Detroit Institute of Arts & Charles Wright Museum Collaborate on 1967 Rebellion Exhibitions

 

From Left to Right – Patrina Chatman, Curator of collections and exhibitions, Charles Wright Museum of African American History, Valerie J. Mercer, Curator of African American art and head of the General Motors Center for African American Art, Detroit Institute of Arts, Kathy Locker, Program director/Detroit, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Juanita Moore, President and CEO, Charles Wright Museum of African American History and Salvador Salort-Pons, Director Detroit Institute of Arts.

Art of the Rebellion and Say It Loud are coordinating exhibitions to commemorate 50 years since July 23, 1967, when African Americans took to the streets of Detroit to express their anger and frustration with the injustice of law enforcement. To many people, and supported by the then media establishment, the events on 12 Street and Clairmount were conventionally referred to as the Detroit Riots, both in Detroit, Southeastern Michigan and around the country. Over the course of five days, more than 2000 buildings were destroyed, 7,200 people were arrested, 43 people killed and over 1,100 injured.

Jim Hubbard, Woman Sitting on Ledge, 13 x 19 B&W 35mm 1967

At the DIA, African American Art Curator Valerie Mercer explains that a number of the 34 works on display emerged from black art collectives that in some cases aimed to instruct a community whose self-identity was in rapid flux. “Harlem’s Weusi collective felt we African-Americans needed to learn more about African culture,” Mercer said, “which is hard for us, since it’s typically not taught in schools.”

Salvador Salort-Pons, DIA director said, “The commemoration of the 1967 Detroit rebellion provides an opportunity to call attention to the talented and often overlooked artists who were reacting to the struggle for social, political and racial justice during the 1960s and 70s. The DIA’s collaboration with the Wright Museum lays a foundation from which we are building a strategic and lasting working relationship that will help bring our community closer together.”

Wadsworth Jarrell, Three Queens, Acrylic on Canvas, 1971

At the Detroit Institute of Arts, Art of Rebellion features 34 paintings, sculptures and photographs mostly by African American artists working both collectively and independently in the 1960s and 70s. Artists in the collectives: Spiral, Kamoinge Workshop, Harlem’s Weusi, AfriCobra, and Black Arts Movement, created art for African American audiences that asserted black identity and racial justice with the Detroit rebellion of 1967 as background. The exhibition also includes works by artists who were not part of a collective and artists working in later decades who were inspired by art from the Civil Rights Movement.

Wadsworth Jarrell, Revolutionary, Acrylic on Canvas 1972

The work of Wadsworth Jarrell is prominent in the DIA exhibition in that it captures a color depiction of African American figures using a kind of alphabet soup to communicate a variety of literary messages. Wadsworth Jarrell is an African-American painter, sculptor, and printmaker who was born in Georgia then moved to Chicago, Illinois, where he attended the Art Institute of Chicago. He is a founding member of AfriCOBRA, a collective of African American artists formed in Chicago in 1968 as a response to the Civil Rights Movement. Its members inspired black pride by exploring and defining a black visual aesthetic that would reflect the style, colors, cool attitude and rhythm associated with their culture. AfriCOBRA artists focused on the social and political issues that affected their communities and were committed to making art that was understandable, relevant and accessible.

Allie McGee, Apartheid, Mixed Media on Masonite, 1984

Detroit artist Allie McGee, whose work is represented by the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, is featured with a large abstraction, Apartheid. The work highlights his use of angular shapes and splatters of paint to evoke tension. McGee often used sticks in place of brushes to obtain the effect he wanted. The title refers to the oppressive political system that existed in South Africa. The Civil Rights and Black Power movements inspired many African American artists to address the fight for civil rights faced right here in Detroit.

Norman Lewis, Untitled (Alabama), Oil on Canvas 1967

The outline of a hooded Klansman near the center of this painting converges with sharp angles suggests tension. The title Alabama was code for the complicity of that state’s government in the oppression of African Americans throughout the community. Strong composition and the black and white motif further supports the overall symbol in this oil-on-canvas work.

Elizabeth Catlett, Homage to Black Women Poets, Mahogany, 1984

Elizabeth Catlett’s wooden sculpture Homage to Black Woman Poets is carved from one piece of Mahogany and pays tribute to black women poets, such as Gwendolyn Brooks, Jikki Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez and Maya Angelou. Catlett is widely recognized as a contemporary sculptor known for her focus on women subjects.

