Michael Scoggins @ Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center

The Robinson Gallery at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center (BBAC) is home to a new exhibition by New York artist Michael Scoggins, opening April 28, 2017.

If you’re expecting landscape, figurative, representational, or abstract artwork, this is not one of those. If I had to place it in context, it would more attuned to the Pop art movement, where Andy Warhol took the image of a Campbell’s soup can and increases its scale, often repeating the image multiple times. Here in the United States, Pop art started with the New York artists Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, James Rosenquist, and Claes Oldenburg, all of who drew on popular imagery that eventually became an international phenomenon. Pop artist’s celebrated commonplace objects and people of everyday life, in this way seeking to elevate popular culture to the level of fine art.

Michael Scoggins, Bart Art #1, Colored Pencil on Paper, 67 x 51″, 2014

The work of Michael Scoggins takes on the politics of childlike imagery and dramatically changes its scale. If this work were executed on an average piece of notebook paper, 8 ½ x 11”, it would be appropriately displayed in an elementary school gymnasium exhibition. The key concept here is scale. These large 50 x 70” pieces of paper carefully simulate the torn out notebook sheet and illustrate the horizontal thin blue lines and the vertical red line on the left. In the imagery from The Simpsons, the character of Bart is reaching out, “Don’t have a Cow, Man.” Well, maybe he’s reaching out to his audience, a kind of confrontation about this iconic image hanging on a gallery wall while appealing to lovers of this character that was first developed by Matt Groening in 1989, and the Fox sitcom now in its 29th season.

Michael Scoggins, I Was Born…(Frida), Graphite, Color Pencil, on Paper, 67 x 51″ 2016

The imagery displayed in Scoggins work is mixed. You have a child’s rendition of a Frida Kahlo work, as in I Was Born…(Frida) with commentary, to a copy of a two-dollar bill, or often an entire sheet of paper devoted to a page of childlike penmanship, repeating a controversial sentence the entire length of the page. There is the possibility that the work is autobiographical, and takes the viewer back to transformative years of Scoggin’s youth. Few of us would disclose our fourth-grade classroom illustrations and present them later in life, after an MFA in painting, as fine art.

Michael Scoggins, Explosion Drawing #4, Marker, Color Pencil on Paper, 67 x 51″ 2014

In many, if not all, of the labels we have given to artistic movements since the beginning of time, is the reason why I go to the Pop Art movement to explain Michael Scoggins work. We have artists, today, that are producing minimal sculpture, impressionistic paintings, abstract expressionistic canvases, and photographic realism, all part of a continuation of movements that began in the past. This concept is an endeavor that transforms youthful memories onto large re-created sheets of notebook paper, to comment on narratives that are nostalgic images and make us take notice. Scoggins uses “Michael S. as a caricature of his younger self, in deliberately creating a signature, and uses nuances of crumpled, folded, sometimes torn or folded paper, to create the facsimile.

“The work I make is always political,” says Michael Scoggins, who satirizes art-world politics and provincialism in penetrating, disarming schoolboy-style doodles and writings. “I feel the ‘Michael S.’ character has definitely transformed over the years and has become more of an extension of my adult self,” Scoggins has said. “I want to present my work with sincerity, and it is truly a reflection of my inter-self.”

Michael Scoggins work is included in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art (New York, NY); the Hammer Museum, (Los Angeles, CA); the Mattituck Museum (Mattituck, CT); the Gettysburg Museum (Gettysburg, PA); The Savannah College of Art and Design (Savannah, GA); along with several prestigious private collections. In addition, Scoggins is one of Wasserman Projects’ artists and his work was first shown in January 2016 at their gallery in Detroit, Michigan.

He lives and works in Brooklyn, New York

The BBAC mission is “to connect people of all ages and abilities with visual arts education, exhibition, and other creative experiences.” They accomplish this by offering classes, exhibits, workshops, camps, and events to the public since 1957.

