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October 11, 2015

Metabolism: Cristin Richard, Detroit Design Festival, 25-Sep-2015

by Jim Welke

Metabolism / Cristin Richard photo: Bruno Vanzieleghem

Metabolism / Cristin Richard
photo: Bruno Vanzieleghem

Invited to participate in Detroit Design Festival 2015 (September 22-26, 2015), Detroit artist Cristin Richard presented her one night installation, Metabolism, in the c.1927 Detroit Savings Bank building at 5001 Grand River (near Warren; formerly occupied by Kunsthalle). In addition, she collaborated with Simone Else to create delicate bondage implements overlaid with intestines shown in the bank vault. (More about that follows.)

Metabolism comprised the main attraction for this ambitious, moody, soulful, one-night show. The installation consisted of a video projected large–twelve feet or so high–on the rear wall of the bank building main floor. As you entered the darkened room, illuminated only by the projected imagery of the video, you found yourself confronted by a languid, nubile siren (Emilee Burnadette Austin) tearing diaphanous bits of yellow, green, and ochre colored pig intestine from her otherwise nude body. In accompaniment you heard an eerie, raspy soundtrack by Detroit musician/composer Nate Czarling (info on him here & here) that emits scratched phonograph record sounds mixed with a repeating strings riff, alongside a Morse-code-like percussion on a cowbell-ish device.

Metabolism (intro) by TT Moross
The repetition, phonograph-record-skip-like, over and over, hypnotizes the listener, draws them into a receptive, passive, yet enervated state while the girl on the screen peels off the detritus of civilization–her clothing–clothing shattered, extraneous and superfluous. Ms. Richard constructed that clothing, as translucent and feathery as bits of sloughed sunburned skin, from the flotsam of mass-slaughter in our invisible industrial abattoirs. But you might not know this yet–that the enigmatic being on the screen peels off bits of animal offal–as you observe, transfixed, submerged in the cabin pressure of Mr. Czarling’s audio ecosystem. You watch: peel-peel-peel. You hear: skip-skip-skip. And then your eyes adjust to your tenebrous surroundings, someone else occupies the room: a girl, youthful, and naked but for wisps of that translucent intestinal fabric settled on the landscape of her lithe body, dead and laid out in a coffin. At least, she’s dead to you. You feel disoriented, in another country, a strange land with strange customs.

Metabolism / Cristin Richard photo: Bruno Vanzieleghem

Metabolism / Cristin Richard photo: Bruno Vanzieleghem

Richard, on her website, describes her work this way:

…It transforms and regenerates in poetic and unpredictable ways.  In the majority of her work, she reconstructs animal intestines into tangible objects. Playing on the ambiguity, created by the presence of this material, she develops metaphors loaded with complexities.

…With the idea of fashion as sculpture, Cristin Richard blurs the line between fine art and fashion.  She believes that fashion allows one to create a second skin.  It provides an escape that is rooted in the truth to one’s own identity.

Yoko Ono expressed thoughts on feminism, fashion, and subjugation of women when she created her performance “Cut Piece” in 1964 (excerpt here). While distinctly different in form and intent–Ono performed the piece, with audience participation–Richard’s work does follow from it in the sense that it puts the female form on a stage, not for entertainment as we have done at the expense of women for centuries, but more so as trial evidence. And then Richard brings in the added dilemma of our obsession in Western Civilization with mass-marketed, mechanistic consumerism, in this case our often callous consumption of animals bred, raised, and killed solely for us to devour in a frenzy of overfed fast-food surfeit. Cristin Richard, in “Metabolism” seems to ask that we run the film of our existence in reverse; in fact, that we imagine a reversion to a more primal past when clothing served more for protection against cold and predators. The animals we pursued then sometimes pursued us. And consumed us. Animals provoked us to respect them as physical and intellectual forces. Most pre-historic and modern aboriginal cultures harbor reverence for animals they hunt. They recognize in them spirits to honor. And they squander very little of the animals they fell. They never take them for granted, and they never hunt beyond the needs of subsistence. To do so would imperil the existence of both them and their prey.

