“Evidence of Things Not Seen” @ College for Creative Studies Center Galleries

Installation image & Four Artists: Rashaun Rucker, Sabrina Nelson, Richard Lewis, Mario Moore, 2017

The hardest part about drawing connections between the pieces in Evidence of Things Not Seen—a four-person show featuring works on paper by Richard Lewis, Mario Moore, Sabrina Nelson, and Rashaun Rucker, on display at CCS Center Galleries—is not the lack of bridges between the work, but the abundance thereof.

In simplest and most general terms, this is a drawing show, so all the large, stand alone works, as well nearly two dozen small works in Nelson’s Baldwinning series, are aesthetically unified as hand-drawn, mostly in graphite and charcoal. These are also all artist of color, dealing with issues of Black representation, and presenting Black subjects. Despite each artist having radically different interests, influences, and approaches to the way they look at their subjects, the gallery is utterly harmonious and unified in its aesthetics. Black on black, in shades of grey.

Installation image, CCS Center Galleries, 2017

Then, too, there are an abundance of interpersonal connections underpinning this group of artists. Lewis and Nelson were studio mates during their undergraduate years at College for Creative Studies (where Nelson now teaches), and she and another close fellow, poet Jessica Care Moore, appear as characters in Lewis’s works. Nelson is also mother to Mario Moore, who looked up to Lewis, by way of his connection to Nelson, and followed his exact educational path, starting from Cass Technical High School, through undergraduate studies at CCS, and on to pursue an MFA at Yale. Just as Lewis and Nelson hang together in one generation, Moore and Rucker represent the next (literally, in fact, because Nelson is Moore’s mother), and it is fascinating to see the generational divisions and similarities between the two cohorts.

Richard Lewis, Rent Party, 48 x 60″ Charcoal, Pencil 2016

For example, one might highlight the magical realism present in the works of Lewis and Rucker, who both favor the fantastic and the uncanny, rather than the more directly representational portraiture of Nelson and Moore. Rucker presents a body of work around a single theme: the visual merging of portraits of young black men with the bodies of pigeons. With mug shots as his source material, Rucker is seeking to emphasize the correlation often made between young, urban, black male populations, and undesirable vermin, such as pigeons. Faces morph into beaks, a head springs from the body of a pigeon, or wings and beaked head emerge from the twisted legs of a fallen human body. Likewise, Lewis’s subjects occupy a time-compressed and surrealistic world, where Sabrina attends a rent party with James Baldwin and Frida Kahlo, or drives home at night with an nkisi figure in the passenger seat. These nkisi are a traditional African spiritual sculpture form, often covered with individually driven nails, and seen as protector spirits, both in terms of their cultural origins, and in terms of Lewis’s repurposing of them as subjects.

Mario Moore, Lucia, 2015, Graphite on Paper

Or perhaps one could draw another parallel between Nelson and Lewis’s tendency to make cultural references, while Moore and Rucker are making portraits from everyday figures. In addition to using his studio-mate as muse, Lewis’s tableaux are recast and reconstructed scenes from film noir features, such as Shipwrecked and Saints and Sinners. Nelson, of course, takes James Baldwin as her muse, and the corner of the gallery devoted to her work is papered with nearly two dozen examples of individual portraits she has drawn of the writer, in addition to filling four complete sketchbooks with nothing but drawn and stitched James Baldwin portraits.

Sabrina Nelson, Baldwinning, 2016-17, Sketchbook drawings, Glclee prints, micon ink, gold ink, silver ink, thread, and video

“One of the reasons I started drawing James Baldwin is because Jessica Care Moore invited me to the James Baldwin conference in Paris,” said Nelson, during a tour of the gallery. “She was doing a plenary there with three other artists, called “What Would James Baldwin Do?” It was about him being an artist, and as an artist, what is your responsibility in the world? What do you say, and what is your weaponry? For her it is her poems, and for me it is my hands and my drawing and my painting.”

Sabrina Nelson poses with her many images of James Baldwin.

