Michele Oka Doner @ Wasserman Projects

Michele Oka Doner,  Hominin Relic, The Release, Fertilized Capsule

Wasserman Projects opened an exhibition February 16, 2018 with the work of Michele Oka Doner, the prolific and inventive maker of sculpture, installations, jewelry, furniture, functional objects and handmade books.

Michele Oka Doner, Life Forms, 2005, Project for the Life Sciences Building at Rutgers University, Piscataway NJ. Wide view of atrium floor. Bronze embedded in terrazzo. Image from The Watch All publication

Her work celebrates organic forms, particularly seashore life, but also seeds, trees, the human body and other forms of natural growth. Michele Oka Doner is probably best known for her creation, A Walk on the Beach, an installation on the floors of Miami International Airport. It is one of the largest public artworks in the world, featuring 9,000 unique bronze sculptures inlaid with mother-of-pearl in over a mile-and-a-quarter long concourse of terrazzo.

I recall meeting her and seeing her work at the Gertrude Kasle Gallery in the early 1970s, and then again in 1977 with her one-person exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts, Works in Progress, much of what was titled Burial Pieces, was previously laid out on the floor of Gallery 7. She has come full circle since that time in this exhibition at Wasserman Projects.

Michele Oka Doner, Book of Psalm, All Images courtesy P.D.Rearick, Wasserman Projects

Always inspired by nature, Michele Oka Doner composes a collection of flattened plant fronds on a grid with variety in the mono-colored objects, giving it the title Book of Psalm. Traditionally, this is a biblical reference in both Christian and Jewish worship as in the Book of Psalm, comprised of religious verse, many ascribed to King David. With a title like that, the subject matter reaches out to many people and relies on their experience for its explanation.

In this exhibition at Wasserman Projects, forty years later, it’s as if this artist has a genre all her own, work fueled by a lifelong study of the natural world. Mathematicians have long established a code for human forms, from plants to rock formations. Best described by Carl G. Jung and explained by Joseph Campbell, Michele Oka Doner exploits the collective unconscious of these forms, shapes and material in her art work.

Alison Wong, Director of Exhibitions at Wasserman Projects says in a statement, “Michele Oka Doner’s illustrious multi-decade practice has been guided by a passion for the natural world, and a fascination with the history held within the remnants of living things, such as twigs, leaves, seeds, shells, pods and stones. In her diverse installations, public works, sculptures, photographs, and drawings, these organic fragments are integrated, replicated and reimagined in new contexts that speak to the ephemeral yet enduring nature of life.”

Michele Oka Doner, Inlay Study in plaster.

These shell images and assorted shapes set in a plaster inlay are especially interesting in that the object is modest in size and an abstract composition of spiral shapes. The spiral meaning or symbolism can represent the consciousness of nature beginning from its center and expanding outward. So in keeping with the broad theme of the natural world, Michele Oka Doner works with some of the oldest geometric shapes dating back to the Neolithic period, the product of people over thousands of years, as illustrated in the famous ancient spirals at Newgrange in Ireland. Often the spiral is a feminine symbol, representing not only women, but lifecycles, fertility and childbirth. She  places the viewer above and looking down at these various shapes that are cloaked in a gold patina that elevates the meaning.

Michele Oka Doner, Installation of table, objects, and materials.

As part of the exhibition, there is a long table that extends out into the gallery space, which contains a collection of objects, books, various material and sculptures. As the table meets the wall there are two human figures, a child made of porcelain and a standing figure made of terra cotta clay without a head and a spiral-textured surface. These are typical of Michele Oka Doner’s work with the human figure, and in this setting provide a contrast to her dried plant-based work.

Michele Oka Doner, Glyphs

It has been a mark of her work throughout the years to place these glyph objects on the floor where their light color and textures contrast with the dark concrete floor. Her art becomes the process of making, finding and arranging, these small objects to create questions in the mind of the viewer. It feels like a universal language capable of reaching all people. They are hieroglyphic in nature and vary in size, material and spacing, as if you are looking back in time to a Mayan writing system.