But we, in our mechanized, me-first civilization stray from our ancestral roots. We treat animals as lifeless commodities and rather than public reverence we hide away from view the animals we kill in “meat processing plants.” We deny these living, breathing beings the honor they deserve while we dump their flesh wrapped in plastic in supermarket refrigerator bins or Styrofoam take-away packages.

Richard seems to want to slap us upside the head for our arrogance and hubris; to remind us that we share much in common with the animals we consume, that we consume too much, and that we need to peel away, layer by layer, the excesses of our culture. One solution is to regress like Ms. Austin in the video toward innocent disavowal of unneeded attire, toward a less self-absorbed, self-conscious perspective. But between the observer and the projected video, that enigmatic corpse lies in state. Is the video projected here like those melancholy videos created by suicide bombers prior to self-destruction?

Is the girl in the casket the girl in the video? Did she shed her corporeal connection to civilization at the expense of her life? Is Richard telling us that our modern, cultivated entanglements–our overly elaborate food, clothing, shelter, and transportation–imperil us even if we back away from them? Have our material entanglements embedded themselves in our psyches so deeply that to eschew them is the equivalent of suicide? Is it really impossible to get back to the Garden and a place of simplicity and authenticity?

That, at least, is what this writer saw projected on the screen and lying in the casket in that old bank building. Once you removed yourself from the enveloping video with funeral casket and soundscape that Richard and Czarling parachute you into, you moved into a room that housed the Detroit Savings Bank vault. This room presented a soundtrack different from the track in the lobby: Metabolism II. (VAULT) by TT Moross

photo: Jim Welke

Metabolism / Cristin Richard & Simone Else
photo: Jim Welke

Arrayed on two tables in this unventilated crypt-like room Richard and fellow artist Simone Else present their collaborative effort: a collection of everyday, and not so everyday objects, that when observed collectively suggest sexual bondage, or at least sex with a spicy flavor. But these objects take on a more complex meaning, here in this savings bank vault. (Savings bank vault, epicenter of white bread American delusions of permanent security!) What might otherwise offhandedly be construed as sex toys, here appear wrapped ever so delicately, precisely, and carefully in a patina of that same animal intestine that decorates the dead and living women in the grand but decrepit bank lobby. Again, you may not know at first that what decorates, surrounds, and subsumes these objects is in fact that same pellucid membrane adorning those women in the funereal lobby. But you read the text that accompanies the show, and you learn and consider this.

Metabolism / Cristin Richard & Simone Else photo: Jim Welke

Metabolism / Cristin Richard & Simone Else
photo: Jim Welke

Else and Richard might suggest with their work here that those things we consume, those beings that we presume to dominate, in fact dominate us. That we become embedded in our excesses, and by allowing that to happen, we allow ourselves to be altered, controlled by our appetites that ultimately circle back and consume us, like the self-consuming snake, or ouroboros, of which Carl Jung suggests:

This ‘feed-back’ process is at the same time a symbol of immortality, since it is said of the Ouroboros that he slays himself and brings himself to life, fertilizes himself and gives birth to himself. He symbolizes the One, who proceeds from the clash of opposites, and he therefore constitutes the secret of the prima materia which [...] unquestionably stems from man’s unconscious.

The self-consuming snake implies renewal, or a nagging desire for it; but a renewal preceded by self-destruction. So following this paradigm, we have a future: a future that does not include us.

Overall, the narrative of Richard’s “Metabolism”–lobby and vault–might be a cautionary tale, a looking outward by this artist who seems to see peril on the horizon of our human political and cultural landscape. Like most hegemonic civilizations, our global, interconnected, technology-empowered, overfed society, with so many pushed to the margins by relentless poverty, will likely founder as our Sumerian, Egyptian, Mayan, Aztec, Chinese, Greek and Roman predecessors did.

