Jim Crawford @ Trinosophes

 

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Jim Crawford, Pile Series, All images courtesy of Glen Mannisto, with assistance form Robert Hensleigh

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The prevailing stereotype of Detroit’s ’60s and ’70s iconic Cass Corridor art scene is misleading. Images of beer-swigging, dope-smoking, post-adolescent boys, spitting on studio floors and recycling beer cans into expressionistic, assemblaged sculptures with which they hoped to violate the hallowed halls of the Detroit Institute of Arts come to mind. It was a myth created by romantic souls who tried to rescue bohemia from Detroit’s growing derelict landscape. Of course there was also a considerable population of heady, intellectual /artist types who cowed up around the Detroit Institute of Arts, read books, went to arty films, listened to music other than the MC5, even went to the opera and had jobs too. Artist Jim Crawford who has a mini-retrospective at Trinosophes, a performance space in downtown Detroit, seems like he could have been one of those.

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Jim Crawford, Tea Stain Series in Vitrine, 3 x 5 Cards

Crawford’s art is marked by a psychologically reflexive interiority—it occurs more in the mind as noumenon than as object or phenomenon—and makes what seems an ordinary material world into the extraordinary. Simple gestures or processes, replacing the traditional romance of creating a single object, are repeated and accumulated to explore a sense of time and evolved change, and to challenge our perception in an artistic process sometimes referred to as Conceptual Art. In 1970, in a beautifully measured and meditative ritual production, Crawford translated his daily cups of tea at his job at the Michigan Council for the Arts into a very deliberate series of over one hundred tea bag stains on 3”X5” cards. In the Trinosohes gallery, the tannic-colored blots have been arranged on a grid in two display vitrines to accomplish a stunning array of difference and signifying presence. Each stain records a moment with countless daily variables (temperature, emotional presence, gravity, haptics), or what acute perception can distinguish, becoming a sign of those variable influences as much as a thing to perceive in itself.

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Jim Crawford, Folded Paper Series, Graphite, staples, paper, 1971 (smallest: 8″ x 12”, largest: 22” x 26”)

Like many artists Crawford works serially, and the Trinosophe exhibition features six main series that he has explored from the late ’60s until now. The most conventional form in the exhibition (created in the early ’70s, and of which seven individual examples are exhibited) is composed of sheets of paper folded into flat, randomly occurring geometric shapes, punctuated with staples, and marked or patinaed with graphite or paint. Created to be two-sided, they are a unique composition like nothing else: resembling geometric clouds (each is magnificently unique, but best experienced together so go see the show), and apprehended or readable more as signs than as objects. As in the best of human productions, the materials have dictated the form. In a public interview at the gallery, Crawford quipped, “I had a long staple gun,” allowing staples to reach and punctuate everywhere on these manipulated forms, depositing dash-like marks, leaving shadows and an almost musical notational presence. The scribbled or shaded graphite illuminates and posits a “natural” surface (think birch bark); and the creases of the folds give the pieces a sense of volume and mass, but therein lies the challenge. They suggest dimensionality or objectivity, yet are ultimately inscrutable, seductively flat signs, abstracted and void of referent.

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Jim Crawford, Pile Series, 1972, 20 Untitled photographs (1967, 1972 and 1972) color, black & white photos, paint – 8” x 10”

There is also a suite of photographs that document what Crawford has called the “Pile Series; discovered throughout the city, they record the presence of piles of various industrial or commercial materials that seem, through Crawford’s discerning eye, to achieve the status of sculpture. No doubt he has positioned these twenty images to both serve as ironic description of the identity of the artist (suggesting perhaps that art challenges perception, enabling it to discern “found objects” or objets trouvés as art, thus emphasizing the prominent part that ideas and concepts play in perception), as well as to call attention to the compelling nature of our landscape, and to create a dialogue that compares art to the supposed randomness of everyday material reality. Included in the series are photos of stacks of snow fence, old tires, boxes of fruit, and lumber at a construction site. Each of the photos reveals the particular effect that weather, light, and context play in conditioning both the appearance of the particular stack and our perception of it. The raw quality of the 40-year-old 8”X10” black and white photos and derelict framing of them adds a certain historical charm to the project.