Titus Kaphar, For Tryvon, Amadou, Sean, and Mike, Calk on Asphalt, 2014

The Chalk on Asphalt drawing by Titus Kaphar in 2014 brings the recent events across the country into the narrative that exists today. The images depict three black boys, perhaps those who were lost to injustice and informs the audience that the events surrounding a young black man like Trayvon Martin live on inside each and every one of our consciences.

The Charles Wright Museum partnered with the Detroit Institute of Arts to create parallel exhibitions — the DIA’s Art of Rebellion: Black Art of the Civil Rights Movement opened on the same day as Say It Loud. Both are part of a community-wide reflection of the 1967 Detroit Rebellion. More than 100 local institutions will participate in this commemoration, led by the Detroit Historical Museum. The Charles Wright Museum began its remembrance of this complicated and painful historical experience with the unveiling of Detroit artist Charles McGee’s landmark outdoor sculpture United We Stand at the Museum in July 2016. The Detroit Art Review covered that event, and I spoke with McGee, a fellow artist with whomI exhibited more than once. He said, “It’s about togetherness…living together in peace.”

“Artists have a way of bringing moral clarity and promoting empathy,” said Juanita Moore, president and CEO of The Wright Museum. “They can often articulate the emotional truth of a situation in a way that breaks through our mental barriers and opens us to new perspectives in a way that other forms of communication cannot. This new exhibit will both show how some of the most significant African American visual artists have interpreted and resisted social inequities over time, and broaden the historical narrative and dialogue around the 1967 Rebellion.”

Gordon Parks, Police State, B&W, 35mm, 13 x 19″ 1997

Born in Fort Scott Kansas, at the age of 25, Gordon Parks was struck by photographs of migrant workers in a magazine. He bought his first camera for $7.50 at a Seattle pawnshop and taught himself how to take photos. He started in the fashion industry, but Parks went on to become the first African-American photographer for Life and Vogue magazines. Parks once said, “People in millenniums ahead will know what we were like in the 1930s and the important major things that shaped our history at that time. This is as important for historic reasons as any other.” In this photo Police State, the image is more about capturing a moment that delivers a blunt and literal statement to his audience.

Roko, The King of Montgomery, Oil on Canvas, 28 x 38″ 1988

This mixed media painting by the artist Roko comes from a mug shot of Martin Luther King, one of many, taken by police departments during the Civil Rights period. Known nationally for his dramatic portraits, Roko relies on deep colors and black line to capture the downtrodden state of his subjects. As part of this exhibition, it is well known that Dr. Martin Luther King led Marches in Detroit, such as the Walk to Freedom March down Woodward Ave, in 1963, the precursor to his “I Have a Dream” speech at the Washington Monument just two weeks later. It drew crowds of an estimated 125,000 or more making it “the largest civil rights demonstration in the nation’s history” at that time.

Senghor Reid, Broadcast News, Mixed Media 1971

Detroiter Senghor Reid develops paintings that explore the connections between culture, art and social sciences as in his work “Broadcast News,” with its black-stenciled letters on bright yellow background or “The ’67 Riot Did Not Take Place.” Since he was born in 1976, maybe for him, these events did not take place. He earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and a Master in Art Education from Wayne State University. A recipient of the prestigious ArtServe Michigan Governor’s Award for an Emerging Artist in 2001, Reed was a Kresge Artist Fellow Recipient in 2009.

Postscript

On Monday morning, July 24, 1967, I remember being notified to leave work and go home until further notice. Some people had heard about an overnight disturbance in Detroit, but it wasn’t until I got home that I saw the news stories on our black and white TV. ABC news anchor Bill Bonds was reporting live on a civil disturbance near Clairmount and 12th Street that had broken out when police raided an unlicensed after-hours bar on the city’s west side. When I was allowed to return to work the following Friday I was surrounded by jokes from  fellow white suburbanites.  I remember being ashamed and disgusted by these pathetic displays. I had no true sense of what was going on then, but now I realized that although there was blatant racism on both sides of my extended families, my parents had met as professional dancers and worked with artists of all persuasions. These people were made up of all races and sexual orientation. Many lived in my home from time to time during my formative years of high school.