At a more basic level, as most top of the food chain mammals go, one million years seems to be about the limit before extinction unceremoniously knocks them from the tree of life. We humans, at least as a genus, are these days at about 2.5 million years–a bit past our prime. Then again, humans anatomically and behaviorally identical to us have been around for only about 200,000 years. So statistically, we may have a while to go. Still, there’s nothing to say we moderns don’t break out of the rut of tradition and statistics and extinct ourselves much sooner than our mammalian brethren.

So, if you cast your interpretive net wide, as this writer does, you see that the work shown in the old Detroit Savings Bank by Ms. Richard and her able collaborators, Else, Czarling, and Austin, takes on, if not kicks out, the very underpinnings of modern consumerist society. For that, the artist deserves an extra accolade: she looks inward first, but then outward at the cultural milieu that created her. Rather than being self-absorbed, she presents socially aware work. She offers an indictment of us all for blithely perpetuating the self-destructive world we live in. A slick attorney could submit numerous defenses to this indictment–it’s not a conviction after all–but Ms. Richard demands reflection followed by answers from all of us. And that takes courage on both a personal and professional level.

We might slip through on the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter, but unless greater society pays more attention to the evidence that such insightful artists and scientists present, and then change our self-destructive ways, the art and science may survive, locked away in vaults, but we humans will not.

Metabolism / Cristin Richard & Simone Else photo: Bruno Vanzieleghem

Metabolism / Cristin Richard & Simone Else
photo: Bruno Vanzieleghem

 

Metabolism / Cristin Richard & Simone Else photo: Bruno Vanzieleghem

Metabolism / Cristin Richard & Simone Else
photo: Bruno Vanzieleghem

Metabolism: Cristin Richard, Detroit Design Festival, 25-Sep-2015

 

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

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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 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.

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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!

 

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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.

 

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January 25, 2014

3: Kathryn Brackett Luchs, Lois Teicher, Marie Woo

by Jim Welke

Detroit Artists Market

3: Kathryn Brackett Luchs, Lois Teicher, Marie Woo / Detroit Artists Market

Kathryn Brackett Luchs

Birdy / Kathryn Brackett Luchs

3: Kathryn Brackett Luchs, Lois Teicher, Marie Woo up thru 17-February at Detroit Artists Market, the 82-year-old grande dame of Detroit galleries, features works by three artists presenting art in three media (more or less). Entering the gallery through the back door you stand at the narrow end of a long rectangle facing into a tall, wide piece by Kathryn Brackett Luchs called Birdy: 12 graphic films set in two groups, 2-wide and 3-high, positioned on either side of the original charcoal on canvas work about 7ft tall and 3.5ft wide. The films show negatives of sections of the original arranged out of correspondence — sections from the middle appear on the sides, bottom on the top, etc. But at first, you might not notice that the films capture sections of the original. This writer did not — the self-revelatory process takes a bit: the mental gears spool up and you sort out what you see after the requisite processing delay. That’s fun. It feels like you own it when you get there. (Others might see what’s going on instantly. Bravo. Less fun. Revelation should have a price.)

Kathryn Brackett Luchs

Buddha, Buddha / Kathryn Brackett Luchs

Adjacent to that hangs a similar work, of similar size, with nine negative films stationed to the right of the original, titled Buddha Buddha. Clued into the magic, you compulsively study the films to find their correspondence in the original. The more you look at them, the more the films feel a bit like x-rays, though. That feels unsettling — x-rays give away too much, kind of like finding out how sausage gets made. Next, you might sense a deliberately primitive quality to these works. This emerges partly from their frenetic, sprawling execution in pencil on a pure white field that suggests a reluctance to overwork them; an automatic quality. Also, the canvas stapled to the wall, the films tacked up with pushpins suggest studied carelessness. This seemingly hasty presentation, combined with the implied motion of the swirling gestures (like sub-atomic particles in a particle collider) give these two works an evidentiary feel, like proofs to some fundamental but inscrutable principle.

Beside this hangs Allegory, another work with a similar motif, equally large and enveloping. These works engage via their immediacy and the mystique of the negative translucency in the films. Give them time to seduce with their seeming simplicity.

