Michigan Fine Arts Competition @ BBAC

Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center Hosts the 35th MFCA

BBAC Install

BBAC / MFAC Installation Image – Courtesy of DAR

The Michigan Fine Arts Competition (MFAC) exhibition opened June 24, 2016, and is one of the best they have had in their long existence, beginning in 1982. Not many know that the competition was previously held by the Detroit Institute of Arts, but with their demise of leadership in contemporary art, they were pleased to find a home at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center (BBAC). The key to this year’s success is Terence Hammonds; the juror selected to make this year picks. Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, he attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston for his BFA, and Tufts University for his MA. One of the factors that make this exhibition so exceptional is that it draws on a mid-west region, where more than 500 artists compete from Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin.

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Gerald Moore, Late September Field, Oil on Canvas

Gerald Moore is an expressive landscape painter who holds an MA in painting from Central Michigan University. He says “I work opposite the Oriental painting philosophy that ‘less is more.’ ‘More’ is the engine of my work; ‘more’ is more.” His large landscape painting seems to draw on the landscape as a subject, but flirts with abstract field painting and gives us a little of both. Color field painting, championed by Clement Greenburg in the 1950’s characterized this expression as solid color creating an unbroken surface and flat picture plane. One might view the Wheat Fields of Van Gogh to see early examples.

Woodcut

Mary Brodbeck, Blanket, Woodblock Print

Maybe it’s because we don’t see a lot of artists working with wood-cut printmaking, that this landscape with rings and melting snow is so attractive. She says in her statement “ Affected by my travel and study in Japan, notably by visiting traditional Japanese gardens, my landscape prints are carefully designed in abstract and stylized ways that are intended for viewers to have a contemplative experience. “ These Zen-like impressions made by the woodblock can transport the viewer to a place that blends design, craft and a spiritual aesthetic. Ms. Brodbeck holds a BFA from Michigan State University, and an MFA from Western Michigan University.

Photo

Mario Inchaustegui, Into the Unknown, Digital Print

Mario Inchaustegui’s digital print “Into the Unknown” draws purely on composition for its power and interest. The geometry along with perspective leads us to four figures on the edge of some type of a concrete pier. This middle school teacher at West Bloomfield Schools has been part of photo exhibitions in Metro Detroit, most recently at the Scarab Club.

Clay Hydrant

Susan O’Connor, Can I Get Some Water, Clay

Susan O’Connor, who teaches hand-built ceramics at the BBAC, grabs the audience with a pop art object, that also carries a current social message. So, she got me with this Fire Hydrant from Flint, Michigan where the water has been contaminated by a decision leading to elements of lead in the water supply.

This exhibition has many generous prizes totaling $5800 and goes a long way to showcase artists in the Midwest. I will mention here that I usually stay away from covering these large competitive exhibitions, largely because they jury the work from jpegs, which makes the process more of a challenge. In this particular case, I give Mr. Hammonds a lot of credit for getting most of his decisions right. I have heard it many times, that it is the only practical way to conduct such a large undertaking, however when only viewing an image of an artwork, mistakes are made.

The 35th Annual Michigan Fine Arts Competition – June 24 – August 26

Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center

Ceramics and Watercolor @ Flint Institute of Arts

Flint Institute of Arts Exhibition: Function, Form, Fantasy: Ceramics from the Robert and Deanna Harris Burger Collection

Ceramic work is one of the most ancient arts in the world, but in the United States and many parts of the world, has evolved over the last hundred years from what was once traditional functional craftwork to a high form of creative art that competes with painting and sculpture. This current diversity of ceramics has evolved dramatically as illustrated by the Burger Collection, now on display at Flint Institute of the Arts. Function, Form, Fantasy is currently on exhibit in three jointing galleries. The Function section has ceramic work that is traditional as it relates to its use: bowls, vases, plates, etc., Form moves away from being utilitarian, and experiments with shape, clay properties, and glaze, where as Fantasy uses a new freedom to create a narrative that could be comic, industrial, surreal, futuristic; You name it.

Function

Pippin Drysdale

Pippin Drysdale, b. 1943, Horizon Traces, 2010, Stoneware

Horizon Traces, was created by Pippin Drysdale, a ceramicist from Australia that creates the perfect shaped vessel while revealing fine lines of multiple colors. She says in her statement she is inspired by the desert sands.

