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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

 

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September 7, 2015

Not a Rose: Photographs by Heide Hatry

by Jim Welke

Not a Rose: Photographs by Heide Hatry” on show at Galerie Camille, Detroit 8-May-2015 to 6-June-2015 brings more than photography to the gallery. This show brings raw meat–photographs of raw meat, that is. Not so enigmatic in itself, but remember the title of the show: “Not A Rose.” The photographs show us flowers; flowers Heide Hatry concocted from raw, unpreserved abattoir detritus.

Spicula linguarum anitum, New York, NY 2011

Spicula linguarum anitum, New York, NY 2011

For shear, unblinking courage, she ranks with war photographers. But war photographers tramp through jungles, deserts, and broken cities. And they photograph war. Hatry tramps through slaughterhouses, past dolorous animals waiting to be terminated, and on past prime cuts waiting for the masses to consume with delight. In between the living and the filets, there exists a grim, blood spattered production line that summarily stops hearts and then trims out the unwanted fat, bones, and offal. What the butchers toss aside here, Hatry takes in hand, hauls home, sorts, refrigerates, and selects for her palette.

Before we move on, take a moment to ponder that. Form images in your mind: grim slaughterhouse, discarded animal parts, Hatry’s studio brimming with discarded animal parts.

OK, now picture Hatry in her studio, scalpel in hand, as she minutely dissects those parts. And then at look one of her photographs, either on the gallery wall or in her book of essays and photos, “Not A Rose,” (Charta, 2012) which accompanies the show and presents myriad points of view of her work.

The points of view expressed in her book will likely mimic a bit of your own perceptual evolution vis-à-vis her images. At first you see beauty, then you see cold merciless truth, then you see truth and beauty; or, at least, Hatry’s version of those diffuse and elusive qualities. In the introduction to “Not A Rose,” she writes:

For some years I have been working with biological materials–animal skin, flesh, and organs–to create art that addresses issues of personal identity, gender roles, appearance and reality, subject and object, the moral, ethical and political dimensions of meat production and consumption, and a wide range of other topics. …I want to subtly remind the viewer that his or her every act of mindless consumption is abdication of our moral and ethical substance…

Linguae saeta cervorum, sanguis coagulatus, Dallas, TX 2011

Linguae saeta cervorum, sanguis coagulatus, Dallas, TX 2011

Technology extends human reach to encompass the globe in milliseconds, minutes, or hours (depending whether your point of view extends to a packet of information; data received via satellite; or a corporeal travel via aircraft). Now, we see and know more than ever before, yet exercise denial or become transfixed with horrible fascination as horror spills from the orifices of our information age machines. We freeze up and deny proven science-supported truth when it fails to fit our personal or cultural perspectives. Technology affords us greater power to share information than ever before–with real-time awareness of ongoing glory and tragedy–yet it also affords us the capacity to wreak irreparable havoc on a scale and at velocities never before witnessed. If our intellectual capacity to recognize and face truth does not catch up with our ability to alter it, to alter our natural world and our place in the ecosystem, then we face peril on a scale equivalent to our ignorance and apathy. Never before have we had the capacity to destroy so much, so fast, and with such pervasive permanence. When he saw the atomic bomb detonated, Robert Oppenheimer, one of the scientist who created it quoted the Bhagavad Gita, “I am become death, destroyer of worlds.” With the technology we wield, either personally or via proxies, the term applies to all of us.

In her way, Hatry exposes the fragility of our filtered perception. What we see does not always conform with what we think. Leonardo da Vinci had the same progressive thought back in the late 15th century. Alastair Sooke, in a story in The Telegraph describing a show of da Vinci’s anatomy drawings, “Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomy of an artist,” recounts that when he witnessed the death of a 100-year-old man, da Vinci wrote, “without any movement or sign of any mishap, he passed from this life. And I dissected him to see the cause of so sweet a death.” The article goes on to mention, according to librarian Martin Clayton at the Royal Library at Windsor Castle who curated the drawings in the show, that contrary to popular belief, dissection of humans was not proscribed by the church:

“There was an explosion in investigative anatomy at the end of the 15th century, and as long as it was done in a respectful way, and the bits were buried together afterwards, then the Church had no problem with it at all.”

Art and science merge or form alliances on occasion, especially when savvy artists point out the absurdity of our social customs in the face of irrefutable evidence dropped on our doorsteps by science. Da Vinci pursued science all his life and almost to the exclusion of art toward the end of his life, and his efforts helped put western civilization on the path toward the Age of Enlightenment, a time when, they hoped, reason would trump dogma and blind faith. (It didn’t work out that way, but hope spring eternal.)

With her work using animal entrails, Hatry takes on a similar role here, the application of art to correct, or at least reveal the shortcomings of our 21st global collective society. She forces us to see what we otherwise, through conscious and unconscious denial, would not see. To her credit, she presents her case without preachy diatribes and offers no solution. She simply asks us to look.