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Jim Crawford, Eggshell Series (2015-2016) Mixed media (paint, glitter, walnut dye)

Two recently created series echo Crawford’s earlier strategies for dealing with recycled materials with an emphasis on personal biographical influences. Inspired by his grandmother’s practice of reading tea leaves at the kitchen table, Crawford, while cooking, has recycled cracked egg shells back into their cartons to produce stark abstracted images of the roundness of eggs. Like his grandmother’s tea leaves, the organic byproducts of his everyday life have become signs: a circle in a square, an egg in a carton, dyed with walnut stain from his walnut tree — painted and decaying they are ever changing and evolving. The delicate egg shells may at first appear as mere garbage or waste, but emerge with a powerful, though fragile, talismanic presence.

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Jim Crawford, Cat Can Series, 10.5” x 14” x 9.5”, Mixed media, 2015-2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In another series, Crawford has engaged Midnight, a stray black cat that wandered into his garden, to create the Cat Can Series. “An unlimited supply” of cat food cans from feeding Midnight becomes the material for a somewhat awkwardly stated, perhaps eccentric arrangement of aluminum cat food cans in various conditions: some painted or stained green (Midnight’s eye color), some crushed, some with labels intact (9 Lives and Friskies being the preferred brands), and all enclosed in boxed frames. Employing the same stacking gesture as the early 1970 series, Crawford resuscitates the theme of exploring the visual landscape for architectonic structure.

In wandering through Xavier’s modernist furniture store on Michigan Avenue in Detroit, Trinosophe’s co-director Rebecca Mazzei, along with Joel Peterson, ironically found a stack photos that intrigued her. Pursuing the maker of the photos, she rediscovered the seemingly forgotten artist and art of Crawford. In researching, organizing and designing the exhibition “Jim Crawford,” she has energetically brought to our attention one of the most intriguing figures of the Cass Corridor, one whose work challenges perception and through its changes translates time into evidence for the consideration of big ideas. The exhibition includes various support materials from Crawford’s own archives, such as a post card series and ring binders and files containing Crawford’s copious notations on his projects.

Jim Crawford at Trinosophes – Through December 23, 2016

 

Sanford Biggers @ MOCAD

Sanford Biggers Subjective Cosmology opens at MOCAD

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Sandford Biggers, From the Moon Medicin performance, All images Courtesy of Sarah Rose Sharp

The MOCAD kicked off their Fall program this weekend with an opening-night throwdown for Subjective Cosmology by Sanford Biggers on Friday, September 9, followed by an artist talk and walk-through of the exhibition on Saturday, September 10. While most art exhibitions feature an opening celebration, the events unfolding around Subjective Cosmology, including a performance by Biggers’ musical group, Moon Medicin, were integrated with work on display—and a continuation of Biggers’ larger body of work—acting as a kind of charging ceremony, or christening of sorts, for the show.

“I’m not focusing on one particular type of media in this conversation,” said Biggers, during the slide show and lecture portion of his artist talk at MOCAD, “because I consider myself to be a conceptual artist and an inter-media artist.” Indeed, the work within Subjective Cosmology runs the media gamut: kinetic inflatable sculpture in vinyl, multi-layer staged video art and footage collage, live musical performance, found object assemblage, fiber wall mosaic, and even a tiny, delicate origami-style paper horse. There is media-within-media; an object sculpture based on a large-scale industrial spool is displayed in one corner, but also appears in some of the video footage, being rolled around by figures wearing the same feature-obscuring masks donned by the members of Moon Medicin in live performance adjacent to the video collage (and subsequently displayed on a coat rack in the midst of the exhibition). Video clips projected on three walls of the exhibition alternately display process videos of the creation of a recent series of small bronze sculptures, formed by “ballistic sculpting” (aka being augmented by being shot through with bullets).