Form

Adrian Arleo

Adrian Arleo, b. 1960, Dreaming of Rama Teapot, 2001, Stoneware

The titled Rama, refers to an Indian king of lore, where the American artist Adrian Arleo, creates two human forms contrasting in size and glaze selection. Rama, the blue-tinted man, represents the perfect form of man, full of virtue, justice, and peace. The highly created textures assist in creating dimension and contrast to the forms.

Fantasy

Andy Nasisse

Andy Nasisse, b. 1946, Untitled, 2006, Stoneware

The American, Andy Naisise, creates Untitled, 2006 where he incorporates male and female, good and evil as opposites in this figurative piece of stoneware. In his statement, he says, “I think of figures as “part of a family of images that find their way through my hands and into the outer world.”

This exhibition offers the audience a view of recent ceramic work, beginning in the 1060’s to present day. Dr. Robert Burger and his wife have been collecting works of art since the 1970’s and have donated nearly 250 works of art to the FIA. Mrs. Burger has ties to Flint, having enjoyed ceramic classes at Flint Institute of Arts in her youth. You will find large and small works, simple and complex, by well-known artists that are elegant while thought-provoking works of clay that go a long way to blur the line between craft and fine art.

Moving Toward the Light

New Cycle

Joseph Raffael, American, b. 1933 New Cycle, 2009–10 Watercolor on paper 73 1/2 x 89 x inches Courtesy of Nancy Hoffman Gallery, New York, NY

On exhibition in the Graphics Gallery during these summer months, the artist Joseph Raffael has an exhibition of unusually large watercolor paintings, courtesy of the Nancy Hoffman Gallery, NYC, NY. This collection of eleven large watercolor paintings celebrates flora and fauna where Raffael captures a deep view of floral life, both in and out of focus. Growing up in Brooklyn, Raffael helped his mother with the fruits, vegetables, and flowers in her garden, where he came to regard the changing of seasons as a form of magic. He says “Seeing blossoms come alive is the same as watching a painting come forth out of the white space of a page or a canvas. The garden is another example of how one begins with nothing but seeds and the brown-colored space of the earth from which, little by little, the garden emerges.”

Orchids Dream

Joseph Raffael, American, b. 1933 Orchids Dream, 2013 Watercolor on paper 55 x 78 x inches Courtesy of Nancy Hoffman Gallery, New York, NY

The scale and intensity of these paintings provide the viewer with a combination of the representational subject matter set in a personal world of abstraction. His backgrounds and borders bring compositional strength to the composition and heighten the vision of watercolor. These large-scale works depict flowers, water, and fish swimming in in ornamental ponds. The artists say, “I don’t paint flowers; I paint energy.”

Those traveling north from Detroit this summer will find pleasure in stopping by for both exhibitions at Flint Institute of Arts, just a few blocks off I-475.

The Flint Institute of Arts is located in the Cultural Center Park just two blocks off I-475 between UM-Flint and Mott Community College. Hours are Mon-Wed & Fri, 12p-5p; Thu, 12p-9p; Sat, 10a-5p and Sun, 1p-5p. Admission to the exhibition is free to members and children under 12; Adults $7.00; Senior Citizens and Students $5.00. Saturdays are free thanks to First Merit Bank. For more information call (810) 234-1695 or visit www.flintarts.org.

Marie Woo @ the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center

The Clay Menagerie: The Life and Work of Marie Woo

Marie W intallation view

There are funny shapes and objects all over Clay Odyssey: A Retrospective, a survey of work at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center by ceramicist Marie Woo, spanning a 60-year career that has always aspired to push ceramics past function and into experimental realms. There is not a symmetrical form among the 50+ works on display. There are stacks of thin, rigid forms, peaked like high hats from drum kits, rendered in matte clay and punctuated with little nubbins. There are collections of forms that look like hot stones under dilapidated and rusting wire enclosures—like the contents of a charcoal pit, or the steam-producing unit in a sauna. A delicate branch suspends a collection of azure clay beads on lengths of wire in a static, freeform arrangement that resembles a frozen rainstorm. Inside a rectangle of glass sits a loose pyramid of lumpen white balls. Irregular wall pieces suggest nests containing clutches of dinosaur eggs. The majority of pieces are finished in chalky, matte glazes that give the room a sense of antiquity. Everywhere are shapes of prehistory, primordial roots.

