Michael Luchs @ MOCAD

Michael Luchs: Fictitious Character

Installation view, Michael Luchs: Fictitious Character, Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, 2018 Foreground, Rabbit Sculptures, Wood, wire, steel, paint, c. 1980 Image Courtesy of Simone DeSousa Gallery.

Even veteran observers of the art of Michael Luchs might be knocked back by the opening salvo of the artist’s exhibition just unveiled at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD). A line of three- dimensional assemblages of entrapped rabbits (c. 1980), six in all, forms a kind of phalanx to be threaded as one enters the first gallery. This introductory cluster of immobilized rabbits, recently unmoored from their long-term, outdoor habitat in the upstate woods of Lewiston, Michigan, and moved indoors, populated the grounds of the home and studio where the reclusive artist lives and works.

The circular spray of white on each, front and back, adds a spectral quality to their presence and long-term, al fresco durability. Larger than life and rail thin, the assembled effigies, surrounded by a wall mounted menagerie of yet more denizens of woods and ponds–rabbits, plus frogs (all c. 1988 – 2000), not only reinforce impact but testify to the indefatigable practice of Luchs, an artist seemingly devoid of fallow intervals of invention.

At long last, sighed one patron at the debut, a mini-retrospective of Luchs’s decades-long career and gloriously resilient vision. Curated by Elysia Borowy-Reeder, and assisted by Robin K. Williams, “Michael Luchs: Fictitious Character” will be on view for nearly three whole months.

Fresh insights abound in this deployment of two of Luchs’s animal surrogates: furry, silent, horizontally poised rabbits counterpointed by vertically splayed, speckled, croaking frogs. Rabbits, one might conjecture, are easy to like and therefore lend themselves to empathetic audience responses, whereas frogs, who live in watery muck and scum, less so. (Bears and squirrels also romp and gambol in Luchs’s portrayals of forest dwellers, but have gone missing here.)

Michael Luchs, Untitled Rabbit Painting, Mixed paints and metallic paints on paper, c. 2000

The aforementioned cluster of introductory rabbits seems particularly fraught, each pinioned between crisscrossed planks of weathered wood and concentric circles of barbed wire, well-nigh inescapable barriers for comparatively small, frisky, and wily animals who might usually wriggle free under less restrictive, over-the-top barriers. Alternatively, when free of restraints, and depicted in lush, pastel pinks or blues accented with gold and silver, as in Untitled Rabbit (c. 2000), one of four on view), they recline calmly and passively, yet embedded within each is a pistol implying a weapon of their own demise, or mayhap a defensive weapon tucked behind their deceptively placid demeanors.

Michael Luchs, Untitled Rabbit, Mixed metallic paints and paint on vinyl, 1988

Another rendering, of an Untitled Rabbit (1988) outlined against a night sky, appears, despite its relatively modest scale, beguilingly bejeweled and monumental, its contours firmly etched against an enveloping darkness. Peppered with a plethora of holes the size of a paper punch, it nevertheless evokes stability and self-possession, albeit rendered on a heat-wrinkled length of sheet vinyl.

Michael Luchs, Untitled Frog, Mixed paints and cloth on linen, 1994

Luchs’s versions of gigantic, totemic frogs are also standout images that hold their own in the capacious, high-ceilinged expanse of MOCAD’s repurposed commercial building. Untitled Frog, from 1994, its body splayed and upright (two akimbo legs and webbed feet squeezed in at top and bottom), and towering nearly eight feet, has been dotted with a pattern of random, irregular patches of red-orange fabric. The bird’s eye view suggests a sunning frog or perhaps a captured, spread-out amphibian whose rotund body outlined with broad swaths of black pigment evoke its skittering, leaping motions.

Michael Luchs, Trumpet Frog #2, Mixed paints and marker on canvas, 2018

In two of the most recent frogs in the show (2018), their bulbous bodies and spasmodic legs have been overlaid with a trumpet extending from mouthpiece to bell, as if to signal that the noisy, raucous vocalizing of the frog is akin to the martial timbre of a blaring trumpet. In Trumpet Frog #2, a red tongue-like shape emerges from the bell of the trumpet as if to humanize the sound a visitor might hear issuing from the instrument, undertones surely consonant with the sensibility of Luchs who, as  his statement emblazoned on the gallery wall affirms, has wrought an art of “resilience…searching…absurdity…humor…[and] seriousness.”