Michele Oka Doner, Whip

Michele Oka Doner was born and raised in Miami Beach, but for thirty years she has lived and worked out of her studio in Soho, New York. She says in an interview with CBS News, in Miami, “I really could speak about what I knew and saw which was an accelerated notion of things growing, sprouting, ripening, decaying, the tides coming, bringing me things when I walked the beach in the morning, taking them away. It was full of wonders and richness. By really learning my own trade, it really was coming out of dipping back into myself instead of reaching out in the world and grasping that I learned daily, a step at a time, to manifest an idea, and that’s as much as we can hope to do in this world.”

Michele Oka Doner received a Bachelor of Science and Design from the University of Michigan (1966), a M.F.A. (1968), was Alumna-in-Residence (1990), received the Distinguished Alumna Award from the School of Art (1994) and was a Penny Stamps Distinguished Speaker (2008). She was awarded the honorary degree, Doctor of Arts (2016).

Her work is in collections worldwide, notably the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, and The Cooper-Hewitt, New York; La Musée Des Artes Décoratifs, The Louvre, Paris; The Wolfsoniana, Musei de Genova; The Art Institute of Chicago; The Virginia Museum; The St. Louis Museum; The Dallas Museum of Art; The University of Michigan Museum of Art; The Yale Art Gallery; Princeton University Art Museum; and the Perez Art Museum Miami.

Also on display in the rear gallery is the  new work by Detroit based artist/designer Jack Craig.

For the past decade, Oka Doner has been represented by Marlborough Gallery, New York City.

Wasserman Projects, Michele Oka Doner is on exhibit through May 5, 2018.

Romare Bearden @ N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art

Installation image, N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, All images courtesy of the Detroit Art Review

Black History Month during February is an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing the central role of blacks in U.S. history, a story that begins in 1915, half a century after the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in the United States. It was in September, the Harvard-trained historian Carter G. Woodson and the prominent minister Jesse E. Moorland founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), an organization dedicated to researching and promoting achievements by black Americans and other peoples of African descent.

George N’Namdi’s Center for Contemporary Art opens this new exhibition in celebration of the work of Romare Bearden, an African-American artist renowned for his collages and photomontages, a technique he began to experiment with in the 1950s, establishing his reputation as a leading contemporary artist.

Romare Bearden, Cora’s Morning, Collage and Watercolor, 11 x 14, 1986

Although influenced by modernists such as Henri Matisse, Bearden’s collages also derived from African-American slave crafts such as patchwork quilts and the necessity of making artwork from whatever materials were available. In this exhibition, he uses images from mainstream pictorial magazines such as Look and Life, and black magazines such as Ebony and Jet. Bearden inserted the African-American experience, its rich visual and musical production, and its contemporary racial strife and triumphs, into his painted collages, thus expressing his belief in the connections between art and social reality. Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso introduced collage into the modernist vocabulary. As a result, Bearden located a methodology that allowed him to incorporate much of his life experience as an African American, from the rural South to the urban North and on to Paris, France.

Romare Bearden, Salome with the Head of John the Baptist, 35 x 29″, 1974

From a series of prints called the Prevalence of Ritual, Bearden reconfigured age-old stories as allegories of modern life. In John the Baptist he drew on the biblical story of Salome, who had performed a dance for King Herod that so pleased him he offered to grant anything she might ask. At her mother’s urging the young girl requested the head of John the Baptist, who had spoken out against her mother’s marriage to the king. The masklike heads of the figures in John the Baptist blend West African and Egyptian visual traditions with a narrative about vengeance and naïveté.

