Threesome @ Simone DeSousa Gallery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simone DeSousa Gallery   March 11-April 8, 2017

After Industry @ Wasserman Projects

Group Exhibition – After Industry:  Willy Verginer, Christer Karlstad, Jason DeMarte

Installation image, All images Courtesy of Wasserman Projects

Seduction by a master artisan is achieved by the deft handling of his medium, the uncanny finesse of the hand in endowing plastic material with irresistible form — and in the case of “After Industry,” the current offering of Wasserman Projects, the seduction is complete. We are at the mercy of three tantalizing maestros of composition. Each of these artists — Italian sculptor Willy Verginer, Norwegian painter Christer Karlstad, and Michigan-based photographer Jason DeMarte — has such command of his medium that the discursive process of understanding the work becomes secondary. We are awestruck (undressed as it were) by the artistic accomplishment before we understand it, and with each artist the process of understanding requires a traditional method of unraveling and interpretation.

Willy Verginer, The Dark Site of the Donkey, Lindenwood and Acrylic

Willy Verginer is a woodcarver from Val Gardena, a town in the Dolomite Mountains of Northern Italy known for its woodcarvings of the saints and their stories in Catholic theology. Catholic churches throughout the world have for hundreds of years displayed dramatic woodcarvings of the saints in sculptural vignettes fashioned by the wood carvers of Val Gardena. Verginer apparently learned his craft well there.

Enigmatically arranged throughout Wasserman Projects’ main space are a dozen figures and objects, carved in lindenwood by Verginer, interspersed with a couple of dozen, color-coded, fifty-gallon industrial barrels. The barrels, and four of the carved figures compose a large installation, including two adult males crawling into barrels, two boys earnestly chewing or biting a donkey, and an adult male figure sitting atop two stacked barrels and gesticulating as if directing the ensemble or preaching. The color-coded barrels, habitual symbols of industrial pollution, create a minimal, contextualizing stage for the vignette. Two other independent sculptures feature a man in suit, tie and glasses, with tires attached to his feet, seeming to ride the donkey backwards and the other is of a grazing deer atop two green barrels with a miniature pine forest emerging from its humped back.

The surreal ensemble is at first incomprehensible, but the carved figures are stunningly realistic, producing the kind of awe that one experiences with classical sculpture or religious icons. Lindenwood has a smooth and clear grain, like Grecian white marble, such that each figure is imbued with a glowing, classical sculpture presence. The simply arranged tableau suggests a Biblical allegory (donkey being Christian symbol of hardwork and intelligence), with the human figures enmeshed in a parasitic relationship with industry and nature. Four elegantly carved representations of tires, emblazoned with brand words Goodyear, Detroit, Wasserman Projects, and General Motors, affirm an industrial reading of the allegory.

Overall, a toxic, imbalanced interdependence between man, nature, and industry is symbolized in Verginer’s landscape of figures. And like a carving of the Christian narrative of a suffering Christ on the cross, there is a strange irony in celebrating, through a gorgeously carved and composed tableau, the story of the fall of both man and nature through industrial consumption. Like entering a cathedral filled with Christian iconography, experiencing Verginer’s landscape might require a kind of a catechized literacy, a “Sunday School” notion of fall and redemption, to fully appreciate the lineage of his art.

Christer Karlstad, Psychopomp, Oil Painting on Linen

For his uncanny paintings, the Norwegian painter Christer Karlstad has composed a pitch- perfect northern landscape and ethereal atmospheric backdrop. Featuring totally benign and dependent human forms entwined with beneficent but wild northern animals, Karlstad’s paintings, staged in these palpably painted Norwegian woods, are like brief parables rather than literary narratives. Each painting sees a human figure contained and cared for in a kind of graceful protection by these animals of the north. The “attitude” of the enormous elk in “Psychopomp,” as it supports a seemingly repentant young man draped over it, is touchingly docile. The face of the elk in the toxic environment of “Sulphur,” again supporting a draped but seemingly yielding young man, is watchful, protective and spiritually transportive. The precision of characterizing the landscape and the articulation of human and animal forms suggest the profundity and emotional depth of the great German Renaissance painter Albrecht Durer’s art.