Bowl with lid

There is great intentionality in the way that Woo has slashed and broken her forms – even those resembling traditional vessels have scarred-over cuts along their exterior surfaces, strategic tears and gouges, or oddly pinched handles on the lids of pots. Based on Woo’s background, studying under famed ceramic artist Maja Grotell, founder of the ceramics program Cranbrook Academy of Arts—as well as her subsequent involvement in the experimental ceramics collective, the Clay Ten, and her fervid dedication to researching and preserving the traditions of Chinese folk pottery, that Woo understands how to make a flawless form. The question then becomes, why does she so categorically refuse to do so?

Brown Plate

Perfectionism can be a real mind trap. Training on the pottery wheel demands precision, symmetry, replicability of form. And yet, in a world where perfect bowls, mugs, and plates can be created by machine and readily purchased at the local Crate & Barrel, that there is little practical need for a ceramic artist to focus on making functional or “perfect” forms. Rather, Woo seems to be obsessed with the hand of the artist as a reflection of her own capacity for human error and variance—there are literal castings of (presumably) her own hands in several wall pieces. As is aptly demonstrated by the recent group show at Pewabic curated by Cranbrook’s Head of Ceramics, Anders Ruhwald, This is the Living Vessel: person. This is what matters. This is our universe , there is an opportunity to treat ceramic vessels as an expression of the individuality of their maker—of all people, as living vessels. This seems to be at play in Woo’s oeuvre.

beads on string

Additionally, there is an examination of the clay body that demonstrates a deep meditation on the nature of her material at its baseline. In an essay written by Dennis Nawrocki for Essay’d, Woo teases out some ideas in her most recent work, which deals with unfired clay exposed to natural elements over time, leading to the inevitable decompensation of unfixed forms. This body of work is represented in hanging triptychs of pictures that document the journey from structured clay body to regressive, melting lumps. It sees natural, in a world driven by capitalism and consumption, so replete with objects, that an artist as enamored with process and creation as Woo would find a way to focus on the making, leaving the results to unmake (or simply alter) themselves over time. Central to the exhibition is a piece that corrals dozens of fired vessels into a tube of chicken wire, which collectives forms a kind of urn holding a stand of dry grasses. The clean, formal construction of the object’s base indicates precision in its making, but it looks like nothing so much as a mass grave for discarded objects, marked with dried-out flora. Perhaps this stands as a monument to the death of ideas that need to be permanently fixed in objects—as is the case for many who reach their octogenarian years, there is a lessening interest in the material world, and more of a focus on the life of the soul, the spark within the vessel.     http://bbartcenter.org

Two hands

“Surrealism: The Conjured Life” @ MCA Chicago

Stop Making Sense at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago

MCA2 Intallation

“Surrealism: A Conjured Life” installation view All Images Courtesy of Sarah Rose Sharp

There is a fairly structured approach to cognitive development within our society—we try to make order of chaos. We assigned meanings to symbols (like letters or shapes), and organize those symbols in configurations that generate more complex meanings (like words or images), and continue along, stringing together ever-greater numbers of shapes and letters to make cogent arguments and beautiful imagery. We (hopefully) teach our young people fluency with the existing sets of shapes and letters, so they can grow up to understand all the meaning that has come before, and potentially contribute thoughts of their own to the collective understanding.

Unless we don’t. The Surrealist movement, which formally emerged in Paris in the mid-1920s, supplanted the basic order of established meaning, challenging straight-line association and favoring experimentation across a wide range of media, including theater, writing, film, poetry, and of course, visual art. A survey of foundational and second-generation Surrealist art from the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) collection provides a vivid showcase of some of the lesser-known founders of Surrealism and those that followed in their footsteps—including a number of Chicago-based contemporary artists—and underscores the difficulty inherent in making work that disrupts the basic building blocks of meaning, as they are instilled in most of us from a young age. The work on display includes sculpture, paintings, drawings, and multi-media installations, and a wild array of subjects, rife with texture and symbols. Paradoxically, the exhibition materials provided by MCA immediately attempt to contextualize and categorize some of the symbols, themes, and motifs commonly explored by Surrealists—including death, winged messengers, sleep and dreams, the grotesque, mannequins and dolls, and phantasmagoria—which to some degree undermines the destabilizing objectives of Surrealism as a movement. Again, being nonsensical, generating and/or accepting ambiguous meaning in art, is harder than it initially seems.