Romare Beraten, Mecklenburg Memories, Collage and Watercolor, 14 x 17″

Drawing upon the recollections of his Southern roots for inspiration, Bearden conjured up both his childhood memories and the shared memories of his ancestors. Bearden absorbed the traditional rituals of the church, the hymns and gospels, sermons and testimonies; as well as the traditional rituals of the family, the music of the kitchen, the outdoor wash place and fire circle, which permeated his upbringing. The work in many of these watercolor/collage pieces is the flatness of the composition combined with the strength of strong primary colors.

Bearden’s career as a painter was launched in 1940 with his first solo exhibition in Harlem and then another, four years later, at the G Place Gallery in Washington, DC, while he was serving in the Army. In 1945, shortly after his discharge, he joined the Kootz Gallery on 57th Street and exhibited there for the next three years. He then traveled to Paris on the G.I. Bill in 1950 where he studied philosophy at the Sorbonne. In 1964, he was appointed the first art director of the Harlem Cultural Council, a prominent African-American advocacy group. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1972. He died in New York City in 1988.

Romare Beraten, Autumn of the Rooster, Lithograph, 18 x 24″, 1983

Romare Bearden’s museum retrospectives include those organized by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, NY (1971); Mint Museum of Art in Charlotte, NC (1980); Detroit Institute of the Arts in Detroit, Michigan (1986); Studio Museum in Harlem in New York, NY (1991); and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC (2003). His work is represented in public collections across the country including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Museum of Modern Art, New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Studio Museum in Harlem, NY.

Romare Bearden – through March 31, 2018

N’Namdi Contemporary Art

 

 

 

Sharon Que: Vaporous Quill @ Simone DeSousa Gallery

Sharon Que, “Vaporous Quill,” 2017, Steel, aluminum, paint   –  All photos by PD Rearick, Courtesy of Simone DeSousa Gallery

 

The title of Sharon Que’s current exhibition at the Simone DeSousa Gallery is  taken from one of her sculptures, “Vaporous Quill” which is also a phrase from a poem, “Not a Word in the Sky,” by British pop singer Shiela Chandra. Both Chandra’s poem and Que’s sculpture have an elemental simplicity that beguilingly explores the universe. The poem, in a voice of miraculous clarity, negotiates the sky, searching for some perhaps existential explanation, a language or word, in the vaporous horizon. The sculpture is composed of two amber-yellow, quadrilateral metal panels that, juxtaposed, mirror each other. One panel is subtly inscribed across the top with brass rivets from which fall, like rain, faint blue streaks. Attached to the adjacent panel is a thin strip of aluminum, finagled and caressed into the shape of a wisp of smoke. This is how it goes with Que: enigmatic objects elegantly finessed of hand wrought materials– wood, steel, bronze, glass—arranged in a conscious geometric scheme.

Another sculpture, “Listening Device” is composed of a 3-dimensional, geometrical shaped wire figure embraced by a small painted root and twig system which is “connected” to a small, golden funnel shape. Its title suggests that it is a technological instrument or machine. Both pieces take time to negotiate as does each of the seventeen, small sculptural works in the exhibition.

In the brief gallery guide for the exhibition Que has written: “There is a scaffolding system that exists for each of my sculpture exhibitions made of the interactions with people, nature, music and art that I have come across accidentally or made great efforts to experience.”

This is not, it seems, a simple prosaic statement but one of specific structural purpose. Each of these elements is part of her system of perception and selection of materials and each of them figures into the creation of the final object. There is a strange science at work here. In the same statement, she says “My imagery can take the form of data visualization algorithms.” This isn’t the usual account that an artist might make about how their art looks and works. This is language that comes out of the complex world of information engineering. Que is setting up a platform, the ontology, for her sculptural works.

Sharon Que “Listening Device,” 2017, Steel, wood, paint

With this in mind, “Listening Device” becomes a complex metaphor about the process of hearing and consciousness. The poet William Carlos Williams said “The poem is a small machine made of words.” Que’s sculpture is similarly a machine. From the complexity of roots and branches interconnecting to the complex crystal structure of nature (illustrated by the wire figure) to the funnel shape of satellites, “Listening Device” is a model or prototype of a hearing machine.

