Desire Bouncing @ Wasserman Projects

Three Person Exhibition – Alejandro Campins, Nancy Mitchnick, and Alex Schweder

Installation image

Installation image, Courtesy of Clara DeGalan

The warehouse-scaled galleries at Wasserman Projects are a fitting site for an evolving, and continuously intriguing, dialog about architecture that began with its grand opening show, a glittering event featuring a life-sized, polychromed modular house- a spectacular building within a building. The vast space seems barely enough, however, to contain the work of the three artists in its current, architecturally themed exhibition, “Desire Bouncing.” It’s not so much the work itself that strains the capacity of the space (in fact everything is so gracefully installed and lit that one can fully experience each work on its own) as the raw ideas, romantic (and sometimes sexual) yearnings, and visceral snippets of emotional engagement that come spilling out of the work of these three mature, accomplished artists and ricochet around in the rafters, drawing emotional investment, in turn, back from the viewer. It’s surprising to be confronted with that so immediately in a show that turns on architecture. Make no mistake, this is not some dry, conceptual survey. I need to stick “chthonian” in front of “architecture” to begin to get my head around this work.

The centerpiece of “Desire Bouncing” lurks behind a huge theatrical curtain toward the back of the space. Though you can’t see it at first, you hear it everywhere, it’s the heartbeat of the show. That feeling you’re getting that the work here is not quite what it seems, is maybe alive? Yes. The slow beat that affirms it is the soundtrack of Alex Schweder’s sculpture The Sound and the Future. Enclosed in its own cavernous, red-lit space, The Sound and the Future is a massive, inflatable cluster of rectilinear and phallic forms crafted from silver and faux fur fabric that expands and contracts as air is pumped in and out of it.

Wasserman sculpture

Alex Schweder’s – The Sound and the Future – 2016 Image Couresty of JeffSusan Cancelosi

The sound that accompanies it is a track by Underground Resistance, one of Detroit’s and, as Detroit is the birthplace of Techno, the world’s first Techno groups. Reduced to a tenth of its speed, the track sounds like a slumbering dragon’s heartbeat. Stand in front of it and spend a few (or a lot of) moments being hypnotized by the constantly shifting forms that rise and droop in desire and repose, forming vaguely architectural structures as they engorge with air, and then breath-takingly yonic mouths that gape and close as the seductive silver fabric deflates. While two other works by Schweder describe, in two and three dimensional mock-up, alternatively designed living spaces that elaborately endeavor to keep their human occupants separate at all times, The Sound and the Future suggests no specific model for living, while emphasizing connection- juxtaposing the swaying stamens of the sculpture, a “women’s urinal,” also installed by Schweder, winks in a dark corner.

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Female Urinal, Quahog, – 2001 – Vitreous china 18″ x 32″ x 26″ Image Courtesy of Clara DeGalan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is a similar dialog with romance through form, albeit a quieter one, in the work of Alejandro Campins, which come from a series exploring interiors of historic theatres in Detroit.

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Alejandro Campins -Eastown Theater, 2015 Oil on canvas 59″ x 78″ Image Courtesy of Clara DeGalan

There’s a fine balance of linear and painterly effects in Campins’s big paintings, and he gets the iconic outlines of theatrical architecture just right, combining these solemn interior forms with interesting landscape embellishments, blurring landscape and interior in a now iconic view of Detroit’s half fallen, once grand temples to culture.

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Close-up section of Eastown Theater

The paintings seem to have been smoothed over with a squeegee at the finish, both drawing the eye back to dwell on the finesse of his surfaces, and enclosing the works tidily.

Where Campins’s works are quiet, somber, and canny, Nancy Mitchnick’s group of paintings and works on paper, which are the first you see as you enter the gallery (and which take a walk-through and return to begin to properly grasp) express the desire of the theme in a very different way. As an artist who lives in Detroit while making paintings about it, Mitchnick naturally has more skin in the game, and this work is raw, unfurling, and pulsating like a wound- or, perhaps, a damp flower unfurling its petals. Mitchnick’s works depict structures, abandoned, half fallen, lapsing into neglect, patched over, mantled in snow and drenched in directionless, otherworldly light.