MCA4 wire sculptures on wood

Harry Bertoia, Landscape Fantasy (n.d.), Lead, wire, and stone slab

The gallery is organized into two spaces, an inner circle with rich purple walls that displays some of the movement’s foundational contributors, such as Max Ernst, René Magritte, Dorothea Tanning, Kay Sage, and Remedios Varo. There are some outstanding works here, each radically different from the next – the aesthetics of Surrealism are as disparate and personal as the individuals who worked within the movement. Landscape Fantasy (n.d.) by Harry Bertoia is a delicate collection of lead and wire constructions, resembling a flea circus-like playscape, on a stone slab. This minimal and understated work sits just adjacent to Punching General (1969) by Enrico Baj—an cartoonishly-shaped and upholstered military figure on a spring, designed, presumably, to act as a sparring partner for the expression of animosity toward the military state. Within a nearby patch of wall is a four-part installation by Doris Salcedo; Atrabiliarios (1993) encases shoes recovered from victims of mass violence in wall niches, stitching them in behind semi-opaque membranes that give them an otherworldly quality.

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Marcos, Raya, Night Nurse (1993/96), Installation view

Things are no less esoteric and trippy in the outer ring, which highlights Chicago-based artists that were influenced by the Surrealist movement. An entire wall is devoted to Marcos Raya’s disturbing installation Night Nurse (1993/96), which feels as though one of Frida Kahlo’s medical forensic paintings jumped its frame to become a department store window display. Paintings on Plexiglass suggest internal organs, literally hidden levels of processing, and highly textured paintings pile on revelations in the opposite direction—Surrealists were seemingly obsessed with abstracted notions of the body’s inner workings. The Rascette (1961) by H.C. Westermann, attempts to highlight the secret information encoded in our very palms. A freestanding display presents a two-sided work by Henry Darger—Chicago’s much posthumously celebrated outsider artist, who spent his professional life as a hospital custodian, all the while working on an longform manuscript peppered with illustrations of kewpiesque children in various fantasy states, that is equally disturbing as it is inspired.

MCA7 wooden hand

H.C. Westermann, The Rascette (1961), Painted woo

MCA9 wood soldier

Enrico Baj, Punching General (1969), Vinyl, metal, cloth, ribbon, foam,

Many contemporary artists in various media have used transcendental meditation as a method for discovering new perspectives and inspiration, and some of them—for example, filmmaker David Lynch—create work that is among the most challenging, dislocating, and original, in a field dominated by sloppy exposition and audience hand-holding. “Surrealism: The Conjured Life” presents a critical mass of work that collectively instigates a kind of dream state—surrounded by so much disordered thought, the viewer cannot help but surrender, at least temporarily, and cease to impose logic upon what she sees.

For some, this may prove to be an extremely alienating experience, but for this reviewer, it is a welcome respite from the cultural spoon-feeding that is the hallmark of our media age, designed to sell consumer products, above all else. Any one of the works in the exhibition would be worthy of longer consideration, but the best effect of all is the collective disorientation. It is a very different kind of shock and awe than the political and media process used to handily to inspire fear and division among the populace; it is a confusion that inspires wondering, and with it, transcendence.

 

 

Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Illinois     https://mcachicago.org/Home

Indigenous Beauty & Invisible Conflict @ the Toledo Museum of Art

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Charles & Valerie Diker (left) – TMA Director Brian P. Kennedy All Images Courtesy of Sarah Rose Sharp

This month, the Toledo Museum of Art opened the fourth and final installation on the tour of Indigenous Beauty: Masterworks of American Indian Art from the Diker Collection. The show features a breathtaking array of cultural artifacts and several contemporary works of Native American art, collecting material culture from tribes that spanned the North American continent. Charles and Valerie Diker, who were approached by the American Federation of the Arts to create this exhibition, were on hand for the opening and to present a Master Series Lecture at TMA on Thursday, February 11. Their relationship with fine art collecting began with modern art, and having been drawn to Taos, New Mexico, they found similar points of resonance in Native arts. They describe their interest as aesthetic-driven, choosing to seek out and present survey of the most virtuosic examples of work by members of many different tribes and regions, rather than specializing in a particular area.

