Scott Hocking @ David Klein Gallery

Detail of Installation View of “Scott Hocking: Old” Photo courtesy of Robert Hensleigh

Some sixty years ago, in the spirit of the Avant-garde, earthworks artist Robert Smithson– among other American artists like Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, Sol Lewitt—attempted to escape the confined space of the traditional artist’s studio, and to undo the tyranny of studio practice by redefining its traditional image/object making , and by commencing what he called an “expeditionary art.” Taken to meandering the industrial landscape of Passaic New Jersey, Smithson took Instamatic photos of  commonplace  industrial infrastructural constructions (bridges, smokestacks, drainage pipes) and, like Duchamp did with commonplace artifacts he called “readymades,“ Smithson re-recognized industrial infrastructure as monuments to civilization. Eventually also touring Mayan Mexico, he inserted mirrors in odd locations of the landscape to multiply and redefine Mexico’s already surreal visual landscapes. Smithson finally explored the arid landscape of the American West where he created his Spiral Getty, the greatest of American earthworks, on the Great Salt Lake.

Scott Hocking, a kindred Detroit artist founded a similar practice two decades ago by meandering and drifting through the eroding landscape of Detroit. Out of found materials appropriated from abandoned factories and office building, he created ephemeral monuments of the derelict remains of the city; at once archeologist and alchemist, he photographed them as part of the project. Among his many captivating projects Hocking created a huge stone egg in Michigan Central Train Station. He constructed a ziggurat in the Fischer Body 21 factory. He built a pyramid of abandoned car tires on a suburban lawn. Hocking has continued that practice on an international level with 22 site-specific projects throughout the world to date including works in France, Germany, Australia, Iceland, China, as well as throughout Michigan, Florida, New York; he now returns to the confinement of the Gallery space with an understated, thematically charged exhibition.

Scott Hocking, “Old,” 2018, gypsum, patina, salt.

“Scott Hocking: Old” returns him to the traditional, white box space of an art gallery at the David Klein gallery, and is a challenging summation of Hocking’s artistic process.

The center piece of the exhibition is the Klein Gallery’s Greek column that sits in the main entrance of the gallery. Riffing on the catacombs of Paris (which he visited) where the skeletons of millions of Parisian inhabitants were removed from cemeteries and placed in the ancient stone mines under the city, Hocking saw Detroit, as literally built upon the bodies and excruciating labor of human beings (autoworkers?). Symbolically surrounding the Klein gallery column (Hocking sees it as a huge structural bone) are thousands of bones and skulls cast by Hocking of hydrocal, made from locally mined gypsum, directly echoing Hocking’s own experience in the Paris catacombs, creating a monument to the souls that created Detroit. Somewhat macabre but in the tradition of gothic cemetery imagery, Hocking’s column, painted with a copper patina, and surrounded by a ring of salt crystals (mined from the ancient sea bed beneath Detroit), reflects his own family history of Cornish copper miners who worked in copper mines, thousands of feet underground, in Northern Michigan.

Punctuating the front room of the gallery, are six inscrutably mysterious artifacts created by Hocking of copper and tin and that are symbolic of the ancient history of copper mining in the Great Lakes area and of the presence of copper everywhere, from decorative architectural elements to the copper wire in Detroit’s electrical infrastructure. Most notably, “Country Boy,” the labyrinthine block of tangled copper wire in the front window of the gallery, is a “portrait” of a copper scrapper (homeless people who surreptitiously remove copper from derelict buildings and sell it) from whom Hocking bought the coiled wire. Country Boy, one of the many scrappers who Hocking had befriended in his research, had been killed in a hit and run. Like many of Hocking’s pieces it is at once a singularly amazing object and, like much of Hocking’s art, a spot-on invention.

