Susan Aaron-Taylor @ NCRC Gallery, Ann Arbor

Strata is Susan Aaron-Taylor’s work at the University of Michigan NCRC Connection Gallery

Susan Aaron-Taylor’s dynamic, charged sculptures, on view currently at NCRC Connection Gallery at the University of Michigan, confront the viewer like visitors from another world. Beginning with an image drawn from a dream or an astral journey (Aaron-Taylor is a student of Jungian psychology and shamanic practice) she curates a collection of challenging, specific materials into forms that utterly transcend craft. Aaron-Taylor’s sculptures are charged with an eerie liveliness- sharp, appraising eyes, extended claws, bared teeth, sensuous, bejeweled fur- and seem to exist in their own open-ended narratives, in which time assumes a dream-like quality, collapsed and overlapping. Susan Aaron-Taylor: Strata is a retrospective, encompassing different bodies of work that explore, from different perspectives, a channeling of massive power.

The studio where Aaron-Taylor nurses her visions into corporeal forms is a bright, warm space, part alchemical laboratory, part cabinet of natural curiosities. Leading me around her studio, Aaron-Taylor opens drawers, draws back curtains, pulls out boxes, revealing piles of glittering stones, cords of elegantly twisted wood, curls of birchbark, mounds of multicolored felt. Beginning with an armature of found wood, each form is carefully and lovingly built, of bones, shells, quills, beads, crystals, cacti, and a hand-stitched felt “pelt” into an incredibly powerful assemblage that seamlessly evokes a recognizable animal- cats, polar bears, water rats. These creatures feel both archetypal and individual. Each projects a state of emotional extremity that could vary from viewer to viewer- the half-reclined posture and exposed bones of “Guide,” for example, presents a puzzling paradox between title and content- power invested with touching vulnerability.

Susan Aaron-Taylor, Guide, Cholla Cactus, Shells, Handmade felt, Petrified Wood, Animal Skull, Banded Iron, 12 x 29 x 14″ All Images courtesy of Tim Thayer

Each clearly has a story to tell. Though they come from a very personal place, Aaron-Taylor is reluctant to reveal her own associations with her sculptures- she finds it more interesting to learn what they evoke for viewers. It is a tenet of Jungian psychoanalysis that each symbol that appears in a dream has a meaning unique to the dreamer.

The vivid blue dressing that surrounds “Water Rat” could be a ruffled skirt or a watery environment. The rat is depicted with her forelegs raised toward the sky in a gesture that could be read as despair or exaltation. The rat is clearly a mother- her body is studded with erect nipples tipped with shimmering beads. It’s an unusual combination of signs- lowly rodent and fertility goddess.

Susan Aaron-Taylor, Water Rat, 16 x 11 x 18″, Handmade Felt, Stones, and Stitching

The ladder that “Polar Bear” climbs straddles multiple worlds- it could represent a conduit to the shamanic upper world, or index a cage through which the defiant, porcupine quilled face of the creature snarls, depending upon the angle by which one views it. Either way, the being’s survival is uncertain. It’s elongated legs balance precariously on diminutive masses of ice that threaten to float apart in warming seas.

Susan Aaron-Taylor, Polar Bear, 19 x 17 x 13″, Wood, Handmade Felt, Geodes, Porcupine Quills, Cabochons, and Beads

“Tiger Teapot” adds yet another intriguing layer of imagery, being both a functioning teapot (it technically contains an inner chamber, lid and spout, though Aaron-Taylor points out that her teapots “can only really be used for a return to those childhood tea parties where what was being served was imagination and wonder.”) and a sly, enigmatically smiling creature mid-prowl.

Susan Aaron-Taylor, Tiger Teapot, 12 x 19 x 10″, Handmade Felt, Wood, Geodes, Cabochons, and Porcupine Quills

The tea service format ropes the ritual act, the gathering around vessels invested with fragrant brew, into the dream-symbol narrative Aaron-Taylor presents in tantalizingly vague, multifaceted flashes of insight. Expertly weaving the half-remembered visuals of dreams with iconic objects that resonate with ritual, Aaron-Taylor sets the stage for viewers to have their own experience of journey and revelation. With her incredible command of materials and craft and the profound, yet somehow light-hearted feel of her sculptures, she makes for a good guide.

