October 17, 2014

Elements of Whimsy: Adnan Charara at 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

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.


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Adnan Charara

Adnan Charara

Collage Adnan Charara

Adnan Charara

Adnan Charara

Adnan Charara
Acrylic on canvas

Adnan Charara

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

Adnan Charara

Colonial Man (detail)
Adnan Charara
acrylic on canvas


September 4, 2014

Gao Brothers DISSIDENTS ABROAD at Detroit MONA

By Jim Welke

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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)



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

photo: Galerie Albert Benamou


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

photo: Galerie Albert Benamou


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


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.


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



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


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 (, “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).


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.

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March 4, 2014

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

by Jim Welke


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,, and check out our other reviews.

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February 24, 2014

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

by Jim Welke

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

Self Portrait / acrylic / Gilda Snowden / 2004

Self Portrait / acrylic / Gilda Snowden / 2004

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

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

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

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

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

From her series, Bright Stars At Night:

Gilda Snowden

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

From her series, Chairs:

Gilda Snowden

untitled / Chairs series / Gilda Snowden / 2010

From Works On Paper:

Gilda Snowden

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

From Constructions:

Gilda Snowden

Teaser/Tormentor / Constructions series / Gilda Snowden / 1983

From Flora Urbana:

Gilda Snowden

Garden / Flora Urbana series / Gilda Snowden


Lila Kadaj

Gilda / oil / Lila Kadaj / 1977

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

Lila Kadaj

Gilda / oil / Lila Kadaj / 1984

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

Jean Smith

Gilda / oil / Jean Smith / (undated)

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

Alonso Del Arte

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

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

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


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

Austin Brady

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

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

Fatima Sow

Layered Ties / mixed-media on wood / Fatima Sow

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

Fatima Sow

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

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

Austin Brady

Sacrilege / mixed-media on board / Austin Brady

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

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


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


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January 25, 2014

3: Kathryn Brackett Luchs, Lois Teicher, Marie Woo

by Jim Welke

Detroit Artists Market

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

Kathryn Brackett Luchs

Birdy / Kathryn Brackett Luchs

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

Kathryn Brackett Luchs

Buddha, Buddha / Kathryn Brackett Luchs

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

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

Kathryn Brackett Luchs

April My Feng / Kathryn Brackett Luchs

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


Lois Teicher

Eclipse Series #6 / Lois Teicher

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

Lois Teicher

Eclipse Series #4 / Lois Teicher

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

Lois Teicher

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

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

Marie Woo

Orange Bowl, Large / Marie Woo

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

Marie Woo

stack / Marie Woo

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

Marie Woo

Winter / Marie Woo

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

Marie Woo

wall pieces / Marie Woo

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

Kay Young

Photographs by featured artist, S. Kay Young

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

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

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


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June 3, 2013

U-Build It! Public Pool Artspace Invites Visitors to Create


By Jim Welke

Public Pool Artspace held a well-attended opening 1-June for their exhibition U-Build It!, which “…takes the idea that art is pristine and untouchable and flips it on its head, and then gives it a little kick.”

Four Detroit metro artists, Mary Fortuna, Michael McGillis, Andrew Thompson, and Shoshanna Utchenik presented the foundations for artworks, which they invited gallery visitors to complete. At the opening, kids and adults collaborated to embellish the nascent installations, and as the evening progressed, so did the art.

Ms. Fortuna offered the skeleton of a multi-tiered mobile, and beside it a table full of hand-painted, hand-sewn, and otherwise hand-made pendants. Visitors selected objects from the table and suspended them from the mobile to create a groupthink kinetic sculpture.

by Mary Fortuna

by Mary Fortuna and visitors

by Mary Fortuna

by Mary Fortuna and visitors

Ms. Utchenik, an accomplished puppeteer, offered six miniature, open-sided buildings along with a low table and boxes filled with miscellaneous decorative paraphernalia. Children seemed enchanted by the opportunity to rummage through the assortment of pipe-cleaners, thread-spools, markers and pencils, plastic widgets, and what not and then translate these objects into inhabitants and furnishings for the buildings. For inspiration, Ms. Utchenik provided the following:









(YOU & ME & YOU & ME)



2.     BE KIND

by Shoshanna Utchenik and visitors

by Shoshanna Utchenik and visitors

by Shoshanna Utchenik and visitors

by Shoshanna Utchenik and visitors


by Shoshanna Utchenik and visitors

by Shoshanna Utchenik and visitors

Mr. McGillis installed SuperCellularEscent in the windows of the gallery. Comprised of open inter-locking hexagons, he encouraged visitors to pick from an assortment of cut tree branches, corrugated cardboard strips, and strips of foam-board insulation, and miscellaneous other flotsam and jetsam — a “curated surplus” as he refers to it — and add selected items to the cells, creating a “personal cell” and to “experiment with the material’s potential.” Contributors inserted objects and viewed their additions from both sides of the window, which created a steady flow of traffic in and out of the gallery and halted passers by on the street who took a moment to wonder at the work in progress and chat with gallery visitors.

by Michael McGillis and visitors

by Michael McGillis and visitors

by Michael McGillis and visitors

by Michael McGillis and visitors

by Michael McGillis and visitors

by Michael McGillis and visitors

Mr. Thompson appropriated one wall of the gallery for The Longest Line, “a simple game structure that asks for participation and gives a reward by letting the gallery goer sign their name to the gallery wall.” He specifies that the piece will be complete when the show closes, and the lines erased. “Participation is needed from the audience not only for this piece, but over and over again for every art show from this moment forward.” Visitors got busy and transformed the vacant white space, invigorated by the opportunity to do something they might always have felt tempted to do, but restrained by cultural taboo, previously resisted the temptation — until now.

by Andrew Thompson and visitors

by Andrew Thompson and visitors

by Andrew Thompson and visitors

by Andrew Thompson and visitors

George Rahme manned the turntables, providing a back beat for the creation in progress.

George Rahme (left)

George Rahme (left)

U-Build It! brings participatory art (a happening?) to Hamtramck in a fun, dynamic, accessible format that surely will turn a few heads and inspire those who happen upon these works to think about art a little differently, and maybe feel inspired to see what else the numerous galleries scattered around Hamtramck and Detroit offer. For that we should thank the artists who contributed a lot of time, effort, and material to works that will not likely bring them personal acclaim for artistic merit, but should bring them acclaim for a degree of selflessness not often ascribed to artists. This show offers another example of how the entire community benefits from the art: socially, economically, and intellectually (foot traffic, positive press, civic enthusiasm, unconventional education, and neighborly engagement). Right on.




Also, for sale (but not an element of U-Build It!), were the works of Steve Hughes, who according to the back cover of one edition of his “zine” Stupor, “for the last 16 years… has been listening to people he meets in bars, diners, hardware stores, and job sites talk about their lives.” Steve, who attended the opening, said he commits these stories to memory as they are told to him, and recreates them in his small format books filtered through his recollection, taking creative license as necessary to fill gaps in his recall of the narratives.

U-Build It! runs through 29-June. Public Pool Artspace will be open for further public collaboration on these works every Saturday, 1PM – 6PM.

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September 23, 2009


Category: sculptureartifizz admin @ 10:35 pm

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