Scott Hocking, “Country Boy,” 2003-2018, copper wire, 18”x16”x11”

Photographic documentation of Hockings projects fill out the exhibition, including photographs of a 2015 site-specific sculpture that he composed of, and on the site of, an eroding barn in the “thumb” area of Port Austin, Michigan. Commissioned by an area farmer (this is the second barn-art commission in the area), Hocking raised a collapsing 19thcentury barn and rebuilt it “upside down” to create an as big-as-a-barn, ark-like sculpture in the middle of a farm field. A recent excursion to see the project revealed a hallucinatory-like structure amidst an enormous farm field. Walking toward the ark from half-mile distance, across the field of ankle-busting clods of furrowed mud, with the drama of a huge sky of scudding clouds as a backdrop, combined to create a dizzying, biblical-like experience. The eerie, voice-filled, wind, epic sky, huge, distant trees waving in slow-motion, evoked an unforgettable cinematic presence.

“The Celestial Ship of the North”, Port Austin, MI. Photo by Robert Hensleigh

Collectively, there is an uncanny element in Hocking’s site-specific projects where one perceives multiple forces, both metaphorical and real, and an esoteric body of ideas such as astrology, alchemy, and astrotheology, at work. In Hocking ‘s description of the origins of the Barnboat (also called The Celestial Ship of the North and Emergency Ark), he refers to an Egyptian myth that depicts the crescent moon, waxing or waning, floating upon the horizon of the sea as an ancient version of Noah’s Ark. Like the ancients then, Hocking relies upon observation of the forces of nature, the planets and moons, and myths and cosmologies to situate his art. His “Celestial Ship of the North” refreshes our mythological eyes and prepares us to see, like Smithson’s Passaic Industrial landscape, the world in a different light. He sees the world, not in terms of art history and its successive permutations, but in terms of mythologies, ancient history and material culture. Most of Hocking’s many site-specific installations have been destroyed, removed, or lie remotely inaccessible, but the energy and visionary magic that created them resides in the documented photographs.

Scott Hocking, “Triumph of Death, Mounting a Dead Horse, 1/11,” 2010, Archival Inkjet Print, 33”X49 1/2”

 

In addition to photographs of the Barnboat there is documentation of four other site-specific projects in “Old” that captures the energy and immediacy of Hocking’s process. In a residency at famed Australian artist Arthur Boyd’s home, among the uncanny, serendipitous and inspired events in Aboriginal landscape, Hocking discovered a photograph of another Australian artist, Sidney Nolan, mounting a dead horse. In the Australian outback of Boyd’s property, Hocking discovered the bones of a cow that had been devoured by another creature; he reassembled them into the shape of Sidney Nolan’s dead horse, and then photographed himself attempting to mount it. Like a movie still that evokes the movie’s story, Hocking’s photo is a surreal instance of the strange domino effect of the forces (art engenders life) that create meaning in art or life.

All the processes that Hocking employ suggest an engagement with entropy, of exploring the fallen world, and of a Sisyphean rebuilding of it in various layers and forms—from egg to ziggurat—from rebirth, to going to the mountain to communicate with the gods—carefully manipulated in stacked arrangements, expected to crumble, but that at once coherent and transformative and even alchemical. As we spoke at his recent talk at the Klein gallery he bemoaned the fragile, degenerating quality of photographic documentation but optimistically, hoping for future technologies to preserve his work. Hocking commented, “These images will probably last only a hundred years.”

Scott Hocking, “Celestial Ship of the North (Emergency Ark) aka The Barnboat, 1/11,” 2016, Archival Inkjet Print, 33”x49 ½”

 

Scott Hocking, Old, at David Klein Gallery through June 23,2018

 

 

McArthur Binion Curates @ Hill Gallery

Installation image, McArthur Binion Cruates @Hill Gallery, 2018

Hill Gallery in Birmingham, Michigan, opened a group exhibition curated by McArthur Binion on May 4, 2018, representing five Detroit-based artists.