One sees the love of reading and writers transferred from mother to son, as all of Moore’s hyper-realistic, large-scale portraits feature women in his life, taking a break from reading to look at the viewer. Despite Moore’s extremely straightforward and beautiful renderings of women—many of whom were classmates at Yale, as well as his girlfriend—contain their own sly cultural references, in the telling detail of the book they are reading. But more arresting in these works is the ease and comfort with which these women seem to meet the gaze of the artist and the viewer on entirely their own terms. Unlike Rucker’s pigeon-hybrids, who seem to search the viewer for evidence that they can be seen at all, Moore’s women let you know that they are not to be objectified.

Richard Lewis, They Drive by Night, 26 x 40″ Conte crayon on Rives BFK

 

One could weave connections through these powerful works for days—the energy fairly radiates between them—but there’s only just time to catch this show before it closes, so I’ll end with an admonition to take some time with it before the December 16th closing. One can hardly build a case for the connections within Evidence of Things Not Seen, after all, if you don’t go see it for yourself.

Evidence of Things Not Seen continues at CCS Center Galleries through December 16.

Susan Goethel Campbell @ David Klein Gallery

Susan Goethel Campbell: Faulty Vision, David Klein Gallery

Installation image of front gallery.   All images courtesy of David Klein Gallery 2017

Susan Goethel Campbell’s installation “Faulty Vision” currently showing at the David Klein Gallery has all of the ingredients of the mise-en-scene of a surreal film. Like a Japanese garden it is challengingly eye-opening while meditative. In keeping with Campbell’s engagement with both architectural and “natural” space, “Faulty Vision” is designed as a response to the Beaux-Arts architecture of the Klein Gallery itself. The Grand Entrance, to use Beaux-Arts terminology, of the gallery, entering off of Washington Boulevard, Detroit’s premier Beaux-Art avenue, is activated by Campbell’s large, atmospheric black and white dune-scape photos seamlessly embedded into the walls; her uncanny, actual sized, cast earth and grass column echoes the classical Doric column next to it; magically engineered grassy, target-like images float in the middle of the gallery space; and black and white photos of planet-like orbs float around the space, all suggesting a strange landscape indeed. Each of the objects and images has evolved from the trajectory of recent related, but separate, projects that collectively comprise Campbell’s hybrid artistic practice. It is an elegant albeit enigmatic installation to contemplate.

Susan G. Campbell, “Dune No. 2,” 2017, Black and white digital print, 40” x 60”

Trained as a printmaker, it has become a method and process of her practice to see and think in multiple images and variations of those accumulations, as well to consider the processes of the “natural” world (germinating seeds and growth) and of the engineering processes of industrial manufacturing itself that compete with nature. For years now Campbell herself has become a kind of research and development factory, experimenting with organic materials such as seeds, plants, leaves, and even more ephemeral conditions like light, night sky and air itself. The overarching gesture then of “Faulty Vision” is to, it seems, if not challenge, then assay and respond to the symbolic permanence of that Beaux-Arts designed gallery space. Early in the twentieth century, Detroit and most American cities adopted a pared down version of Classical Greek and Roman architectural models, that have historically symbolized the enduring strength and permanence of European culture.

Susan G. Campbell, 4“ Ground no.6 (floor installation), 2017, 51”x51”

When closely examined the stunning earth work sculptures that are installed in the main gallery are all ironically modeled on what were once called “disposable” objects. Campbell’s column is made of hundreds of cast-earth and grass water bottles, grown in molds of the plastic bottles, to form a simulated, fluted Doric column. It is an over-the-top critique of the bombast of classicism and at the same-time beguilingly baroque.  Situated in the gallery’s windows facing Washington Blvd., as if window-displays of consumer goods, are stacks of cast-earth and grass cell phones modeled on the evolving i-Phone, 4, 5, and 6 series. (As in nature phones evolve too). And echoing larger engineered earthworks (such as center pivot watering circles in contemporary agribusiness) as in “Ground No.6 (floor installation),” suggesting also ancient Native American Mound-Builder’s “ruins,” as well as many ancient, rammed earth and mud constructions. All of the materials of Campbell’s sculptures are made of natural, decomposable materials and are serious parodies of the plastic and aluminum models.

