable flash of emotion. Tracy Wearing A Hat, although diminutive, forces its way off the canvas and into your consciousness before you have time to react and get your defenses up.

Doron Langberg

Three Lovers / oil on linen / 2013 / Doron Langberg

Doron Langberg’s work feels ghostly. Figures distort and blend with their background, as though seen through a murky state of consciousness. Three Lovers might be the most extreme example of that deliberate haziness. Glance at the painting and you pick out a figure, but then you see that the shape represents a hole in layered canvas, a void. The effect plays with the contradiction between what you desire to see — three lovers — versus what you do see.

Wayde McIntosh

Hold / oil on canvas / 2012 / Wayde McIntosh

Wayde McIntosh shows three evocative portraits, two of which show a man’s face pressed against glass; violently one assumes. In the third a woman reclines inverted and half off a sofa, her head just touching the floor, feet up on cushions. Wrapped in a red sheet, she appears like an inverted classical Greek statue. In all of these, the state of the subject feels ambiguous: are they alive or dead?

Endia Beal

Ellen / pigment print / 2013 / Endia Beal

Endia Beal’s two photographic portraits feel — in this show — like two forgotten relatives. The pictures each show a precisely dressed and coiffed woman. They wear nearly identical clothes, and their hair follows similar patterns. They look directly at the viewer with mildly amused expressions. They seem like women that inhabit a rigid social structure with conservative restrictions on behavior — sort of what you might imagine for the British aristocracy, but applies equally (or did once) to the upper east side of Manhattan and other east coast bastions of affluence. These women project authority, and you might find yourself standing a bit straighter in front of them despite your will to the contrary.

video installation, Philip Seymour Hoffman clips

Same Voices, Different Rooms / video installation / Tommy Kha

Same Voices, Different Rooms by Tommy Kha occupies one wall (about eight feet wide, the title is a play on a Truman Capote book title). A video projected in a continuous loop shows Philip Seymour Hoffman in various scenes from the movie Capote (possibly other films too?). The scenes feel detached, as though hijacked from the feature film and waiting to go back where they belong. But like video anywhere, you feel yourself pulled toward the lively tension in this one, with Mr. Hoffman intoning in that squeaky, abrasive voice. The effect of the video seems to be to leave the viewer feeling as detached as the scenes, disengaged from the real world. The real world of the gallery, that is. The work picks up added poignancy after Mr. Hoffman’s sudden premature death.

Do The Yale Thing runs through 21-March-2014 — you would do well not to miss it. George N’Namdi brings exhibitions to his gallery with a precise eye toward Detroit sensibilities both past and present. His artists capture the zeitgeist and creative essence of Detroit with rare refinement. Visit N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art often. You won’t be disappointed.

Worth a review in its own right was a show up during this writer’s visit of work by local high school students from a contest sponsored by Detroit-area McDonald’s owners called Black History Moments on Canvas. The show ran through Black History month. You can see the work here: BLACKMOMENTSONCANVAS.COM

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

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February 28, 2014

UNBOUND: WSU MFA 2 Thesis Exhibition–Wayne State University–Detroit

by Jim Welke

UNBOUND: WSU MFA 2 Thesis Exhibition–Wayne State University–Detroit thru 7-Mar with work by: Laurie D’Alessandro, Kyle Dill, Ani Garabedian, and Hiroko Lancour

“Unbound” forms the theme for this master’s thesis show. Despite that thread running through, the personality and outlook of each artist indisputably surfaces — bound as it were to their masterful work. As you might expect from students about to receive a master of fine arts degree, they delivered with meticulous attention to detail. In the gallery, you can almost sense how taught such a high stake show must stretch out the nerves of the artist — the intensity therein warms you on entering.

Laurie D’Alessandro offers works with a distilled, ethereal, denatured quality. She teases the essential elements from everyday things, leaving behind a vaporous residue of the original object almost like holographic projections of their souls.