Michael Scoggins     Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center      April 28 – June 9, 2017

 

George Rahme @ Simone DeSousa Gallery

“A Soldier of Stars”  George Rahme at Simone DeSousa Gallery

George Rahme, Installation image, 2016

Lately I’ve been experiencing something of a crisis in my art writing. In light of the extremely dire roll-out of Donald Trump’s presidency, and the immediate and terrible effects of his first wave of legislation, writing about exhibitions at galleries feels, at best, a little disconnected, and, at worst, completely pointless. I can, however, work to draw connections between works of visual art and larger issues, political and personal, in the society that nurtures their creation. It seems important, at this moment, to focus on the dialogues art is quietly raising and pushing forward, beneath a climate of increasing fear, chaos and darkness. I’m lucky I have “A Soldier of Stars,” an exhibition of new works by Hamtramck-based artist George Rahme at Simone DeSousa Gallery, to write about.

George Rahme, Installation image, Simone DeSousa Gallery

The centerpiece of “A Soldier of Stars” is the show’s array of dignified, gracefully assembled collages, comprised of painstaking cutouts of photographic stills laminated onto weighty bolts of fabric. From a distance, the images might be embroidered with gold thread, or depict flower forms and undersea creatures. Up close, however, one instantly recognizes the lightening-speed shower of sparks emitted by the joining of metal part to metal part, through the medium of intense heat, at an assembly plant.

George Rahme, Clash Between Minds, 55 x 37″, Cut Photo on denim / canvas, 2014

Rahme’s work creates a new icon of industry, one that revels in the alchemical magic of fabrication while capturing, in formats that read somewhat like flags (proud, kinetic sculptures that proclaim identity and affiliation) and somewhat like reliquaries (the long swath of translucent fabric draped over one of the only small pieces, At Half Past Three in the Afternoon.

George Rahme, At Half Past Three in the Afternoon, Cut Paper on yardstick and fabric, 2017

These works feel especially relevant given the current discourse about America’s industrial decline, a dense, snarled narrative that is being spun by President Trump’s administration into the stuff of Shakespearian tragedy. Apparently, few figures have been more sorely betrayed, disregarded and ground under than the blue-collar American worker- the hands that once produced the sparks which Rahme preserves in his collages like butterflies in amber. The absence of visual context around these collages speaks to a dual reality- the true greatness of industry and the societies it once gathered around it (case in point, Detroit) and the fact of its diminishment, both from American shores (a process marbled with greed, racism, and shady exchanges of power that was well underway by the 1950’s) and from the hands of humans, as more and more industrial fabrication becomes automated. The pledge to return industry, and the jobs that once came with it, to economically depleted American cities is an impossible one- many of those jobs no longer exist.

The skill, craft and attention to detail that those jobs required are paid tribute in Rahme’s beautiful works. Ironically, at first glance it’s almost impossible to believe these collages were made by hand- the hundreds of tiny cuts and thread-thin lines required to collage such ephemeral, dynamic bursts of light boggle one’s mind with the thought of all that manual labor. Not so long ago, such labor wouldn’t have seemed so inconceivable.

George Rahme, Stay Gold, Cut Photo on fabric, 2015

Hand-skill, even in assembling huge machines, has a grace to it. It harkens back to some idea of a time of greater innocence. “A Soldier of Stars” includes a small stereo in a corner of the gallery, rigged up with headphones, on which one can listen to a vinyl recording of the famous text “The Little Prince,” richly intoned by Richard Burton. This story of a lost soul who encounters his own long-gone innocence in the form of a magical child from another planet amplifies a theme of loss, and beauty and optimism in the face of loss, that runs through “A Soldier of Stars.” In one part of the story, the Little Prince is looking after a rare, beautiful flower that makes increasingly sinister demands of him. She is absurdly proud of her thorns, declaring to the Prince, “Let the tigers come with their claws.” When the Little Prince realizes that thorns don’t really do much to protect the flowers that bear them, he experiences a spasm of despair that has more to do with the flower’s naiveté than the reality of its precarious state. Despite the flower’s egomania, obnoxiousness and ultimate unsustainability, he cannot bear to let so beautiful a thing die, because it represents the death of himself at one intense point of development. Rahme’s collages expand into a similar narrative- our belief in industry, and in the dream of prosperity it is so naively and intrinsically roped to, has a beauty worth preserving, even if the industry itself can never come back.