At one point in a recent talk at the gallery, Campbell alluded to the earth work of artist James Turrell and fantasized an installation of an enormous field of her own cast-earth concentric rings. “I love multiple images of the same thing…like seeing a shelf of the same product in a grocery store.” Repeating any image, such as the cell phone shape or her concentric rings, is one of the basic tropes of modern art (Warhol) and architecture (Mies van der Rohe) and belongs in any discussion of printmaking as well as mechanical reproduction. Repetition seems to insure coherence and a sense of consistency and security, versus the chaos and uncertainty of the of fickleness of nature. Repetition also is the beginning of making a pattern that creates structure and strength.

Susan G. Campbell, “Dune No.1,” 2017, Black and white digital print, 40”x62”

In the smaller rear gallery, there is a large B&W photo of a sand dune with two human figures seeming to lean into a struggled walk across the horizon. In the grand scheme of things, of the world around them, with enormous emotional sky overhead and menacing mounds of sand dune and dune grass underfoot, they seem remarkably inconsequential and existentially without destination. In a sense this image is a key to the whole exhibition in projecting a heroic, man against nature, Romantically Sublime, vision, in contrast to the constructed space of the gallery. While this photographed landscape captures the same organic materials as her engineered works—earth and grass, such as in Ground No.6– it is chaotic and foreboding, the exact opposite of Campbell’s built organic world. Three other dune photos, with haunting fog and solitary figures, also suggest a counter to the controlled order of Campbell’s engineered pieces and create a narrative tension to the whole exhibition: nature versus the built world.

Susan G. Campbell, “Water Planet No. 5,” 2017, Digital print on polyester, spray paint 22 3/4 x 30 5/8″

A third group of images triangulate Campbell’s vision and offer a surreal contrast to the architectural and natural conditions of landscape or environment that determine the rest of Campbell’s projects. The “Water Planets” are a series of images of planet-like orbs pictured as composed of water, floating in a hauntingly empty space. “Water Planet No.5” has two truncated orbs, one eclipsed in shadow and one of water, situated in a matte gray ethereal space. Each “planet” exists in ultimate isolation and, one imagines, can virtually never touch another or conjoin with the other. The “Water Planets” are an uncanny and stunning invention and throw all of “Faulty Vision” into another realm of thought and are superior evidence of Campbell’s considered world.

In “Faulty Vision,” Campbell is responding to an architectural space with its own specific, highly evolved Classical ideology. The David Klein Gallery is not simply white walls upon which to hang her work. The Beaux-Arts history, of which the Klein gallery is a part, is virtually the result of the fantasy of authority and permanence that is western culture. It is the result of a weird evolution and Campbell’s fragile, water bottle, grass and dirt column, circles and i-Phones are a remarkable response to that history. There is an umbrella of ambiguity that protects the complicated equation of “Faulty Vision,” that allows for many readings and wonderings, and Campbell plays on that.

Susan Goethel Campbell: Faulty Vision, David Klein Gallery  Through December 16, 2017

Keith Haring @ Cranbrook Art Museum

Dark Haring Rises: 30 Years After its Installation, Keith Haring’s “The Detroit Notes” reappears at Cranbrook Art Museum

Keith Haring at Cranbrook Art Museum, 1987 Photograph by Tseng Kwong Chi, 1987 © Muna Tseng Dance Projects, New York Art work: © Keith Haring Foundation, New York.

Keith Haring is internationally known for his ebullient and evocative figure drawings, rising to art world fame in the mid-1980s on a wave of graffiti-influenced NYC street culture. Like many of his contemporaries, Haring was part of an early wave bringing art to market as a prestige commodity, and like many of his fellows, he died at a lamentably young age due to complications connected with AIDS—in Haring’s case, at the age of 31, in 1990.

Keith Haring, Apocalypse (1988), by Keith Haring and William S. Burroughs (installation view)

As part of its Fall program, the Cranbrook Art Museum presents a small suite of works by Haring that bookend his career, Keith Haring: The End of the Line. The centerpiece of the exhibition is a reconstruction of a temporary mural, “The Detroit Notes,” installed at Cranbrook in 1987, bracketed on either side by a gallery of very early and very late work by the artist.