Like Verginer, Karlstad requires a kind of spiritual, if not Christian, vocabulary for the viewer to gain traction in understanding these paintings, otherwise one might slip into a mocking irony. His human figures seek redemption through engagement with nature, and in each composition, the wild animal is a comforting, healing force.

Both artists suggest an emotional abyss between human existence and nature, and both seek a solution to breach that abyss. Verginer’s abyss is shrouded in a symbolic, industrial gloom, and his human figures seem to surrealistically, abjectly grovel before, or seek control, either of nature or the industrial landscape.

Jason DeMarte, Pokeberry Persuasion on “Lickerish(Wallpaper)” Archival ink print on digital print.

The third artist in the “After Industry” exhibition, Detroit photographer Jason DeMarte, challenges our comprehension of the photographic medium itself and (in keeping with the curatorial theme of man’s relationship with and intervention in nature) of the representation of nature as well. In a selection of five photographs and a mural, DeMarte constructs hyperreal photo-landscapes of climbing vines, flowers, birds and trees that transform nature into a bizarre, ornamental confection and a parody of human spiritual imbalance and perception. DeMarte’s digitally enhanced, diorama-like images, symbolic of our synthetic consciousness, are not only garishly ornamental, but are embellished with colorful jellybeans, candy canes and cake sprinkles, as if nature needed a makeover. “Candied Cultivation,” 2015, is a stunning evocation of this surrealized notion.

Jason DeMarte, Candied Cultivation, Archival ink print on digital print.

Wasserman Projects’ director Alison Wong has put together an exhibition, that in its use of historical forms (such as classical iconography in Verginer’s vignettes, Karlstad’s narrative parables, as well as Demarte’s over-the-top, diorama-like photographs) challenges prevailing minimal or expressionistic artistic strategies, as well as our relationship with social and political landscape. Each of the artists operates at an unusually high level of traditional craft and technique, while pushing the envelope to bring these classical forms to explore contemporary consciousness in a post-industrial landscape.

In the tradition of master craftsman, the son of Willy Verginer, Christian Verginer, also has a pursued artistic career in wood carving, and whose work is also currently at Wasserman Projects,  featured in “After Industry.”

WassermanProjects, After Industry, on view through April 8, 2017

www.wassermanprojects.com

 

Will Ryman @ Center Galleries, College for Creative Studies

Looming like a sci-fi phantom, a gossamer, spaceship-like car floats in the mercurial light of Center Galleries. It is an actual sized sculpture of the 1958 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz– framed with resin and then shrouded in white, embossed Bounty paper towel–and is the fabrication of New York artist Will Ryman. The thing astonishes with its implausibility. We in Detroit wait every year for the latest and greatest version of automobiles but this particular moment, 1958, called for something different.

Will Ryman, 1958 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz, Wood, Resin, Paper towel, 2017

Post World War II life is often referred to as the moment when America was great, as in “Make America Great Again.” The United States had emerged from WW ll as a savior of the Western World and the soldiers returned to an explosive economy that inspired and encouraged a new and better life. The soldiers got the GI Bill which was money for fighting the war. The brilliant technologies developed to build planes, ships, tanks, and guns were ready to be employed to build a new American infrastructure. After a few post war years of stagnant auto sales, Harley Earl, head of General Motor’s “Styling Department,” employing a strategy called Planned Obsolescence, found a way of making a new car, an alluring “object of desire,” every year and one for every purse. It was a very big deal! From Chevy, Pontiac, Buick, Oldsmobile to Cadillac every American wage earner could have a car that represented their class and level of economic status. The cars slowly evolved with modest cosmetic changes every year—a curve of a fender here, a piece of chrome there, a new palette of tantalizing colors, sumptuous upholstery or push button radios with front and rear speakers. Each new year model made last year’s version less attractive, less sexy. The American economy was the wonder of the world.