Laurie D’Alessandro

Brother’s Shirt / tarlatan, cotton thread, buttons / 2013 / Laurie D’Alessandro

Laurie D’Alessandro

Brother’s Shirt / tarlatan, cotton thread, buttons / 2013 / Laurie D’Alessandro

Laurie D’Alessandro

White Shirt Deconstructed / 2013 / tarlatan, cotton thread / Laurie D’Alessandro

Brother’s Shirt and White Shirt Deconstructed demonstrate this effect with startling clarity. The originals are there, but not there and you find yourself wondering what “there” really means.

Laurie D’Alessandro

Pine on Mulberry #2 (triptych) / graphite frottage on Mulberry paper / 2014 / Laurie D’Alessandro

Laurie D’Alessandro

Pine on Mulberry #2 (detail) / graphite frottage on Mulberry paper / 2014 / Laurie D’Alessandro

With a frottage triptych, Pine on Mulberry #2, Ms. D’Alessandro once again dissolves the source object to reveal its textural essence, its interface to our vision. The tree evaporates, but the impression of it persists.

Laurie D’Alessandro

Polar Ice Cap / fiber, scoring out on silk / 2012 / Laurie D’Alessandro

Laurie D’Alessandro

Polar Ice Cap / fiber, scoring out on silk / 2012 / Laurie D’Alessandro

In Polar Ice Cap, Ms. D’Alessandro plays with time as well as content. Using diaphanous silk, she represents phases of Arctic ice cap melting (either seasonally, or through years of irreversible global warming, the likelier explanation). This work departs from her previous pieces by visualizing for us something usually out of reach and out of mind (but not inconsequential). By abstracting the ice to ghostly overlays, she brings our focus to altered dimensions of the ice as time progresses through layered cloth. With inconceivably precise execution and eloquent selection of subject matter, Ms. D’Alessandro brings her viewer in touch with her unique vision of things we know of, but through familiarity (or possibly willful omission in the case of the ice) we no longer really see. She puts us back in the head of a child, seeing a world with layer upon layer of complexity revealed incrementally.

Kyle Dill also repositions everyday flotsam and jetsam to emphasize the elemental form that comprises it. Most of the works he presents refer to the ubiquitous packaging (specifically, cardboard boxes) we encounter like cocoons enveloping our consumer purchases. This packaging isolates and presents an obstacle to the thing we desire within — like gulls fishing for crabs we snatch up the package and burrow through the carapace for the meat inside, heedless of the exterior. But, Mr. Dill tosses out the precious insides, and hands us back the shell, re-worked and re-formulated so that we encounter it as a substantial creation in its own right. That’s not a trivial accomplishment considering our saturation in this stuff that represents nothing but friction in our existence. We want so much to ignore it, to dispatch it, to be done with it once and for all. But there it is, Mr. Dill seems to say. Look at it. Appreciate it. Even admire it.

Kyle Dill

Waffle Box / copper, wood, paint / 2014 / Kyle Dill

Kyle Dill

Easy Vender (Fridge Mate) / copper / 2013 / Kyle Dill

Kyle Dill

Lift to Open / drywall paint / 2014 / Kyle Dill

Kyle Dill

Lift to Open / drywall paint / 2014 / Kyle Dill

Starting with Waffle Box, Mr. Dill takes us through a progression from the effectively two-dimensional source material, flat and unfolded, to the nearly realized but still nascent Easy Vender, to the monumental and complete Lift to Open where he converts an entire wall into concealing refuse. With these works, and numerous others throughout the show, Mr. Dill brings both skill and vision to bear, and takes us on a journey inside the box… so to speak.

Hiroko Lancour

Tsunami 3-11-2011 / silkscreen on hand-dyed linen / 2012 / Hiroko Lancour

Hiroko Lancour

Tsunami 3-11-2011 (detail) / silkscreen on hand-dyed linen / 2012 / Hiroko Lancour

Tsunami, by Hiroko Lancour, signals what seems to be a persistent theme in her work — perception, or possibly misperception. She seems to toy with visual as well as emotional cues to force us to re-see the subjects of her work. Tsunami gives us an elegant linen print enlivened with delicate geometric patterns. But at the center of each swirl we find a date printed: 3.11.2011 — the day the tsunami hit northeastern Japan with devastating effects. Enjoy the pretty, but memorialize this day. Nothing comes without a price she seems to say.