Cranbrook Art Museum Director Andrew Blauvelt poses in the reconstruction of “The Detroit Notes” 1987 mural by Keith Haring

“There was the sort of public persona of Haring, and the kind of drawing that he would put out in public, versus the kind of things that he would do post his AIDS diagnosis,” said Andrew Blauvelt, Director of the Cranbrook Art Museum, by way of introducing a wall of documental photographs taken by Haring’s friend, artist Tseng Kwong Chi, who also died of AIDS in the 1990s. These photographs capture Haring at work adorning New York City subway station advertisements with his signature iconography, and are mounted opposite a rare example of one of the actual billboards. In the piece, Haring’s work is juxtaposed with and ad for Perdue Franks asking, “Should you buy a hot dog from this man?” and demonstrates the artist already in command of the cartoonish and highly abstracted figures that would populate and morph throughout the course of his career.

Also on display is Haring’s thesis project from SVA, a video titled “Painting Myself into a Corner,” wherein the young artist does literally that. “He did a lot of work that was floor-based, [Jackson] Pollack-esque,” said Blauvelt, “and then picked up the kind of iconography that he was known for. That video showed him working in a performative way, and we wanted to pull that out, because he always thought of his practice as performative.“

This aspect of Haring’s work stands in conversation with another of the shows in the Fall program, Maya Stovall’s Liquor Store Theatre Performance Films, which combine cultural anthropology, dance, and performative public spectacle into improvisational encounters between Stovall (and other dancers) and random Detroiters on their way in and out of liquor stores.

Blauvelt and Senior Curator Laura Mott point out details in the Keith Haring mural

“A lot of these historical art figures, like [Jean-Michel] Basquiat and Haring, didn’t quite fit into easy categories, and the same is true of Maya Stovall,” said Blauvelt. In her first solo museum show, Stovall presents a set of existing works, including those that were a part of this year’s Whitney Biennial, as well as a new piece in the series commissioned by Cranbrook. Just like Stovall’s newest video work, Haring’s mural was a commission for the museum, and the exhibition happens to coincide with the 30-year anniversary of the mural’s presentation, which was also accompanied by a lecture.

“I started drawing in the subway in New York City in 1980,” said Haring, during the lecture, which took place on September 25, 1987. “…The situation sort of presented itself almost by accident. …For the first time, it seemed like I had made something that made sense to be in public because it had a kind of communicative power.”

Indeed, while Haring’s style is instantly recognizable, it is perhaps the somewhat blank nature of his figures that make them so accessible and universal. But the Cranbrook murals reveal a new phase in Haring’s works, what Blauvelt characterizes as “dark Haring,” and speculates foreshadows the public revelation of his AIDS diagnosis.

“He’s officially diagnosed in ’88 or ’89 with AIDS,” said Blauvelt. “But I think he understood that he was going to succumb to it, because most of his friend by that time were diagnosed.” Though Haring’s themes were often political and social, the work at the end of his life and career took a turn toward the deeply personal, and the scale reconstruction of “The Detroit Notes”—including a video of Haring executing the project—captures some of this new style.

The original subway advertisement billboard ‘vandalized’ by Haring during his run of subway art in the early 1980s.

Haring worked for two solid days on the mural—which was always understood to be a temporary installation—first laying down washes of orange, yellow, red and green, then circling back to doodle in black paint over the backgrounds. Though definitely expressing a Surrealist bent—dismembered robot-aliens and frightening, mythical demon-beasts—the work is nonetheless some of Haring’s most figurative, giving faces, albeit grotesque and monstrous, in place of the usually blank bobble-heads for which is he is best known. Bodies are rendered with genitalia, and in various states of dismemberment, televisions blare telescoping stacks of figures, a rosary hangs from a disjointed robot spine. The imagery is immersive and disturbing, and the reconstructed hallway closes in on the viewer as did, perhaps, Haring’s unshakable sense that the demons that were claiming so many of his art world brethren were closing in on him, as well.

Those looking for respite are unlikely to find it at the end of the mural hall, where the final gallery presents two late-life collaborations between Haring and notorious beat poet William S. Burroughs—Apocalypse (1988) and The Valley (1989). One is a series of illustrations made by Haring in response to an existing text by Burroughs; the second presents large-scale prints combining Haring’s images with a new work by Burroughs, developed in conversation with Haring after hearing of the artist’s interest in his writing. It is a fine meeting of two souls on the brink of darkness—Burroughs, who had written himself up from darkness (that included “accidentally” shooting his second wife, Joan Vollmer) to flourish as a gentleman junkie, and Keith Haring, who had gone from rising star into meteoric fall, finding himself at last in a corner he couldn’t paint his way out of.