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Sandord Biggers, From the Moon Medicin performance 2016

Biggers deals almost exclusively in “ethnographic objects,” picked up through his international travels and residencies. Just as he engages with myriad media, Biggers seems to create no boundaries for himself in terms of cultural source material, resulting in a final product that might be considered ethnographic collage. This practice recently drew some fire from critic Taylor Aldridge, with particular focus on a piece titled Laocoön—the original appeared at Art Basel Miami last December, and there is a scaled-up version of the same work currently on display at the MOCAD. The supine figure on display in the piece is instantly recognizable as the titular character of the cartoon show Fat Albert, and his labored posture, made kinetic by a cycle of slight inflation and deflation, signals a dying breath that triggers a host of loaded connotations. Most immediately, one thinks of the show’s creator, Bill Cosby, who has fallen from hallowed status in the wake of rape accusations—but the positioning and the association with breathing cannot help but conflate the figure on display with the victims of lethal and excessive force in a wave of high-profile conflicts with police officers around the country. The leveraging of this loaded imagery has spawned its own kind of art-world fetishization of black bodies—much as the horror of sexual violence against women has become almost banal in its pervasiveness as subject material for wildly popular TV shows like Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, or Criminal Minds.

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Sanford Biggers, Moon Medicin costumes on display; according to Biggers they have now been retired and there will be new costumes at the next performance.

Certainly, Aldridge is entitled to her objections around the context and impulses at work in Laocoön, but it strikes me that the question raised by Biggers’ work is more one of appropriation on a broad level. Perhaps Biggers is trading in trauma associated with recent news events, but he deals equally in trauma associated with the slave trade—as with Lotus, an etched glass piece that mashes up renderings of the cargo hold on an 18th century slave vessel with the traditional Buddhist symbol for purity; as with Blossom, which brings the haunting subtext of the American jazz standard, “Strange Fruit,” to bear on the “Jena Six Incident,” involving an altercation between black and white students in Jena, Louisiana; and in Shuffle, Shake, Shatter, a three-part film/video suite on display at the MOCAD, which explores identity formation while abstractly retracing the North Atlantic Slave Trade route, from Europe to the Americas and finally Africa.

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Sandford Biggers, Video projections (still view) 2016

“I was thinking about appropriation, and what does it mean to use these symbols,” said Biggers in his artist talk, referring specifically to a series of works that involved obscuring and embedding objects in plastic Buddha statues, such as B-Bodhisattava. “I realized…all bets were off. You can put anything you want to in this [clear-cast Buddha].” Cultural appropriation is a sticky subject, particularly when one is in the position to capitalize on the potential suffering or ideas of others, and Biggers work raises questions in terms of who is entitled to claim certain cultural cache—and potentially profit from it—and who is not. The most de facto stance is to draw racial boundaries with respect to certain cultural traditions, but the fact of the matter is, the bulk of Americans are descended from willing or unwilling transplants from other places, and one’s ability to claim any given heritage can be tenuous, depending on who you ask.

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Sanford Biggers, Sleeping Giant (detail view) 2016

On some level, Biggers appears to be skimming the surface of so many different cultures that his work at the MOCAD merges into a kind of living collage—it feels unclear, at times, if the whirl of symbols and signifiers have actual meaning, or if we merely live in a society so densely programmed with media referencing other media that you can create a sense of meaning by the old Mortal Kombat strategy of simply mashing a lot of buttons at once. Moon Medicin kicked off their MOCAD performance with a cover of “Fly Like an Eagle,” wearing cartoonish masks, in front of video clips from Cool World and Who Framed Roger Rabbit—both movies that juxtaposed animated and “real” world imagery. The meta-ness of the moment was perhaps enough to feel as though something was going on, but what, exactly, is left pretty widely open to interpretation.

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Sanford Biggers, Seen, 2016

In fact, Laocoön references a statue, which references a piece of somewhat ambiguous Greek mythology. The eponymous subject of the story committed a transgression—in some versions he drew ire from Athena for attempting to reveal the military gambit of the Trojan Horse, in others he disrespected a temple of Poseidon—and was punished with the death of his sons. That Biggers has chosen to double-down on the presentation of this contentious work (literally tripling the height of the piece in this iteration) underscores a double-bind that is as ambiguous as the variations on the tale: Laocoön was either punished for doing wrong, or for being right. In his grasp-and-mash-up, is Biggers doing wrong? Is he right, and all bets are off, when it comes to cultural appropriation? Does this practice enhance understanding and bridge cultural divide, or does it wedge a dangerous foot in the door for people to perpetuate sensationalist imagery and culture-grabbing for their own gain? When does collage as a form generate richness in meaning, and when does it become mere sensory overload?