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Nancy Mitchnik, Framed, 2016 Oil on linen 77″ x 111″ Image Courtesy of Clara DeGalan

Mitchnick builds these skeletal structures- alternating bars of multihued wood and sky- in slabs, scrapes, flourishes and caresses of paint that lay both her innocence and her deep knowledge utterly bare, valuing neither above the other.

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Nancy Mitchnik, Close-up Section of Water Damage, 2016 Oil on linen

What she is able to channel, through an intuitive understanding of form, color and the nature of paint, is the desperate, howling human element of which these empty structures have become the symbol. This narrative slips the bonds of language and history, running parallel to each while being neither. Bypassing all traditional means of visual storytelling in the landscape genre- objectivity, language, handsome technique- Mitchnick wrings a wildly romantic, purely emotional insight about death and the fecund, unglamorous resurgence that inevitably follows it, as naturally as certain forms and grids, for reasons we cannot put into language, draw on our very souls.

Desire Bounsing – Wasserman Projects  Detroit, Michigan – February 5 through April 9, 2016

http://wassermanprojects.com

 

Ragnar Kjartansson, Steve Shaw, Chloe Brown @ MOCAD

MOCAD installation shot

Ragnar Kjartansson – Installation 2016, All Images Courtesy of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit

The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit –  Winter Exhibition: Ragnar Kjartansson, Steve Shaw, Chloe Brown

The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit’s cavernous galleries often echo with sound, from the frequent band shows in the café space (which is my current favorite place to drink coffee and catch up with my emails) and from the steady influx of multi-media works that always lend a distilling element to MOCAD’s exhibitions. Sound really is the cornerstone of MOCAD’s winter exhibition, most notably produced by a solitary, guitar-strumming lady seated upon a revolving dais in a large, empty gallery curtained off by gold tinsel streamers. This is “Woman in E,” a performance piece created by Ragnar Kjartansson.

Parting the gold curtains to enter the space, one is confronted with eerie, resonant chords and dim, sparse space that evoke the strange interstice after a party has ended, a telling shadow of the real action, which took place sometime before. Potent symbols of Motown, glitter rock and funk are all here, with the solemn, oracle-like figure strumming in E Minor (chosen for its melancholy, reflective effect) on an electric guitar as the focal point.

chloebrown_dancin

Film still from Dancing in the Boardroom (Turnin’ My Heartbeat Up), 2013. Chloë Brown.

The theme of after-party fallout and cultural epoch is approached as well in the film and drawing of Chloe Brown, who’s body of work exploring the youth culture and economic gloom surrounding the closing of a Spode ceramics factory in Stoke-on Trent, England pinpoints the essential relationship between music, movement and identity in the face of great loss. Brown’s film, “Dancing in the Boardroom (Turnin’ my Heartbeat Up)” depicts a young couple dancing to Northern Soul music in a spacious, dim room with beautiful parquet floors that once bore the weight of executives, secretaries and free enterprise. Shots of the abandoned Spode factory’s lush interiors and tremulous lighting stand in stark contrast to the couple’s unabashed joy in moving to this Motown-inspired music.

A dose of life on the street is supplied by photographer Steve Shaw. Shaw’s documentary-style images of Detroiters making their way with dance, dress, and grit in a constantly shifting urban landscape supply the unstudied immediacy that is stylized out of the other artist’s work.

Steve Shaw

Steve Shaw, Black & White Photograph, Gratiot & Shene 1983, Courtesy of the artist.

In a show anchored in performance, Shaw’s photographs depict people drawing from the same cultural well and making many of the same movements as the performers in Chloe Brown and Ragnar Kjartansson’s works, only in real time, with skin in the game.

