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.

Basquiat @ Cranbrook Art Museum

BASQUIAT BEFORE BASQUIAT: East 12th Street, 1979-1980

Jean-Michael Basquiat at Great Jones Studio, 1985

In the spring of 1971 when I had just graduated from Wayne State University with an M.A. in painting, I was making surreal landscape paintings. I had not heard of Jean-Michel Basquiat, of course, because he was only ten years old and attending St. Ann’s Catholic school in New York City. Soon after that he was bound for San Juan, Puerto Rico with his father and family for three years, before returning to Brooklyn and finishing high school.

And it wasn’t until the late 1990s when my son Julian Teachworth was finishing his senior year at The Cooper Union in NYC that he told me Basquiat’s work had influenced his painting. It was only then that I became familiar with his work, and that was ten years after his tragic death from a heroin overdose at the age of twenty-seven in 1988.

Andrew Blauvelt, Director of the Cranbrook Art Museum, said, “The exhibition and accompanying catalogue presents New York City in the late 1970s and early 1980s through the prism of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s art and provides a window into the art-rich time that he inhabited and impacted so profoundly. Ultimately, this exhibition will attest to Basquiat’s virtuosity in formation–the creative impulses that yielded a distinctive voice, but also the many diversions or paths he explored as he was developing a signature style.”

Alexis Adler, B&W photographic images of Basquiat performing in the apartment, 1979

Jean-Michel Basquiat first appeared in New York City in 1980 depicting street graffiti using neat block letters and his SAMO© tags on the surrounding streets of lower Manhattan. It was these early years when Basquiat started dating Alexis Adler and living with a close friend, Felice Ralster, that is the subject for this new exhibition at Cranbrook Art Museum: BASQUIAT BEFORE BASQUIAT: East 12th Street, 1979-1980 that opened November 17, 2017. Basquiat and Adler moved into a small apartment at 527 East 12 Street, commonly referred to as the East Village, and became part of the punk culture largely based around musicians and artists at the Mudd Club scene.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled, Acrylic and Oil Stick on canvas. 1984

It was at P.S. 1 in a group survey show, New York / New Wave where his work was a step above graffiti street art, as illustrated by his ability for putting things together: masks, words, marks and disconnected phrases. The exhibition included Keith Haring, Robert Maplethorpe, and Andy Warhol. The day after the opening he returned home to Brooklyn around 6:00 in the morning to proclaim to his father, “Papa, I’ve made it!”

Basquiat made money for paint and his share of the rent by selling T-Shirts on the street. 1979

Basquiat’s riff with his father and his association with Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf, led him to Club 57 and a strong and close relationship with who would become his mentor, Andy Warhol. Back then, Basquiat made his living by selling clothing on the street. On display at the Cranbrook exhibition are T-Shirts he transformed into living works of art to be worn and celebrated as part of his artistic practice.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled (Cadmium) Oil, oil stick, acrylic on canvas 1984

Looking back, I think we see Jean-Michel Basquiat as an artist who emerged from being a graffiti artist during the “punk scene” era, and then ended up as a celebrated artistic phenomenon. Skillfully, he brought together disparate traditions, practices and unconventional styles that established a baseline for artists to come. He was an African-Caribbean artist, who came along at a time when the art world was dominated by exhibitions of Minimal and Conceptual art.

Alexis Adler, Drawing by Basquiat on wall of apartment, Archival pigment print, 1980

Using an archival approach, much of this exhibition comes from the collection of Alexis Adler, and a visit to the exhibition Basquiat Before Basquiat deepens your understanding of this artist while simultaneously providing the viewer with a context of his early work in 1980s New York City. Concurrently, the museum is hosting exhibitions by Keith Haring, Maya Stovall and Ryan McGinness.

Alexis Adler, B&W photograph of Baquiat in the apartment, 1981

BASQUIAT BEFORE BASQUIAT: East 12th Street, 1979-1980, organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver.

Cranbrook Art Museum

Through March 11, 2018

 

 

 

Elizabeth Youngblood @ 9338 Campau

 ” Righted” – A Trajectory of Work by Elizabeth Youngblood – A retrospective work in progres

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Elizabeth Youngblood, Installation

ElizabethYoungblood defines herself first as a craftsman. A quote that describes her trajectory well is a simple one- “I respect making.” The broad range of media she employs- textiles, drawing, basket-weaving, ceramics, wire sculpture- attest to her democratic fealty to a very personal, singular hunt. With Righted- A Trajectory of Work by Elizabeth Youngblood, Youngblood has transformed 9338 Campau’s sprawling Hamtramck gallery space into a hive of activity, presenting her work in an unprecedented format- a retrospective that includes works in progress that Youngblood is developing within the gallery itself. She is taking advantage of the vast amount of space there to both gather her work into one place large enough to give it breathing room, and realize large works on paper that she has long desired to explore but hasn’t had the space, until now, to properly develop. Youngblood’s residency at 9338 Campau feels revolutionary, both for an artist in full command of her powers with a distinguished career in the bag already, and for an explorer who makes the most of every space she is given for her work to take center stage.