Susan Aaron-Taylor: Strata is on view at Connections Gallery, North Campus, University of Michigan, from September 5 through December 12, 2017

 

Butter Projects @ Wasserman Projects

Have+Hold, a collaboration of Wasserman Projects and Butter Projects

Showing me around the exhibition Have+Hold, a collaboration between Wasserman Projects at Eastern Market and Butter Projects, formerly based in Royal Oak, curator Alison Wong mused about the concept she and her partner, John Charnota, envisioned when they founded Butter Projects, a multi-purpose gallery space, studio, and community hub for artists that’s been fighting the good fight since 2009. Like the ubiquitous dairy product of its naming, the space was conceived, Wong told me, to encapsulate that essential quality, oft overlooked, that makes everything it touches better. For artists those essentials include space to work and a community engaged in opening dialogs and forging new friendships. Wong and Charnota now command well-earned respect in Detroit and beyond for their brilliant aesthetic and their knack for assembling beautifully serendipitous group shows.

Have+Hold, Installation image, Wasserman Projects, all images by PD Rearick

The dearth of prominent female curators has been a topic of conversation around Detroit this summer. Wong, who curates for Wasserman Projects as well as Butter Projects, is on the vanguard of bucking that trend. She has easily transitioned from the intimate scale of Butter Projects to the off-puttingly huge Wasserman space with a cluster of exciting exhibitions. Have+Hold, however, breaks the Wasserman mold somewhat. There’s a warmth to Have+Hold that I haven’t seen in previous Wasserman shows. There’s a healthy emphasis on craft and the (often literal) presence of the hand- the human figure and how it meets and draws nourishment from its environment is the subject of many works. The works don’t feel enshrined in the sprawling space. Each is as inviting and approachable as it would be in the artist’s studio, with the space around them allowing for a more lingering, meaningful exchange. Even still, the works flow and accentuate one another- this is genius curating.

The show begins with a haunting wall of water media paintings by Loren Erdrich, comprising snapshot-like portraits and intimate, raw studies of limbs.

Loren Erdrich, Firecracker, Raw organic pigments on paper

Erdrich’s paintings encompass the most traditional approach to the figure in the exhibition, despite their striking palette and unusual perspectives. From here, things get more wayward. Like stumbling across a sprawled couple in a dark house at night, it’s a bit of a shock to come from the paintings to Kasper Ray O’Brien’s sculpture “Take Me Home.” Made especially for Have+Hold, the piece places two pairs of legs extending across the floor in suggestive semi-undress. The couple’s feet cross just slightly in a gesture that could imply either platonic or sexual intimacy. The dismembered state of the legs ought to feel macabre but doesn’t at all- they evoke a physical turning of joints toward the warmth of another body that you remember in your own flesh while interacting with the piece.

Kasper Ray O’Brien, Take Me Home, Mixed Media

Juxtaposed with O’Brien’s work are two films by Margaret Hull. “Lightly Touched By” is a beautiful meditation on the surfaces of the body, with the artist drawing a latticework of lines onto her hands and feet with a makeup crayon. This ritual body mapping reinforces the visceral response that “Take Me Home” begins to evoke. The nature of tactile memory is further explored in installations by Shane Darwent and Sophie Eisner. Eisner’s assemblage of objects made from cast silicone, titled “Soft and Heavy,” suggests a utilitarian space of platforms and mundane vessels, soap cups, washtubs. Her creamy pastel palette and soft, drippy material render these objects not only seductively tactile but almost edible. Darwent is rapidly establishing himself as a young artist to watch. His structures, which use architectural materials and razor-sharp, life-sized digital prints blur the lines between actual objects and renderings of them, trafficking in a new spin on trompe l’oeil. Heaviness, the inevitability of collapse, the awkwardness of exurban sprawl, and the arbitrariness that defines what is “well-built” all find their way into his work, with unsettlingly cinematic lighting straight from David Lynch.

Ellie Krakow’s mixed media sculptures that combine finely wrought casts, hand built ceramic of torqueing elbows and shoulders with photographs of arms and hands mimicking the cast positions meditate in a cooler, more conceptual way on the nature of embodied movement, while Margo Wolowiec’s woven pieces are a delightful surprise, roping yet another handcraft into Have+Hold and resembling the layered, slightly offset strata of thought processes and memory.