At the time, I didn’t understand the true depth of what happened that summer, but it came to form the foundation of my values as a grown man: All people were created equal, and to quote Martin Luther King, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Art of Rebellion has been generously supported by the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan and the Whitney Fund.

Say It Loud is the recipient of a prestigious Knight Arts Challenge Detroit grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Detroit Institute of Arts

Charles Wright Museum    

Group Exhibition @ N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art

Jennifer Junkermeier Curates and Michaela Mosher Designs an Exhibition: Round in Circles.

Installation Image, Round in Circles, N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, All Image Courtesy of the Detroit Art Review

For a gallery owner to ask someone to curate an exhibition is both exciting and a little risky.  But George N’Namdi has been in this business for more than thirty-five years, and he knows exactly what he’s doing. By inviting a guest curator Jennifer Junkermeier, he is injecting new energy into his space, one that capitalizes on Detroit-based artists (33) and may very well bring new audiences into the gallery. Simone DeSousa has done something similar in her gallery, recruiting Nancy Mitchnik to curate some 70’s aging Cass Corridor artists (she is one herself) into her gallery, and both go outside the regular season because summer is the right time to do it.  This is N’Namdi’s third annual summer show of Detroit artists with an invited curator. In 2016 it was Essay’d VI by Steve Panton, and 2015 was Mundo ‘Mericas curated by Vito Valdez.

Opening June 16, 2017, Round in Circles, is a collection of Detroit-based visual artists that provide nearly every medium, including painting, drawing, sculpture, video, projection, and literary work on the wall. If you need to tie that together with an idea, why not use the circle as a place to start, if not literally in the work, then probably in the mind of the artist, or a metaphor that applies to almost anything, dating back about 3000 years. She says in her statement, “Yes, going round in circles is dizzying, at once nauseating and exciting, impoverished and plentiful, the form that implies nothing also embraces the possibilities of being everything.”

It’s a pleasure for a writer to pick out some favorites, and say a little something because it is almost impossible to write a review when there is such a variety of work as there is in this exhibition.

Graem White, You Are Here: Center of the Universe, Mixed Media, 11.5 x 14″

Graem Whyte is an artist that works with a wide variety of three-dimensional material, sometimes on the floor, sometimes on the wall.  Born and raised in metro Detroit, Whyte is based in Hamtramck, MI where he and his wife Faina Lerman oversee the community-based activity at Popps Packing. Whyte’s work always feels very unconventional, driven more by the idea than the material, illustrated in his one-person exhibition at Oakland University in 2012. In his work, You Are Here, it seems to play on the border, a manipulated LP record, a gold plate, and a burst of Mixed Media, suggesting that music can be concrete. Graem Whyte is an adjunct art instructor at the Center for Creative Studies.

Shanna Merola, Untitled 2, from series “We All Live Downwind”, Archival inkjet pigment print, 14 x 20″

The photograph by Shanna Merola, from the series, We All Live Downwind, seems driven by her interest in documentary photography, and a deep concern for social justice. This writer is not trying to figure out the context of these orange gloves holding a ceramic dish, rather – enjoying the surrounding and colorful pieces of torn paper. Merloa was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, 1980, earned her BFA at Virginia Commonwealth University, and an MFA Cranbrook Academy of Art.  She lives and works in Hamtramck, Michigan.

Todd Stovall, Untitled, Acrylic, Wood, 2 x 2′ 2017

Detroit artist Todd Stovall keeps the minimalist shaped canvas work alive in his work, Untitled, although this piece is entirely made of wood.  The context for this kind of approach might be artists like Charles Hinman, Ellsworth Kelly, and Frank Stella.  Stovall is not trying to do much with color, rather the simple power of shape, although the red wall is there to support his effort. 

Clara DeGalan, A Veiled Asking, Oil on canvas, 2016

This oil painting, A Veiled Asking, by Clara DeGalan reflects a deep and progressive direction from her earlier work in graduate school, an MFA from Wayne State University in 2015, and a two-person exhibition in 2016 at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center. It’s this idea of transparency and the illusion of dimension that creates a mystery that leaves us wanting, combined with an offset but a sturdy sense of composition. All of this held together by a circle and a piece of blue tape. Lovely. 