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Some of the highly decorated garments in the Plateau & Plains region.

And virtuosic, they are. The Dikers concern themselves only with masterworks in their collection, and each piece represents skill, generational knowledge, and many hours of labor-intensive handwork. The exhibit is clustered by territory, giving one a sense of regional areas of expertise—pottery and Katsina figurines from the Southwest, wooden masks and tusk-carvings from the Western Arctic, basket-making in the Great Basin and California area. In the plateau and plains region, there is a great deal of detailed clothing, and tucked in the furthest reach of the exhibition, some breathtaking renderings of battle memories—the Great Plains area being the place where the West was truly won, or lost, depending on your perspective.

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A decorated deerskin hide from the Plateau & Plains region.

That perspective is perhaps somewhat lacking, when it comes to this presentation. While the Dikers’ attraction to beautiful objects and their 40-year efforts to amass them is quite understandable, the show’s focus on beauty seems vaguely tone-deaf in light of the brutal history and continuing struggle for recognition associated with the early citizens of America—a process rooted in a similar kind of acquisition-based approach to native property. While the Dikers acknowledge this art as representative of “the first Americans,” and state that the intention of sharing their collection is to educate, there is also a sense that the concept of indigenous Americans as fully actualized and deeply expressive people (rather than cowboy-versus-Indian caricatures) is something of a revelation, in and of itself.

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Guest Curator David Penney offers opening remarks at the media preview for Indigenous Beauty

Or, as stated by guest curator David Penney—one of the country’s leading scholarly thinkers and art historians in the field in American Indian art, and Associate Director of Museum Scholarship at National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.—in a brief one-on-one interview during TMA’s media preview, “American Indian culture is often thought of as something long ago, far away—an almost fairyland American Indian. It’s big in American imagination. In a sense, Americans invented American Indians that never existed. And so, those are the kinds of images that casual visitors to museums—through no fault of their own—bring to exhibitions like this. So I think it’s important to try to reconnect them to American history and [challenge] this idea that American Indian culture vanished or disappeared. That was a prediction made in the 19th century, and it’s still not true. It never was true.”

Perhaps this need to educate at the baseline is real. It is certainly worth acknowledging that there is a prevailing and biased narrative around American history, and the questioning of that narrative is an absolutely necessary precursor to change. Despite a dawning cultural awareness that holidays like Columbus Day go beyond exceedingly poor taste, there are plenty of people who guilelessly celebrate Thanksgiving as a building block of our nation (or are just happy for a day off work). Perhaps it would indeed surprise these people to consider that the skill, soul, and care invested in these cultural artifacts are a reflection of the thriving culture that very much plays a part in the shape of modern-day America. Certainly in a place like Toledo, Ohio, there is a preponderance of artists and craftspeople who can relate to the exquisite handwork of carving, beading, vessel-building, garment-making, and weaving that elevates these objects. As Charles Diker said, in his opening remarks, “There was no word for “art” among these (native) languages, it permeated every aspect of life.”

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Southwestern pottery and Katsina dolls

In the same way that art and daily living were intertwined within the cultures that produced these artifacts, it is difficult for me to contemplate their beauty without also feeling a resounding sense of loss—for the people that were killed, relocated, and stripped of their heritage; for the artistic voices that were silenced or lost in the shuffle; and for contemporary society, being shaped by the inability of the colonists to envision an America that embraced and incorporated their predecessors. I can find no fault with the objects on display, and the question of their inclusion in the art canon is inarguable. If the garments standing empty on wire frames seem to imply a kind of absence, perhaps that is all for the better. Art and beauty can be, as is so often the case, the jumping off point for more a serious process of reconciling the pain in which all of us, as Americans, are complicit.

Toledo Museum of Art  –  http://www.toledomuseum.org/

Indigenous Beauty: Masterworks of American Indian Art from the Diker Collection  –    February 12 – May 8, 2016