Spisulae solidissimae, cilia cervorum, oesophagus capreae, Cervi, Dallas, TX 2011

Spisulae solidissimae, cilia cervorum, oesophagus capreae, Cervi, Dallas, TX 2011

So far, so good. Unfortunately, while she refers to her art as Neo-Conceptualist, a movement that includes such notables as Damien Hirst and Tracy Emin, her work will likely be construed by some critics as sensationalist Shock Art. Such observations might be made in a non-pejorative way, but these days often they are not. This amounts to killing the messenger, and falls within a greater tendency we have to diminish those who criticize our lifestyles, or the means to that end, with questions that malign the motives of the critic. We view such artists as threats and mischaracterize their work so as to dismiss them as shrill malcontents, much as we did so-called “Communist sympathizers” back in the 1950’s. Except now we use an even broader brush to paint our bogeymen black: we call them hippies, or anarchists, or… heaven forefend… contemporary artists.

Hatry presents herself as neither shrill, nor malcontented. She asks us to see the world as it is, and she does it quietly with images that offer beauty, or at least intrigue us with hideous contradiction (as is especially the case with her previous series, “Head and Tails” and “SKIN.”) It is not the images that repel us, but the knowledge of what they represent. When we gain that knowledge, when we become clued-in, we confront what we assume are primal taboos. Yet social taboos persist not because they protect us–simple fact-based scientific evidence would do that better–but because we are afraid to confront and question taboos. Or, too lazy to confront and question them. That’s where art comes in, it makes a fetching first impression, we drop our guard at the sight of it, and then it reveals truth. Beauty is the sugar that coats bitter truth.

from Hatry's series, "Heads & Tails" with pigskin

from Hatry’s series, “Heads & Tails” with pigskin

Yet beauty remains subjective, and to be sure, not all of the images in “Not A Rose” meet conventional standards for such. But all of them compel you to look, and to look close. The faux Latin nomenclature attached to these images to give the imposter flowers names will provoke consternation and amusement as you puzzle out the source material for the strange things on the menu. As you gaze and think deeper, you will no doubt be struck by the consummate craft Hatry cultivated to execute these works. She works with dead animal tissue–rotting meat–so she must work quickly. And meat is not plastic like paint or clay; if you cut wrong, you start over. The work demands a fertile imagination: what flower do you see in a pile of organs? These works are not merely found objects or the self-congratulatory tossing around of media accompanied by insistence that it is art because the artist says it is. The photos of her creations, masterfully shot, can and do attract buyers who hang them on walls. Her books offer a multi-disciplined and philosophical view of Hatry’s work well worth the read. The shock may wear off, but the attraction will not. And that, in this writer’s opinion, forms the essence of good art: persistent attraction.

Becci gallinarum inferiores, fibrae pinnarum ceti, Hong Kong, China 2011

Becci gallinarum inferiores, fibrae pinnarum ceti, Hong Kong, China 2011

Hatry does on occasion project the air of the ambitious self-promoter. But if one does not promote one’s self, then who else will do it. Art in the age of the Internet requires it as an antidote to anonymity. If artists do not continuously talk their own book, regardless of how good or bad others think the art is, they drift into obscurity and self-loathing. She produces books of essays by disinterested commentators, and organizes panel discussions populated by some who seek to eviscerate her. Self-promotion is not the same as self-inflation. Hatry shows up, does real work, and shares the stage with other artists. So, you can view Hatry’s choice of meat as medium as an attention getting scheme, but if you do then praise her for her courage. She is not the first to make art from meat, in fact, Hatry curated a show of artists doing similar things: Meat After Meat Joy (Daneyal Mahmood Gallery, 2008). Many got in on the act much earlier, as this survey of MoMA indicates: search “Meat.”

Meat occupies a strange and under-analyzed place in our consciousness. Meat eaters often view vegetarians with contempt, almost as heretics, especially if they criticize the wasteful, destructive, and cruel practices of factory farming. Let no one illuminate the veiled source of our sustenance, they seem to say, as though it were sacrosanct. And our mouths do come equipped with sharp incisors, whether vestigial or not.

So spare the messenger. Be not afraid. Stand up straight and look into the maelstroms of horror we humans create. Go where the wild things are and maybe we will begin to get things right in this world instead of horribly and forever wrong.