Hiroko Lancour

Curved but Straight: Seeing With Detached Retinas 1 / acrylic on canvas / 2013 / Hiroko Lancour

With Curved but Straight: Seeing With Detached Retinas 1, Ms. Lancour gives us a view of uniform, equidistant squares that should form a graph-paper grid of geometric perfection — but don’t. The contrasting colors and outlines put the grid in topsy-turvy motion to induce an unnerving vertigo in the viewer. This picture, like all good op art, takes control of your optical sensory hardware — eyes and brain — and dissolves what you thought were immutable, Euclidean constants.

Hiroko Lancour

Chance Operations: Enso / Japanese Hosho paper, sumi ink, vermillion ink, vellum paper, pencil / 2014 / Hiroko Lancour

Hiroko Lancour

Chance Operations: Enso / Japanese Hosho paper, sumi ink, vermillion ink, vellum paper, pencil / 2014 / Hiroko Lancour

Chance Operations: Enso, according to an explanatory video that accompanies the work, takes its inspiration from John Cage and his use of chance (via the I Ching) to formulate music. Here, Ms. Lancour used dice to fix the color and orientation of her symbols. This work feels a bit less visceral and immediate than Ms. Lancour’s other work in the show. The adjacent charts and tables detach the viewer further from the visual impressions inherent in the prints. Still, this work offers a useful window into the sometimes arbitrary process of art making and for that, if no other reason, it is worth a close look. But there is another reason to look: the images offer Ellsworth Kelly-like simplicity of form and color, and possess esthetic quality that stands firm with no prior knowledge of the process. So take them both ways: process and picture; intellectual and emotional. (Gerhard Richter made interesting use of chance too, in his color chart paintings — the element of chance in art recurs.)

Ani Garabedian

Stripes / oil on canvas / 2013 / Ani Garabedian

Ani Garabedian

Stripes (detail) / oil on canvas / 2013 / Ani Garabedian

Ani Garabedian works with paint, or in her mixed-media work: colored pencil, oil pastel, graphite and charcoal. All of her work shows a kinetic quality, mindful of time flickering by; of light perpetually evolving and transforming the scene at hand. In her painting, usually figurative, her markings come soft and quick, with not a lot of thick layers to force a sense of depth. For depth she relies on light and shade, in seeming motion as you gaze into her work. Stripes feels like a good example of where she captures the intensity and fragility of the moment like a snapshot. Here and there thinned paint runs down the canvas, compelled by gravity to do its own thing — in the moment — unbound as the show theme suggests.

Ani Garabedian

The Beginning of a New Beginning (Hubbard Lake) / oil on canvas / 2014 / Ani Garabedian

The Beginning of a New Beginning (Hubbard Lake) evidences this seemingly rapid, documentary style further. In this work, fragmentary outlines hover adjacent to the subjects and imagery intersects; figures blur into the background. Light seems to move and shift. All this suggests haste in execution, but these works do not convey impatience so much as a meditation on the evanescent nature of our existence.

Ani Garabedian

Catamaran / mixed-media on paper / 2013 / Ani Garabedian

Ani Garabedian

Feed / mixed-media on paper / 2013 / Ani Garabedian

In Catamaran and Feed and other mixed-media works where paint and pencil merge, Ms. Garabedian further accentuates kineticism over realism and spatial accuracy. The figures in both these works focus on the business at hand. They do not pose for the artist. In fact, they seem indifferent to the artist; indifferent to portraiture vanity. These pictures exude liveliness, an unmoored vibrancy that leads the viewer to believe these scenes do change from one moment to the next. Blink your eye and you see the next frame on an endless reel. That reflects a masterful winnowing of detail and application of marks only where essential. One wonders with anticipation where Ms. Garabedian will take this already acutely evolved style.