Although Binion and I were at Wayne State University in the early 70s, I was not very familiar with his work until I saw his exhibition last July representing the United States at the 2017 Venice Biennale. It was a powerful exhibition, and like many successful artists that fit the modernist profile, Binion makes work that is a study in oppositions: line and shape, figure and ground, image and abstraction, copy and original, color and black & white. His modus operandi is to somehow magically blend an assault of binaries into a single, unified emblem of the unique and complicated self. Although the laconic grids resonate with this viewer, I walked out of the exhibit thinking about the influence of the cross-hatch marks by Jasper Johns.

After earning his BFA from Wayne State University, Binion went on to complete his MFA at Cranbrook Academy of Art and became a professor of art at Columbia College since 1992. He describes his minimalistic abstract paintings as “Rural Modernist.”  Is he referring to being born on a cotton farm in Macon, Mississippi where he was exposed to the West African textile designs in his mother’s quilts? Possibly.

Allie McGhee, Step’n Off, Mixed Media, 36 x 24″, 1990

I have written before in the Detroit Art Review about the veteran Detroit artist, Allie McGhee, when he exhibited at Detroit’s  N’Namdi Contemporary Art in April of 2016, where he had a large solo exhibition, Now & Then, alongside work by Carol Harris, also in this Hill exhibition.  McGhee’s exhibition was majestic in the way he elevated shape, form and color with mixed media on paper and the works on canvas.  In my previous review,  I described McGhee as, “A Detroiter who attended Cass Technical High School and completed his undergraduate work at Eastern Michigan University in 1965, but he was born in Charleston, West Virginia.” McGhee describes his influences like so: “As an artist I have always been inspired by the diverse rhythms of our environment,” he says. “It has been a great reserve of energy for my work. In my recent works instead of seeing the natural world as a rational observer, I see if from within as if through a telescope or microscope.”

Throughout the evening, I kept returning to his mixed media work, Step’n Off  because it just kept growing on me.  The composition leads the way on this vertical abstract expressionistic painting with a strong unconventional structure created by the use of space, shape and color.  The under-painting, with accents of primary color, provides a kind of intuitive support for the overall painting. The only reference to something vaguely representational is a small ladder, an icon that suggests a climb and the thin solid rectangle that repeats itself. McGhee says he favors using sticks to apply paint rather than brushes. Rejecting the brush, he pulls and scrapes the paint across his material, whether it is canvas or paper. The action of the stick allows McGhee’s hands to interact with the paint and the surface in a visceral way, where the thin paint spatters as he arranges this lathe-like construction. Viewers might subconsciously ask themselves, Would I like to have this painting in my living space?  My answer is, overwhelmingly, absolutely

Carole Harris, Time and Again, Textiles, 37 x 43″, 2018

The first thing that jumps out from the work of Carole Harris is her choice of medium.   When I wrote about her work in April, 2016, I described it like this: “For visual artists who quilt, Harris’s work transcends the traditional expectations we think of when mentioning quilting. In a web-based reproduction, we see an abstract painting, dynamic in the use of color, line, shape and form. It’s only on closer observation that one realizes these are compositions executed using embroidery, stitchery and multiple patterns of cotton, silks and hand-dyed fabric.”  In this viewer’s experience, especially in the Detroit area, this artist leads the way in creating abstraction using a large variety of cloth materials and stitchery.

Harris says , “My work relies on improvisation. I am fascinated by the rhythms and energy created when I cut and piece multiple patterns. I let the fabric and color lead me on a rhythmic journey. My intention is to celebrate the beauty in the frayed, the decaying and the repaired. I want to capture the patina of color softened by time, as well as feature the nicks, scratches, scars and other marks left by nature or humans.”

Glen Mannisto wrote for the Detroit Art Review about Carole Harris’s solo exhibition at UofM NCRC Rotunda Gallery,  “As a child growing up in Detroit, Harris was taught embroidery and stitching by her mother, and, being “height challenged” and quite petite, she learned to make her own clothes so they would fit properly. In high school at Cass Tech she studied music and science before settling on art, and, after graduating from college in 1966, she began an interior design practice that she maintained until recently.”