Round in Circles is a group exhibition that explores formal and metaphorical implications of the circular.” Says Junkermeier.  The exhibition could send a signal to other galleries, to experiment (certainly some do) during your summer months, and realizing there is limited space for thirty-three artists, at least I can mention their names as part of this exhibition.

Contributing Artistis: ‘jide Aje, Danielle Aubert, Corrie Baldauf, Davin Brainard, Tyanna J. Buie, Alexander Buzzalini, Shane Darwent, Clara DeGalan, Simone DeSousa, Erin Imena Falker, Jessica Frelinghuysen, Ani Garabedian, Richard Haley, Asia Hamilton, Megan Heeres, Eli Kabir, Osman Khan, Austin Kinstler, Nicola Kuperus, Timothy van Laar, Anthony Marcellini, Adam Lee Miller, Shanna Merola, Eleanor Oakes, Ato Ribeiro, Robert Platt, Marianetta Porter, Dylan Spaysky, Todd Stovall, Gregory Tom, Graem Whyte, Elizabeth Youngblood, and Alivia Zivich

N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art

Round in Circles through August 26, 2017

Suspended Disbelief @ Broad Museum, East Lansing

Transported Man Exhibition opens by New Director

Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI

I once entertained aspirations of being a professional magician (I was never good, but at one point I could make all the faces of a deck of cards disappear, using a trick deck, admittedly). It’s likely for the best that I never pursued that career, but the Broad Art Museum’s Transported Man suggests that perhaps the world of art and that of magic aren’t that different. Both, after all, inexorably rely on the viewer voluntarily suspending disbelief.

The Broad’s new director, Marc-Olivier Wahler has a tough act to follow. The museum’s grand opening in 2012 featured works by art world heavyweights Andy Warhol, Joseph Albers, Anselm Kiefer, and Damien Hirst. The building’s architect Zaha Hadid even made an appearance. But, with over 400 exhibitions under his belt, Wahler capably delivers a conceptually interesting and visually arresting debut exhibition. His first show is an ambitious exploration of the relationship between art and viewer, and it brings together over 40 international artists, some quite familiar (Duchamp and Magritte) and others either emerging or mid-career.

The Transported Man derives its title from the magic trick of the same name, as depicted in the novel (and movie) The Prestige. Using magic as a motif, the exhibition, broadly speaking, explores the mutability of perception. Mundane items—magically—become art objects once placed in a museum. Furthermore, the exhibition tests the limits at which art can fool us. It certainly works. By the time you’re done on the second floor, you’ll have seen so much trompe l’oeil wizardry and visual sleight-of-hand that you’ll be thoroughly confounded as to what’s real and what’s illusory. The Broad’s counterintuitively shaped spaces, replete with walls that slant every which way, make the experience even more disorienting.

The Transported Man, all images courtesy of the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University

Stepping into the first level exhibition galleries, visitors will be met with a wooden table hovering in air; it’s propped up by a fan set within the floor (there’s no attempt at hiding that), yet how the air current so firmly holds the table in place remains a mystery. But the elephant in the room is, quite literally, the elephant in the room. It freely hangs with its trunk clasped around a rope affixed to the ceiling. Possessing all the convincing texture of an actual elephant, it’s actually a polyurethane resin, polyester, steel, and fiberglass sculpture by Daniel Firman. There’s something strangely beautiful and visually satisfying about the suspended creature so improbably defying gravity. (Look up Firman’s elephants on the internet; they’ve appeared in all sorts of places).

Perhaps the most disorienting work in the show is Synchronicity, an experimental work by Robin Meier and Andre Gwerder. It’s a big, black tent inside a big black tent. Step inside both and suddenly you’re walking on (and smelling, quite strongly, in fact) soil and grass, the atmosphere has suddenly become hot and extremely humid, and it’s very dark. Real crickets happily chirp away (afterhours, the lights within turn on, mimicking natural daylight, and the crickets, cicadas, and fireflies erroneously think it’s day). The work explores how we can manipulate nature through electronic stimuli. Small electronic LED lights stimulate actual synchronistic fireflies, which under the impression that it’s a hot, muggy night, flicker in a pulsating rhythm. While far from the point of the installation, I couldn’t help but reflect on our own susceptibility to electronic stimuli/media which we increasingly accept at face-value as truth.