Sophie Eisner, Soft and Heavy, Mixed Media

Shane Darwent, Joseph’s Garden, Mixed Media

Don’t visit Have+Hold if you’re in a hurry- it’s worth it to take in the broad sweep of the show then slow down and spend a little time with each work. The warmth of the show I referenced above opens most fully with a little lingering and savoring- a harkening back to when life was made up of such moments. Movement, touch, intimacy, homing, and connection well up in a visceral, embodied experience of work well conceived and wrought with love. Have+Hold reminded me that a good show should grab hold of all your senses and leave them stirred and warmed.

Have+Hold, a collaboration of Wasserman Projects and Butter Projects by Alison Wong and John Charnota, is on view at Wasserman Projects in Detroit through August 26, 2017.

http://wassermanprojects.com/have-hold/

 

 

Campins & Yaque @ Wasserman Projects

Two Cuban Artists create work from the City of Queen Anne’s Lace

Alejandro Campins & José Yaque, Installation image. All images courtesy of the Detroit Art Review.

Wasserman Projects opened a new exhibition of work by two Cuban-born artists, Alejandro Campins and José Yaque on April 21, 2017, curated by Rafael DiazCasas, a curator based in New York City. The exhibition, City of Queen Anne’s Lace,  grew from conversations when gallery owner Gary Wasserman saw the work of Campins while on a visit to Havana, Cuba in 2015 and had an intuition about the resurgence of art that grew out of a developing transformation, both here in Detroit and Havana.

José Yaque, Autochthonous Soil, Found objects, earth, oil, plants, 16 x 13 x 4′ 2017

I visited the exhibition shortly after it opened to experience an installation by José Yaque that captivates one’s attention anew, a construction, Autochthonous Soil, built on a wood frame, 16 x 13 x 4’. This rectangular mass depicts a cross-section of material indigenous to a collection of debris in and around the vacant lots of Detroit. The bottom is created from fieldstone bonded with mortar, followed upward by human created debris, then burnt housing remains, capped off with sod and flowers growing on the top level. The young Cuban artist, who lives and works in Havana, has created in his exhibitions a combination of works on paper, and installations. Recently, in 2015 while in residency, he created a large hurricane / tornado type installation stretched from floor to ceiling, encapsulating wood and metal debris, all tied together with straps of metal. It is as if once Yaque has an impression in mind, he executes the installation with a construction that communicates permanence, both in material and scale, resulting in a powerful impression.

In a statement from her press release, Director Alison Wong says, “For the exhibition here at Wasserman Projects, Yaque has constructed a large-scale installation on site in the gallery, using recycled material sourced from throughout Detroit. Inspired by the study of earth’s interior, the work visually and conceptually references the layering and archiving of experience and the changes that naturally develop through time.”

José Yaque, Detroit Houses series, Photo Transfer & Charcoal, 2017 All work courtesy of Galleria Continua

Drawn to urban landscape compositions, the installation is accompanied by a series of images on paper. The series Detroit House, mixed media on paper, is a collection of nine images captured on his earlier visit to Detroit photographically, and then a photo transfer is made, and hand rendered charcoal is added to personalize the work. He provides the viewer with an architectural assortment of large dwellings that typifies housing styles constructed from the early part of 20th century in Detroit. His exhibition career began after studies in Cuba at the Superior Institute of Art, but has spread to include venues in Italy, France, London and the United States.

Alejandro Campins, Vientre ll, 102 x 152″, Oil on Canvas, 2017 All work courtesy of Sean Kelly Gallery, NYC

The work of Alejandro Campins provides the viewer with the large canvas of urban structures that speak to both representational imagery and abstraction. The work, Vientre ll, 102 x 152” relies heavily on composition, color, and scale. Although this image may rely on the reference from an architectural photograph, Campins provides the viewer with a romantic vision that blends history and memory. There are multiple elements that deliver on imagery that makes us feel secure. Added to the mix is subdued color and illusion, which draws the viewer into this dark centered box, where the artist decides to not continue with the brown rectangle above the protruding marquee. It is a strong example of combining representation and abstraction.