Kathryn Brackett Luchs

April My Feng / Kathryn Brackett Luchs

April My Feng, also by Ms. Luchs, expresses a more deliberate process, possibly a more elaborate intention. Another large work (about 7ft by 4ft), it consists of three long sheets of paper mounted on canvas to form a triptych with woodcut and block prints done in ink. In the center, at least five different colors form lavishly layered vertically aligned patterns similar to tree bark. Masked horizontal bands of distinct colors mirrored from the center section appear imprinted on the side sections, some washed out with white, also in distinct bands. The sides, impoverished of color and texture, appear almost as fossilized remnants of the lush center. The balance of colors and textures feels comforting in an ineffable, organic way, and the transition of intensity from side to center feels like a natural emergence. The effect compels your eye to the center where it finds rest.

 

Lois Teicher

Eclipse Series #6 / Lois Teicher

Moving down the long wall of the gallery toward the front, your attention might be drawn to an incendiary orange, circular form projecting from the wall: Eclipse Series #6 by Lois Teicher. Two sections comprise the welded aluminum sculpture. On the wall directly opposite are four framed cut paper studies for this and other pieces in her Eclipse Series, one of which, #4, occupies an adjacent alcove.

Lois Teicher

Eclipse Series #4 / Lois Teicher

These pieces, spare and geometric, possess a strange magnetism, they enthrall like the true solar/lunar eclipse stages the works represent. Or, perhaps they form a gravity-well that pulls the viewer in. But like the surface of a black hole, their surface remains satisfyingly, infinitely featureless regardless of how near you bring your eye to them. The intensity of these works seems to create an immeasurably slow vortex that impels you nearer and nearer, promising horrible, terminal ecstasy if your fall persists.

Lois Teicher

Three Orange Shapes (foreground) and Two Round Shapes (background) / Lois Teicher

Between these works, several others stand on pedestals, with their cool fashion model elegance on vivid display. These too pull you nearer, as your brain struggles to fit their delicate, kinetic geometry into an ancestral, archetypal frame of reference. They won’t fit, but your brain keeps trying, a windup toy bumping into the wall. It feels good, like synaptic gymnastics.

Marie Woo

Orange Bowl, Large / Marie Woo

Back toward the rear of the gallery, the ceramics of Marie Woo gather around you. They beckon like muses and your eye darts around from one piece to the next, like a child in a forest glade surrounded by wonderful flowers, pinecones, and fungi. But focus on one; look close. Each piece occupies its own little place in Ms. Woo’s universe with a character all its own. A large, orange bowl, rightly called Orange Bowl, Large will catch your eye. It seems forlorn at first, riddled with imperfections, but then you appreciate the imperfections as part of its charm.

Marie Woo

stack / Marie Woo

A flapjack like stack of warped, undulating, topsoil-toned, ceramic discs appears as a monumental mushroom from the child’s enchanted forest — you become that wide-eyed child when you encounter work like this (at least you should).

Marie Woo

Winter / Marie Woo

Nearby sits an outsized clutch of insect eggs, Winter, that form an oddly compelling bracelet in non-reflective color, gradating from blackish on top to greenish underneath. They look nourishing somehow. Over on the wall hang six wall pieces that appear as ancient and unknowable glyphs, all in those dark, subterranean, almost mystical tones. Beside these, two shelves offer seven more pieces, one a dark little totem with untold powers, the rest more traditional pottery.

Marie Woo

wall pieces / Marie Woo

Finally, in a screening room, a short video of ceramic creation projects on a large, grid-like ceramic piece with protruding hemispheres randomly placed in the grid. The irregular surface distorts the projected image with novel effects, but the whole thing might work better out in the main gallery with the other work (despite the diminished brightness). As it is, it feels a bit isolated, but worth a look.

Kay Young

Photographs by featured artist, S. Kay Young

And do not forget to spend time with the photographs of DAM’s featured artist, S. Kay Young. These 21 images offer close in shots of woodland details that might escape the undiscerning eye during a romp through the forest. The colors and contrast of these earth-toned images will engage the viewer to an unexpected degree, and might inspire them to take closer notice of their surroundings. Pick up one of her prints, and support a local artist.