Will Ryman, Installation image, all images courtesy of Robert Hensleigh

The 1958 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz, a hybrid of the P-38 fighter plane, a horse drawn carriage of the Victorian aristocracy and avatar of female goddess, was at the top of the heap. Its name says it: three names all denoting power and wealth– Cadillac for the historical founder of Detroit; Eldorado, Spanish for gold and the lost city of gold in Spanish mythology; Biarritz the French resort on Basque coast made famous by actress Bridget Bardot and the hangout of the very rich.

Will Ryman (b.1969), playwright, sculptor, painter, and, conceptual artist, has most recently composed what seems like a trilogy of poignant installation/sculptures that turn on American politics and history, culture and identity. Each uses apt materials to perform dramatic vignettes focusing attention on the collision of American ideals. Ryman’s “America,” (2013) is an actual-sized model of Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood home and is now housed in the New Orleans Museum of Art’s permanent collection. The cabin is made of real logs but coated with a rich gold resin patina and has an interior brimming with tesserae of bits that compose the history of American labor and production. The interior walls are a mosaic of everything from cottons balls and slavery shackles to pills, bullets, iPhones and arrowheads.

Will Ryman, The Situation Room, 2012 – 2015

More contemporary and polemic is Ryman’s “The Situation Room,” (2012-14) a life-size sculpted tableau of the famous and bizarre photo of President Obama and his closest circle, including Hillary Clinton, watching a live-feed from Pakistan of the assassination of Osama bin Laden by Navy Seals. Appropriately composed of crushed coal, turning the tableau into a shadow in the American memory bank, it serves as frightening meditation on the all too intimate scale of war and global politics. Perhaps because he was a playwright, Ryman’s sense of history and drama are dead-on as he seems to choose subjects and materials that point poignantly at the vital issues of our culture. Few artists of our time have been able to deal so directly with our political landscape.

Will Ryman, Detail, 1958 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz, 2017

“Cadillac” (2014) is a haunting installation that, as you spend time with it, accumulates gravity and puts American history in strange relief. Beyond its initial novelty, a mashup of art history with its winged tailfins, sculpted with Art Nouveau’s whiplash fender lines and wraparound windshield, bounteous breast shaped bumper guards and covered in Bounty paper toweling, it possesses an uncanny, funereal presence. Like the painted white ghost bikes along the side of the road that memorialize children being killed by cars, “Cadillac” summons bigger thoughts about life and mortality and our collision with the industrial landscape. Bounty toweling, with its art deco (the symbol of cosmetic superficiality) embossed pattern and tag of “Bounty” on every sheet, creates an ironic commentary on the excesses of corporate America that was called attention to by President Eisenhower in his Farewell Address (1961). He warned of the threat of the Military Industrial complex that had taken over American culture and industry and that has become a part of everyday life.

The 1958 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz broke every rule and standard of “Good Design” (a phrase that also meant good economics) set by most thoughtful modernists. While car design became a form of pop culture and post war novelty and spectacle, American design had become ostentatious, superficial, a symbol of conspicuous consumption and in the long run bad economically. In 2017 it is a ghostly reminder and presence incarnating all of the worst impulses of American culture and economics and not simply a kitschy tableau. Ryman’s chimera of our past absorbs (“Bounty is the thicker, quicker picker-upper”) and exudes our strange history. Ryman recently said that, instead of editorializing on his art, he has learned to let his materials speak for themselves and his “Cadillac” Eldorado Biarritz is stunningly articulate.

As part of the current Center Galleries exhibition Alumni & Faculty Hall is exhibiting Jeff Cancelosi: Picturing Us, featuring engaging, large format color photos of some familiar faces of artists and prime suspects of the landscape of Detroit art.

Jeff Cancelosi, “Artist Bailey Scieszka” Photograph, 2016

CCS Center Galleries –     Will Ryman: Cadillac  –   January 28-March 4, 2017

Rick Vian @ Janice Charach Gallery

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Rick Vian, Installation image Courtesy of Glen Mannisto

“Keeping a Wet Edge: A Retrospective of the Abstract Work by Rick Vian”  &  “Detroit Abstraction: Featuring 41 of the Most Noted Abstract Artist with ties to Detroit”.