Asked to qualify her vast body of work into a single context, she explains how one branch of her exploration leads, maintaining conceptual consistency, from one medium to the next. Youngblood’s devotion to mastering the strengths of every material that passes through her hands, and the joy she takes in immersing herself in the process of finessing each one, gently, into her lexicon, is doubly striking in the context of Righted, where one can view long-culminated works alongside raw, vulnerable works in progress. The very presence of the works in progress casts Youngblood’s retrospective work in an unusual light- as open-ended, questioning works in progress themselves. This impression suits Youngblood’s whole-hearted focus on process as a studio practice- allowing the current of her concept to carry her from medium to medium, presenting each work as a direct flowering from the clues unlocked, and the questions raised, in the last.

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Elizabeth Youngblood, Woven Black Piece, 1992-93 All Images Courtesy of Clara DeGalan

Talking with Youngblood about her work reveals the ultimate unimportance of form in her studio practice. This came as a surprise in light of the striking formal continuity I made out in her work- indeed, it was the first thing that enabled me to pass cohesively from one piece to the next, given what different media she ropes in. This formal consistency, it turns out, is Youngblood’s soul pattern, a template on which she explores such concepts as the dogged devotion of craftsmanship, the solitary joy of wreathing visions out of tactility, and the construction of planes out of lines.

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Elizabeth Youngblood,Untitled, 1995

Youngblood’s artistic chronology mirrors her bodies of work. Trained as a graphic designer, she has worked in that profession, on and off, since her tenure as an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan. She is quick to point out, rightly, the subtle craft demanded by graphic design. Between her design work, her teaching career, her years spent in New York, and interludes in craft-oriented industries such as bar-tending, she has snatched pockets of time to hone her planar exploration in various media at artist residencies such as Haystack and Penland School of Crafts. Her travels have pulled a variety of media into her exploration- her vision remains remarkably consistent as she applies it to different traditions of making. She emphasizes the importance of material and craft as a conduit toward greater understanding of place, such as North Carolina and its history as a hub of furniture craft (the baskets on display in Righted were created at Penland, inspired by the materials and methods of furniture-making.)

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Elizabeth Youngblood, Twin Baskets, 1999

This breath of Place, in turn, enriches Youngblood’s exploration of process as a path toward distillation of an artifact of conceptual, rather than utilitarian or formal value. Youngblood speaks with quiet admiration of the traditions of crafting she has been privileged to explore, and how they have added their own regional, historical voices to her practice.

As she continues to explore, chasing her vision of planes built of carful, joyous repetition, Youngblood pulls traditional craft forms, seemingly effortlessly, into a body of work that maintains an astonishing formal trajectory, presenting razor-sharp meditations on process in various media encased, almost like home-jarred preserves, within an all-encompassing, monolithic form. The form, seductive and enigmatic as it is, is no more than a ground for her process. Asked her opinions on the tension between fine art and craft, high and low art, she expresses less interest in that argument than in the status of media as “women’s work” versus “men’s work.” The large-scaled drawings Youngblood is developing during her tenure at 9338 Campau are an exploration into a quicker, more decisive way of making that has historically been associated with the bodies and thought processes of men.

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Elizabeth Youngblood, Large Drawing 1, 2016

“Men’s work” as Youngblood describes it, seems less a political appropriation on her part than a desire to master yet another craft- one she, for the moment, has the physical space to pursue. Spending time with Youngblood in her studio is a lesson in veneration for processes that unite, rather than polarize, the complex history of making as it indexes various times, places, social demographics, races, and genders. To sum up, Youngblood respects making, and, though she is acutely aware of the cultural associations that come with each material she ropes into her vision, her devotion to process and skill-building manage, miraculously, to shed the oppressive political discourse that has hung around craft for decades and present it, unilaterally, as a vast conduit for exploration of an artist’s conceptual vision. Youngblood’s is a true Twenty First Century studio practice- and she’s earned it.

Righted- A Trajectory of Work by Elizabeth Youngblood has percolated at 9338 Campau Gallery in Hamtramck, MI throughout the last breaths of summer. A public reception of her work will be held on Saturday, 9/24/2016 from 7-10 pm.

