Laszlo Moholy-Nagy @ Guggenheim, NYC

Guggenheim

Guggenheim Museum, New York City. All Images Courtesy of the Guggenheim Museum.

Moholy-Nagy: Future Present

Before a recent visit to NYC, I was set on visiting the new Met Breuer Museum (housed in the former Whitney Museum building) that is hosting a large photographic exhibition by Diane Arbus. But my interest in European Modernism pulled me away to the Guggenheim, which has mounted a major retrospective of work by the Hungarian artist, László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) who is unknown to me.   The compilation of work is the first comprehensive retrospective of Moholy-Nagy, likely the first artist with a large and diverse field of media, including painting, sculptures, works on paper and Plexiglas, photograms and films. Despite his visibility as a Bauhaus teacher and artist, his profile has been little known to American art schools. This exhibition conveys the experimental nature of his work that includes industrial materials, movement, light, and a variety of photo-based images.

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Installation View: Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Future Present, Solomon Guggenheim Museum, 2016

The Bauhaus School (1919-1933), meaning in German to construct, struggled to exist at three locations in Germany during the early part of the 20th century. Founded by Walter Gropius in 1919, in Weimar, it moved to Dessau in 1925 where it housed an artist faculty that included Wassily Kandinsky, Marcel Breuer, and László Moholy-Nagy, and then finally ended up in Berlin for one final year until the Nazi Party came to power. The school specialized in fine and applied arts influenced by the Constructivism movement that originated in Russia in 1913 under Vladimir Tatlin, where art was practiced for social purpose, and included architecture and typography. Constructivists proposed to replace art’s traditional concern with composition, rather a focus on construction. For many Constructivists, this entailed an ethic of “truth to materials,” the belief that materials should be employed only in accordance with their capacities.

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, CH BEATA l, 1939, Oil and Graphite on Canvas, Collection of the Solomon Guggenheim Museum

Juxtaposed against German Expressionism, Moholy-Nagy creates an image that reminds this writer of Kandinsky in his large oil on canvas, CH Beta 1. A non-objective abstract composition, the work relies heavily on design and the use of space, line and color on a flat plane void of objective meaning. If Kandinsky is the father of abstract art, then Moly-Nagy is an apostle presenting a new venue of work for the modern world. Born in Hungary in 1895, he attended art school in Budapest before bringing his Constructivist aesthetic to the Bauhaus school in Dessau. The mechanical free-floating geometries influenced many artists in the United States to follow, including Frank Stella, David Smith, Ad Reinhardt, Sol LeWitt and Sean Scully.

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Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Nickel Sculpture with Spiral, 1921, The Museum of Modern Art, Gift of Sibyl Moholy-Nagy

Moholy-Nagy’s nickel plated on iron-welded sculpture, owned by the Museum of Modern Art, demonstrates his industrial design and constructivist approach to the machining of objects and a spiral that inadvertently echoes the Guggenheim’s internal architecture.

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László Moholy-Nagy Photogram, 1941 Gelatin silver photogram, 28 x 36 cm The Art Institute of Chicago, Gift of Sally Petrilli, 1985 © 2016 Hattula Moholy-Nagy/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Collected by Hilla Rebay and Solomon Guggenheim, founders of the museum, this exhibition is beautifully arranged by Kelly Cullinan, the senior exhibition designer. I especially appreciated the extensive writings of Moholy-Nagy displayed on each level of the museum in vitrines. If I were still teaching painting at the college level, I would spend more time discussing European Modernism, especially the influence of the Bauhaus School and its teachers and artists.

Moholy-Nagy: Future Present is co-organized by Carol S. Eliel, Curator of Modern Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Karole P. B. Vail, Curator, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; and Matthew S. Witkovsky, Richard and Ellen Sandor Chair and Curator, Department of Photography, Art Institute of Chicago. The Guggenheim presentation is organized by Vail, with the assistance of Ylinka Barotto, Curatorial Assistant, and Danielle Toubrinet, Exhibition Assistant.