When dealing in cultural imagery this heavily loaded, these are the questions every responsible viewer must ask and decide for themselves—and Subjective Cosmology is perhaps more fertile ground than most to meditate upon these thorny considerations. As the title would suggest, what you read in Biggers’ cosmos is entirely up to you.

MOCAD

 

 

Jaume Plensa’s Human Landscapes @ Toledo Museum of Art

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Installation, Jaume Plensa’s Sculpture, Toledo Museum of Art

Spanish-born sculptor Jaume Plensa is perhaps best known in the United States for his permanent Crown Fountain installation in Millennium Park in Chicago. This sculpture, which projects recorded footage of the faces of dozens of Chicago citizens into 50-foot towers that flank the fountain, distills Plensa’s abiding interest – the maximizing of human forms to the scale of landscapes. Human Landscape , a quasi-retrospective of Plensa’s recent work has just opened at the Toledo Museum of Art, and features a selection of his arresting sculptures, six exterior works sited on the grounds surrounding the museum, and an array of his lesser-known works on paper. The cumulative effect is an exercise in gazing, quite literally, into the face of humanity.

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James Plensa, Paula, 2013, Bronze

Plensa’s use of scale is nearly enough on its own to inspire awe, casting and carving sculptural neck-up portraits that stand at or above human size. Driving by the museum’s front entrance, one’s gaze is drawn by Paula (2013), a portrait of a young girl from the neck up, rendered in blackened bronze and standing out like an Easter Island head amidst the lush surrounding greenery. Around the museum’s eastern wing another piece, The Heart of Trees (2007) is sited, with 1:1 scale bronze-cast figures sitting in silent meditation at the base of seven live Kentucky Coffee trees, planted into a grove against the hillside and perfectly complimented by the angled verdigris exterior of the Center for Visual Arts. Those driving along Monroe Street by night might find their attention drawn by pieces on the grounds surrounding the Glass Pavilion, two torso pieces – Thoughts (2013) and Silent Music (II) (2013) – and two seated figures, Soul of Words, which are illuminated at night, to emphasize the open weave of their intricate metal work.

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Jaume Plensa, See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, 2010, Polyester resin, stainless steel, and LED light, dimensions variable

A figure seated with knees drawn up is a recurring motif for Plensa – at human scale, with The Heart of Trees; at maxi-scale, with Soul of Words; cast in hollow polyester resin, illuminated and mounted on the wall, in an interior trio of works, See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil (2010). This posture, and the tendency for his massive portrait faces to have their eyes closed, suggests that his figures have an interior landscape, as well as the physical one created or augmented by their presence. There is a kind of vulnerability to Paula, even as she towers far above human height, in her closed eyes and solemn expression.

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Jaume Plensa, The Heart of Trees, 2007, Bronze (7 elements), Kentucky Coffee trees, 99 x 66 x 99 (each)

Though Plensa clearly delights in siting his works in open public spaces, the gallery works create all kinds of tableaus, as well. From either of two entry points to the exhibition, the viewer is greeted by a marble portrait head of what appears to be the same woman, Rui Rui (Plensa seems prone to reiterate subjects). Like Paula, Plensa’s head portraits feature an oddly squashed perspective that causes their appearance to shift as one walks around them. What appears to be in correct proportion from one angle becomes slightly or markedly off-kilter from another. The right-hand Rui Rui stands before two massive wire-frame heads in a peaceful sort of face-off in the corner. Images on paper line the walls – it is almost jarring to see subjects with fully articulated features and open eyes after all the smooth lines of Plensa’s abstractions. A curtain of iron letters, Silent Rain (2003), divides this smaller gallery from the main gallery with an ephemeral cascade of language – another of Plensa’s recurring themes.

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Jaume Plensa, – Awilda & Irma, 2014, Stainless Steel, 400 x 400 x 300 cm (each

This focus on multi-lingual creations – some of which contain characters from eight different languages – suggests a keen desire on the part of the artist to find ways of bridging gaps in communication, or at least highlighting language barriers as a critical boundary between human societies. Through works like Silent Music, Thoughts, and The Heart of Trees, Plensa seems to suggest that music might provide a form of more universal connection; other works, like the Evil trio, highlight isolating factors such as anxiety, insomnia, and amnesia.