George Rahme, Flowers and Feathers, 8 x 8′, Cut Paper on fabric / canvas, 2014

“A Soldier of Stars” is on display at Simone DeSousa Gallery from January 14 through February 26, 2017.

 

Rick Vian @ Janice Charach Gallery

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Rick Vian, Installation image Courtesy of Glen Mannisto

“Keeping a Wet Edge: A Retrospective of the Abstract Work by Rick Vian”  &  “Detroit Abstraction: Featuring 41 of the Most Noted Abstract Artist with ties to Detroit”.

The experience of being alone in the bush, as we call it in the far north of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, deep in the thicket of the woods, is a tricky business. From immobilizing awe over its beauty to a vertigo over its map-less chaos, a walk in the bush can wreak psychic havoc. The current retrospective of Rick Vian’s painting at the Janice Charach Gallery offers a marvelous mirror of Vian’s engagement with the painting of trees in the bush over the past fifteen years. But first before finding himself in the bush of the Upper Peninsula, Vian was a worker, an industrial painter (it’s probably where his no-nonsense work ethic comes from) literally painting factories—the infrastructure of gas, water and electrical lines, the dangerous machinery of industrial production, — and living the inherent design and experiencing the drama of industry.

 

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Rick Vian, “If You Only New” Oil on Canvas, 40 X 68, 2004

There are a few paintings in the current exhibition that took inspiration from that time and they explore with dramatic shading and coloring, with scumbled surfaces and jagged lines, the interconnected and interlocked spaces of a unique and almost cartooned or animated geometric abstraction. They don’t much look like any geometric abstraction from art history though they might suggest kinship with the Russian Constructivists. “If You Only New,” 2004, a charcoal drawing, dramatized with smears and layered palimpsests and composed with the triangular stencils of drafting tools, looks gothic in its theatrical play of prime geometric shapes. “Nice Condition,” 1999, carves figurative contours out of classic blade shapes such as intersecting ellipses and truncated spheres, dramatizing the edginess of the industrial landscape.

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Rick Vian, “Nice Condition”, Oil on Canvas, 48 x 40″, 1999 All images Courtesy of Glen Mannisto, and the Artists.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These earlier geometric abstractions set us up for the big hit of the retrospective and his latest project which is the push/pull relationship between Vian’s figurative and abstract painting of nature. He seems to have turned away from his industrial abstraction and industrial life (he quit the commercial/industrial painting gig) to paint nature. Exploring the wilderness of Northern Michigan’s upper peninsula, where he built a rustic camp in the woods, Vian has engaged the forest and its parts, the tree. Translating his early explorations of the grid, that classic modernist notion, and the physics of sight, Vian has alternated between strictly realist renderings of the forest and a fervently energetic expression. His paintings have become a moment of conscious realization of both the forest and the painting as a signing of that relationship.

 

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Rick Vian, “Stormbreak”, Oil on Canvas, 59”x 84”, 2005

“Stormbreak,” 2005, a dramatic and acutely stark representation of the existential state of a skeleton of a tree is a haunting and certainly metaphoric description of the vulnerability of that tree. In a conversation, he said “I have painted it many times. Its right off Lake Superior’s Keweenaw Bay just past Baraga.” Lest we say Vian has painted it so often that he has almost become its biographer and in that there is the best characterization of a regional artist as a partner and caretaker of the local. One senses a devout relationship with that tree and in the radical shift back, again, to his abstracting of the bush, there seems to lead to a reading of the forest as an emancipating energy and scripted choreography of the forest.

This dramatic relationship infects and determines most of the remainder the current work typified by “The Gathering Pool,” 2010, which “gathers” the surrounding forest or audience of dark shapes, of abstracted squiggles, smears and vertical black shadow-like slashes (figures?) into a focus of brilliant light or frothy foam. In contrast to the surrounding darkness, this brilliant moment is a crescendo of light, perhaps a symbol of spiritual transcendence gleaned from the dark bush. Vian pays homage frequently to his interest in both Italian Renaissance painting, which employed color and brilliant light to dramatize Christian scripture, and to Buddhist, Hindu and Islamic disciplines which use the mandala to diagram the cosmos or in Jungian psychology the unity of the self or personal identity. At the same time, he has kept an eye out for a deep, perhaps objective structure, a former preoccupation of his painting, and found a three-dimensional grid suggested in the “The Gathering Pool” by a faint network intersecting lines.