In fact, one wonders where every artist in this show will take their crisply defined style. They went all out and embraced risk as a friend. The risk-taking paid off, it seems. Cheers and congratulations to the artists in both the MFA1 & MFA2 shows. Cheers too, for the instructors who find the right mix of support and objective criticism to keep their students on track, yet fearless. Right on!

 

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

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February 26, 2014

Lighting Fires at 555 Gallery and Studios in Detroit

by Jim Welke

Stefan Johnson

mural by Stefan Johnson

Lighting Fires at 555 Gallery and Studios in Detroit (2801 W Vernor Highway), an exhibition of work by First Nations artists Mike Bollerud (Blackfoot/Crow), Alexis Cahill (Odawa), and Candi Wesaw (Potawatomi) runs thru 1-March-2014. The show appears in collaboration with the Michigan Native Arts Collective.

The show description includes a cautionary note from the Prophecy of the Seven Fires related by Edward Benton-Banai, Grand Chief, Three Fires Midewiwin Lodge. It describes a series of “fires” that imply stages of enlightenment or awareness. With the seventh fire comes a big choice:

“… The seventh prophet that came to the people long ago was said to be different from the other prophets. He was young and had a strange light in his eyes. He said, “In the time of the Seventh Fire a Osh-ki-bi-ma-di-zeeg’ (New People) will emerge.  They will retrace their steps to find what was left by the trail. Their steps will take them to the elders who will have fallen asleep. They will awaken to this new time with nothing to offer. Some of the elders will be silent out of fear. Some of the elders will be silent because no one will ask anything of them. The New People will have to be careful in how they approach the elders. The task of the New People will not be easy. If the New People remain strong in their quest, the Waterdrum of the Midewiwin Lodge will again sound its voice. There will be a rebirth of the Anishinaabe Nation and a rekindling of old flames. The Sacred Fire will again be lit.

“It is at this time that the Light-Skinned Race will be given a choice between two roads. If they choose the right road, then the Seventh Fire will light the Eighth and Final Fire – an eternal Fire of peace, love, brotherhood and sisterhood. If the Light-Skinned Race makes the wrong choice of roads, then destruction which they brought with them in coming to this country will come back to them and cause much suffering and death to all the Earth’s people. …”

“If we natural people of the Earth could just wear the face of brotherhood, we might be able to deliver our society from the road to destruction.  Could we make the two roads that today represent two clashing world views come together to form that mighty nation?  Could a nation be formed that is guided by respect for all living things?”

Are we the New People of the Seventh Fire? (read more…)

Candi Wesaw

Ngotwatso Shkote / oil / 2014 / Candi Wesaw

A series of oil paintings painted this year by Candi Wesaw illustrate the above prophecy with warm, sunlight luminous images. These images, as a cohesive narrative, draw the viewer in. When you get close, two or three fill your field of view and they resolve like stills from a film. A sad film: sad for environmental and social injustice wrought by modern civilization. But the script need not end in tears. The notes that accompany the paintings state, “If enough people (of all colors and faiths) turn from materialism and choose the path of respect, wisdom, and spirituality, environmental and social catastrophes can be avoided.” Not empty rhetoric considering we find ourselves in the midst of the Sixth Mass Extinction, similar in scope to previous extinctions like the one that eradicated dinosaurs and nearly every other land creature. An asteroid induced that one; humans induced this one. More than 50% of species will likely be extinguished through our apparent indifference. The message here seems worth heeding, and it comes from a group that did a pretty good job as stewards of their resources for about twenty thousand years before Caucasians, capitalism, and a raft of infectious disease (think smallpox) hit the shores.

Candi Wesaw

Nish Shkote / oil / 2014 / Candi Wesaw

Candi Wesaw

Nyannen Shkote / oil / 2014 / Candi Wesaw

Alexis “Toast” Cahill

Enlightenment / photograph / 2014 / Alexis “Toast” Cahill

Alexis “Toast” Cahill offers a series of photographs all showing mushrooms. These pictures, after feeling a touch of melancholy induced by Ms. Wesaw’s work, bring a gentle antidote. (The reproductions shown here will not do them justice.) The titles include Enlightenment, Wisdom, and Acceptance. These fungi, in all their convoluted fragility and basset hound loveliness seem to represent metaphors for better-balanced, quieter states of mind. But they dovetail with Ms. Wesaw’s message, too. Mushrooms are delicate and fleeting, but vital members of the ecosystem. They hold court in Cahill’s photos in quiet testimony to their worthiness: the least among us deserve respect.