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Jaume Plensa, Talking Continents (III), 2014, Stainless steel, dimensions variable

As any portrait photographer can tell you, people love to look at other people. There is a kind of perpetual enchantment with ourselves as subjects, and Plensa’s works play easily into this appeal, while subtly introducing themes of diversity, awareness, and connection – all buoyed by whimsical and unexpected touches. Floating in the main gallery, Talking Continents (III) (2014) features an archipelago of cloud-like forms, a couple of which are ridden by his ubiquitous seated figures. The effect is playful and magic-carpet-like; the seeming effortless lift of the metal forms belies their material structure, and their open motif of linguistic characters throws lacy shadows beneath them. All of Plensa’s environments, expertly installed around Toledo Museum of Art, provide opportunities to pause and wonder at the human condition – arguably one of life’s greatest mysteries, and the one given to all of us, as humans, to contemplate.

Jaume Plensa: Human Landscape, Toledo Museum of Art
June 17-Nov. 6, 2016

Nancy Mitchnick: “Uncalibrated” @ MOCAD

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Nancy Mitchnick, Installation at MOCAD, 2016 – Courtesy of MOCAD

Nancy Mitchnick has had a spate of exhibitions this past year. She had a great show at Hamtramck’s Public Pool, showed a few earlier works in a cool three-man exhibit at the iconic Detroit gallery, Alley Culture, and really opened some eyes with new paintings at Wasserman Project. The exhibitions signify a return to and embrace of her hometown after she escaped from the Cass Corridor art community in 1973, and lived and worked as a painting professor and artist for years in New York (Bard College), California (CalArts), and Massachusetts (Harvard). She was also honored as a Kresge Fellow in 2015, and most recently was selected by the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Letters as a recipient of the organization’s 2016 art awards. Quite a homecoming!

The most recent iteration of her work is in the big room of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD). The huge gallery of MOCAD seems like it was made for Mitchnick and she comfortably fills the space with what at first seems a most curious selection of paintings—ranging from two portraits of a friend and three portraits from her “Wonder Women” series, to a work in progress recovered from what she herself calls a “bad” painting (about which she recently lectured at MOCAD), a couple of expressionistic still lifes, two landscapes and nine houses from her old neighborhood, and two new “narrative paintings.” In a sense the show constitutes a mini-retrospective of the range of Mitchnick’s work over the past thirty years—portraiture, still life, landscape—and two new, auspicious paintings that signify a leap into her future. But much more poignantly, “Uncalibrated” (the title of the exhibition) seems to explore Mitchnick’s quest over the years to mine the vast rhizoid root system of painting, to find out what being an artist is and what it can do, and what it will come to be. (In mock despair she exclaimed, “Sometime my studio looks like a group show.”) “Uncalibrated” is fundamentally a self-portrait, or perhaps a memoir, of Mitchnick as painter.

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Nancy Mitchnick, Oil Painting 48 x 48, “Virginia Woolf”, 1990-91        All following Images Courtesy of Glen Mannisto

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the entrance of MOCAD are three early portraits, from the Wonder Women series, of Virginia Woolf, George Eliot, and Frida Kahlo. Painted in grisaille-like, gray shades that produce a classical sculptural effect, the heads of these three great, prototypical, feminist artists have a heroic scale and echo both Renaissance sculpture and certainly Enlightenment ideals. That they are outside of the main gallery, at the entrance, provides a hint of what part these heroic women might play in Mitchnick’s life as a painter. All three were experimental, independent, rational and investigative, secular beings and certainly, like Mitchnick, lived large lives. They also suggest a classical meta-literacy—to challenge the status quo, to invent, hybridize, psychoanalyze, to utilize—that is certainly part of Mitchnick’s own strategy as an artist. In her conversation with Jens Hoffmann,
 MOCAD’S Susanne Feld Hilberry Senior Curator at Large, she admits to being a voracious reader, which somehow parallels and infiltrates her work as an artist.