Addie Langford, Mint/Red/Oso, Acrylic and Domestic Textile on Board, 2018

Langford’s large, abstract expressionistic painting, Mint / Red / Osois is acrylic paint over domestic textile on board. The stroke work reminds this viewer of a cross between Sean Scully and Franz Kline with textiles as a backdrop. The diptych is powerful in its structure, execution and attraction to the vertical flow of dripping paint.  Langford earned her BFA in architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design and her MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art. I became familiar with Langford’s work when she exhibited a solo show at the Simon DeSousa gallery with these semi-transparent white bars and controlled vertical drips of paint. One wonders what four years of architecture study does to an artist who wants to make things with her hands in a rigorous process of trial and error. On her web site she mentions McArthur Binion as an influence, and this writer notices some of her earlier work came from N’Namdi Contemporary Gallery in Miami.

James Franklin, Untitled, Acrylic, Epoxy, Aluminum, and Sealed Rigid Wrap on Foam, 23 x 25″, 2018

Part of the Binion show is another artist earning his MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art, James Benjamin Franklin.  Currently living and working in Detroit, Franklin was recently in a group show at the Galerie Camille in midtown Detroit, and a solo show at Reyes Projects in downtown Birmingham.  His small work, Untitled is acrylic, epoxy and aluminum, sealed in a rigid wrap on foam and typical of his recent work. These works feel like naïve abstraction relying heavily on primary color and simple shapes.  Occasionally he inserts a grid or web into his form. This younger artist’s work feels early in its development.

Tiff Massey, Spring Prototype I, Steel, 39h x 39w x 14″ 2017, Image courtesy Hill Gallery

Again, Binion turns to his alma mater Cranbrook Academy of Art with work by Tiff Massey, who earned her Bachelor of Science from Eastern Michigan University, and a Master of Fine Arts in Metalsmithing at Cranbrook Academy of Arts. This early educational path in the sciences differs from other artists but seems to have migrated to metals and on from that point to various art forms.

The floor sculpture, Spring Prototype 1 is coiled steel rod, maybe half inch in diameter and reminds this viewer of playing with a slinky as a child. Most importantly this work moves beyond plain and simple as its graceful and cultivated design leaves the viewer wanting to see more.

Massey says, “My experience with jewelry became my gateway to other media, to a larger perspective, and to making large-scale sculpture, always with a consistent emphasis on adornment. What happens when the viewer becomes adorned and how does the environment facilitate that transition from the unadorned to the adorned? How does the context and placement of an object influence an individual’s perception of self? The work first seduces the viewer, creating a desire to take, touch, and activate.  Once activated the pieces immediately create a sense of confidence in the wearer, producing an increased desire to show off and be seen.  Whether it is a sculpture on a wall, an object set in an outdoor landscape, or jewelry worn by the viewer, my work maintains an engagement of the body itself.”

The Hill Gallery opened its doors in Birmingham, Michigan in 1980 and has offered contemporary art representing sixty artists, both nationally and internationally recognized, along with an exceptional American Folk Art collection.

McArthur Binion Curates @  Hill Gallery runs through June 16, 2018

Cynthia Greig @ Paul Kotula Projects

“Cynthia Greig: Sans Souci”

Installation view of “Cynthia Greig: San Souci,” Paul Kotula Project, all images courtesy of Cynthia Greig

We have been looking at Cynthia Greig’s elemental photographs for years now. We look at them for their elegant and deceptive simplicity and uncanny calm. She has choreographed complex, intriguing photographic projects that engage art history and manipulated narratives that parody the representation of gender construction and sexuality. Both her “Representation” and “Nature Morte” (Still Life) series, with their ghostly picturing of common objects (household fan, globe, coffee cups) and traditional still lifes (with fruit, wine glasses, books, flowers) befuddle our definition of painting and photography, while exuding a formal sensuality and intriguing beauty.