Alexis “Toast” Cahill

Acceptance / photograph / 2014 / Alexis “Toast” Cahill

Alexis “Toast” Cahill

Wisdom / photograph / 2014 / Alexis “Toast” Cahill

A series of delicate pencil drawings by Mike Bollerud offer inspirational imagery of men and women firmly planted in the landscape, imbued with an aura of fortitude, grace, and nobility. They also suggest wistfulness — at least to this writer — for a lost era when the subjects of these images might have felt an abiding confidence that their way of life would persist undisturbed; that they had mastered coexistence with the natural world; that the universe rendered itself, if not benign, then just — a world that would nurture if respected. A race of aliens shattered those notions.

But if you wonder, this writer does not view all aspects of First Nations culture with unadulterated admiration. That culture springs from humanity after all. Some of their former war practices warrant criticism. But people in glass houses should never throw stones, and this writer does not intend to. Many aspects of that culture merit honor and emulation, and modern civilization would do well to adopt some of their ancient practices related to social justice and environmental preservation.

Cheers to Stefan Johnson of the Michigan Native Arts Collective & 555 Gallery and Studios for curating Lighting Fires.

Mike Bollerud

One Winter’s Night / pencil on display board / 2012 / Mike Bollerud

Mike Bollerud

Faith / pencil on Yupo watercolor paper / 2014 / Mike Bollerud

Mike Bollerud

The Butterfly Maiden / pencil (print) / 2002 / Mike Bollerud

555 Gallery and Studios occupy an old police precinct. Inside you find a spacious gallery with expansive north facing windows. You also find a block of holding cells still decked out in steel bars. If these don’t send a chill down your spine, you should check your pulse. But now the cells function as micro studios and galleries. An eclectic array of artwork and craft adorns them.

Down another hall, you find an exhibition of photographs taken by children in the FOCUS: Hope Excel Photography Program sponsored by the Peck Foundation, Jenny Risher Photography, and the Detroit Institute of Arts. These pictures will knock you out. But first you might shed a tear or two. They’re worth the effort. See them.

555 Gallery and Studios do good things for art and the surrounding community (they just held a pop up used clothing sale). Swing by and show support.

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

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February 25, 2014

JOHN OLSON: INTENSELIZONIO at What Pipeline

by Jim Welke

John Olson

JOHN OLSON: INTENSELIZONIO on now at What Pipeline (3525 W Vernor Hwy Detroit) through 29-March-2014

JOHN OLSON: INTENSELIZONIO at What Pipeline (3525 W Vernor Hwy Detroit) through 29-March-2014, presents a set of abstract works by visual artist, Wolf Eyes band member, American Tapes producer, East Lansing resident John Olson. You can find a smart pair of athletic shoes there, too.

John Olson

shoes / John Olson

All of the works up in the main gallery offer mixed media on canvas, paper, cardboard, or vinyl records. In the back room you can find some painted and sketched notebook pages; printed tee shirts; band ephemera on paper and fabric; at least one cassette; and some diminutive bits of pasted together collage. These last come as swag thrown in with every purchase.

John Olson

swag / John Olson

INTENSELIZONIO, the website exhibition description tells us, comes borrowed from “Bolano’s mind-blowing ‘Savage Detectives’ book.” Does Mr. Olson associate with the Visceral Realists? Visceral realism, according to William Little in his review What is Visceral Realism? Roberto Bolaño’s The Third Reich “…is the name Bolaño gave to one of the rival fictional poetry movements in Mexico City in The Savage Detectives. This was a thinly veiled allusion to the group of poets who called themselves Infrarealists (whom Bolaño co-founded in Mexico City in the 1970s). …from the Infrarealist Manifesto:

Chirico [the surrealist painter] says: thought must move away from all that which is called logic and good sense, must move away from all human problems, in such a way that things appear under a new aspect, as if illuminated by a constellation appearing for the first time. The infrarealists say: We are going to fill our heads with all human problems, such that things begin to move inside themselves, an extraordinary vision of man.”