Alejandro Campins, Vientre, 70 x 102″. Oil on Canvas, 2017

 

Much of the same can be said of Vientre, 70 x 102” regarding representation and abstraction in one painting. The combination of formality presented with a heavy hand plays against the offset square with a red dot. In addition, the viewer is presented with a perspective that leads inward to a dark place, intentionally creating a secluded mystery. The work in these two paintings of abandonment creates metaphysical spaces veiled in silence and an unoccupied beauty of a time gone by.

Alejandro Campins had his first exhibition, Lapse in the United States at the Sean Kelly Gallery in New York City in February 2016, where Kristine Roome writing for ArtFuse said, “Campins’ style and vision are expressly his own. And how could it not be?  Formed by his experiences living on an ostensibly allochronic island, known for its cultural diversity – built from Spanish, African, French and Asian influences – Cuba is a curious place. In a few short years, Campins has developed an impressive portfolio of solo exhibitions in Cuba and Spain, and has been featured internationally in biennials in Cairo, Lisbon and Havana.”  Campins was named a finalist for the Farber Foundation as Young Cuban Artist of the Year in 2015.

Curator Rafael DiazCasas says in his statement, “Campins and Yaque came to Detroit with new eyes, exploring the history and looking toward the future. The Fields of Queen Anne’s Lace that overtake and inhabit the city can be thought of as a temporary stage, one with the potential to spawn new growths of life. Campins’ and Yaque’s mutual gaze encompasses a society in change.”

Wasserman Projects is guided by a spirit of exploration and collaboration in a space that seems to have no limits on its variety of experience and exhibition.

Wasserman Projects   Queen Anne’s Lace, through June 24, 2017

 

 

 

 

Abstraction @ David Klein Gallery

Group Exhibition: Gisela Colon, Jeff Colson, Brad Howe, Heather Gwen Martin, Hugo McCloud, Ruth Pastine, Matt Wedel, Patrick Wilson

Who introduced abstract painting to Western culture? Today, Kandinsky is given credit as the father of abstract painting as early as 1910, with first a watercolor, then on canvas, but he had a manifesto in which he wrote about abstraction in 1909. Personally, I think abstraction will be in our art vocabulary for years to come, synonymous with words like cubism, impressionism and realism. David Klein Gallery has an exhibition of eight artists from various parts of the country that opened March 18, 2017, representing both paintings and sculptures. On the Road: American Abstraction, surveys artists from other parts of the country, providing the Detroit audience with abstract sensibilities on both the east and west coast, as well as work from the Midwest.

Hugo McCloud, Speechless Conversations, 2016, Aluminum Foil, Aluminum coating, Oil Paint, 79 x 98″

The work that grabbed most of my attention was the large red field abstraction by native Californian Hugo McCloud, who now lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. The horizontal diptych fuses unconventional materials, along with woodblock printing, where he creates a rich surface that reflects a type of urban decay. The rich surface contains a large variety of under painting both in terms of shape and color. Self-taught with a background in industrial design, he says in a statement to artnet, “All of my work is kind of process oriented. When I had a desire to go into the fine art realm,” he explained, “I didn’t really have an understanding of how to work on canvas or use brushes and traditional art making tools. That wasn’t really my foundation.” McCloud stretches his canvas out on the floor, sanding, marking, all driven intuitively by his desire to explore and uncover his personal aesthetic.

Gisela Colon, Skewed Square Glo-Pod, 2013, Blow-Molded Acrylic, 60 x 42 x 12″

On the other end of the abstract spectrum is the work of Gisela Colon, raised in Puerto Rico where she completed her undergraduate work at the University of Puerto Rico, and her JD from Southwestern University of Law, in Los Angles where she now resides. Her earlier work was acrylic over wood constructions, painted with an automotive lacquer, but here in this piece at the David Klein Gallery Irregular Rectangle Glo-Pod she has turned to the technique of blow-molding that uses sheets of colored acrylic. She calls that and subsequent pieces made without the use of paint ‘Glo-Pods’ due to what she deemed “a breakthrough in my use of materials that generated an internal self-generated glo without the use of paint.”Her work has been connected to the work of west coast artists interested in the properties of light and the nature of perception. To this writer, these sculptural objects have a focus that draws on the writings by Donald Judd and Robert Irwin from the 1960s. These ideas may have set up this minimalist approach to creating objects as sculptural reliefs using properties of light, technological elements and reductive forms that, in this case, attach themselves to the wall. The non-specific objects hover between painting a sculpture where light is emitted from within, creating a very contemporary piece of artwork designed to please.