Cynthia Greig, “Gallery Horizons,” archival pigment prints, 14.5”X 22,” 2013

Her current project, “Cynthia Greig: Sans Souci,” at Paul Kotula Project, continues her interrogation of the institution of art, with images of the interiors of well-known art galleries. A series she refers to as “Gallery Horizons,” features five pictures of the intersecting seam of where the floor of the gallery meets the wall. One of the iconic features of contemporary galleries is their characteristic flat gray cement or shiny, polyurethane floors. The best background color for exhibiting art is commonly thought to be white, so art gallery’s walls are almost always white with gray or wooden floors. The museum or gallery is an idealized space for showing art that has evolved since the mid 19thcentury into the proverbial “white cube.” Since Alfred Barr curated the famous 1936 Museum of Modern Art exhibition, “Cubism and Abstract Art,” the white cube has been the model for the ritualized exhibition of art and the ritualized social space of art patrons. However, in Greig’s “Gallery Horizons,” photographed in many galleries the United States and Europe, the art has been erased. Invariably, the intersection of drywall or plaster and the cement floor is left unfinished, resulting in a jagged seam at the bottom of the wall. With only a portion of floor and wall shown the image becomes something else and, remarkably, the image appears to be like a horizon line of where the sky meets the earth or sea.

Exploring her Gallery Horizons, you look at a jagged fissure bordered by shades of gray and white, at figure-ground ambiguity. A photo is incomplete until the viewer engages and with Greig’s images the viewer is even more complicit because of the uncertainty of what is pictured. Ultimately a white wall meeting a floor is identified but each of the five photos suggest other readings specifically. They become enigmatic images of open spaces which evoke emotions contrary to the social construct of art galleries: rolling ocean wave beneath icy sky, jagged coastlines along the sea, barren farm fields with lonely village in the distance. The viewer has an option to either enter the fiction or resist.

There is in Greig’s photographic practice a subversive action to question the role of the gallery by looking elsewhere, at the other, instead of the subject, which in a gallery is art. Each of the Horizons is photographed in a specific gallery, with the name of the artists who are being exhibited identified, which creates a conceptual context. In this hyperbolic space where nuanced perception of images–artistic as well as the vanity of curating ourselves—are almost solely the issue, the absence is rupture. “The horizons” themselves are something else, not only do they become something other than floors with walls they are the thing that shouldn’t be looked at. The floor meets the wall beneath the subject that hangs on the wall. There is an aspect of surveillance and appropriation in her project. These are main stays of contemporary photographic practice and of course all of them challenge concepts of beauty but Greig accomplishes both a critique and sublime representations of the white cube simultaneously.

Cynthia Greig, “David Novros/Paula Cooper/ New York, 30.5”X44,” 2017

A related and more recent series is entitled “Threshold,” which are large scale prints of gallery interiors. An edition of five is included in the exhibition, and again, the “white cube” is depicted with people looking at blank, white walls. Greig has erased the art. Like the “Horizons,” the galleries in “Threshold” create an austere, existential landscape, with the inhabitants– real people looking at art– becoming like characters in a Samuel Becket, Theater of the Absurd play. They stand in quizzical postures, performing nonsensical actions and, one imagines, articulating one artistic “cliché” after another. The Paula Cooper print is particularly evocative of this existential script with a figure, wearing trousers that seem too short, standing in an epic sized space with images of art surrounding him in reflections on the floor. The idea that all photographs are unanswered questions is even more doubly true with Cynthia Greig’s “Gallery Horizons” and “Threshold,” because they pose the riddle of “what’s going on here?”