The Winter Show is on display at Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit from January 15 through April 24, 2016.  http://www.mocadetroit.org 

 

Tim van Laar @ Simone DeSousa Gallery

 

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Timothy van Laar, Installation All Images Courtesy of the Simone DeSousa Gallery

Moving from one work to the next in “Reliable Data,” Timothy van Laar’s solo exhibition at Simone DeSousa Gallery, is a visual treat and an intellectual puzzle as no painting show that looks like this has the right to be. On the face of it, there’s a lot of painting out there that looks like van Laar’s- his work displays many accoutrements that flip the “contemporary painting that’s coming back and talking about itself” switch in my brain. There’s intentionally bad painting, and there’s a veneer of irony. There’s also ample reference to painting. And yet… “Reliable Data” is so much more than the sum of these parts. In fact, it’s recalibrating how I think about contemporary painting that looks like this. Everybody else is doing it crappily. Van Laar is doing it as it should be done!

9. The book of Black and White

Timothy van Laar, The Book of Black & White

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First, there’s the bad painting. Van Laar engages it as a trope (in fact he renders the clumsy movements of a novice mistreating oil paint so astonishingly well it’s kind of a painting of bad painting) but- importantly- doesn’t take it over the top. Where “the top” is with intentionally bad painting I can’t quite pinpoint, but most of it tends to feel lazy and dull, which van Laar’s work could not be further from. Perhaps it’s in his careful curation of which elements in each work are painted badly and which with razor-sharp technical precision, which becomes a part of the humorous contrast between the elements. Why, for instance, is the hummingbird in “We Hope for Better Things” executed at such huge scale, in such obscenely inappropriate slashes of poorly handled tonalities, while its companion object, an old-timey microphone, diminishes in both size and belabored treatment almost to a crisply blocked silhouette?

van_laar_We Hope for Better Things

Timothy van Laar, We Hope for Better Things

Speculations about the various groupings and treatments of the visual elements in van Laar’s paintings open a path to divining his content. The paintings have such singular, oddball logic, such crystalline method moving from one to the next, they make you want to do this. The objects that appear in van Laar’s paintings tend to the refined, the intellectual, fragile… In fact the word is dainty. A precious blue and white Chinese vase, various diminutive birds, noble stacks of books. These refined objects are usually the ones given the bad painting treatment, however, as if their value provokes too much devotion to handle with a light or a skilled touch.

8. The Book of Color

Timothy van Laar, The Book of Color

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The forms of these object’s encasement and amplification- cardboard boxes, a microphone- are presented in a linear, matter-of-fact way. The frisson between these two extremes of representation gets more and more fascinating as one begins to wonder just what is being communicated here. Alongside the visual dialog is a narrative progression- van Laar’s paintings entice like Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Finally, there are the references to art history, which reminds me of my first impression of the work’s ironic air. There’s nothing ironic about van Laar’s paintings, really- my knee-jerk response was wrong. There’s delight, and amusement, and even some reverence, in the recognizable reproductions of forms from Matisse and Calder’s toolboxes- modern art’s relationship with color is distilled by a large, linear disco ball festooned with color swatches sprung straight out of a twentieth century cardboard box. The work in “Reliable Data” makes clear the rock solid scaffolding on which it is built, and its careful curation of visual and intellectual indexes brings the true refinement so amusingly failed at in the poorly painted precious objects. While it’s said that fine art presents a set of problems to which there is no logical solution, I left Timothy van Laar’s exhibition feeling that his read was, indeed, reliable.

“Reliable Data” is on view at Simone DeSousa Gallery until February 28. https://www.simonedesousagallery.com 

Rick Vian @ Robert Kidd Gallery

Where Light enters the Mind

RickVian install 1_2

Rick Vian, Installation / Opening image, Courtesy of the Robert Kidd Gallery

As a young, aspiring painter, before I had any idea that Rick Vian was a local artist, I greedily snipped out every advertisement from Art in America his work was featured in and collaged them into my journal, alongside the work of other painters who inspired me. I loved the way his work rode a Rothko-esque razor’s edge between abstraction and representation (channeling Rothko as well in subjective spiritual punch) and how smartly it appropriated recognizable phenomena that were already abstract, such as reflections and strange effects of atmosphere and light, into works that were as much about form and surface as they were about content and illusion. Seeing Vian’s recent work this week, therefore, felt doubly special- being surrounded by masterful, imposingly scaled paintings that come from a body of work I’ve followed closely for years.