Brad Howe, Soft, 2016, Stainless Steel, Urethane, 12 x 24 x 9″

These abstract planes take me back to Tony Smith, allied with the minimalist school, where he worked with simple geometrical forms combined on a three-dimensional grid, creating drama through simplicity and scale. Created by artist Brad Howe, from Stanford University, these relatively small folds of stainless steel are impeccably constructed with effort and thought, providing simple form and color with attention drawn to their edges.

Howe says, “If we are to engage in the project of self-edification, the evolution of self, the enterprise is tied to our imagination. As Richard Rorty indicates, imagination is bound by our vocabulary, and it is in the growth of vocabulary we should focus. Vocabulary is tied to experience, and it is in energized moments of exposure to strangeness that our vocabulary expands. Encountering strangeness stretches and expands our self-image and seeds the rich potential for our collective conversations.”

Given the amount of concern that sculptors give to scale, these pieces feel like models waiting to be fabricated forty times larger than these tabletop sizes.

Alison Saar, Janus, 10/10, 2004, 10 x 19″

In its second gallery space, the David Klein Gallery provides an intimate collection of works on paper that includes lithographs, woodcuts and etchings. Of particular note is Alison Saar’s hand-tinted paper etching, Janus, that provides an image depicting the two worlds of the same woman, one existing in severe pain, the other in solitude. The expression may resonate with many people, women and men alike who find life to have its existence varied in a dichotomy of emotions. Saar says, “It was really poignant to me, this idea that a work of art could, somehow, turn a page, or shed a light, or lead back to a source. And that’s one of the things that’s exciting about being an artist; that your work threads people to other places, and not necessarily in straight lines.”

A native of Los Angles, Alison Saar’s work is primarily figurative, often female, in various emotional states or physical expressiveness. She seems to find symbolic richness in found objects, often with a narrative that offers a metaphoric view of life’s possibilities.

The David Klein Gallery has a long history of representing a collection of Detroit artists living and working in the Detroit Metro area. In contrast, On the Road: American Abstraction, Christine Schefman, Director of Contemporary Art, draws on artists who are represented by galleries from New York to Los Angeles, providing thought on some new experience and provoking exposure to the Detroit art community.

David Klein Gallery   March 19 – April 22, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Threesome @ Simone DeSousa Gallery

Delights of the Garden: Ben Hall, Andrew Mehall, Jason Murphy

Ben Hall, Andrew Mehall, Jason Murphy. Collaboration 2017 Image Courtesy of Detroit Art Review

The actions and words of our latest president, the bizarre but predictable choices for his cabinet and advisors, yesterday’s horrifying news of 200 civilians dying in the new president’s escalated bombing of Mosel, Iraq, so reminiscent of the televised Vietnam War — all of this makes us think of the moment of Richard Nixon and of events leading to and following that debacle. Simone DeSousa Gallery presents a collaborative exhibit that beat MSNBC and the other news networks to the punch in this realization. The show, “Delights of the Garden,” is a collaborative meditation/installation on the Vietnam War by Ben Hall, Andrew Mehall, and Jason Murphy, three Detroit artists who are too young to have been there, but who are very conscious of Trump and company’s echo of historical circumstances.

Ben Hall, Andrew Mehall, Jason Murphy. Collaboration 2017 Image Courtesy of Simone DeSousa Gallery.

Entitled after the 1977 album “Delights of the Garden,” by the Black Nationalist, proto-hip-hop group “The Last Poets,” the installation is composed of objects, graphics, and videos, an array of materials implying comparisons between the nightmarish circus of the Vietnam era and our contemporary landscape of White House clowns. The album itself listened to by the artists in their youth, is a taut, poetic narrative of the everyday life of the Vietnam era in the face of horrors of nuclear annihilation. It doesn’t narrativize the installation; in fact, as a credit to the artists, it is not even used as a soundtrack for the exhibition but provides a psychological landscape and an amazing evocation of black consciousness at the time. It’s a reference, rather than a part of the installation itself, and well worth (re)listening to, perhaps before visiting the gallery. As such it evokes the condition of young black men forced to go to war while living in a world of excruciating racial prejudice, and thus forced into becoming cannon fodder for an imperialist aggression. (Also check out Defense Secretary Robert McNamara’s “Project 100,000,” a plan that allowed the drafting of mentally or medically unfit soldiers into the Vietnam War).