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Nancy Mitchnick, Eye Detail, Oil Painting, 1992 -” Davy Butler First Hit”

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Nancy Mitchnick, Detail of Eye Painting, 36 x 36 “Davy Butler  Finished” – 1992

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Her two portraits of a friend and patron, “Davy Butler: First Hit,” and “Davy Butler: Finished,” are elegant illustrations of Mitchnick’s carpentry skills in building these paintings, readily apparent throughout all of her work since. (“My father was a cabinet maker, but sometimes had to frame houses to make money.”) In “First Hit,” eyebrows and eyes are a dozen or so quick brush strokes—they are elegant and deft, making a sketchy, speculative architecture. “First Hit” is more mysteriously suggestive than descriptive, framing the first marks of the physiognomy of identity. Then in “Davy Butler: Finished,” the painting confidently assembles itself around the subject’s eyes. The head is smaller, more contained, and from each part of the facial landscape—the nose, the lips and mouth, and the eyebrows are precise—a commanding, almost Roman presence emerges. While making portraits to earn money, Mitchnick disavows a preoccupation with likeness, with making a painting that looks like the subject: “”Making likeness is not good painting, I’m making great paintings.” Her process, she says, is “all trial and error,” sometimes “losing whole beautiful passages to erasure, to get it right, to make a good painting.” In an offhanded aside she adds, “you writers just keep a record in your computers of every version of what you do. I lost a beautiful turtle here,” she muses pointing to a spot on the recent painting “Night Heron.” However not surprisingly, “Davy Butler: Finished” (the portrait of the friend who attended her recent MOCAD conversation with Hoffman), is not only an extraordinarily articulate painting, but an ennobling likeness as well.

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Nancy Mitchnick, Two Portraits, “Davy Butler First Hit” , “Davy Butler Finished “, 1992, both 36 x 36

 

The heroic scale that she is given to (“I didn’t realize at first that I was a heroic scale painter”), necessitates a physicality and energy apparent in most of these recent works (as well as in her person). Fortunately disregarding all of the foreboding claptrap about “Ruin Porn,” Mitchnick took scores of photos of her old neighborhood near and around Hamtramck and began working from them during her first return to Detroit after losing her Harvard position to a “Conceptual artist.” (“I wanted to do something with Detroit.”)

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Nancy Mitchnick, “First House”, 34 x 45 Oil Painting, 2006

The centerpieces then of “Uncalibrated” are the nine flat, elevation portraits of Detroit houses in various states of devolution. Depicting mostly the homes of working class people and perhaps middle-class families who ran small businesses or auto industry management, these are not memorials nor documentation of the state of derelict Detroit, but exquisite paintings that celebrate a presence of people who built and inhabited this place. Even the smallest painting, “First House,” exudes a very particular ethos and an aesthetic filled with a humanizing spirit.

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Nancy Mitchnick, “Torn Orange”, Oil Painting, 59 x 99, 2009

In reminiscing about her Cass Corridor days, Mitchnick talked about wanting to be an abstract painter but was never able to escape narratives but perhaps, ironically, that has finally (almost) been achieved in two of the most monumental paintings in the exhibit. “Torn Orange” is the painting of a surgically exposed side of a store. Composed of modulated tones of orange colliding with a diagonal green and yellow slash, it features the typical markings of a classic abstract expressionist work, but Mitchnick keeps the context of the building by depicting the surrounding light and air of the city. “Big Burn” is a triumphant exploration of the remains of a home that, in its abandoned state, is slowly rotting and returning to the earth. Exposed rafters, plaster lath and crumbling foundation are astonishingly caressed into a derelict geometry that made Mitchnick blurt, “I felt like I was composing a symphony!” It is triumphant painting that in itself is a marvelous history lesson.

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Nancy Mitchnick,” Big Burn”, Oil Painting, 129 x 59, 2006-20016

Each of the house paintings has a complexly charged presence. “Buffalo Street” is of the house in which Mitchnick grew up, and while it was in its last stages of devolution, Mitchnick’s painting still captures what seems a classical bearing, with its gabled roof and three-windowed dormer still erect and proud, and still evincing the colors that it once wore. It is difficult to imagine Mitchnick’s mindset when revisiting and painting this moment of her life and prompts the question of whether this is an elegy for the Buffalo Street house or an objective portrait.