Guggenheim Museum

 

 

 

Gallery Project – Re:Formation Toledo

Gallery Project drops a politically-loaded art-bomb for their fourth annual exhibition

Gallery Project, one of the most ambitious annual art exhibitions in the region, returned with a roar this month, opening its fourth installment on Monday, August 1st with Re:Formation – which will remain on display in the former department store at 600 Jefferson Ave in downtown Toledo, Oh through Wednesday, August 31, before moving to its second location at the Ann Arbor Art Center (117 W. Liberty) on Friday, September 9, and remain on display there through Sunday, October 16. As in previous years, the exhibition draws some 50+ local, regional, and national artists together around a theme, however, the tone of this year’s theme – Re:Formation – strikes a markedly different note than last year’s theme, Wish List. Co-curators Rocco DePietro and Gloria Pritschet were compelled to pursue a more pointedly political theme this year, and the resulting submissions demonstrate the success of that aim.

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Gallery Project organizers and co-curators Rocco DePietro and Gloria Pritschet All Images Courtesy of Sarah Rose Sharp

“Last time there was a focus on hope,” said Pritschet, in an interview with Detroit Art Review, “but something shifted, right around November of last year, where people who had never spoken out began standing up, and we knew we needed to re-form around that concept.”

DePietro can pinpoint the moment more exactly: “Everyone had a different tipping point,” he said. “For me it was the shooting of Tamir Rice.” The ever-mounting documentation of increasingly visible human rights abuses has left both DePietro and Pritschet moved to consider what power art has to affect human issues, and sought to create this year’s Gallery Project as an effort to “express the new form that’s taking shape within art.”

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Desiree Duell, Bodies of Water (2016), collaborative installation

The output varies – as one might imagine, given the vast cross-section of artists included in the show – but a few thematic elements emerged strongly. The Flint water crisis was central to the show, both literally and figuratively. One of the front window displays recreates a collaborative installation originally done in Flint by Desiree Duell (Flint, MI). The piece, which jumps the bank of the window bay and spills out onto the main gallery floor, is comprised of dozens of disposable plastic water bottles – the woefully insufficient temporary measure provided en masse to Flint residents in lieu of a potable water system – outlining the form of a fallen child. The bottles on the floor inside, activated by LED lights, spell out “THIRST.” A series of photographs by Darryl Baird (Flint, MI) capture elements of the Flint water system: Eroded Manhole, Underground Sewer Line, Runoff Control Sewer, and others, each vignetted with a dreamy circular-crop more usually applied to glamor photos.

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Mark Bleshenski, Plumbum (2016), installation view

The largest piece in the show is a sprawling installation by Mark Bleshenski (Bay City, MI), Plumbum, located in the middle of the showroom floor. The installation, which draws its name from the Latin word for lead (because lead was used in plumbing in ancient times), collects 100 water samples from Flint faucets into various receptacles, and arranges them into clusters atop two groups of meticulously crafted wooden stools of various heights. The craftsmanship and object repetition is aesthetically engaging – it is a carefully assembled collection, with many forms and colors present – and even playful, as some of the vessels are warped into unexpected shapes and some of the liquids contained within are bright Kool-Aid colors. It is only as one draws near enough to see the data tracked on each vessel that the scene shifts from madcap collection to mad science.

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Julianne Lindsey and Elton Monroy Duran, DELRAY Project, multi-media installation/archive

Indeed, data visualization is a recurring theme throughout the show, and increasingly a mainstay of activist art. It seems that artists posses a unique power to process information that might otherwise remain comfortably abstract into aesthetic terms that hit closer to home. Some use a kind of visual synecdoche, as did Pritschet (Ann Arbor, MI) with her In Memorium installation, that neatly layers tiers of children’s shoes, painted black, into a morbid little mound strewn with bullet casings. Others take a documental approach, as did Julianne Lindsey (Detroit, MI) and Elton Monroy Duran (Detroit, MI), whose front-window installation, DELRAY Project, represents an ongoing effort to collect materials, photographs, and audio recordings from the Delray neighborhood, which is slated to be the future site of the Gordie Howe International Bridge in Southwest Detroit.

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Andrew Thompson, Representing Congress: Detroit’s Belle Isle 1893-2013 (2016), masking tape, book

Artists may also be dealing with literal data, as did Andrew Thompson (Detroit, MI) with Representing Congress: Detroit’s Belle Isle 1893-2013, which overlays each successive congressional redistricting of Belle Isle over 120 years in a different color of masking tape. This deceptively simple piece not only underscores the mutability of ostensibly fixed systems upon which our society is built, but additionally nods to the ages-old practice of gerrymandering, which seeks to rearrange or otherwise manipulate a given electoral constituency, so as to favor one party or class.