Upstairs, the visual and sensory theatrics continue. In the corner of one gallery space you’ll find weeds sprouting improbably from the floor. They’re actually steel sculptures by Tony Matelli, and seem so convincingly real that you really do have to fight the urge to reach out and touch them…just to check.

The Transported Man, all images courtesy of the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University

One subtext of the show is the uncanny transformation of mundane objects into works of art. The point is most explicitly made with Piero Manzoni’s Magic Base—Living Sculpture, a wooden pedestal upon which people are supposed to stand, thus momentarily turning themselves into art objects (for this exhibition, however, viewers are asked to kindly refrain from turning themselves into art objects, and thus help preserve the original base, now over half a century old). This also seems to be the point behind the many non-functional air ducts installed throughout the museum by Charlotte Posenenske, and the plywood plank (by Robert Gober) leaning against a wall. Visually, these works are uninteresting, but they nevertheless foster conversation about the nature of art, and in this respect they advance the goal of the exhibition.

The Transported Man, all images courtesy of the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University

 

Perhaps ironically, the most conceptual part of the show may very well be The Transported Collection, a playfully inventive adjacent exhibition of works from the Broad’s permanent collection. About forty paintings and drawings hang on a wall in one of the Broad’s lower galleries, but without any obvious reference to their corresponding artists. The viewer is left in a quandary: which of these works are, in fact, generally recognized as great works of art? Stealthily tucked in the corner of the room are some laminated explanatory cards which identify the artists. I cheated and peaked; the list is impressive– Van Dyck, Picasso, Delacroix, Matisse, Giacometti, and others. But some of the most compelling works on view were by artists I’d not heard of, such as Federico Castelluccio, who fools the eye with a convincingly illusory painting of a torn up, wrinkled postcard of a Titian portrait which seemed to be taped back together and affixed to a wooden background. This small exhibition wittily questions the subjective process by which we determine what constitutes great works of art.

Jonathan Monk, Second Hand Daily Exchange, 2006 The Transported Man, all images courtesy of the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University

Picasso famously said that art is a lie which points to the truth. He was right; after all, the overwhelming majority of art history is comprised of artists trying to fool us into seeing three dimensions on a two dimensional surface. But it’s while looking at illusory paintings that we’re made acutely aware of the beauty of the actual world…or the shortcomings of human nature, as the case may be. Art’s deception has a purpose; to paraphrase from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, it holds up a mirror to nature, and within that mirror’s distorted reflection, we’re more able to see ourselves.   So while the playful theatrics and visual punning makes The Transported Man an eminently enjoyable and accessible show, there’s substance behind the visual magic that speaks to art’s ability to nudge us toward beautiful, enduring– sometimes uncomfortable– truths

The Transported Man at  the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University

 

 

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

Cody VanderKaay @ Oakland University Art Gallery

Cody VanderKaay, Installation image

Cody VanderKaay’s solo exhibition, Terrestrial Celestial, opened March 3, 2017, at the Oakland University Art Gallery, where Dick Goody, Art Chair, and curator at OUAG, turns inward to one of his associate professors to exhibit new work that takes the viewer in a variety of visual art directions. On the ground or in the sky, VanderKaay presents three-dimensional work that has delicacy as in the Orange Shed, versus blunt boldness, as in Six Views.

So where is this artist in his creative trajectory? I would say he is exploring an inner sensibility he has developed since his youthful years of art experience combined with his MFA at the University of Georgia, where he gives us his take on three-dimensional form.

Cody VanderKaay, Orange Shed, Latex on Basswood, 2016

The delicate relief, Orange Shed, using basswood and latex, reminds me of relief work from the 1950’s in the United States that was mostly decorative, with the exception of an artist such as David Smith. Smith combined found objects, worked in metal based on his experience working in a car body shop. The shared element with VanderKaay’s work is largely based on Constructivism, a modern art movement that flourished in Russia, then moved to Europe during the early parts of the 20th century. The central concept is placing the priority on the material employed, versus the subject matter or motif. The materials to express an idea dictate the form. The fundamental analysis of the material leads to the function. This idea shapes VanderKaay’s other work as well.