 

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Nancy Mitchnick, “Buffalo Street”, Oil Painting, 99 x 88, 2008-09

One of the most interesting aspects of Mitchnick’s work is the lesson that she teaches with each composition, which is that it takes a long look to realize a painting. Her latest pieces, “Night Heron” and “White Front,” seem almost recklessly whimsical compared to the disciplined, graphic painting of the abandoned houses. Populated with strange bits of ocean coral, odd mythic creatures (snakes, birds, turtles), and a Persian Princess, they are a gargantuan leap into another mind space. However, after one spends time with them, they gain traction, and their amazing palette of colors (throughout “Uncalibrated” her palette is symphonic) begins to tantalize, and an almost fairytale narrative gathers. It might be the story of a new Hamtramck or not, but it certainly signifies another trajectory for Nancy Mitchnick’s painting to mine.

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Nancy Mitchnick,”Night Heron”, Oil Painting 77 x 111 – 2016

 

“Uncalibrated” will be at MOCAD until Sunday, July 31, 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Simone DeSousa @ Holding House

Architecture of the Soul in a Serendipitous Space

Holding House, an art/work space two years in the making that began engaging with art and community in Southwest Detroit in 2013, has been fashioned, roots up, from a gutted storefront (shuttered in 1978 and not re-inhabited until co-directors Andrea Eckert and Adrienne Dunkerley took it on) into a magnificent, light-filled space that still retains choice features of its former identity. Its roomy, raw-edged gallery is the absolute perfect setting for Simone DeSousa’s new solo exhibition, “Calculating with Absence.”

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Simone DeSousa, Installation image, “Calculating with Absence (The Jewel in the Lake)” Wall Acrylic on Panel, 2016 Images – Courtesy of Clara DeGalan, Simone DeSousa, and Eric Wheeler

 “Calculating with Absence” is installed, and should be viewed, from the roots up. The denser, slightly older works installed in Holding House’s lower level comprise a sort of prima materia which bursts, on the gallery’s main floor, into a constellation of airier, more succinct works that take the viewer on a meditative journey through space, silence, and the evocative, multivalent power of the gesture which stands alone.

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Simone DeSousa, “Calculating with Absence (The Temple of Bliss and Emptiness 1 and 2)”, Acrylic on Panel, 2016

DeSousa’s early career in architecture is evident in her work- abstract and sharply minimal as it can be, it speaks in the silent, echoing language of space. The more built-up works read like cityscapes, layers of geometric forms and linear gestures crowding the picture plane, built up with industrial surface texture- swirls of resin and caulk. Some of those same textures appear in the quieter works, where they are accompanied by the barest of architectural scribbles, or simply given an unconventional format for a setting- DeSousa’s panels bend, nick off at corners, elongate, and spread along the gallery walls more like evolving visual conversations than self-enclosed paintings.

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Simone DeSousa,“Calculating with Absence (The Secret Path)” Wall , Acrylic on Panel, 2016

“Calculating with Absence (The Secret Path)” Wall

The power of the gesture is uniquely engaged in this format. As immediate as the forms in these paintings feel, their surroundings are carefully considered and have great bearing on how each gesture reads, and moves out into its surrounding space. The cohabitation of DeSousa’s textural swaths with delicate architectural elements suggest both massive scale and confusing layers of space.

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Simone DeSousa, “Calculating with Absence (Base, Path, and Fruit)”, Acrylic on Panel, 2016

Seen as forms within pictures, the gestures rupture the quiet recession of space suggested by the drawing, like a sudden realization can rupture a settled sense of reality- conversely, seen in the context of the gallery space, the gestures project from their oddly shaped receptacles to create visual rhymes and dialogs with the surrounding architecture itself. Here is the serendipity of the show’s setting- the exposed beams and raw, plastered edges of Holding House’s interior draws DeSousa’s one-shot gestures out of their pictorial settings, and sets in motion a parallel, but separate dialog with actual space, fostered by the ever-finessing nontraditional formats on which she works. In “Calculating with Absence,” DeSousa has accomplished something very special and rare- two dimensional works that simultaneously dialog with, about, and into three dimensional space while maintaining their own autonomy as beautiful, sharply composed paintings. As a long-time fan of her curatorial prowess at Simone DeSousa Gallery (formerly Re:View Contemporary) in Midtown, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that DeSousa brings as much clarity and power of vision to her studio practice. I sincerely hope we get to see more of this side of DeSousa’s practice in the future.

“Calculating with Absence” is on display at Holding House through June 10, 2016.