From Bolano’s notes on his last novel, 2666, we get this cheerful adieu (translated from Spanish): “And that’s it, friends. I’ve done it all, I’ve lived it all. If I had the strength, I’d cry. I bid you all goodbye, Arturo Belano.”

John Olson

Untitled 2012 / John Olson

Olson’s bigger canvas pieces (20x16in) show a lot of white space with amorphous swabs of semi-transparent paint progressing across the plane, merging like plate tectonics. You could compare those paint markings to the similarly light touch of Arshile Gorky in his Surrealist The Leaf of the Artichoke Is an Owl (1944). Collage components settle into the paint like emergent life forms in protozoan ooze. Forms range from the blurry back of a fish, to faces, to fragments of those annoying pizza joint menus that litter your doorstep like rattling industrial sagebrush. It’s nice to see those come-hithers for toxic food nailed down and put to good ironic use. Divergent outlines of shapes appear interspersed throughout and form connective tissue between the collage and paint elements. Stare at these for a while and a thoughtful connectedness reveals, like a rain-soaked road map… you decide where the road leads.

John Olson

Untitled 2010 / John Olson

The smaller paint and collage works on paper (11×8.5in) have a Bacon-esque, urge toward the grotesque, but in a bulldog, endearing way that threatens and beguiles at the same time. Lots of black surrounds sketched faces, with painted-over photographic collage mugs alongside them at precarious angles. These howl at you, but not so menacing as those Francis Bacon concoctions — more like a triumphant self-celebratory shriek from the darkness they gladly inhabit.

John Olson

Untitled 2013 / John Olson

The painted vinyl LP’s show a happy/dark esthetic too. They feel more amorphous than the rectangular collage work, perhaps due to their circular shape — they lack an axis to align to. Like the universe, no meaningful up/down orientation exists. You can spin these through an infinity of positions and interpretations. On the flip side, you might find playable tracks. On occasion, Mr. Olson pressed single-sided LP’s and shipped them adorned with imagery on the reverse. This should remind you of the artist’s multi-disciplinary talents and his fearless mixing of media to form a personalized oeuvre like nothing before. We need to admire that willingness to leap into the unknown, untested, unproven and create an artistic context perfectly personalized.

John Olson

Untitled 2010 / John Olson

You will find two collage works formed on unfastened and unfolded cardboard boxes with handle cutouts still evident. These play out in a horizontal orientation like a narrative storyboard. They seem to capture a cheerful ambivalence toward the clutter of everyday consumerist existence that inhabits Mr. Olson’s work. All of the work here presents an almost childlike capacity to pull objects and images out of their assigned roles and reform them so that previously sublimated messages regain their voice. The work seems to tell us this banal, pedestrian crud that pollutes our lives possesses unseen inner personalities waiting for the revelation only an un-jaded, uninhibited, unselfconscious eye can provide.

 

Cheers to Daniel Sperry and Alivia Zivich for another well-executed show at What Pipeline.

 

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

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John Olson

small works & band ephemera / John Olson

John Olson

small works & band ephemera / John Olson

John Olson

JOHN OLSON: INTENSELIZONIO on now at What Pipleline (3525 W Vernor Hwy Detroit) through 29-March-2014

 

February 24, 2014

“Gilded” and “It’s All Relative” at Whitdel Arts

by Jim Welke

Gilded and It’s All Relative: concurrent shows at Whitdel Arts in southwest Detroit, 10-January through 22-February-2014