Que regularly references her family’s engineering background and she, herself, was a wood model maker in the auto industry before translating that profession into a violin restoration career. Thus, her art exhibits some considerable skill in handling a diversity of materials—including metal casting and fabrication, wood working, drafting skills, letter press printing–and the inventive forms that her sculptures take suggest a larger, macroscopic, engagement with the world.

Throughout “Vaporous Quill” there are images and illustrations of the elusive phenomena of magnetism. In each of the three “Quiet Revolution” sculptures, for example, there is a print of a woodcut that Que tooled, illustrating the polar forces in an electromagnetic field. “Quiet Revolution 2” appears to diagram the dynamics of a group of orbiting bodies, suggesting in their overlapping trajectories the possible intimacies of their interrelationships. Modestly constructed on a piece of varnished plywood it is beguiling and provocative. Que wrote in her introduction to the Vaporous Quill: “This exhibition is a three-dimensional journal.” The sculptures then function as journals do, notes and speculations on her perceptions of everyday life. It’s a lovely idea.

Sharon Que, “Quiet Revolution 2,” 2017, Wood, paint

With this science in mind then, “Capture,” a small, almost jewelry sized sculpture, composed of cast bronze balls and steel chain, seems to illustrate one of the prime phenomenon of particle physics, the incomprehensible “electron capture.” If “Capture” is considered metaphorically, in the realm of Que’s world, it may lead to speculation on everything from love to nuclear holocaust. I think there is a bit of the comic in Que.

Que is an artist of ideas, as well as beautiful objects that explode into a long trail of speculations and readings of what they are “about.” Her art is much less abstract than one might at first think. One imagines her advancing into the world, exploring for more and more connections, and bringing back from her sojourns pieces of the world to connect herself to the world and its infinite magnetic connection.

Sharon Que,  “Capture,” 2017, cast bronze, steel

 

 

Simone DeSousa Gallery       Sharon Que: Vaporous Quill  through October 8, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

To the End of the Earth @ Detroit Artists Market

“To the End of the Earth,” the new group exhibition at Detroit Artists Market, is grandly ambitious in its mission. As DAM’s press release states, it seeks to “… Bring together artists who seek to improve our bleak ecological reality through artwork that opposes political policy, presents objective data analysis, and conveys compelling emotional narratives.” This is an important show- it marks the importance of the humanities in general, and visual art in particular, in unpacking the increasingly urgent ecological crisis that is looming more heavily, day by day, on our planet and our lives.

Installation Image, Courtesy of Detroit Artist Market 2017 All images Courtesy of Detroit Artist Market

Curator Adrian Hatfield (himself no slouch as a painter of spiritual/earthly slippage- do check out his work) has assembled a group of artists who work predominantly in loving craft and visual narrative- there’s a refreshing lack of conceptual chillness to this show. The work largely avoids didactic environmentalist rhetoric, instead presenting us with feverish beauty and unsettling juxtapositions that ground examination of terrifying imbalance in the bones.

Dominique de Gery, Zug Winter, Oil on Canvas, 2017

Two standouts are Dominique deGery’s Zug Winter and Millie Tibbs’ Mountains + Valleys- Yosemite 4. deGery’s painting gifts uncommonly grand scale and highly developed technique to a familiar Detroit River view- her bisected horizon/underwater landscapes always make me think of Rothkos. She somehow manages to balance closely observed realism with visionary abstraction- a Hudson River School student granted multi-planar sight. deGery’s landscapes convey more about our delicate, wayward relationship with the land and water we live amongst than most artist statements or grim statistics could.