 

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July 7, 2015

Jef Bourgeau, Zombie On the Wall at Galerie Camille, Detroit

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Jef Bourgeau, Zombie On the Wall at Galerie Camille, Detroit — thru 11-July-2015

Jef Bourgeau possesses the rare ability–and discipline–to see and sense everything at once. To capture a snapshot of a thing in his mind that retains the essence of its revelation. Narrowing his gaze, he zooms in–not for clarity but for a deeper view of the near-infinity of detail swirling below the surface of what the rest of us call solid reality. Bourgeau knows better, knows that what we perceive persists only in flux, perpetual change, perpetual motion. And all of it–everything we perceive afresh and everything we remember–surfaces, descends, resurfaces in our consciousness through subjective filters, a little different every time we sense or recollect. Bourgeau–either gifted or cursed depending on circumstance–possesses that elusive capacity to feel as he sees rather than feel after he sees, and see through the layered fluttering veils of sensory noise that obfuscate perception.

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The pictures up at Galerie Camille in Bourgeau’s solo show, “Zombie On the Wall” (12-June through 11-July-2015) all reflect abiding attention to process as much as to perception. Bourgeau does not screw around. These pictures are not experiments. The experiments remain back in lab. These pictures come masterfully crafted. And finished. They range back in time five or ten years and they vary in style but all are digitally manipulated prints–blurred, fragmented, reassembled and tidied up through digital means. Bourgeau was a forerunner in digital image creation and enhancement methods and he continues to apply them more with the grace of brushstrokes than mapped pixels.

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Bourgeau cites Van Gogh as early inspiration, but seems to admire and reference numerous notable members of the 20th century artistic timeline. Engage Bourgeau in conversation and he pulls specimens from his collection, from narrow clefts of art historical context racked away in his mind, and delights the interlocutor with detailed and pointed narratives that illuminate Bourgeau’s observations. When the time comes to work, his left-brain organizes and archives art history for referential access, but his right-brain charges into the carefully organized collection and kicks the books and images fluttering to the floor to coalesce and self-ignite into an intoxicating bonfire of ideas.

Standing before the pictures at Gallerie Camille, you feel good. You feel energized. You feel invigorated like you just drank one of those energy drinks laced with caffeine and the regenerative vitamins B. But you also feel a bit as though the extraterrestrial who made these pictures and brought you here to see them might be doing more than making you feel good. He might be probing you, provoking you, goading you to react. He doesn’t care how you react, only if you react. Are you still alive? Who’s the zombie now?

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Go ahead and react. Go ahead and feel good. Let the pictures probe you. No one’s looking.

The patterns in these pictures are abstract, some fluid, some geometric, all graceful, all suggestive of a world in motion. A world where mass tangibly does equal energy, a whole heap of it: (E=mc2). It’s one thing to know about physics, it’s another to know physics. Gaze into these works and you will know.

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Pay attention. You can detect the artistic timeline informing Bourgeau. Van Gogh is there in the palette as well as the wondrous distillation of reality; Matisse, Derain, Leger, Picasso in the patterns and light and fragmentation of perception; Seurat, Lichtenstein, Chuck Close in the digital atomization that trademarks Bourgeau’s work. Meaningless comparisons all except to say that the work of a well-informed artist can not conceal the phantasms of preceding works that haunt their own. If you live with your eyes and mind open, you personify the continuum you inhabit. That suffused awareness in turn lends your work deeper subconscious resonance with viewers. Think of that tremulous feeling that saturates your senses when you step into a room continuously inhabited for a thousand years. Phantasms dance just out of sight and you know it. The same holds with great art created by well-informed artists enveloped, engrossed… inhabited but not co-opted by the art of others.

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Bourgeau’s images suggest, without crass mimicry, structures we witness daily but take for granted and breeze past too quickly for our own good. Cellular structure in a story about influenza maybe; or patterns in agriculture dictated by geography, geology, and hydrology; patterns woven into textiles or etched and embossed in architectural material; coral reefs and gravity-free sea creatures. Faces distorted by reflecting water. Things we trip over daily but miss for their familiarity. Shame. See these things afresh; see them with a child’s eyes. Awestruck reverence for this world will overtake you.

And that defines Bourgeau’s gift, the wellspring of his self-taxing generosity: to see afresh. To see what we always have seen but hardly registered: truth and beauty.

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February 26, 2015

Dick Goody at N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Arts

Dick Goody at N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Arts

by Ron Scott

Still Life with Cheese and Ravioli

Still Life with Cheese & Ravioli  36 X 36 Oil on Canvas - Courtesy of the artist and N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Arts

In the heart of Midtown Detroit, the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, just two blocks from the Detroit Institute of the Arts, is where the owner and curator George N’Namdi opened an exhibition of paintings, The Making of Dauphine, by Dick Goody; both men are stalwart promoters of the arts in Metro Detroit.

Nellie Bandaged

Nellie Bandage – 2014  24 X 24  Oil on Canvas - Courtesy of the artist and N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Arts

When I first caught a glimpse of the Nellie Bandaged painting, I thought maybe it was an off-color behind the scenes character from The Simpsons. But on closer observation, the surreal character wearing sunglasses and lipstick whose head is wrapped in what looks like leather or cloth mask bandage; the titillating painted image slowly takes on a futuristic iconic stature.