The experience of being alone in the bush, as we call it in the far north of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, deep in the thicket of the woods, is a tricky business. From immobilizing awe over its beauty to a vertigo over its map-less chaos, a walk in the bush can wreak psychic havoc. The current retrospective of Rick Vian’s painting at the Janice Charach Gallery offers a marvelous mirror of Vian’s engagement with the painting of trees in the bush over the past fifteen years. But first before finding himself in the bush of the Upper Peninsula, Vian was a worker, an industrial painter (it’s probably where his no-nonsense work ethic comes from) literally painting factories—the infrastructure of gas, water and electrical lines, the dangerous machinery of industrial production, — and living the inherent design and experiencing the drama of industry.

 

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Rick Vian, “If You Only New” Oil on Canvas, 40 X 68, 2004

There are a few paintings in the current exhibition that took inspiration from that time and they explore with dramatic shading and coloring, with scumbled surfaces and jagged lines, the interconnected and interlocked spaces of a unique and almost cartooned or animated geometric abstraction. They don’t much look like any geometric abstraction from art history though they might suggest kinship with the Russian Constructivists. “If You Only New,” 2004, a charcoal drawing, dramatized with smears and layered palimpsests and composed with the triangular stencils of drafting tools, looks gothic in its theatrical play of prime geometric shapes. “Nice Condition,” 1999, carves figurative contours out of classic blade shapes such as intersecting ellipses and truncated spheres, dramatizing the edginess of the industrial landscape.

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Rick Vian, “Nice Condition”, Oil on Canvas, 48 x 40″, 1999 All images Courtesy of Glen Mannisto, and the Artists.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These earlier geometric abstractions set us up for the big hit of the retrospective and his latest project which is the push/pull relationship between Vian’s figurative and abstract painting of nature. He seems to have turned away from his industrial abstraction and industrial life (he quit the commercial/industrial painting gig) to paint nature. Exploring the wilderness of Northern Michigan’s upper peninsula, where he built a rustic camp in the woods, Vian has engaged the forest and its parts, the tree. Translating his early explorations of the grid, that classic modernist notion, and the physics of sight, Vian has alternated between strictly realist renderings of the forest and a fervently energetic expression. His paintings have become a moment of conscious realization of both the forest and the painting as a signing of that relationship.

 

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Rick Vian, “Stormbreak”, Oil on Canvas, 59”x 84”, 2005

“Stormbreak,” 2005, a dramatic and acutely stark representation of the existential state of a skeleton of a tree is a haunting and certainly metaphoric description of the vulnerability of that tree. In a conversation, he said “I have painted it many times. Its right off Lake Superior’s Keweenaw Bay just past Baraga.” Lest we say Vian has painted it so often that he has almost become its biographer and in that there is the best characterization of a regional artist as a partner and caretaker of the local. One senses a devout relationship with that tree and in the radical shift back, again, to his abstracting of the bush, there seems to lead to a reading of the forest as an emancipating energy and scripted choreography of the forest.

This dramatic relationship infects and determines most of the remainder the current work typified by “The Gathering Pool,” 2010, which “gathers” the surrounding forest or audience of dark shapes, of abstracted squiggles, smears and vertical black shadow-like slashes (figures?) into a focus of brilliant light or frothy foam. In contrast to the surrounding darkness, this brilliant moment is a crescendo of light, perhaps a symbol of spiritual transcendence gleaned from the dark bush. Vian pays homage frequently to his interest in both Italian Renaissance painting, which employed color and brilliant light to dramatize Christian scripture, and to Buddhist, Hindu and Islamic disciplines which use the mandala to diagram the cosmos or in Jungian psychology the unity of the self or personal identity. At the same time, he has kept an eye out for a deep, perhaps objective structure, a former preoccupation of his painting, and found a three-dimensional grid suggested in the “The Gathering Pool” by a faint network intersecting lines.