Cody VanderKaay, Six Views, Concrete 2017

Borrowing on ideas presented by Minimalist artists, be it Donald Judd or Robert Morris, the early 1980s brought a shift from Abstract Expressionism to a pared-down, three-dimensional object with little reference to real objects. The new vocabulary was simplified geometric forms created from humble industrial material. VanderKaay provides a repetition of nine “house-shaped” concrete objects in Six Views with an angled bottom that provides the observer with a parallel view.  It would seem variations on this theme could produce a body of work on its own, as the aesthetics are pleasing, even comforting to the eye, whether it appears in relief or as a taped drawing on the wall.

Cody VanderKaay, Bündner Schist, Crepe Tape on gallery wall, 2017

The large black-taped drawing on the gallery wall, Bündner Schist, reinforces elements in the overall exhibition, like a roadmap to his thinking.  He builds an amalgamation of trapezoids and variations that make his statement clear and concise, one that offsets the more three-dimensional work that dominates the overall exhibition. As part of the exhibition, we are confronted with the large assemblage of mixed media, Ball Drop, where the artist has presumably collected and large variety of materials and objects that met his fancy, not so different from when an artist collects things they like, placing them on a table (or wall) in the studio.  Not quite understanding how this fits into the overall exhibition, I asked VanderKaay to explain this in the last question presented in a short interview.

Cory VanderKaay, Ball Drop, 2017

Ron Scott: How and where did you first get interested in visual art?

Cody VanderKaay: I lived in both rural and suburban environments of the Midwestern, Southern, and Western United States. Periodic relocation and travel allowed me to experience a variety of living situations, routines, pastime activities and occupations that inevitably shaped my curiosity. As the son of a residential contractor, I was frequently exposed to architecture, trades labor, carpentry and the graphic art of drafting. As a young man, I trained myself in a number of related skills and techniques, when, eventually my proclivity for making art objects became my principal interest.

I studied sculpture at Northern Michigan University’s School of Art & Design and the University of Georgia Lamar Dodd School of Art, where I received my MFA. After graduating, I relocated to New Orleans to teach visual arts at Loyola University. Today, I am an Associate Professor of Art at Oakland University teaching sculpture, drawing, and fundamental art courses full-time.

RS: How has your worked evolved since college?

CV: The biggest and best change is an ability to identify when my intellect, technical ability and resources are in concert with one another, and encountering that moment again, in the finished artwork.

RS: How is it that you work in such a variety of material?

CV: I’m attracted to the range of qualities and technical constraints that raw materials and objects have; the combinations seem impossible to exhaust.

RS: What artists have most attracted your interest?

CV: Dil Hildebrand, Anne Truitt, Herman de Vries, Ilya Bolotowsky, Norman Dilworth, Tony Feher, and Richard Wentworth

RS: Your work seems to stand alone as single individual pieces. How does the large assemblage on plywood relate to the other work?

CV:The large plywood piece titled Ball Drop wasn’t conceived as an artwork per se, but rather as scaffolding or drawing of sorts. It’s evidence of the forms and subjects I was thinking through in the studio while making the other artworks in the exhibition. The title is a reference to the phrase ‘the penny has dropped’ and points to a realization or discovery that follows a long period of exploration and questioning. Many of the elements comprising the wall are residual, while a few are deeply personal. For example, the small oil painting of the Alps originally belonged to my Grandmother. The painting was given to her by her father when she left the Netherlands for the United States in the 1930’s. I coveted the painting as a child and acquired it after she passed. The wall doesn’t summarize the exhibition, but examining it closely will reveal more about the relationship between the other artworks on display.

RS: Anything else you would like to say?

CV: I find the challenges of working with self-imposed restrictions to be intellectually stimulating and personally significant. A large majority of my artwork is composed of irreducible elements and simplified forms, with surface qualities that raise questions about the substance and physicality of their forms. I often move between disciplines, on two or three projects at a time, and display finished work as a sequence or series of related artworks to bring formal and contextual concerns in closer harmony with one another. I use fabrication, mold making, casting, drawing and collage to produce my sculpture and two-dimensional artwork.

There are artists who focus on a subject for forty years, providing variations in size, color palette, composition and material. Cody VanderKaay is an artist who does not limit his expression to a genre. He is eclectic in his approach to creating his art and, most important, he is curious. Cody VanderKaay is giving an artist’s talk in the OUAG gallery on Thursday, April 6, at NOON.

Cody VanderKaay, Terrestrial Celestial, Open at OUAG – April 9, 2017