Self Portrait / acrylic / Gilda Snowden / 2004

Self Portrait / acrylic / Gilda Snowden / 2004

Gilded, the title of a show that closed 22-February at Whitdel Arts (1250 Hubbard St, Detroit) refers to Gilda Snowden, the focus. The works on view — excepting those contributed by Ms. Snowden herself — honor both her influence and her notable career; but more her abiding positive influence. One might surmise from the premise of the exhibition that those touched by Ms. Snowden discover themselves gilded, imbued with a delightful and durable sheen. That seems true enough. One might also hear the word Gilded spoken and hear instead: Gilda-ed, an implication of the mysterious magnetism she wields. As this writer understands her persona, she’s not one to be trifled with. Glide into her realm and she will perturb your orbit even if that shift renders imperceptible to the orbiter. Courage breeds courage, and cowardice begets cowardice. Our political leadership these days seems beset with the latter, and in times of upheaval we turn toward artists for moral clarity and social leadership. Gilda Snowden supplies that clarity, leadership, and courage. When it gets dark, the stars come out.

The scope of Ms. Snowden’s influence reaches deep into the artistic, social, and political fabric of Detroit and beyond. In fact, while this writer gained a sense of her persona gained over the years, an equivalent sense of her work remained unrealized. Such is the peril of celebrity and no fault of Ms. Snowden. Do good things and people know about you while knowing little of you. For readers in a similarly blinkered position, an abbreviated version of her resume, as posted on the College for Creative Studies site, follows:

Gilda Snowden is a Detroit-based artist, writer, lecturer and curator. She is a Professor of Fine Arts at CCS. As a writer, she has had art reviews published in Dialogue (Columbus, Ohio); Atlanta Artpapers; Ground Up (Detroit); Detroit Focus Quarterly; New Art Examiner; and The Griot, a publication of the National Conference of Artists Michigan Chapter.  In addition to numerous works in corporate and private collections, Snowden has five works in the permanent collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts. In the Liberal Arts department, Snowden teaches Contemporary Art History, and participates in team teaching in the Art as Propaganda and Women & Men/Men & Women interdisciplinary classes.

On Ms. Snowden’s site, one finds the unabridged version of her resume. It’s worth a look for those wondering how a person claws through the thicket of life’s complexity and adversity to arrive at a meaningful destination. Imagine that sequence reeling out it real time. Clearly, discipline and savvy decision-making propelled Ms. Snowden to the esteemed place she resides at. Equally clear stands the shear volume of her work. She “leaned in” as they say now. She took chances with many irons in the fire, sometimes simultaneously. One can assume she burned her fingers a few times. But she persisted, and judging by the affection directed toward her in this show, she resisted every inclination toward toxic cynicism. Those facets — discipline, savvy, productivity, and resistance to self-destructive impulses — appear like a distillation of the recipe for success; success combined with acclaim. A year in the making, Gilded landed squarely in Black History Month. That was a serendipitous twist of fate. Detroit features large in black history and we would do well to heed the lessons taught here by black activists as well as by mere residents. They are profound lessons of fortitude, tolerance, and generosity combined with relentless peaceful resistance to social injustice. That milieu includes Ms. Snowden — both as a much-admired member, and as an advocate for African American artists.

You might, as this writer did, want to know more of her work. A few pieces from her site follow:

From her series, Bright Stars At Night:

Gilda Snowden

untitled / Bright Stars At Night series / Gilda Snowden / 2010

From her series, Chairs:

Gilda Snowden

untitled / Chairs series / Gilda Snowden / 2010

From Works On Paper:

Gilda Snowden

Storm In Self / Works On Paper series / Gilda Snowden / 2011

From Constructions:

Gilda Snowden

Teaser/Tormentor / Constructions series / Gilda Snowden / 1983

From Flora Urbana:

Gilda Snowden

Garden / Flora Urbana series / Gilda Snowden

 

Lila Kadaj

Gilda / oil / Lila Kadaj / 1977

The portraits on view in Gilded present a woman engaged equally in thought and action. An early picture by Lila Kadaj, shows pensive determination, eyes shut to incoming aspersions.

Lila Kadaj

Gilda / oil / Lila Kadaj / 1984

Another portrait by Kadaj presents Ms. Snowden’s face behind outsized glasses that form a modern take on medieval armor. She confronts the world, daring us to challenge her with an argument.