9338 Campau

Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia @ Cranbrook Art Museum

 

Two exhibitions offer a preponderance of material objects to make sense of the past

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Psychedelic posters and printed matter, installation view

These days, the San Francisco Bay Area is neatly divided into two camps: you either are a tech bro, or you hate them. Back in my day as an errant Bay Area youth, there was a different kind of division: you either were a hippie, or you hated them. I, my friends, was certainly no hippie. Of course, in my time they weren’t even real hippies—although there were still a healthy number of Summer-of-Love burnouts quietly resisting the rising tide of capitalism. They were proto-hippies, the spawn of Baby Boomers, appropriating the fashion or rediscovering the music as it made its 20-year orbit in retrograde. Whether the die-hard originals or the new school posers, hippies were not, by any metrics, modern.

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Isaac Abrams, Hello Dali (1965)

In fact, the seeming paradox between hippie and modern sensibilities provides the immediate tension of Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia—a sprawling exhibition initially organized by Andrew Blauvelt during his tenure at the Walker Art Center, which has subsequently followed him to be presented at the Cranbrook Art Museum, where he took up the mantle of Director last year. Hippies are commonly associated with back-to-the-land movements, eco-sustainability, and the timeless human yearning for peace and simplicity. Modernism is more concerned with technology, rapid progress and development, clean, modular design, and spare, white spaces.

 

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Ken Isaacs, The Knowledge Box (1962-2009)

But, as Hippie Modernism proves, these odd bedfellows forged a powerful connection indeed (who wouldn’t hippies jump into bed with, really?), fused in a social pressure-cooker of late-60s radicalism and wartime unrest. This extremely dense exhibition is not so much an art show as it is a walk through time with an art-historical lens—one which captures facets of hippie culture that have been elided by a typical focus on the flashier and more simplistic culture of drugs, fashion, rock-and-roll, and sex.

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Works by Haus-Rucker-Co, (installation view)

These facets are loosely divided into three galleries: Turn On, Tune In, and Drop Out. Each of these examines a dominant theme of the time period, roughly the mid-1960s through the early 1970s—that of consciousness-raising on an individual level, social awareness on a geo-political level, and active rejection of certain cultural pressure of normativity and technological progress (to name a few). The objects and information on display demonstrate a deep interest in modern design not as an aesthetic exercise but a practical one, as applied to communal and off-the-grid living, mobile housing, and sustainable infrastructure; technology, not at as means of warfare but as a means for more direct powers of computing and personal representation; and tool use as a mechanism for exploring the inner workings of the mind. The exhibition, which occupies the entire main floor of Cranbrook is veritably papered in schematics of ergonomic living solutions, imagined vehicles, and visions of bio-domes (not to mention an actual geodesic dome that features an interactive and highly trance-inducing installation, The Ultimate Painting, by Clark Richert, Richard Kallweit, Gene Bernofsky, JoAnn Bernofsky, and Charles DiJulio.

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Superstudio, Prints from the Superstudio Series (1969-1973)

Many of the works bear collective credits, the products of communal discussion and creative efforts; many have the earmarks of what today would be considered “social practice art,” but at the time was considered radical politics—leaving the viewer to marvel at the subsequent commoditization of art in the 1970s and 1980s to defang its inherent power as a social catalyst! There are, as one might imagine, a room splashed with dozens of examples of psychedelic poster art—but the collection is not limited to the vivid band promo materials that probably still line the halls of the Fillmore (if they haven’t turned it into a vape bar or something). Rather, there is a kind of radical parallel to the Madison Avenue advertising culture that was taking hold of the market—a conscious and deliberate exploration of type, color, and imagery as a mechanism to promulgate messaging. There are, undeniably, quite a number of chill spaces distributed around the exhibition, and a good thing, too—with so much going on, the opportunities to stop, drop, and contemplate are welcome interruptions. These include a handful of audio/video screening rooms, a Relaxation Cube from Nomadic Furniture 1 (1973) with floor cushions and a soothing slide show, and a full-gallery installation of a work by Hélio Oiticica and Neville D’Almeida, CC5 Hendrixwar/Cosmococa Programa-in-Progress, complete with hammocks.

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John Glick: A Legacy in Clay, installation view

John Glick: A Legacy in Clay @ Cranbrook Art Museum

It bears mentioning that Hippie Modernism is not the only spectacular exhibition currently on display at Cranbrook Art Museum, though it certainly warrants a visit all on its own. A career survey of ceramic artist John Glick—John Glick: A Legacy in Clay—is a dazzling walk through the life work of a virtuosic artist who managed to find fresh takes on vessels and forms as old as human society. From the wall of teapots, to the hanging friezes, to the physical timeline of Glick’s singular and beautiful ceramic forms, laid out in an engaging and accessible 360-degree display that mimics the sort of tables where they might otherwise be found, the Glick retrospective offers eye candy at every turn.

Food for thought, vessels for food, and much to take in at Cranbrook Art Museum!

Michigan Fine Arts Competition @ BBAC

Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center Hosts the 35th MFCA

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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.

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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.

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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