The current political climate may be a reasonable corollary to this shift in tone for Gallery Project. Last year’s show came in the midst of the Obama presidency, a time of triumph and great hope for progress. With this year’s presidential election shaping up around fear politics on both sides of aisle, it seems fitting – if somewhat demoralizing – that we’ve gone from a mindset of making a wish to speaking out in protest. But, as Prtischet says, “These are the reactions. People can’t be quiet anymore.”

Gallery Project is speaking loudly, and the message is clear – problems abound, direct action is required, and art can no longer satisfy itself with raising awareness. Reformation is coming.

 

“The Connoisseurs’ Legacy” @ University of Michigan Museum of Art

Treasures from the Collection of Nesta and Walter Spink at The University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Installation shot Connoisseurs Legacy 2016

Installation – Connoisseurs Legacy 2016 All images Courtesy of the Michigan Museum of Art

“Our bodies love metaphors because they join our bodies to our soul rather than abandoning them to a soulless state. The ancient alchemists called this body-soul state “the subtle body.” They believed that the deeper we go into “the subtle body,” the greater the soul treasures it contains.”    -Marion Woodman, from The Maiden King

In a recent review, I speculated that museums and galleries have become depositories for objects we currently don’t know what to do with- that seem to have lost their vital place in culture-building. “The Connoisseurs’ Legacy,” a delicately curated selection of works from the private collection of Nesta and Walter Spink, provides a stark counterpoint to that idea- it speaks of the vital place works of art still have in the private lives of people who shape, and are shaped by, the lives of these works in the outer world.

The Spinks have been collecting works of art since the 1950’s, the early days of their long marriage and the gestation period of their respective paths of scholarship. Nesta specialized in Nineteenth and Twentieth Century prints and drawings, and would become one of America’s foremost experts on James McNeill Whistler, compiling, during her years as curator at the University of Michigan Museum of Art, the most comprehensive catalog raisonne of Whistler’s prints ever written. Walter took as his subject the vast Buddhist shrine and monastery at Ajanta, India, and continues to advance his radical theory of the site’s history and development in an ongoing series of books about the caves. At age eighty-eight, he still spends several months a year in Ajanta.

The Spink’s collection is important, because it offers a unique opportunity to view great works of art from vastly different time periods, cultures and traditions side by side in one gallery. The collection, consisting mainly of works on paper from various traditions, punctuated by gems of religious sculpture, lovingly wrought textiles and charming decorative objects, testifies powerfully to the role graphic art (printmaking, illustration, stylized genre painting) plays across all cultures as a distillation of our human story into a universal, uniformly legible narrative.

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Milkmaid Manika Offering Curds to Jagannatha and Balabhadra on Horses Composed of Human Figures, India, Orissa, Puri School early 20th Century, opaque watercolor and lacquer on cot

The artists represented, from anonymous Mughal miniature painters and regional Indian folk artists to J. M. Whistler to Paul Klee and Andy Warhol, are all, “The Connoisseurs’ Legacy” clarifies, driven by the same passion- to translate lived experience into a visual language that brings the body a bit closer to the soul. This, according to the psychologist Marion Woodman, is the purpose of metaphor- literally a “carrying over” of tangible life from this plane onto the subtler plane of our interior selves. Seen in this context, the diverse work in “The Connoisseurs’ Legacy” sheds linear chronology, aesthetic movements, and regional traditions and unites in breath-taking waves of visual metaphor- allegorical dreams brought into the light.

Image 2 Hans Sebold Beham Achilles and Hector Engraving on laid paper 1510-30

Hans Sebold Beham Achilles and Hector Engraving on laid paper 1510-30

One of my favorite things about graphic art is its ability to both describe and subvert space- the void we move through and fill with our objects and ideas. The line that weaves through all the work in “The Connoisseurs’ Legacy,” the line that describes first and foremost, defines each century and tradition even as it unifies them. One gets the dynamic, jazzed-up line of the Twentieth Century as transcribed by Max Ernst and Paul Klee a hair before it leaps back into foursquare reality and forms a can of Campbell’s soup, appropriated as Art and autographed by Andy Warhol.