Cynthia Greig, “Replication (Galerie Thaddeus Ropac/Paris), 80.5”X32,” 2014/2018

To emphasize the discursive eye that Greig has on the art world she has included two actual sized replicas of a doorstop that she has appropriated from an art gallery. One is composed acrylic resin and the other of plaster, graphite and wax. She also had one fabricated out of crystal but it was not shiny enough so she went with plastic one instead. They sit on classic gallery pedestals and, like the “Gallery Horizons” and “Thresholds,” perform an enigmatic subversion of the ideals of most art galleries by celebrating a derelict object found behind a door of a gallery. And perhaps the most decorative intervention is “Replication (Galerie Thaddeus Ropac/Paris),” a manipulated image of a gallery staircase in Paris. Both the doorstop and the replication of the stunning backlit metal staircase function, as all of her incisive but brilliantly maneuvered work does, as startling and ironic components of the structure of the art world.

In addition to her photographic practice Greig has also experimented with videos. In “Sans Souci” she has included, “Museum Mandala/Detroit Institute of Arts 2017/2018,” a video that she made of visitor’s legs and feet ascending and descending a stairway at Detroit Institute of Arts. It is edited in a fast moving, almost musical, kaleidoscopic fashion and extends her intervention into the art world as material for her own art practice.

Cynthia Greig, “A.W.E./B.P. Los Angeles, 2015/2016, 1.25X6X1.25 inches

“Cynthia Greig: San Souci,” @ Paul Kotula Projects

April 14-June 2, 2018

 

 

Michele Oka Doner @ Wasserman Projects

Michele Oka Doner,  Hominin Relic, The Release, Fertilized Capsule

Wasserman Projects opened an exhibition February 16, 2018 with the work of Michele Oka Doner, the prolific and inventive maker of sculpture, installations, jewelry, furniture, functional objects and handmade books.

Michele Oka Doner, Life Forms, 2005, Project for the Life Sciences Building at Rutgers University, Piscataway NJ. Wide view of atrium floor. Bronze embedded in terrazzo. Image from The Watch All publication

Her work celebrates organic forms, particularly seashore life, but also seeds, trees, the human body and other forms of natural growth. Michele Oka Doner is probably best known for her creation, A Walk on the Beach, an installation on the floors of Miami International Airport. It is one of the largest public artworks in the world, featuring 9,000 unique bronze sculptures inlaid with mother-of-pearl in over a mile-and-a-quarter long concourse of terrazzo.

I recall meeting her and seeing her work at the Gertrude Kasle Gallery in the early 1970s, and then again in 1977 with her one-person exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts, Works in Progress, much of what was titled Burial Pieces, was previously laid out on the floor of Gallery 7. She has come full circle since that time in this exhibition at Wasserman Projects.

Michele Oka Doner, Book of Psalm, All Images courtesy P.D.Rearick, Wasserman Projects

Always inspired by nature, Michele Oka Doner composes a collection of flattened plant fronds on a grid with variety in the mono-colored objects, giving it the title Book of Psalm. Traditionally, this is a biblical reference in both Christian and Jewish worship as in the Book of Psalm, comprised of religious verse, many ascribed to King David. With a title like that, the subject matter reaches out to many people and relies on their experience for its explanation.

In this exhibition at Wasserman Projects, forty years later, it’s as if this artist has a genre all her own, work fueled by a lifelong study of the natural world. Mathematicians have long established a code for human forms, from plants to rock formations. Best described by Carl G. Jung and explained by Joseph Campbell, Michele Oka Doner exploits the collective unconscious of these forms, shapes and material in her art work.

Alison Wong, Director of Exhibitions at Wasserman Projects says in a statement, “Michele Oka Doner’s illustrious multi-decade practice has been guided by a passion for the natural world, and a fascination with the history held within the remnants of living things, such as twigs, leaves, seeds, shells, pods and stones. In her diverse installations, public works, sculptures, photographs, and drawings, these organic fragments are integrated, replicated and reimagined in new contexts that speak to the ephemeral yet enduring nature of life.”

Michele Oka Doner, Inlay Study in plaster.