Ben Hall, Andrew Mehall, Jason Murphy. Collaboration 2017 Image Courtesy of Simone DeSousa Gallery.

The gallery installation is centered around three dioramas that suggest or frame implications about the culture of the Vietnam era. They are, like many modernist abstractions, inscrutable and need unpackaging. One of the dioramas, containing images of abstract DeStijl artist’s posters, appears as an active studio, a glass floor and modernist office chair, suggests a walk-in painting by Mondrian himself and implicates Dow Chemical in supporting modernism. Dow Chemical, a Midland Michigan based company, was the manufacturer of Agent Orange, among other defoliants listed with banal, cartoony names, in the exhibition, responsible for cancers and the birth of deformed children, that resulted from its use. Anchoring the exhibition on the back wall of the gallery is a remarkable group of fifteen paintings, by the artist-curators, of mission patches that were created by soldiers and worn on their uniforms. These were not official military patches but were designed as unofficial commentary by soldiers, and judging by the content of cartoons such as “Snoopy” and “Felix the Cat,” many of them were quite young. Perhaps most disturbing patch is the “peace sign” inscribed with the words “Footprint of the American Chicken,” ironically of course, since the Peace Movement was an effort to save these same young men’s lives.

Ben Hall, Andrew Mehall, Jason Murphy. Collaboration 2017 Image Courtesy of Simone DeSousa Gallery.

A prominent design feature of the exhibit is a group of long, tubular columns, crisscrossing the gallery and papered in Harlequin-patterned copies of the Pentagon Papers. Uncertainly the Harlequin pattern, a common evocation of Commedia del’ Arte theater, may signify the circus atmosphere of the Vietnam era and the hysterical, comic atmosphere of the Pentagon Papers themselves, and especially the interchangeability of comic figures participating in both Vietnam history and contemporary White House charades. Nevertheless, the Pentagon Papers and the subsequent melodrama of the Watergate break-in, including all of the players in the Watergate cover-up, are featured in the exhibition’s graphics. John Ehrlichman, G. Gordon Liddy, E. Howard Hunt, John N. Mitchell, especially Robert McNamara and Henry Kissinger: these are names all too familiar to anyone who grew up during the Vietnam era, and prefigure current White House players. There is little narrative description of the roles of these actors or of any of the events that took place, but rather the exhibition serves as a prompt for remembering and revisiting the moment while providing a continuing context for thinking about contemporary events. “Garden of Delights” is then a kind of modernist historical sculpture. A text by renowned artist/critic Donald Judd is supplied with the exhibition to warn of the dangers of nationalism and its effect on artistic practice and is a reminder that nationalism, the trademark of our new Presidents regime, affects not only political thinking but our overall ideology.

Ben Hall, Andrew Mehall, Jason Murphy. Collaboration 2017 Image Courtesy of Simone DeSousa Gallery.

One particularly poignant poster in the exhibition, a copy of which hangs in the Old Miami Bar in Midtown Detroit where Vietnam veterans congregate, is a rendering of iconic Huey helicopters hovering over Hart Plaza on Detroit’s riverfront. It’s a chilling sort of cartooned fabrication that reminds us of our Detroit soldiers who lived and died in that hell. In a separate video on one of the dioramas the famed helicopter is also featured as a toy being pushed into a stainless-steel sink, simulating the dumping of Hueys off aircraft carriers in the evacuation of Saigon in 1975.

We rarely see politics and war as the focus of contemporary art and with a semiological strategy of signing not explaining, “Delights of the Garden” is remarkable installation. It’s a painful reminder for those who grew up amidst the assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King, the inevitable and necessary birth and growth of Black Nationalism, of the racial revolutions in Detroit and Newark and the rest of the country, of the Watergate cover-up, with resounding echoes in the current White House as well as the rest of America.

Join artists Ben Hall, Andrew Mehall, and Jason Murphy for an informal closing reception for “Delights of the Garden” on Saturday, April 8, 5-6 pm.

Simone DeSousa Gallery   March 11-April 8, 2017