Butter Projects @ Wasserman Projects

Have+Hold, a collaboration of Wasserman Projects and Butter Projects

Showing me around the exhibition Have+Hold, a collaboration between Wasserman Projects at Eastern Market and Butter Projects, formerly based in Royal Oak, curator Alison Wong mused about the concept she and her partner, John Charnota, envisioned when they founded Butter Projects, a multi-purpose gallery space, studio, and community hub for artists that’s been fighting the good fight since 2009. Like the ubiquitous dairy product of its naming, the space was conceived, Wong told me, to encapsulate that essential quality, oft overlooked, that makes everything it touches better. For artists those essentials include space to work and a community engaged in opening dialogs and forging new friendships. Wong and Charnota now command well-earned respect in Detroit and beyond for their brilliant aesthetic and their knack for assembling beautifully serendipitous group shows.

Have+Hold, Installation image, Wasserman Projects, all images by PD Rearick

The dearth of prominent female curators has been a topic of conversation around Detroit this summer. Wong, who curates for Wasserman Projects as well as Butter Projects, is on the vanguard of bucking that trend. She has easily transitioned from the intimate scale of Butter Projects to the off-puttingly huge Wasserman space with a cluster of exciting exhibitions. Have+Hold, however, breaks the Wasserman mold somewhat. There’s a warmth to Have+Hold that I haven’t seen in previous Wasserman shows. There’s a healthy emphasis on craft and the (often literal) presence of the hand- the human figure and how it meets and draws nourishment from its environment is the subject of many works. The works don’t feel enshrined in the sprawling space. Each is as inviting and approachable as it would be in the artist’s studio, with the space around them allowing for a more lingering, meaningful exchange. Even still, the works flow and accentuate one another- this is genius curating.

The show begins with a haunting wall of water media paintings by Loren Erdrich, comprising snapshot-like portraits and intimate, raw studies of limbs.

Loren Erdrich, Firecracker, Raw organic pigments on paper

Erdrich’s paintings encompass the most traditional approach to the figure in the exhibition, despite their striking palette and unusual perspectives. From here, things get more wayward. Like stumbling across a sprawled couple in a dark house at night, it’s a bit of a shock to come from the paintings to Kasper Ray O’Brien’s sculpture “Take Me Home.” Made especially for Have+Hold, the piece places two pairs of legs extending across the floor in suggestive semi-undress. The couple’s feet cross just slightly in a gesture that could imply either platonic or sexual intimacy. The dismembered state of the legs ought to feel macabre but doesn’t at all- they evoke a physical turning of joints toward the warmth of another body that you remember in your own flesh while interacting with the piece.

Kasper Ray O’Brien, Take Me Home, Mixed Media

Juxtaposed with O’Brien’s work are two films by Margaret Hull. “Lightly Touched By” is a beautiful meditation on the surfaces of the body, with the artist drawing a latticework of lines onto her hands and feet with a makeup crayon. This ritual body mapping reinforces the visceral response that “Take Me Home” begins to evoke. The nature of tactile memory is further explored in installations by Shane Darwent and Sophie Eisner. Eisner’s assemblage of objects made from cast silicone, titled “Soft and Heavy,” suggests a utilitarian space of platforms and mundane vessels, soap cups, washtubs. Her creamy pastel palette and soft, drippy material render these objects not only seductively tactile but almost edible. Darwent is rapidly establishing himself as a young artist to watch. His structures, which use architectural materials and razor-sharp, life-sized digital prints blur the lines between actual objects and renderings of them, trafficking in a new spin on trompe l’oeil. Heaviness, the inevitability of collapse, the awkwardness of exurban sprawl, and the arbitrariness that defines what is “well-built” all find their way into his work, with unsettlingly cinematic lighting straight from David Lynch.

Ellie Krakow’s mixed media sculptures that combine finely wrought casts, hand built ceramic of torqueing elbows and shoulders with photographs of arms and hands mimicking the cast positions meditate in a cooler, more conceptual way on the nature of embodied movement, while Margo Wolowiec’s woven pieces are a delightful surprise, roping yet another handcraft into Have+Hold and resembling the layered, slightly offset strata of thought processes and memory.

Sophie Eisner, Soft and Heavy, Mixed Media

Shane Darwent, Joseph’s Garden, Mixed Media

Don’t visit Have+Hold if you’re in a hurry- it’s worth it to take in the broad sweep of the show then slow down and spend a little time with each work. The warmth of the show I referenced above opens most fully with a little lingering and savoring- a harkening back to when life was made up of such moments. Movement, touch, intimacy, homing, and connection well up in a visceral, embodied experience of work well conceived and wrought with love. Have+Hold reminded me that a good show should grab hold of all your senses and leave them stirred and warmed.