These shell images and assorted shapes set in a plaster inlay are especially interesting in that the object is modest in size and an abstract composition of spiral shapes. The spiral meaning or symbolism can represent the consciousness of nature beginning from its center and expanding outward. So in keeping with the broad theme of the natural world, Michele Oka Doner works with some of the oldest geometric shapes dating back to the Neolithic period, the product of people over thousands of years, as illustrated in the famous ancient spirals at Newgrange in Ireland. Often the spiral is a feminine symbol, representing not only women, but lifecycles, fertility and childbirth. She  places the viewer above and looking down at these various shapes that are cloaked in a gold patina that elevates the meaning.

Michele Oka Doner, Installation of table, objects, and materials.

As part of the exhibition, there is a long table that extends out into the gallery space, which contains a collection of objects, books, various material and sculptures. As the table meets the wall there are two human figures, a child made of porcelain and a standing figure made of terra cotta clay without a head and a spiral-textured surface. These are typical of Michele Oka Doner’s work with the human figure, and in this setting provide a contrast to her dried plant-based work.

Michele Oka Doner, Glyphs

It has been a mark of her work throughout the years to place these glyph objects on the floor where their light color and textures contrast with the dark concrete floor. Her art becomes the process of making, finding and arranging, these small objects to create questions in the mind of the viewer. It feels like a universal language capable of reaching all people. They are hieroglyphic in nature and vary in size, material and spacing, as if you are looking back in time to a Mayan writing system.

Michele Oka Doner, Whip

Michele Oka Doner was born and raised in Miami Beach, but for thirty years she has lived and worked out of her studio in Soho, New York. She says in an interview with CBS News, in Miami, “I really could speak about what I knew and saw which was an accelerated notion of things growing, sprouting, ripening, decaying, the tides coming, bringing me things when I walked the beach in the morning, taking them away. It was full of wonders and richness. By really learning my own trade, it really was coming out of dipping back into myself instead of reaching out in the world and grasping that I learned daily, a step at a time, to manifest an idea, and that’s as much as we can hope to do in this world.”

Michele Oka Doner received a Bachelor of Science and Design from the University of Michigan (1966), a M.F.A. (1968), was Alumna-in-Residence (1990), received the Distinguished Alumna Award from the School of Art (1994) and was a Penny Stamps Distinguished Speaker (2008). She was awarded the honorary degree, Doctor of Arts (2016).

Her work is in collections worldwide, notably the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, and The Cooper-Hewitt, New York; La Musée Des Artes Décoratifs, The Louvre, Paris; The Wolfsoniana, Musei de Genova; The Art Institute of Chicago; The Virginia Museum; The St. Louis Museum; The Dallas Museum of Art; The University of Michigan Museum of Art; The Yale Art Gallery; Princeton University Art Museum; and the Perez Art Museum Miami.

Also on display in the rear gallery is the  new work by Detroit based artist/designer Jack Craig.

For the past decade, Oka Doner has been represented by Marlborough Gallery, New York City.

Wasserman Projects, Michele Oka Doner is on exhibit through May 5, 2018.

Desire as Politics @ Valade Family Gallery

Eight Video Installations at Valade Family Gallery at the College for Creative Studies

Installation image of Desire as Politics, Valade Family Gallery CCS 2018

The staging of the current exhibition at the Valade Family Gallery creates an enigmatic equation. Eight separate, strategically arranged, large-screen video installations by eight renowned video artists occupy the darkened gallery. Like the theory of “intersectionality” itself, which holds that all issues of gender, race, and class are interconnected, each video performs a drama of identity construction issues that might face the LGBTQ community; and each has extraordinary dramatic value with captivating characters and stories. Thanks to Exhibitions Manager and co-curator Jonathan Rejewski, the Valade space is perfectly articulated to allow for quiet, meditative viewing, but at the same time demonstrates, like a Venn diagram, the overlapping issues from piece to piece, from artist to artist, of sexual, racial discrimination, homophobia, and class elitism. The layout is a compelling stage for one of the most compelling issues of our time. By the same token, “Desire as Politics” performs a galvanizing a vision of the crippling emotional effect of our dire human landscape.