Image 3 Paul Klee Drawing for a Drama of Disunion, ink on paper, 1921

Paul Klee Drawing for a Drama of Disunion, ink on paper, 1921

Reel this line backward in time, and it grows, across America, Europe and Asia, more disciplined, hushed, and devoted to the sublime, describing fragments of statuary and architecture from Ancient Rome in two brilliantly mind-bending etchings by Giovanni Battista Piranesi that collapse space into an orderly grid of venerable objects floating on Enlightenment illumination. Leap across the gallery to a group of contemporary Mughal miniature paintings, and the same hushed veneration is there- describing the indescribable in a different way. The unearthly jewel tones and dream-like minglings of people and animals- many-armed deities astride tigers and giant pigeons- have the same spiritual devotion to beauty as their French and Italian comrades.

Image 4 Page from an Indian zodiac manuscript, Figure Mounted on a Tiger, possibly Saturn, India, Rajasthan, Jaipur school circa 1840, ink, opaque watercolor and gold on paper

Page from an Indian zodiac manuscript, Figure Mounted on a Tiger, possibly Saturn, India, Rajasthan, Jaipur school circa 1840, ink, opaque watercolor and gold on paper

The line meanders and condenses from the Warhol soup can back to a taut, potent carving of Christ crucified and back again to sensuous Jain statuary which draws on traditional Hindu sculpture to capture the ecstasy of spiritual union.

“The Connoisseurs’ Legacy” is also important because it exemplifies collecting for the best possible reasons. The works of art on display reflect the insight of the individuals who fell in love with each piece and fitted it in with the rest without an agenda, a rigid vision, or focus on material gain. It’s a reminder, as well, of the vital contribution private curation makes to the Humanities- Nesta and Walter understand the ensoulling power of these objects, and the instruction they can offer us about ourselves and our cultural inheritance. “The Connoisseurs’ Legacy” suggests a continuous loop of visual language that cross-pollinates and subtly alters itself and its context with each change in perspective, each newly discovered visual rhyme that spans continents. This privately curated collection highlights the similarities, more than the differences, between works we are trained to view as vastly different from one another.

“The Connoisseurs’ Legacy: The Collection of Nesta and Walter Spink” is on view at The University of Michigan Museum of Art from June 18 through September 25, 2016.

University of Michigan Art Museum

Whitney Snow @ The Scarab Club

Tricks of Magical Realism 

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Whitney Snow, Installation Image, Courtesy of Sarah Rose Sharp

Magical realism is the watchword of the Whitney Snow solo retrospective on display at the Scarab Club – the first since the painter’s passing in 2006. Snow certainly captured the spirit of magic realism, wherein surreal or “magical” elements are introduced to otherwise everyday scenarios. Likewise, his large-format paintings contain many cultural and art-historical allusions, as well as a symbol set designed for sly, if somewhat abstracted, political commentary – another imperative of magic realism as a device is its use in holding a somewhat whimsical or disruptive mirror to society or culture. In these respects – and in terms of realizing technically well-rendered tableaus – Snow’s work is very successful.

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Whitney Snow, Living on the Edge

But there is a creeping sense of vagueness that makes it hard to digest these images, on some level. Snow’s scenarios are, at times, amusing, but their magical elements leave them steeped in a kind of cartoonishness that makes it a challenge to take them very seriously. There is a fable-like quality to their narratives – again, much in alignment with the history of magic realism – but these protagonists engaged in foolish or nonsensical pursuits seem largely unmoved by their surrounding circumstances. One might expect a glimmer of consternation from the subject of Technology on my Back, who is being ridden like a backpack by a green demon of gambling and internet addiction, but there is barely a frown. One might anticipate high drama from the subjects of Living on the Ledge, a couple standing at the window addressing a third person poised to jump off a high ledge – the man on the ledge seems utterly indifferent, and the one at the window seems, at most, peeved. The de facto expression for Snow’s subjects is a deadpan. The experience of viewing his paintings is much like hearing about a crazy dream someone had last night – doubtlessly, each element is all terribly meaningful…but it lacks a kind of visceral immediacy to engage the viewer. This is particularly surprising, in light of Snow’s rather virtuosic ability to visualize his dreams.