 

As a disciplined and investigative sojourner, Vian’s bushwhacking has even led him to study the language of the native Ojibway people entitling some of the painting in the Ojibway language which one senses gives a sympathy to the surrounding landscape and to its original inhabitants and interpretors.

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Rick Vian, “Stormbreak,” Oil on Canvas, 59”x84”, 2005

 

DETROIT ABSTRACTION Group Exhibition

As an extraordinary compliment to his own paintings Vian curated “Detroit Abstraction: Featuring 41 of the Most Noted Abstract Artists with ties to Detroit,” a remarkable collection of painting, sculpture, ceramics, and fiber works revealing the profound depth and width of the Detroit’s artistic landscape and of course another testimony to the sincerity and fidelity of Vian’s overall artistic project.

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Holly Branster, “Bracket,” 72”x36”

There is too much to say about the phenomena of abstract art especially in this post-digital age, but quite simply one is overwhelmed with the diversity of ways of seeing and of the use of materials and processes that are represented in Detroit. The stereotyped mainstay of abstract art is painting and the standouts in Detroit Abstraction don’t surprise: Holly Branstner’s stunning “Bracket” is composed of an elongated rectangle with a monolithic, effortless stroke of brilliant yellow with strokes and drips of dark bloody reds. At the other end of psychic spectrum is Janet Hamrick’s smaller oil on canvas, “Undulating Drift,” a subtle reckoning of three panels of alternating stripes in a quiet pallet of taupe and mauve overlaying a series of diamond shaped rectangles. It is excruciatingly subtle and beautifully nuanced and impossible to describe. That’s why it’s a painting. It goes like that: from explosive abstract expressionism to minimalistic painting strategies, from biomorphic and surrealist automatism, to action painting, and the whole wonderful gamut of assemblage wall reliefs composed of cement, wood, metal, glass to cubist formalist sculptures, kinetic whirly gigs and textile hangings, ceramic vessels and Japanese inspired altar-like constructions.

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Janice Hamrick, Undulating Drift, 24 x 30

The explosion that was/is Detroit’s art scene is beautifully realized in Vian’ s deft selection of artists. The diversity of materials and processes speaks of the battle against encrusted formalism that has been a preoccupation of Detroit artists and is a fulsome reminder of the tremendous will and passion of this place-in-the-straits to give shape to the world.

Vian’s paintings occupy the first floor of the spectacular Janice Charach Gallery and the Detroit Abstraction exhibition occupies the second floor. Both are stunningly installed in this amazing space that is part of the Jewish Community Center campus. It is a revelation even to the most experienced art appreciator to see the quality, complexity and integrity of the Detroit’s scene.

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Group Abstract Exhibition, Installation image, Courtesy of Glen Mannisto

The artists included (and Vian bemoaned that there wasn’t room for others he had selected) in the Detroit Abstraction exhibition include: Diana Alva, Anita Bates, Robert Bielat, Holly Branstner, Coco Bruner, Jim Chatelain, Terry Lee Dill, Barbara Dorchen, John Egner, Gary Eleinko, Todd Erickson, Marcia Freedman, Brenda Goodman, Dennis Guastella, Carole Harris, Janet Hamrick, Al Hebert, Meighen Jackson, Lester Johnson, Dennis Jones, Ray Katz, Brian Lacey, Addie Langford, Charles McGee, Allie McGhee, Robert Mirek, Erin Parish, John Piet, Tom Phardel, Sharon Que, Curtis Rhodes, John Rowland, Douglas Semivan, Gilda Snowden, Robert Sestok, Dayton Spence, Ron Teachworth, Nancy Thayer, Russell Thayer, Lois Teicher, Albert Young.

Rick Vian will talk about his work and the Detroit Abstraction exhibition in the Janice Charach Gallery December 4th at 1:00PM. The two exhibitions close Thursday December 8th at 8:00PM.