R.Vian install 2

Installation Image, Courtesy of the Robert Kidd Gallery

The title of Rick Vian’s retrospective, currently on view at Robert Kidd Gallery in Birmingham- Using the Whole Chicken– belies the perceptive, multi-layered formal gravitas that unfolds as one moves from piece to piece. Consisting of paintings spanning 1972 to 2015, Using the Whole Chicken, takes as its prima materia two iconic spiritual forms from two vastly different faiths- the Western Baroque genre of trompe lois church ceiling paintings (Vian mentions two ceilings in Roman churches in his artist statement, painted by Giovanni Battista Gauli and Andrea Pozzo) and the Eastern mandala (or mandorla, which, as Vian points out, appears in early esoteric Christian and Islamic art as well). Both forms seek to foster a transcendent spiritual experience, delivered visually- Both consist, very basically, of a round, bright center surrounded by darkness. Vian takes this visual coda of contemplation and transcendence outward, into nature, and inward, into the visual cortex of the human brain- an interesting conceptual mirror for the outer journey of Western painting, with its focus on beauty, perspective, and high illusion, versus the inner path of Eastern aesthetics with its deceptively simple abstractions and vague, groundless atmospherics that channel a more subjective, synesthetic experience of the world.

Sky in the Water

Rick Vian, Sky in the Water, Detail, 60 X 84, 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vian’s great gift as a painter is his apparently effortless ability to conjure images that are at once fully nonobjective and grounded in depth- windows onto the world in the Italian Renaissance tradition. The paintings in Using the Whole Chicken appear before the viewer’s eyes as formal abstractions, while creeping up behind the eyes as atmospheric landscapes. Their surfaces are formal, their deeper implications illusionistic. The more time one spends with a Rick Vian painting, the more subtle, ungrounding, and revelatory this interplay becomes.

It’s appropriate that Vian has chosen to frame the work in Using the Whole Chicken in terms of iconic spiritual image systems- he’s picked the beauty, turgid hues, and attention to surfaces from Western painting and the subjective, unfixed viewpoint and groundless atmospherics from Eastern painting, roping in references to the inner processes of the brain into the mix. The honeycomb-like grids that appear here and there in the work represent the process by which light enters the visual cortex of the human brain and is broken up into colors, shapes and space- another symbolic connection to the traditions of church ceiling painting and the mandorla, which Vian describes as “looking towards a place of light from a place of darkness.”

Using the Whole Chicken exhibition is on display at Robert Kidd Gallery in Birmingham, MI from 11/19/2015 – 12/19/2015. www.robertkiddgallery.com

 

Brenda Goodman @ Center for Creative Studies Gallery

Square Peg, Round Hole, Hungry Ghost

B. Goodman Installation 11,2015

Brenda Goodman, Installation image, Courtesy of Ron Scott

 

One is reminded of the pre-eminence of painting as the pinnacle of fine art media- and its uncanny self-sufficiency- up to the late Twentieth Century when viewing Brenda Goodman’s decade-spanning retrospective at Center Galleries at College for Creative Studies. Coming face to face with the broad span of figures, forms, and grounds that float heavily through Goodman’s oeuvre unlocks a deep, visceral response. This is painting that tells me that I know nothing about painting. This is painting as it once was and is no longer. This is painting from the days when painting was a truly heroic undertaking- when works of profound genius that seamlessly roped form, material, surface, context, and narrative into an exploration that balanced on a knife’s edge between pure form and deep, expressive language seemed to roll right out of the minds of Goodman and her contemporaries, such as Philip Guston, Elizabeth Murray, Nancy Mitchnick, and Ellen Phelan.

the race

Brenda Goodman, The Race, 1973 – Oil on Canvas Courtesy of Clara DeGalan

The above-mentioned self-sufficiency that comes across in Goodman’s work is the result of visual engagement with the viewer’s experience, employing only one material to express a language that is both purely formal and not- that both dwells in and transcends the methods of its making- that feels (these works make one refer to a visual response as a feeling) like a foreign language heard in a dream that gradually becomes discernible as one listens to it.