Observe Ms. Woo’s ceramics, resting opposite those energetic, intense, cryptic works of Ms. Luchs, and adjacent to the forceful, monolithic pieces by Ms. Teicher: you feel an ethereal sense of balance and unforced grace, an unquantifiable harmony. That’s a credit to the artists, but also to Gary Eleinko, the curator. Nice work.

DAM will present an artist talk moderated by Sharon Zimmerman of the Kresge Foundation on 1-February (2-4PM) — be there if you want some stirring insights into the work herein and tales of the Detroit art scene.

 

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

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 *******

October 4, 2013

Stretch the Strangle Hold — Artists Against War

by Jim Welke

IMG_3785

Stretch the Strangle Hold - Artists Against War, on thru 5-October 2013 at 4731 Gallery (4731 Grand River) in Detroit begins with the following message of intent:

Inspired by my painting, Stretch the Strangle Hold, I sought out help to achieve the goal of bringing like-minded artists of all disciplines together to speak out against the lie of war. This group exhibit features many artists from around greater Detroit. Our goal for this show is to raise awareness at the local and national level to send a message that war is not the most effective solution.
- Joe Lovett, curator

IMG_3796_cr540

Stretch the Strangle Hold / Joe Lovett

The show includes works in various media by Catherine Peet, Madeline Barkey, Victor Pytko, Eric Mesko, David Mikesell, Sergio De Giusti, Lynn Galbreath, Marilyn Zimmerwoman, Jon Parlangeli, David Fischer, Jeanne Bieri, Donald Mendelson, Linda Allen, and Joe Lovett.

When you enter the room, this show immediately feels big like a cathedral. You slip into an awestruck contemplative mood, with a constant edge of pissed off. At least this writer did. If you despise war and the people who conspire to incite it you will likely feel the same. Yet, none of the imagery or sculpture in this show are gut wrenchingly graphic. That fact explains the power this show harnesses. You feel pissed off because so much of the form and imagery looms there with astonishing familiarity. Seeing it here, in an art gallery, stops you dead in your tracks. You wonder why the hell we put up with it. Why do we allow such grotesque brutality? One answer might lie in a quote pasted up beside David Mikesell’s Living In Trenches:

“I have not washed for a week, or had my boots off for a fortnight. …It just serves my …barbaric disposition and I have never enjoyed anything so much.” — Captain Julian Grenfell, letter to parents, 1914. He died of wounds in 1915, age 27.

Blinded by Gas Attack (top) / Living in Trenches (bottom) / David Mikesell

Blinded by Gas Attack (top) / Living in Trenches (bottom) / David Mikesell

IMG_3789

Walking Wounded / David Mikesell

There are those who greet war eagerly, who commit barbarity blithely, who relish the adrenalin buzz of combat. If you doubt, read some first hand accounts of war. Many more quotes like the one above linger like the smell of dog shit in our collective consciousness. And then there are those ostensible leaders who send others — reluctant participants — to war with the anticipation of glory and riches. To the instigators go glory and riches. Warriors get scant recompense. Most reluctant warriors bear scars from wounds they rarely mention. And their reticence to speak of nightmarish experiences impoverishes civilians. We should hear more from former warriors; they constitute the majority, and with sobering consistency advise avoidance of war.

Flower Gun Power / Linda Allen

Flower Gun Power / Linda Allen

But if we heard from them, would we heed them? The argument to urge us into war always comes down to “us against them” — hollow patriotism rallied by profiteering demagogues. You’re either with us, or you’re against us. You’re either one of us, or you’re one of them. You either defend our sacred national honor and fragile borders, or you tear both down and let the pagan hordes descend on our women and children, rape and enslave our tender innocents. Yet in the end, after the smoke clears — the infamous fog of war that obscures the barbarity — we discover it was about somebody else’s money and power; somebody other than the warriors compelled to fight; somebody other than the families compelled to consign their flesh and blood to horrible, needless death; somebody other than the citizens compelled to commit their treasure.