 

As a disciplined and investigative sojourner, Vian’s bushwhacking has even led him to study the language of the native Ojibway people entitling some of the painting in the Ojibway language which one senses gives a sympathy to the surrounding landscape and to its original inhabitants and interpretors.

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Rick Vian, “Stormbreak,” Oil on Canvas, 59”x84”, 2005

 

DETROIT ABSTRACTION Group Exhibition

As an extraordinary compliment to his own paintings Vian curated “Detroit Abstraction: Featuring 41 of the Most Noted Abstract Artists with ties to Detroit,” a remarkable collection of painting, sculpture, ceramics, and fiber works revealing the profound depth and width of the Detroit’s artistic landscape and of course another testimony to the sincerity and fidelity of Vian’s overall artistic project.

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Holly Branster, “Bracket,” 72”x36”

There is too much to say about the phenomena of abstract art especially in this post-digital age, but quite simply one is overwhelmed with the diversity of ways of seeing and of the use of materials and processes that are represented in Detroit. The stereotyped mainstay of abstract art is painting and the standouts in Detroit Abstraction don’t surprise: Holly Branstner’s stunning “Bracket” is composed of an elongated rectangle with a monolithic, effortless stroke of brilliant yellow with strokes and drips of dark bloody reds. At the other end of psychic spectrum is Janet Hamrick’s smaller oil on canvas, “Undulating Drift,” a subtle reckoning of three panels of alternating stripes in a quiet pallet of taupe and mauve overlaying a series of diamond shaped rectangles. It is excruciatingly subtle and beautifully nuanced and impossible to describe. That’s why it’s a painting. It goes like that: from explosive abstract expressionism to minimalistic painting strategies, from biomorphic and surrealist automatism, to action painting, and the whole wonderful gamut of assemblage wall reliefs composed of cement, wood, metal, glass to cubist formalist sculptures, kinetic whirly gigs and textile hangings, ceramic vessels and Japanese inspired altar-like constructions.

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Janice Hamrick, Undulating Drift, 24 x 30

The explosion that was/is Detroit’s art scene is beautifully realized in Vian’ s deft selection of artists. The diversity of materials and processes speaks of the battle against encrusted formalism that has been a preoccupation of Detroit artists and is a fulsome reminder of the tremendous will and passion of this place-in-the-straits to give shape to the world.

Vian’s paintings occupy the first floor of the spectacular Janice Charach Gallery and the Detroit Abstraction exhibition occupies the second floor. Both are stunningly installed in this amazing space that is part of the Jewish Community Center campus. It is a revelation even to the most experienced art appreciator to see the quality, complexity and integrity of the Detroit’s scene.

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Group Abstract Exhibition, Installation image, Courtesy of Glen Mannisto

The artists included (and Vian bemoaned that there wasn’t room for others he had selected) in the Detroit Abstraction exhibition include: Diana Alva, Anita Bates, Robert Bielat, Holly Branstner, Coco Bruner, Jim Chatelain, Terry Lee Dill, Barbara Dorchen, John Egner, Gary Eleinko, Todd Erickson, Marcia Freedman, Brenda Goodman, Dennis Guastella, Carole Harris, Janet Hamrick, Al Hebert, Meighen Jackson, Lester Johnson, Dennis Jones, Ray Katz, Brian Lacey, Addie Langford, Charles McGee, Allie McGhee, Robert Mirek, Erin Parish, John Piet, Tom Phardel, Sharon Que, Curtis Rhodes, John Rowland, Douglas Semivan, Gilda Snowden, Robert Sestok, Dayton Spence, Ron Teachworth, Nancy Thayer, Russell Thayer, Lois Teicher, Albert Young.

Rick Vian will talk about his work and the Detroit Abstraction exhibition in the Janice Charach Gallery December 4th at 1:00PM. The two exhibitions close Thursday December 8th at 8:00PM.

 

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.

jim_crawford_cat-can-series

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