Keith Haring: The End of the Line runs through March 11, 2018 in the Wainger Gallery of the Cranbrook Art Museum.

Monet: Framing Life @ Detroit Institute of Arts

Detroit Art Review: Monet at Detroit Institute of Art

The Early Work of Claude Monet While living in the Paris suburb Argenteuil

Claude Monet (French, 1840 – 1926 ), The Bridge at Argenteuil, 1874, oil on canvas, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon

The Detroit Institute of Arts opened a new exhibition, Monet: Framing Life, on September 22, 2017, with the work of impressionist Claude Monet(1840-1926), an early key figure in the Impressionist movement that transformed French painting in the second half of the nineteenth century.

This exhibition depicts Monet’s leisure activity in and around Paris from 1871-78. While at the Paris studio studying with Charles Gleyre, Monet met several other artists, including Alfred Sisley, Frederic Bazille, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Monet found his subjects in his immediate surroundings of Argenteuil, just fifteen minutes from Paris by train.

His asymmetrical arrangement of forms emphasized the two-dimensional surfaces by eliminating linear perspective and abandoning three-dimensional modeling. Much of this work was started plein air, where Monet would set up his easel and work directly in a natural outdoor setting, then return to the studio for completion. His vibrant brightness of color in preparing his canvas with light-colored primers, instead of dark ground under-painting, broke with traditional landscape painting.

Raised in Normandy, Monet spent his youth in LeHavre and had been exposed to the work of Eugene Boudin, known for his paintings in the open areas along the Channel coast. Boudin befriended the young Monet, then only 18, and persuaded him to give up his teenage caricature drawings and to become a landscape painter, helping to instill in him a love of bright hues and the play of light on water later evident in Monet’s work.

Monet’s paintings of poplar trees and stacks of wheat, mustard colored water off cliffs off the coast of Normandy, of women strolling with children suggest that life is inherently serene, a series of warm sunny afternoons where parasols protect a woman’s delicate skin from overexposure to the sun. His quests to capture nature also prompted him to break down space and eventually merge color and subject into an atmosphere. The end result is a feeling we absorb, much more mysterious than an intellectual or logical observation.

Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet, French, 1841 – 1919, 1872, oil on canvas, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon

The art scene in Paris was alive and well during these years for a group of artists who wanted to change the traditional approach to painting. Pierre-Auguste Renoir had become a close friend to Monet and here in this portrait, he captures him wearing a blue jacket and smoking a pipe. Renoir had a brilliant eye for both intimate human features and the day’s fashions. His images of common families and well-dressed Parisian pleasure seekers created a bridge from Impressionism’s more experimental aims to a modern depiction of the French middle-class.

Claude Monet (French, 1840 – 1926 ), Argenteuil, c. 1872, oil on canvas, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Collection 1970.17.42

The promenade along the River Seine was a popular subject for Claude Monet. The compositional structure in Argenteuil around 1872 would shape landscape painters for years to come. He divides the canvas by threes on both the lateral and longitudinal axis while capturing low light casting shadows across this old dirt river road. The stillness here is captivating, without a person in sight or smoke bellowing from the distant factories stacks. Monet’s work lays down a foundation for artists like Childe Hassam, the American Impressionist, in his watercolor, The Beach at Dunkirk or his oil on canvas, Winter Midnight, where he has absorbed the plein air approach of Monet and the ability to offer up tranquility to people from all walks of life.

Claude Monet, Rounded Flower Bed, Corbeille de Fleurs, Oil on Canvas, 1872 Courtesy of the DIA

The painting at the center of the exhibition is the work of art formerly referred to as Gladioli and now renamed Rounded Flower Bed (Corbeille de fleurs). The renaming is the result of new research recently done for this exhibition. For nearly one hundred years, the DIA has called this painting Gladioli, the title given when it first appeared on the public market in 1919. After closer inspection, the painting was lent to an 1877 group exhibition with the title, Corbeille de fleurs or Rounded Flower Bed. It was at this exhibition that the participating artists first adopted the term Impressionists to describe themselves. In the DIA exhibition, the painting sits under glass without its frame and provides the viewer with a detailed explanation of the markings on the back of the painting. The painting is reminiscent of how Monet would have worked on canvas in his garden, and foreshadows the immersive garden environment he later created at Giverny.