Millee Tibbs, Three Mountains & Valleys, Yosemite 4, Archival Print, 2013

It’s difficult to do interesting things with landscape photography these days. Millee Tibbs’ work is a notable exception. Her practice quietly probes unprecedented pockets in photographic imagery, spanning the figure, national monuments and many subtleties in between, unearthing the unsettlingly familiar and ungroundingly uncanny in every subject she engages. Mountains + Valleys- Yosemite 4 presents an iconic view of Half Dome, a famous, imposing feature of the Yosemite National Park skyline. This monument is one of the gods of nature photography, steadily indexed since the dawn of the medium. Tibbs’ layered meditation on the sublime, yet somewhat clichéd monument stakes its territory by manipulating the print itself, folding it into steep 45 degree angles reminiscent of paper airplanes. The delicate stratification of crease marks that remain once the print is again pressed flat enclose the phallic Half Dome in a yonic, halo-like embrace. On closer examination the jagged creases, like the mountain itself, turn out to be an illusion of captured light- Tibbs’ final image is a print of the folded print. This uncanny doubling casts everything about the image into doubt, except it’s frankly sexual examination of our relationship with iconic landscapes.

Clinton Snider, Senic Overlook, Mixed Media, 2016

More slow-burning revelation arrives through Clinton Snyder’s dirty/dainty mixed media sculptures, depicting meticulous miniature landscapes built atop found detritus of urban living. Scenic Overlook evokes the deceptive green crust floating uneasily atop a landfill, which is perfectly iconized by a worn-out old shoe.

While the truth of climate change and environmental degradation seems indisputable, one truth of our current relationship with these phenomena is that the message is not getting through. Statistics, studies, and choirs of frantic talking heads make facts readily available, along with steps that can be taken to slow the trajectory of climate change. The presence of all these facts in popular culture seems, on the ground, to change very little about the way we conduct our lives- at least in the Western First World. There is a need for new dialogs to open, in languages parallel to the logistical and statistic. Artists are uniquely suited to engage with this oncoming massive shift in our ability to bind and distill different forms of knowledge. For a scorchingly beautiful argument on this subject, see The Dark Mountain Project Manifesto.   “To the Ends of the Earth” presents some of the best artists working in visual narrative in Detroit right now, and lives up to its vision in providing a (much needed) new conversation on climate change.

“To the End of the Earth” is on display at Detroit Artists Market from September 8 through October 14.

 

Group Exhibition @ Oakland University Art Gallery

An exhibition, Ethics of Depiction: Landscape, Still Life, Human opens at Oakland University Art Gallery

Oakland University Art Gallery, Ethics of Depiction: Landscape, Still Life, Human, Installation Image Courtesy of OUAG, 2017

Rather than a Detroit-based solo artist or group show, Dick Goody, Chairman of the Department of Art and Art History, and Director Oakland University Art Gallery has curated an exhibition that draws on artists from various parts of world that provide an experience in imagery that questions fantasy, deception and truth. Fueled by contemporary image making, the exhibition is a collection of twenty-one artists ranging in gender, location, age, and location, providing artwork that includes photography, video, painting, and drawing. It could not be more diverse.

Goody says in a statement, “These works represent something just short of an inundation of content, and the presentation— “salon style” — affirms the idea that kaleidoscopic subject matter is enriching and arouses curiosity about the way in which contemporary artists use data and themes in their work to create a reflection of their lifespan on earth. The ethos of the exhibition sees parallels with the cabinets of curiosities from the past. Like the inquiring viewers of old encountering astonishing collections of objects, we today also experience a primary emotional connection to this type of work because its meaning is self-evident. Concurrently, the viewer’s entry point into these pictures is unclouded by unfamiliarity with Contemporary art. Anyone can find their way into these accessible depictions and explore the familiar, the strange, the formalistic and the conceptual stance of each image. But even using the phrase “conceptual stance” creates an unnecessary barrier between the viewer and the images. Perhaps it is much better to say “poetic stance.”

Richard Mosse, The Man Who Sold the World, 2015, digital c-print, 28 x 35″ Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

This image, The Man Who Sold the World, by Richard Mosse, an artist from Ireland, captured on infrared film, is shot in the Congo and feels like an ethnographic recording of workers, while moving away from a truthful depiction of the landscape. The reality of the image raises more questions than it answers.