Same Story Same Game / Catherine Peet

Same Story Same Game / Catherine Peet

Story Teller / Catherine Peet

Story Teller / Catherine Peet

Here’s the original quote by Edmund Burke, the one apparently so often misquoted:

No man, who is not inflamed by vain-glory into enthusiasm, can flatter himself that his single, unsupported, desultory, unsystematic endeavours are of power to defeat the subtle designs and united Cabals of ambitious citizens. When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.

 

The Dove of Peace / Eric Mesko

The Dove of Peace / Eric Mesko

The Dove of Peace / Eric Mesko (detail)

The Dove of Peace / Eric Mesko (detail)

You’ll find at 4731 a phalanx of artwork combined against warwork: paintings, sculpture, photographs, mixed-media. Several pieces incorporate squadrons of those little plastic “army men” and other “toys” we drop into the hands of our children as prelude to merciless shredding of their innocence. Some works show scenes from our infamous past, matter-of-factly presented with that aforementioned unsettling sense of familiarity: Mr. Mikesell’s meticulously rendered World War One scenes, not frenetic battles but the walking wounded, men blinded by gas, in a line gripping the shoulder of the man in front as guide; or the inside of trenches where soldiers slept — all presented in soft hues and precise brushstrokes that remind one of Norman Rockwell’s gentle scenes of American domestic tranquility, except these show us horrors we never should have witnessed; and Jeanne Bieri, with a series of black and white photos, bleached from age. In one, a child wears a gas mask as a taller sister, outfitted with similar military fixtures stands aside, cut off at the shoulders as though ascending from the scene, leaving the child to suffocate alone in well-intentioned but likely ill-fitted, ineffective protective armor.

Hawaiian Child in a Gas Mask / Jeanne Bieri

Hawaiian Child in a Gas Mask / Jeanne Bieri

After Trayvon / Marilyn Zimmerwoman

After Trayvon / Marilyn Zimmerwoman

Other artists offer war imagery transposed as surreal pageantry; the familiar rendered strange, like David Fischer’s After the Bomb, an eerie glass bomb shell with grass growing inside. Marilyn Zimmerwoman offers “Time” magazine covers with Trayvon Martin’s empty hoodie superimposed over cryptic, mirrored text (“We spend a lot of time / On a few great things. / Until every idea we touch / Enhances each life it touches.”); or China’s imperial ascendance — “THE WORLD ACCORDING TO CHINA”; and a luxe wristwatch and reclining leopard; ghostly figures holding reversed signs that read, “Aids is going to lose,” all rendered translucent and exposed to lucid scrutiny like x-ray films. Perhaps a bit off topic, but then again given the pressure of commerce, geopolitics, and the warped apartheid culture Americans inhabit, perhaps these scenes represent inevitable precursors to war, the signs and symbols that provoke it.

Girls / Madeleine Barkey

Girls / Madeleine Barkey

Madeleine Barkey gives us Girls and Boy: nude schematics of children with target circles on their heads and torsos. Eric Mesko’s Dove of Peace, a collage of war clippings, including a New York Times roster of dead soldiers fronted by a diaphanous skull on a colonial pillar wearing a helmet wrapped in barbed wire, topped by a duck that grips an olive branch in its beak (a send up of that American eagle vainly clutching the ubiquitous olive branch). Catherine Peet brings ghostly dioramas embellished with mysterious icons alongside the Statue of Liberty; or a skeletal, lute-playing jester encircled by those tiny, ubiquitous army men painted in garish colors; or the exotic bird, Horned Plundious with blood seeming to issue from its beak. Linda Allen shows a 19th or early 20th century battle scene painting where lush faux flowers and hearts spontaneously pop from the barrels of guns and between the lurching soldiers’ feet. Sergio De Giusti’s sculpture Hanging Body Bags of Babylon (altarpiece) shows hanging, shrouded corpses and men lugging more to the scene in a creepy, almost biblical bas-relief. Donald Mendelson’s Dogs at Work depicts a desert battle scene, pyramid in the background, with gas-mask clad soldiers led by a colossal dog and followed by can-can dancers. Jon Parlangeli’s The Draft shows a negative image of men marched off at gunpoint as colored shards of confetti descend around them.