Michael Luchs @ MOCAD through July 29, 2018

 

 

Objects and Place @ The Scarab Club

A Spring Offensive

Be sure, on your next visit to the Scarab Club, to ascend the staircase to the lounge and “history” rooms above the first floor exhibition space. Upon arrival, make your way past the newly installed wood and yarn screens that momentarily obscure and mystify the familiar doorway into the capacious members lounge. There, awaiting your arrival, you’ll discover “Objects and Place,” a smart, telling transformation, by a collaborative trio of artists, of the dusky, fireplace dominated space.  Marie Herwald Hermann, Laith Karmo, and curator Addie Langford, have reconfigured and refreshed the familiar, cluttered space. Fusty vintage furniture (sofas, tables, and chairs) has been shifted to the margins of the room, drawing attention to the two patterned carpets that sprawl across the floor. Nor are any paintings visible on the dark, wood- paneled walls.

Installation view “Objects and Place”, 2018 – Photographic images by Jenna Belevender

After a brief scan, a few, widely spaced objects stand out: beefy white ashtrays dot sturdy oak tables (Karmo), disembodied vacuums pop up underfoot here and there (Langford), and hundreds of tiny multicolored pins, like an insouciant riff on mille-fleurs, adorn two walls (Hermann). Karmo’s stolid ashtrays, titled Meditating on Misogyny, elicit images of a brace of cigar-smoking men of an afternoon or evening opining on art, pulchritude, and the state of the world in an odiferous, nicotine-stained, smoke-filled man cave. Quills of aromatic incense stud the ashtrays, at the ready to exorcise the stale, tobacco-heavy ozone in favor of fresh air—and, presumably, fresh, alternate topics of discourse. One might also note that Karmo, no fan of prescribed, columnar pedestals, has found especially apt and congenial perches for his chunky stoneware receptacles on the Club’s vintage tables.

Laith Karmo, Meditating on Misogyny #1, Stoneware and incense, 2018

For her part, Langford’s wrecked, dismembered vacuums, shorn of handles and refuse bags, focus on the flat, distorted contours of the housing for motor, wheels, and brushes of a standard upright vacuum. Adding overlapping strips of tape in their wake, she suggests the back and forth, overlapping movements of her Sweepscompulsively scarfing up the accumulated dust and dirt—until they crash. While bearing a resemblance to roombas (said another viewer), Langford’s porcelain wrecks seem much more akin to powerful electric machines at the end of a fruitless, abandoned mission to tidy and neaten up the parameters of art and life. Perhaps too, at this point, a visitor, like this writer, belatedly realizes that the pale, lumpy object laid out on a bench on the landing of the Club’s staircase is in fact a porcelain rendering of a hollow vacuum cleaner bag.

Addie Langford, Scarab Club Lounge, Sweep/Head/Pink, Porcelain and mixed media, 2018

Hermann’s contribution to the “less is more” facelift of this dowdy room, except for her psyche altering screens at the entrance, might be overlooked at first. Absent the bevy of members’ paintings usually enlivening the walls, Hermann and Langford have inserted an array of colorful pins into the holes made by nails that secured thousands of pictures gracing the walls of the lounge since the completion of the club’s building in 1928. Now two multihued waves fifteen feet wide drift and flow freely and joyfully across the gravy-toned walls. Like a wide screen view of masses of swallows wheeling across the sky they evoke something of the tenor, breadth, and sheer number of artists and artifacts embraced by the Club over its long and memorable history.

Marie Hermann & Addie Langford, 28 – 62 #2, (detail) Pins, 2018

Admittedly, this décor altering re-do by team Hermann, Karmo, & Langford tweaks and pokes at the vintage ambience of the grand old Scarab Club housed in its venerable Arts & Crafts building, and its storied practices and programs. More significantly, what “Objects and Place”—and its renovating trio of makers–also sensitively and knowingly acknowledge, in concert with the interventions of generations of exhibitors, is the Club’s long-lived, broadly supportive aesthetic legacy. This eye-opening, conceptually savvy installation, albeit short-lived, now becomes part of its institutional history: perhaps in years to come as the spicy, spirited spring cleaning of 2018?