The Monet exhibition, which concentrates on the late 1870’s, is where Impressionism arrives and gradually begins to mature.

Claude Monet (French, 1840 – 1926 ), Woman with a Parasol – Madame Monet and Her Son, 1875, oil on canvas, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon

It is inherent in the paintings of the early 1870s, as in Woman with a Parasol, the imposing canvas of Camille and Jean Monet, the artist’s wife and young son, where the artist starts to abstract the clouds simply using marks of paint and the white dress becomes blue. Monet’s compositions were based on zones of light and shade. Two years later, in the open fields near Argenteuil, the figures are seen from a distance, and everything disintegrates into a blur of minced color.

The work of Claude Monet is so instilled into our lexicon of artwork, we tend to forget how new the work was to the art world. Cezanne has been quoted as saying, “Monet is only an eye, but good God, what an eye.” The art of impressionism conjures up a world of magical charm filled with light and color. More than anyone else, Claude Monet recognized that his garden, rather than his words, presented the path to understanding his art.

Monet: Framing Life is on exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts, through March 4, 2018. Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties: $10 for adults, $5 for ages 6-17, $8 per person for groups of 15 or more.

This exhibition has been organized by the Detroit Institute of Arts and made possible by the Bonnie Ann Larson Modern European Master Series. Generous corporate support has been provided by Park West Foundation, JPMorgan Chase, Altair, English Gardens, and Grand Hotel—Mackinac Island. Major support has been provided by Lois and Avern Cohn. Additional funding is contributed by Dr. Mark and Amy Haimann, Dr. Theodore and Diana Golden, anonymous donors, Eleanore and Dick Gabrys, and Andrew L. and Gayle Shaw Camden.

 

 

Abstract Minded: Works by Six Contemporary African Artists

Curated by Osi Audu at the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art

Installation Image, all images courtesy of the N’Namdi Gallery

Curated by Nigerian born artist Osi Audu, “Abstract Minded: Works by Six Contemporary African Artists,” at the N’Namdi Center, is an exhibition that surveys a confounding issue in the history of modern art, which is the lineage of the use abstraction in contemporary African art. For most people, their first association with African Art is ethnographic and stereotypical otherness, but also the exotic richness, of “primitive African iconography.” Thanks to the Detroit Institute of Art’s great African collection, many of us have grown up with that legacy. But now it is truly refreshing to get a glimpse of internationally known contemporary African artists in N’Namdi’s iconic space.

Serge Alain Nitegeka, “Found Mass 1,” Paint of wood, 74 7/8”x43 3/8”, 2017

 

Each of the five artists represented in Audu’s selection employs abstraction in a unique and revelational way, showing the effect of over thirty years of economic globalization in general and on art practices in particular. Serge Alain Nitegeka is a Burundi-born artist living and making art in Johannesburg, South Africa. While there are only two of his paintings in the exhibition, Nitegeka’s work participates in a dialogue with the dynamics of geometric abstract shapes and, in his drama of the manipulation of tilted planes, of geometric, colored shapes engaged in a Constructivist tradition. We can go back to the beginning of the century to the Russian Supremacists and El Lissitsky to find the origins of this work. Much of Nitegeka’s inspiration, the gallery guide explains, comes from a fascination with the built infrastructure of Johannesburg itself, the highways and buildings and basic structure of its urban landscape, in other words, contemporary Africa. He has achieved an international reputation for his large-scale installations.