Jean Smith

Gilda / oil / Jean Smith / (undated)

A work by Jean Smith presents a partial profile, almost hagiographic, that suggests a tranquil but affirmative spirit.

Alonso Del Arte

Faces of Detroit: Delvona & Gilda / photographic print / Alonso Del Arte

A photograph by Alonso Del Arte (a curator of this show), offers an image of Ms. Snowden mirroring an image painted by Delvona Rabione in a series titled Faces of Detroit. With the print pinned to a sheet of aluminum that cries bulletproof, Ms. Snowden gazes back with a radiant visage.

All of the portraits in this show combine to impress on us the range and complexity embodied by Ms. Snowden, as well as the deep impression she stamps on others. They offer testament to the courage manifested by an honorable, and rightfully honored Detroit artist.

 

Meanwhile, It’s All Relative appears downstairs in the gallery assigned to emerging artists. Work by two of Ms. Snowden’s undergraduate students at the College for Creative Studies, Fatima Sow & Austin Brady, comprise that show. One can imagine the professor at the top of the stairs crying out (half-serious, with a touch of admiration and pride), “Keep quiet down there, we’re trying to have a conversation up here.” Following a meditative idyll amidst the portraits upstairs, the work downstairs oscillates and shimmers at a different wavelength altogether, at a higher frequency. Where Ms. Snowden’s work, and the portraits that capture her personality feel all about depth and breadth of experience, this work seems to witness seeking.

Austin Brady

Some Sort Of Prize To Be Won / acrylic and pencil / Austin Brady

Some Sort Of Prize To Be Won, by Austin Brady, confronts us with the head of Medusa, endowed with snakes for hair and the power to turn men who gaze at her to stone. Presumably chopped loose by Perseus, the head tumbles wildly; the countenance suggests shock at this assault — she got the unruly hair from Athena who witnessed Medusa’s rape by Poseidon, an archetypal instance of “blame the victim.” The image provokes sympathy in the viewer, who wonders whether to side with the vanquished, or the victor who took the head and used it to turn the kingly suitor of his mother to stone.

Fatima Sow

Layered Ties / mixed-media on wood / Fatima Sow

A piece on the opposite wall by Ms. Sow, Layered Ties, complements the frenzy of Medusa. A mass of intricately tangled twine enveloping shards of stone, the piece suggests either the hazards or the security of confinement depending on the viewer’s state of mind. Either way, its complexity compels you to stare into it. As you peer at the simple and common elements of this piece, meaning coalesces as though the Gordian Knot untangles with a stroke of contemplation rather than a sword.

Fatima Sow

Piece by Piece / mixed-media on wood / Fatima Sow

Piece by Piece by Ms. Sow, constructed of geometric cuts of plywood painted and suffused with collage, implies to this observer the fractured view of reality we all perceive but piece to together via experience and context. Youth, this work might assert, experiences the world with greater clarity than does wisdom and thus perceives fragments. Wisdom brings cohesion through interpretation, but possibly the skew of insidious bias. Perhaps, youth and wisdom work best together?

Austin Brady

Sacrilege / mixed-media on board / Austin Brady

Sacrilege, a paint and collage work by Austin Brady presents what appears to be a beatific view of a shrouded nun with the face of a young woman, but with the wizened hands of an older entity. An ornate ring adorns the left hand, and both grip a triangular object. The sacrilege referred to in the title eludes this viewer. Is it the ornate detail or symbolic meaning of the ring? (Nuns typically wear a simple silver band to signify wedding to the Holy Spirit.) Or the triangular object she grips? Or does the youthful face imply vanity in contrast with those hands? Elusiveness not withstanding, the picture with its simple forms and abstract background possesses a mystical, ethereal quality that spellbinds the viewer.

The other works in It’s All Relative reflect an uncommon diversity of thought and devotion to art by these two artists. Some of them convey wry humor, others dark introspection, some both. Some loom large, others diminutive. The show indicates a prolific and effective effort by the artists. These students took their lessons from Ms. Snowden well.

 

Cheers to curators by Craig Paul Nowak & Alonso Del Arte, and Whitdel Arts for putting these shows together.

 

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

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