Likewise, as one goes from work to work in Brenda Goodman: Selected Work 1961-2015, the development of her encyclopedia of symbols distills in different forms and contexts, its trajectory remaining intact despite the constant inversion of figure/ground and objective/nonobjective (these, I might add, are only two of the largest and most evident inversions- Goodman parses the notion of inversion, turning, twisting, and recasting through surface, picture plane, narrative, space, and form up to the horizon of the viewer’s vision and then, presumably, beyond it) that Goodman ropes into her exploration down the decades. It is this roster of forms and characters- Goodman has referred to them as “personal symbols”- that hauntingly parallel language in the aggressively visual, formal context of her work.

untitled 1979

Brenda Goodman, Untitled, 1979, Oil, Sand, on Canvas

The figure makes its presence felt in various ways through the years spanned in Selected Work. Its earliest manifestations, in works such as The Race (1973) depict grotesque-yet-loveable mutations of human bodies into simplified intestinal forms with prehensile limbs and hungry mouths, clumsily filling minimal atmospheric spaces as they stretch and strain to work, express, and consume. These minimal spaces empty out intriguingly in a couple of works from the late 70’s though the forms of the figures remain, now sunk into ground space and half-camouflaged with light, as in Untitled (1979). Another untitled piece, one of the most striking in the show, is a smallish work on paper from 1981 depicting a rotund draped form that bears all the awkward heft of Goodman’s early organ-figure paintings, and yet floats across a deep black ground cut horizontally near the bottom of the picture plane to reveal a thin strip of earth-toned underpainting that reads like a tightrope. There are shades of Philip Guston’s Klansman romps here, but recast in an altogether more sombre, personal context.

Utitled 1981 BG

Brenda Goodman, Untitled, 1981 Oil on Paper

The figure fleshes out more representationally, in the same vague, thinly painted studio-type space, in a series of unforgiving self-portraits that progress through the 1990’s (an era marked by extreme hostility toward painting and explorations of the figure in particular that sparked an epoch of figurative painters such as Jenny Saville, Elizabeth Peyton, John Currin, and Lisa Yuscavage) to 2008. These portraits, which Goodman executed while struggling with her weight, depict a large, fleshy female figure ephemerally lodged among barely tipped-in canvas stretchers and vast pale space. The figure is heavy and fat, the flesh built up in crazy swaths and scorings of sick flesh tones, and yet floats- her feet are almost never visible, and her connection to the studio-like space is uncertain.

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Brenda Goodman, Self Portrait #4, 2004, Oil on Wood

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The organ-figure appears again around this time, undulating through dark voids and squirming beneath flat, saturated bands of color in a run of untitled works on paper that evolve through almost totally nonobjective color field studies shot through with drawing/painting marks, and coalesce again in Goodman’s most recent work on display, such as the taut, formally enclosed Euff (2015). Here, a pale, root-like figure waves two tapering limbs around a deep black ground, which it shares with pale, sharp slashes that read like unlit matches, creeping into the picture plane from the lower right. The figure’s limbs divide the picture plane into three petal shaped forms- looked at this way, the figure becomes the ground, and yet the sense of movement that radiates from it quickly re-establishes it as a figure. Is the form painted, or is the painting happening around the form? It’s a mark of Goodman’s genius that the two are constant, silently changing places. Her best work keeps the forms and the action vague enough that the interstice between figure and ground remains enticingly impossible to focus upon. It seems like such a practice, where the meat is in the surfaces, would preclude any meaningful figurative, symbolic, or contextual content. That’s another facet of Goodman’s genius. Her paintings are purely formal but not, intensely personal yet open, deeply symbolic and embedded in an experiential, bodily context, and yet ungrounded, floating, vulnerable to various points of entry and engagement. It is this quality that leaves the contemporary viewer in awe- the ability of Goodman’s work to function seamlessly on visual, emotive, and conceptual levels, with paint and surface as the only tools.

Euff BG 2015

Brenda Goodman, Euff, 2015 Oil on Wood

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brenda Goodman: Selected Work, 1961 – 2015   November 14 – December 19, 2015

http://www.collegeforcreativestudies.edu/community-outreach-and-engagement/center-galleries

“Brenda Goodman: A Life on Paper”  Paul Kotula Projects, http://www.paulkotula.com