Have+Hold, a collaboration of Wasserman Projects and Butter Projects by Alison Wong and John Charnota, is on view at Wasserman Projects in Detroit through August 26, 2017.

http://wassermanprojects.com/have-hold/

 

 

Sandwich Project @ Art Gallery of Windsor

Installation Image, Sandwich Project, image courtesy Cynthia Greig 2017

“The Sandwich Project” at the Art Gallery of Windsor centers around famed American artist Martha Rosler’s 1974 video, “Semiotics of the Kitchen,” a visionary send-up of the entrapment of women in the machinery of the kitchen. It features a very young Rosler parodying more famed cooking show host Julia Childs.

After more than forty years, and our global digital brain transplant, the six-minute B&W video remains mesmerizing both intellectually and as a performance. With deadpan facial and bodily gestures, Rosler punctuates an alphabet of the accouterments of cooking — Apron, Bowl, Chopper, Dish, Egg Beater — objects that traditionally have signified women’s domestic identity, but become as sinister as the crippling machinery of the factory.

As Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp had been pushed over-the-edge by the machine of the factory in his 1936 film Modern Times, thus defining the generation of pre-union, factory workers, Rosler’s Julia Childs dramatizes the enslavement of women in the signifying machinery of the kitchen.

Rosler’s video, however, is only a set-up for the rest of the engaging Sandwich Project, which was the brainchild of Windsor’s renowned Iain Baxter&, an early conceptual artist, painter and photographer, and was curated by Art Gallery of Windsor’s Jaclyn Meloche, also an artist, performance artist and writer. Baxter& conceived the Sandwich project as a play on “all things Sandwich,” to quote Katherine Mastin, AGW’s Director,

Sandwich, one of the earliest neighborhoods in Windsor, namesake of England’s once important port, was the origin of the name for the portable lunch, which (after the Fourth Earl of Sandwich) like this exhibition, composes layers of ingredients (often between two slices of bread). The word dredges up all kinds of history both in England and in Windsor, in the underbelly of which lies the War of 1812, a conflict that to some locals seems as though it was between Detroit and Windsor. In fact, Sandwich, Ontario was the site of important 1812 battles.

Iain Baxter&, “Iain Baxter as an open-faced sandwich” 1978

Iain Baxter&, born in England, his own art fraught with visual hi-jinks, was obviously quite cognizant of this back story in conceiving the project, which is ripe with delicious visual puns and ironies.

Likewise it’s the relationship of food to social and political history, popular culture and feminism, that Meloche ran with to create six independent exhibitions, each of which is self-contained, with moments of delightful humor and brilliant art, while at the same time executing an engaging critical perspective on food and culture. A video entitled “Food as Metaphor,” moderated by Meloche, which includes statements and discussion by the artists, punctuates the exhibitions.

Baxter&’s own contribution, entitled “Baxter&Food,” is a collection of more or less still-life photos of nourishment.  “Iain Baxter as an open face sandwich,” c.1978, is typical of his dadaistic play with art history in which he humorously features himself as both the maker and material of art. Equally the dada irony looms huge in “Still Life with Winter Vista,” 1996, which features a glass patio table laden with a cornucopia of tropical fruit and vegetables, with a classic Lake St. Clair winter landscape in the background. Baxter&’s energetic art prompts thinking about big issues like ecology, food and identity, rather than simply art stuff, yet at the same time his work has a subtle aesthetic valence that is hard to categorize. His “The Primaries,” composed of bottles of ketchup, mustard and blue Gatorade that he classifies as “found objects,” is not only a great commentary on our food culture and its ironic spectacality, but a rather wonderful conceptual sculpture.

Iain Baxter&, “The Primaries,” Found Objects, 2017

Of the six exhibits in The Sandwich Project, the one most provocative to the central issue of our food culture is “Food, Feminism and Kitchen Culture.” Introduced by Rosler’s video, the exhibition sets up a discourse on the landscape of the kitchen as an imprisoning construction of which women are the principle inhabitants.

Cynthia Greig, “Representation no. 29 (toaster), chromogenic print, 20 x 24”

If Rosler’s video sees the objects of the kitchen as an almost violent lexicon of possibilities for the construction of women’s identity —Apron/Women, Bowl/Women, Chopper/Women, Dish/Women — Cynthia Greig’s (Detroit’s best kept secret) manipulated photographs become escapes from the reality of the haptic world into a realm of diagrammatic ghosts, from realism to shadows of the real. In reducing photographs of common objects of the kitchen — toaster, milk cartons, coffee cups, French fry carton — to elemental outlines, they become ideas that hold us captive. These graceful, elegant shapes become enigmatic containers that define and thus limit ­— limitations to being, to exuberance, and diagrams that ultimately beckon language to elucidate and emancipate them.