 

Energy/Mass @ Wasserman Projects

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Koen Vanmechelen, Installation, Five Exterior Works, 2016

“While the native breeds that descended from the  original chicken (the Red Junglefowl) are evolutionary  dead-ends (being shaped to reflect the typical cultural  characteristics of its community), Vanmechelen’s  cross-breeds are solutions. Many years of  crossbreeding have proven that each successive generation of hybrids is ‘better’. It is more resilient,  it lives longer, is less susceptible to diseases, and it exhibits less aggressive behavior. Genetic diversity is essential, proves the Cosmopolitan Chicken Research  Project(CC®P), which studies the various CCP Hybrids.”-From Koen Vanmechelen’s artist statement/bio, on “The Cosmopolitan Chicken Project” and “Energy/Mass”

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Koen Vanmechelen, Installation image, Energy/Mass, – All Images Courtesy of Clara DeGalan

I walked into “Energy/Mass,” the current exhibition at Wasserman Projects, wondering about the distinction between art and science. Having only heard and seen a few snippets of information about the artist, Koen Vanmechelen, and his work, the main question I took in with me was, “how is this art?” This question, in light of many of the openings/panel discussions/bar conversations I’ve found myself in lately, has been puzzling me more and more. There’s much talk, these days, of visual art claiming its rightful place in the hierarchy of sciences, and the importance of visual art (and the humanities at large) in unpacking, interpreting, and finding unique insights into such disciplines as history, mathematics, social justice, and hard science. I fully support this idea- at the same time, it opens a new strain of questioning about what, precisely, can be classified as art practice within the practices of science, academic research, and political activism. Where does studio practice end, and interdisciplinary research begin? How does the one inform the other? An intriguing example of the fertile union between science and art, and how studio practice can maintain its autonomy while exploring in other disciplines, can be found in “Energy/Mass.”

As Wasserman gallerist Megan Keeley reminded me while walking me through “Energy/Mass,” the scientific aspect of the show is hardly trafficking in cutting-edge research. The science of “Energy/Mass” is pretty bare-bones, accepted knowledge of biology and genetics- the processes by which organisms (in this case, chickens) reproduce, and the results of introducing new material into an isolated genetic pool. What “Energy/Mass” explores is a lyrical, artistic interpretation of that long-studied process. The work in “Energy/Mass” presents an aesthetic exploration, backed up by intensive research and field practice, of the processes of reproduction, the surprisingly graceful allegory these processes present for social, historical, and artistic practices, and the vital role visual art can assume in the binding and bridging of disciplines- biological, historical, social, political, and aesthetic.

“The Cosmopolitan Chicken Project” centers on the breeding of chickens. A large coop inhabited by live chickens dominates the exhibition, and exposes its beating heart. Being serenaded by roosters while wandering through a gallery is an unusual experience that made me wish I could incorporate audio into this review.

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Koen Vanmechelen, Planetary Community Chicken Coop, 2016

Vanmechelen chooses his breeding combinations based upon human-made geographical boundaries. This illuminates the impact of historical nationalism/xenophobia/political activity of humans upon the processes of natural selection and genetic descent. Apparently, we require the flora and fauna within our geographic boundaries to reflect those boundaries as much as our history and politics do. What results, manifested in regional livestock, is, in the context of this body of work, almost numberless distinct breeds of chicken, each iconic of its geographic region.

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Koen Vanmechelen, Unpredictable, CCP, Steel / Bronze, 145 X 75 X 34

Vanmechelen’s “Cosmopolitan Chicken Project” is now in its twenty year generation. It has leapt, genetically, from country to country in a migratory pattern that echoes the migrations of humans from one culture to the next on our journey to globalization. The documentation of this fertile chain- from Europe through Asia, Africa, Australia and into the Americas- is displayed in “Energy/Mass” in works encompassing painting, sculpture, and mixed media incorporating taxidermy (all of the physical specimens that find their way into Vanmechelen’s body of work lived long, healthy lives on his incredible farm in Belgium, and died natural deaths prior to their incorporation).

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Koen Vanmechelen, Coming World Taxidermy Chick, Steel, 67 X 39 X 39

These lyrical, aesthetic explorations of the sublime subject of birth and reproduction are backed up with huge, red leather-bound volumes filled with indecipherable genetic codes that strike the layman as obscure, and essentially aesthetic, as the more specifically visual works.