The eight artists were selected by College for Creative Studies assistant professor Scott Northrup of the Entertainment Arts faculty. As an artist and experimental filmmaker himself, whose own work is concerned with identity construction, Northrup’s selection covers a period in which the language and politics of sexual identity have undergone radical changes. From the catch-all term “queer,” to “gay or lesbian,” to LGBTQ, from basically 1985 to present, the shift from a binary language (queer or straight) to a nuanced dialectic has broken down the binary into open forms, and has become part of mainstream culture.

Cecilia Dougherty speaking in “Gay Tape: Butch and Femme,” 1985

 

The earliest video, Cecilia Dougherty’s 1985 “Gay Tape: Butch and Femme,” is a strikingly complex and even, in retrospect, humorous documentary, for its diverse representation of lesbian identity. Shot in Ollie’s Bar, “a lesbian dive on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland (CA),“ it features five women’s impromptu statements about their sexual identities. At one point Dougherty herself bemoans the need to “validate our homosexuality” while heterosexuals don’t have that pressure. What is borne out in the work is the complex semiotics of the old terms of “femme” and “butch.” At one point a black woman who self-identifies as butch does a veritable standup comic routine on the semiotics of butch and femme clothing, behavior, and mores. It is brilliantly detailed and really funny how much, like a semiotician, she has paid attention to the difference between herself and “femmes.”

Like any social critique, each of the videos is complex and supports multiple readings. Filmmaker Matt Lambert’s “His Sweat,” 2016, is a four-minute, erotic exploration of sweating male nudes, and while homoerotic in style, could be seen as simply an exploration of the sculptural beauty of the male form. It’s in that difference that “Desire as Politics” is a polemic as much as a collective documentary on sexual identity.

Ira Sachs, “Lady,” 1994, 28-Min. and Matt Lambert, “His Sweat,” 2016, 4-min

 

Even more complicated is Ira Sachs’ “Lady” (1994), an engaging, 28-minute narrative portrait of a female “actress” who rambles from one identity to another, from lesbian portraying a gay man, to playing a gay man portraying straight women. We really are never sure of the psychic make up of the speaking subject. Emotionally “Lady” is suffused with a strange, unresolved longing for something, for a satisfaction that is stalemated by indescribable forces. The piece prefigures Sachs’ later film, Leave the Lights On (2012), that develops this frustration into a critically acclaimed feature, where uncertainty of sexual identity between two male characters is the prevalent dynamic.

While seemingly humorous, “Women’s Size Eight” (2017), a four-minute video by College for Creative Studies’ student Zachary Marsack, portrays the torturous effort to “shoe-horn” a battered “male foot” into a dainty, spike-heeled shoe. The physical torture notwithstanding, the metaphor of fitting a masculine-assigned figure into a feminine form is perfectly and simply stated. Marsack’s video is the only one projected on a TV, which appropriately sits on the floor where feet belong.

“Desire as Politics” executes an amazingly astute, while very human, analysis of our hybridized sexual landscape and, by so doing, suggests the deep critical readings of the so-called heterosexual landscape as well. Because of the dazzling collection of images and voices, the most eye-opening video is Rashaad Newsome’s “Stop Playing in My Face,” 2016. The title was taken from a performance by transgendered Samantha James Revlon and, through a video collage of baroque jewelry and architectural elements, Newsome designed a head-shaped sculpture and video that speaks of the patriarchy of straight life and the desire and need to break it down. In this he has employed the voices of various feminists, such as bell hooks and trans activist Janet Mock, to speak their critiques from collaged mouths in the sculpture. The selection and arrangement of videos in and of itself creates a stunning deconstruction of our gendered landscape.

Group installation view, Valade Family Gallery, 2018

“Desire as Politics” at College for Creative Studies’ Valade Family Gallery – through March 10, 2018.