Scarab Club “Objects and Places” continues at the top of the stairs through May 19, 2018.

 

 

Susanne Stephenson @ Pewabic Pottery

Up, Down, and Around: The Impassioned Art of Susanne Stephenson

Susanne Stephenson, Transfigurement, Installation image by J. C. Perez.

Sweeping curves, twisting curlicues, and swirling whiplashes are the potent, rhythmic movements that generate the larger-than-life vision of the art of Susanne Stephenson. Simultaneously sculpture, vessel, and/or abstract form her terra cottas heave, spiral, and careen up, down, and around as a perceiver circles and dives into the come-hither interiors of her lusty landscapes and seascapes.

Susanne Stephenson, Bronze Luster Trojan Soup Tureen, 1976, porcelain, 8 x 10 x 10 in.

Handsomely installed in all three galleries of the Pewabic Pottery exhibition space, this expressive and timely retrospective numbers 34 signature works by the estimable Stephenson dating from 1976 through 2016. Ohio born, and a long-time Ann Arborite and professor of ceramics at Eastern Michigan University, she studied at Carnegie Mellon University and Cranbrook Academy of Art. The four decade evolution of her oeuvre now on view illustrates both the comparatively reserved, minding-their-own-business early vessels, such as the Bronze Luster Trojan Soup Tureen with horn-like handles from 1976 and the breakthrough Cut Edge Black Water Mountain of 1983. In the latter, the “mountain” peak has literally blown its top implied by a taut, upraised flap (sliced off and reattached in process), while the creamy, overflowing lava sets up a strong white/black contrast, both coloristic and tactile, between it—matt, chunky–and the dark, shiny circular mountain top.

Susanne Stephenson, Cut Edge Water Rush, 2000, terra cotta, 24 x 15 x 15 in.

Traditional vessel forms, such as vases, often serve as starting points for Stephenson’s windswept forms. In Cut Edge Water Rush (2000), for example, the rush of spiraling color and form circumnavigates the two feet tall shape at warp speed, its vibrant, multi-hued palette enhancing passage around the tapering form, as it whirls with the unflagging energy of a whirling dervish. Her universe seems alive with ceaseless motion, not unlike the insistent energy of a Jackson Pollock drip composition. (Stephenson, like many sculptors, was originally a painter.) Indeed, an expressionist aesthetic, whether German or Abstract or Californian (think Peter Voulkos), has surged into view multiple times in the course of the twentieth century.

Susanne Stephenson, Red Beach, 1993, terra cotta, 17 x 20 x 15 in.

Stephenson’s bowls, too, work similarly on a visitor, as in Red Beach (1993). One is swiftly swept round its form while the S-shaped, upraised flange, like an undertow, sucks an unwary swimmer-viewer into its depths. Spring Coast, also on display and sculpted the following year, offers another cathartic experience: glazed orange at the bottom segueing to green around the rim, it too seduces the viewer to lean and peer into its alluring recesses.

Susanne Stephenson, Blue Wave, 2007, terra cotta, 22 x 29 x 9 in.

The large scale of another cluster of works—thick, hefty, ovoid wall reliefs—may in fact be described as seascapes. Bearing such titles as Blue Wave, Orange Wave I, and Spring Wave II, and often two feet or more in width and projecting up to ten inches, they fully evoke the thrust and even brutality of waves crashing ashore. The weighty physicality of Stephenson’s roiling, tactile surf in these reliefs is heightened by vivid and furrowed swaths of color realized by mixing the slip with paper pulp. As such they resonate with the underlying, inescapable momentum of the universe, essentially Stephenson’s world view whether addressing the immensities of mountains and sea or transfiguring the domestic tropes of the land of clay (vases, bowls, platters).

Organized by a trio of curators, Darlene Carroll, Paul Kotula, and Tom Phardel, “Susanne Stephenson: Transfigurement” remains on view through May 13. Catch it while you can at Pewabic Pottery, 10125 E. Jefferson Avenue in Detroit.