The twenty paintings in the exhibition are the product of 2014 sabbatical leave Goody received from Oakland University.

Goody says “The Making of the Dauphine is a suite of paintings loosely based on The Dauphine, a novella I wrote in 2013 concerning the discovery of an artificial intelligence singularly focused on ridding the world of infamy and excess, but the exhibition is only marginally concerned with this.  In short, I would say that it personifies the idea that it’s about how you paint rather than what you’re painting.”

Tweed 6

Tweed Leliedwarsstraat No. 6 – 24 X 36   Oil on Canvas  Courtesy of the artist and N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Arts

Many of the paintings are loosely representational and still life where Goody focuses on composition, color, black line, at times reminding this viewer of Matisse when he flattens out the subject.  A challenge when observing these paintings is that many contain writing, or words, something I have always had a hard time with because it tends to feel illustrative. There is a school around this “text-based” art, recently exhibited in Los Angeles in 2013 by the Jack Rutberg Gallery, showing the work of Bill Barminski and Mark Greenfield. But the text here is more about shape, color and less about content or meaning.

As an Associate Professor of Art at Oakland University and curator of Oakland University Art Gallery, Dick Goody is many things; curator, writer, painter, and intellectual connoisseur of the arts.  In this exhibition, one takes a peek into Goody’s interior world, surreal on the surface, a visionary utopia in its content, and vogue in its use of color and black line.

 

The Making of the Dauphine  February 13 – March 14, 2015

The N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Arts

 

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Ron Scott Teachworth

Ron Scott

 

 

 

I was born in Detroit, attended graduate school at Wayne State University in painting, and I have always considered myself part of the Detroit Art Community.  I paint and write full time.

In the writing of art criticism, there are primarily three types of writers: Journalists, Art Historians, and Artists. I fall into category three, as I have a visual art practice and have exhibited for over thirty-five years, primarily in southeastern Michigan.  Because I had worked in public television as a writer / producer, I developed some writing skill, and when I retired from that profession, I turned my writing to art criticism and fiction.

I usually select an exhibit where I feel I might have something to say that is constructive.  This would usually be a painting, photographic, sculpture, or mixed media exhibition. I prefer working on solo exhibitions that provide me with some room to go deeper into the work. I try to understand the perspective of the artist through an artist statement or an interview.  I visit the exhibition space and take notes that capture my reaction to the work in the present.  I do a rough draft as soon as possible and then begin the research process. I add the research elements and imagery to the polish. The final stage is submitting to an editor for his/her review.

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.

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Adnan Charara

Collage
Adnan Charara

Collage Adnan Charara

Collage
Adnan Charara

Adnan Charara

Standoff
Adnan Charara
Acrylic on canvas

Adnan Charara

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

Adnan Charara

Colonial Man (detail)
Adnan Charara
acrylic on canvas

 

September 30, 2014

Elene Usdin–Awake While I Am Dreaming

by Jim Welke

Elene Usdin–Awake While I Am Dreaming

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

Elene Usdin--Awake While I Am Dreaming

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Elene Usdin--Awake While I Am Dreaming

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

Elene Usdin--Awake While I Am Dreaming

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

 

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

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

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

 

Elene Usdin--Awake While I Am Dreaming

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

Elene Usdin--Awake While I Am Dreaming

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

 

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

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

 

Elene Usdin--Awake While I Am Dreaming

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

 

Elene Usdin--Awake While I Am Dreaming

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

 

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

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

 

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

And don’t forget to like our facebook page

 

Elene Usdin--Awake While I Am Dreaming

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

 

Elene Usdin--Awake While I Am Dreaming

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

Elene Usdin--Awake While I Am Dreaming

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

Elene Usdin--Awake While I Am Dreaming

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

Elene Usdin--Awake While I Am Dreaming

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

 

Elene Usdin--Awake While I Am Dreaming

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

Elene Usdin--Awake While I Am Dreaming

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

 

Elene Usdin--Awake While I Am Dreaming

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

Elene Usdin--Awake While I Am Dreaming

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

September 4, 2014

Gao Brothers DISSIDENTS ABROAD at Detroit MONA

By Jim Welke

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

85 movement-uturn

 photo: artzinechina.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GaoBrothers--Midnight Mass

Midnight Mass, 1989

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

photo: artworldnow.com

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

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

photo: Galerie Albert Benamou

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

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

photo: Galerie Albert Benamou

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

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

photo: guernicamag.com

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

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

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

photo: guernicamag.com

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

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

photo: guernicamag.com

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

Manet--800px-Edouard_Manet_022

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

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

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

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

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

 

Read our interview with the Gao Brothers here.

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

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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

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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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