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Koen Vanmechelen, 4 Icon, CCP, UV Print on Gold Leaf, Wood, Steel, 14 X 10 X 1, 2016

This work distills geographic migration- a process which bonds and strengthens- a powerful reminder for us in these strangely xenophobic times. When so much of our political discourse revolves around fear of the other, penetrating our shores, muddying our genetic pool, this work presents a simple, undeniably scientific truth- that cross-breeding, introducing new elements into a long-established system, can only empower.

“Energy/Mass,” A solo exhibition of work by Koen Vanmechelen, is on display at Wasserman Projects through December 17, 2016.

35 Years @ N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art

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George N’Namdi stands next to work by Detroit artist, Charles McGee, Noah’s Ark # 8, 60 X 45 1984

George N’Namdi opened the current exhibition, 35 Years in celebration of all the N’Namdi galleries since 1981, when he opened his first gallery, Jazzonia, on Harmonie Park in downtown Detroit. I remember that location because the Detroit Artist Market was on Randolph street and myself, and many friends were part of those DAM exhibitions. This exhibition features works collected by George N’Namdi before and after 1981, which includes over 40 artists spanning many genres and mediums.

Educator and art dealer, George R. N’Namdi was born September 12, 1946, in Columbus, Ohio. He attended Columbus East High School in 1965 and went on to graduated from Ohio State University in 1970, before obtaining his Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Michigan in 1974. This exhibition brings together a small selection of work that has been represented in the gallery for a span of near forty years.

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Chakiaia Booker, Industrialization, 50 X 59 X 15, 1980

Known for her sculpture made from rubber, and her wearable sculptures, Chakaia Booker was one of the artists supported and exhibited by George N’Namdi in the early eighties. Her work “Echoes in Black, ” was accepted into the Whitney Biennial in 2000.  The successful artist exhibits her work at the June Kelly Gallery in New York City and has work in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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Gerald Jackson, Island People, Mixed Media, 84 X 108, 1985

Born in Chicago, Gerald Jackson gained notice when his work was included in two influential 1970s exhibitions–the 1970 Afro-American Artists: New York and Boston at the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists, Boston, and the 1971 Black Artists: Two Generations at the Newark Museum.  Jackson’s Island People is a figurative expressionist work from 1985 where the work outline of figures overlaps within a flatten picture plane.

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Sam Gilliam, 71X 98 X10, Trade Mark, Mixed Media on Canvas-Aluminum, 1994

Sam Gilliam, the African American artists, who was born in the south, eventually spent his life in Washington DC, where he taught painting at the Maryland Institute College of Art, and at Carnegie Mellon University. Known for his color fieldwork, and a lyrical kind of abstraction, he often worked with shaped canvas and was early to move away from using stretcher bars for his canvases.  In the1980s Gilliam’s style changed dramatically to quilted paintings reminiscent of African patchwork quilts from his childhood. In his statement he says, “Only when making the work can I determine the many languages that form the planes on which it is to exist. Like abstract phrases the many intentions of the work (before an audience) passes through an intuitive sieve… The work was not planned, there are ploys, to the way it was laid out and then put together.”

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Alvin Loving, Dreams of Amorous, 61 X 51, 1998

Al Loving (1935–2005) was an Abstract Expressionist painter, and one of the few African American artists recognized for his contributions to the movement.  Born and raised in Detroit, he was known for his geometric work using bright color and hard-edge line in his arrangement of cubes and rectangles. Loving receive his BFA from the University of Illinois in 1963, and then his MFA from the University of Michigan in 1965, and soon after moved to New York City.  In 1968, he had a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum.

The N’Namdi Collection is one of the finest private collections of African-American art in the United States and combines works covering more than a century of art in many genres.  As demonstrated in this exhibition, there as been a commitment by George N’Namdi to the contributions of African art and the discourse surrounding contemporary art in the United States.  Looking ahead, N’Namdi said “We are putting together an investment team for restaurants and galleries to create a gallery district on Grand River around Rosa Parks.  All this development that is taking place downtown will ultimately begin to spread into our neighborhoods.”

The N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art