Mad Men / Victor Pytko

Mad Men / Victor Pytko

Mad Men / Victor Pytko (detail)

Mad Men / Victor Pytko (detail)

And Victor Pytko’s Mad Men, an installation placed in the center of the main gallery forms the shape of a bomb — conventional ordinance perhaps, or maybe an incendiary device designed to engulf in flames beings and buildings alike, or it could represent the ultimate destructive invention, an atomic bomb. There it sits in the middle of the room, plastered over with diminutive, surging, leaping army men, toy guns and grenades, and doll heads, all painted over in flat black spray. On the flattened, square tail end, Mr. Pytko added a diaphanous painting of a man convulsed in terror or pain (face reminiscent of General Nguyen Ngoc Loan Executing a Viet Cong Prisoner — that gruesome street execution in Saigon).

After the Bomb / David Fischer

After the Bomb / David Fischer

The Draft / Jon Parlangeli

The Draft / Jon Parlangeli

Soldier with Cat / Donald Mendelson

War With Peace / Jon Parlangeli

In abstract work by Donald Mendelson, Lynn Galbreath, Jon Parlangeli, and Joe Lovett toxic, gassy nebulae, and fracture figures in abrasive color or clinical grays ascend from canvases, sculpture, and mixed-media to assault our sleepy complacency. Joe Lovett’s eponymous Stretch the Strangle Hold suggests Picasso’s Guernica with nearly similar dimensions, gray tones, and tumbling images, but updated with modern war machinery and a shred of American flag painted in color. Overall, the scene feels less imbued with pure fury, but more of a diffuse, implacable sorrow. Yellow Brick Road, by Mr. Parlangeli, also suggests Guernica with cubist polygons, exaggerated features, and of course those bull horns, but Mr. Parlangeli used color to enforce the dramatic impact of the horrible human chaos he depicts with no shortage of pointless fury. Lynn Galbreath’s Hello Tokyo uses Godzilla, ensnared by a serpent, astride an all-terrain vehicle, and overrun by hordes of human attackers, painted in pallid green tones, and overlaid with block letters spelling out “FALSEHOODS, LIES, CONTRADICTIONS.” Indeed. It seems she presents an amalgam of propagandistic icons under assault here… or to another viewer something else, but clearly an indictment of human folly that ends with war.

The Hanging Body Bags of Babylon (altarpiece) / Sergio De Giusti

The Hanging Body Bags of Babylon (altarpiece) / Sergio De Giusti

Stretch the Strangle Hold - Artists Against War is timely and important, and populated with quality work well worth a look. Cheers to 4731 Gallery, the curator Joe Lovett, and the artists who used their prodigious talent to comment on a topic worthy of scathing commentary.

Drunk Tank Pink / Lynn Galbreath

Drunk Tank Pink / Lynn Galbreath

Just Ducky / Lynn Galbreath

Just Ducky / Lynn Galbreath

Hello Tokyo // Lynn Galbreath

Hello Tokyo / Lynn Galbreath

Dogs At Work / Donald Mendelson

Dogs At Work / Donald Mendelson

Dogs At Work / Donald Mendelson

Dogs At Work / Donald Mendelson (detail)

Yellow Brick Road / Jon Parlangeli

Yellow Brick Road / Jon Parlangeli

Jeanne Bieri

Jeanne Bieri

Boy / Madeleine Barkey

Boy / Madeleine Barkey

Stretch the Strangle Hold / Joe Lovett (detail)

Stretch the Strangle Hold / Joe Lovett (detail)

Stretch the Strangle Hold / Joe Lovett (detail)

Stretch the Strangle Hold / Joe Lovett (detail)

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