Elias Sime, “Tightrope Contrast,” Reclaimed electronic wires on panel, 73”x95,” 2017

Equally renowned is the work of Ethiopian artist Elias Sime, whose work echoes the bricolage strategies of many Detroit artists. In pieces composed of reclaimed electronic components — hundreds of cell phones, computer mother-boards, miles of color-coded wires — Simes constructs, with obsessive mastery, complex images of delicate line and color that are metaphorical in thinking about the interconnectivity and dependency of all of our lives on a global scale. They are also quite simply sublime in effect. From his “Tightrope” series, “Tightrope Contrast” is magical. Each of the eighty 8”x12” panels of which it is composed can be read as independent, abstract cartoon landscapes or topographical maps, suggesting an epic tapestry of tangled narratives.

From the same series, “Tightrope: Mobile2,” fiendishly composed of thousands of discarded cell phones, is a giddying delight when one thinks about the millions of voices and words that occurred with these phones and that the sculptural relief represents. It is a triumph in recycling, as well a majestic work of art!

For one gnarly reason, Osi Audu, the curator of the “Abstract Minded,” and Elias Sime have the most amount of work in the exhibition and that reason is the cost of insuring the works of art. Quite simply it is outrageously expensive to bring in and insure many high-profile artists’ works. Nevertheless, and thankfully, Audu and Sime are well represented with four works each.

OSI ADUA, Self-Portrait, Yoruba Head, Grafite & Pastel, on paper, mounted on canvas, 2017

Sime and Nitegeka have focused on the material culture of contemporary Africa — buildings and highways, the technology of cell phones and circuit boards — translating these modern materials into geometric forms in the universal language of abstraction. Osi Audu, on the other hand, in a complex negotiation of the ethnographic history of the Yoruba philosophy, has turned the history of African cosmology back on itself to create conceptual self-portraits. Proceeding from the Yoruba belief in the architecture of the head as a model of the inner and outer head, of the spiritual and physical, Audu has explored African identity through its art. Employing the Ogoni, Benin, and Etsako peoples’ tribal masks, he has used that process of mind, the analytical process of seeing a form called abstraction, to invent alluring new shapes that he calls, without irony, “self-portraits.” In a sense, the process seems to negate the ethnographic reality of African culture on behalf of the currency of the global language of abstraction. However, the forms that have emerged become, in and of themselves, identities. The “Self-Portraits” become logos of the real. Audu’s strategy only succeeds because of their fundamental success as images; as enigmatic shapes, they carry a mysterious presence that is equal to that of the tribal masks themselves. “Self-Portrait: Benin Head,” composed of reflective graphite and light-absorbing black pastel, while carving a unique geometric shape, with a sense of inside and outside, of African spiritual interiority and physical exteriority, diagrams a presence that is complex and elegantly composed.

Nnenna Okore, “Threads of Time,” Cheesecloth, dye, wire, acrylic, 54”x54”x8”, 2017 of Time” Cheesecloth, dye, wire and acrylic 54″ x 54″ x 8″ 2017

Nigerian artist Nnenna Okore’s remarkable mixed media wall sculptures are composed of found and repurposed materials — threads, buttons, wire — and achieve their presence by mirroring the vital growing processes and unique forms of nature. The delicate webbing in “Threads of Time” inscribes, in the processes of tribal arts, her working hands in the abstract expressionistic process of the image. The braiding, matting, twisting, and weaving — akin to abstract painting’s vigorous expressionistic gestures — all echo tribal hair-style techniques and textile fabrication but simultaneously locate the object in both a cosmopolitan and a tribal landscape.

Odili Donald Odita, “Metropolitan,” Acrylic on canvas, 68”x 48,” 2017

Like Nitegeka’s Constructivist-inspired paintings, we would like to see more than one work by Nigerian-born Odili Donald Odita, but one senses in his painting “Metropolitan” the celebratory vision of interlocking splinters of light and color that are metaphors for the human imagination. And like Nitegeka, he has painted huge architectural installations that, while referencing artists such as Color Field painter Kenneth Noland, are original and awe-inspiring.

Osi Audu’s “Abstract Minded” exhibition places the idea of abstraction not in the tradition of Western art history, but rather in the history of ideas and philosophy. The process of abstraction that he characterizes in contemporary African art is a mode of thought that is fundamental to a worldview, rather than an art history term, and in a very real sense posits Detroit as a site of this dialogue.

Abstract Minded: Works by Six Contemporary African Artists

Curated by Osi Audu at the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art

N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art    Through January 8, 2018