Mosse says in a statement, “The subject of my work in Congo is the conflict’s intangibility, the irruption of the real beneath the generic conventions — it is a problem of representation. The word ‘infra’ means below, what is beneath. A dialogue about form and representation is one of the work’s objectives so I don’t think it’s a bad thing if people get hung up on the way Congo has been depicted, rather than what is being depicted.”

Jasper de Beijer, The Brazilian Suitcase (Part 2) #1, 2017, c-print 44.5 x 67 inches Courtesy of the artist and Asya Geisberg Gallery, New York

When I first experienced this image, I was taken back by my own thoughts of a place where a shrine was erected to the remnants of a Brazilian airplane. Again, this feels like an ethnographic image capturing a cultural act by what might be described as third world tribal individuals living in the jungle of Brazil. The images of Jasper de Beijer, an artist from the Netherlands, seem to want to break the perception of what we see as real, juxtaposed and complimented by our own experience and memory.

He says in a statement, “We experience reality through interpretation. For me, the most interesting feature of this process is that the interpretation of reality gains a new actuality, forming a corpus of imagery that becomes more and more disconnected from what actually took place. This is where images start to lead their own life — becoming more or less autonomous.”

Becky Suss, Hallway, 2017, oil on canvas, 84 x 180 inches Courtesy of The West Collection

The very large oil on canvas painting, Hallway, 84 x 180, by the artist Becky Suss from Philadelphia, dominates the entrance to the exhibition. This flat, neutral depiction of an empty house captures the mundane. If it were 6 x 12” on board it might pass as a postcard. The scale plays a major role in requiring the viewer to stop and study the contents, calling on our own memories and perceptions. In this work and for that matter all artwork, we bring our own experience to the moment and that is what can make all the difference. This idea works in the same fashion for all artwork.

Suss says in her statement, “In terms of the painting world, I do feel like sometimes there’s a dismissal of subject matter: “What is it? It’s just a room. It’s just a domestic interior. What does it mean?” There’s this idea that somehow it’s not terribly meaningful. But so much of our time is spent in these domestic spaces; they are where the scenes of our lives play out. Again, it’s something that’s undervalued. It’s taken for granted in some ways, like it’s an undeserving thing for a big painting to be made about.”

David S. Allee, Fireworks, 2016, dye sublimation metal print, 48 x 72 inches Courtesy of the artist and Morgan Lehman Gallery, New York

The photographic image, Fireworks, by David S. Allee, made me stop and study the large work, 48 x 72”, a dye sublimation on metal. I was first drawn to the image by the even lighting in the foreground and the sky, which led me to the question of exposure. Upon close examination, the viewer can observe movement in the detail of people, disclosing a long exposure time for the image. From the title one can assume we are viewing a group of people viewing fireworks, but the light source is intriguing and a mystery.

He says in a statement, “Structure, environments, spaces interest me for the stories they tell and layers of meanings they can describe. Photos of these forms usually require people to look closely, study, interpret and infer. If a viewer is drawn into an image of a built environment, they’re forced to use their imagination to understand it, make sense of it and in effect complete the image. The more an image has this relationship with people who view it the more successful I see my artistic process. I also have great interests in architecture and planning and a desire to build and create. Photographing these forms and framing them probably also helps to fulfill some of these desires.” After seeing the image, one can reimagine the landscape romantically, and change your perception of an experience. David S. Allee earned his MFA in Photography from the School of Visual Arts in New York City.

For this writer, this exhibition clarifies the role of a university gallery, especially with respect to their freedom to explore new ideas without the concerns of commerce. Goody at OAUG, focuses in his curatorial work, on educating his university students and raises the bar on exploration, dialogue, and meaning, not just for the students, but also for the Detroit Metro area at large.

Oakland University Art Gallery

Ethics of Depiction: Landscape, Still Life, Human runs through November 19, 2017