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Whitney Snow, American Sunset

Arguably, this does not represent a problem. Indeed, all of these things – dream states, nonsense, and reality-disconnect – fit within the stylistic mechanisms of magic realism, and that being the stated parameters for Snow’s oeuvre, it is rigorously on-target. So, too, there is a wealth of symbolism, both in the form of pop cultural references and the complete canon of art history, from Roy Lichtenstein to the Greek muses. One imagines that a well-versed art historian could be happily occupied for some time identifying and picking apart these Easter eggs. This viewer, however, remains unmoved. Snow’s work seems to be a failing of both the magic and the real – too fine in its details to embrace abstraction, too wedded to some kind of discernible references to transcend the source material. The Easter eggs are just sitting there, right in the middle of the lawn; picking them up offers little satisfaction. And though it is wrong to fault an artist for making work that lacks relevance a decade after his passing, the current-day political stakes honestly feel just a little too high to swallow social commentary as generalized as American Sunset, wherein a bald eagle with a broken wing (get it?) sits atop an upside-down globe (get it???) soaked in a pool of spilled motor oil (GET IT???).

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Whitney Snow, Self Portrait of a Painter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Really, this might not stand out so starkly if it weren’t for the striking quality of the few examples of Snow’s “realism” paintings. Denver Skyline is about as straightforward a subject as one could encounter – the view out a window, blind half-drawn against a cloud-filled sky, clock on the sill, and just a few buildings visible. All of Snow’s ability to render fine details is applied to the exhibition sole believable female subject, in Portrait of a Woman. The woman makes piercing eye-contact, actualized to herself, and by extension, actualizing the viewer. Self-Portrait of a Painter seems to suggest that Snow took himself at least a little bit seriously. These images have a kind of quiet dignity, and demonstrate that Snow was capable of something beyond madcap imagery and imagistic political satire. In a poetic missive titled “The Illusion of Light,” Snow reveals a deeply painterly sentiment:

“It can teach us joy through observation and work
and when the day is done, we can return to the dark
with a heightened sense
of the infinite cycle of light and dark.  – Whitney Snow

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Whitney Snow, Newton’s Angel

One detects a hint, at least, that this master painter perhaps defaulted overmuch in the direction of his impish spirit; press beyond the magical veil, and you find a more serious sentiment. It is that gravity, more than Snow’s fanciful and magical tableaus, which inspires great curiosity in this visitor to his mind palace.

Scarab Club- http://scarabclub.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Charles McGee @ Charles H. Wright Museum

 

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Charles McGee unveiling of United We Stand sculpture -Farnsworth Entrance to the Charles H. Wright Museum

Charles McGee, the first Kresge Eminent art artist in 2008, and one of Detroit’s most well-known artists was present July 23, 2016, at the Charles H. Wright Museum for the unveiling of his massive sculpture, “United We Stand”. The new sculpture displays seven abstract figures in black and white motifs that one cannot help observing the symbolism in its meaning: one people together.

United We Stand

Charles McGee, United We Stand, Poly-chrome steel, high-gloss enamel paint, concrete base

Funded by the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation, the award of $50,000 was used to create the sculpture that is prominently located just west of the museum’s Farnsworth entrance. The sculpture will serve as a capstone to a long and prestigious career by the Detroit artist, Charles McGee. McGee’s paintings, assemblages, and sculptures are part of many distinguished collections. One of my favorites is “Noah’s Ark” at the Detroit Institute of Arts in the Prentis Court. The enamel and mixed media piece measures fifteen feet long and ten feet high and combines two female figures with animal forms and colorful bands of color.

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Charles McGee, Noah’s Ark Genesis, Collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts

Charles McGee, now 91 years of age, migrated to Detroit from South Carolina at the age of 10, and attended the College of Creative Studies (then called the Society of Arts and Crafts). He taught art for 18 years at Eastern Michigan University, before retiring in 1987. He also taught at the University of Michigan and received an honorary doctorate from the College for Creative Studies. “The creative mind, “ McGee has written, “continues to test the parameters of conventional knowledge, forever in pursuit of new vistas.”

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Portrait of Charles McGee by Ray Manning

“United We Stand” is to kick off the upcoming year of exhibitions and activities to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the 1967 summer of the Detroit Riots.

The Charles H. Wright Museum