Each of Greig’s diagrammatic images includes a referent to reality. A diagrammed toaster has images of freshly “toasted” bread popping out of it. The outlined milk carton has “spilled milk” next to it. A French fry carton has French “fried potatoes” sticking out of it. Each photograph posits the philosophical dilemma of what contains and what is contained. Pushed to their logical end, these images become a sort of dictatorial grammar of the kitchen.

Anna Frlan, “Kitchen as Factory [Mixing machine, blending machine,toasting machine]”, Steel, 2017

Complementing Greig’s skeletal works are Anna Frlan’s welded steel replicas of kitchen appliances. Actually, as if taking a hint from Greig’s diagrammatic images, Frlan’s are even more cage-like machines — a toaster oven, a blender, a mixer, a stove, a dishwasher. These drawings made of steel, at the same time as they resemble medieval torture devices, might suggest Piranesi’s images of Roman prisons. They are stunning, sinister signifiers of the role of kitchens in defining identity.

Each of the artists in this section of The Sandwich Project makes a stunning contribution to the discourse on Food, Feminism and Kitchen Culture. Marilyn Minter’s painting from her “Food Porn” series and Carly Erber’s crocheted “Salisbury Steak” make wonderfully opposite statements about women and representation of food. Christiane Pflug’s painting “Kitchen Door with Ursula,” 1966, and Annie Pootoogook’s “Tea Drinkers,” 2001, both reflect subtle personal takes on the complex psychology of kitchen life.

Sandy Skoglund, “Body Limits,” 1992

A related, borrowed exhibition, originating at the Akron Art Museum and curated by Theresa Bembnister, “Snack” is a tour de force of a generous selection of diverse representations of food, featuring Pop artists Andy Warhol, James Rosenquist, Claes Oldenburg and other contemporary artists’ takes on the western recreational activity of food and eating. Sandy Skoglund’s “Body Limits” documents a surreal tableau she created parodying a fashion shoot of two figures dressed in bacon.  French photographer Robert Doisneau’s “L’Innocent,” 1949, captures a typical Parisian gentleman’s existential encounter with his dinner in the window of a restaurant.

Robert Doisneau, “L’Innocent,” B& W Photograph, 1949

The Sandwich Project is no less than a blockbuster of an exhibition, a realization that surpasses expectation.  The fourth part, “Lunch,” collects a wonderful assortment of artifacts and images of the great pastime of noonday culture, including a wall full of school kids’ lunch boxes that in themselves are a history of midcentury pop culture, and a selection of early twentieth-century images from The Henry Ford Museum archives of Detroit cafeterias, diners, and hot dog stands.

Frederick Arthur Verner, “Untitled (River Scene, Sunset”), 1891, watercolour over graphite on paper

Two other exhibitions that bookend The Sandwich Project are AGW’s collection of nineteenth-century watercolors of the Sandwich area by artist Frederick Arthur Verner, and “Food and Film,” which features four short films on the production and distribution of food as a go-between in signifying Canadian identity. One of Verner’s watercolors features the Detroit River-front with typically English village-like architecture of early Windsor (Sandwich) in the foreground, replete with fishing boats, and a nascent Detroit industrial landscape on the far shore. During the nineteenth century, the Detroit River was famous for its astonishing fishing, supplying First Nation people and eventually Windsorites and Detroiters with bounteous whitefish and walleye. Verner’s watercolor thus becomes an ironic commentary on the devolution of food production in the area.

The Sandwich Project is a perfect summertime day trip or even two-day trip, and yields an abundance of food-for-thought about the business, culture, and representation of our relationship with food.  For lunch, Sir Cedric’s Fish and Chips is right around the corner from the Art Gallery of Windsor, reminding us of the Canadian predilection for things British. If, however your tastes are more inclined to American fare, there’s Lafayette Coney Island just across the border.

The Sandwich Project Continues through October 1, 2017

 Art Gallery of Windsor,  401 Riverside Drive West, Windsor, Ontario N9A7J1     519-977-0013

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

Whitney Biennial 2017: an Observation from Detroit

Whitney Museum of Art, Exterior, 2017 Courtesy of WMA by Ed Leaderman

The Whitney Biennial draws to a close, but not without a review from Detroit that showcases artists with roots in Metro Detroit.

Moving downtown into the Renzo -Piano- designed building on New York City’s Gansevoort Street delayed the 2017 Whitney Biennial a year, but it was worth the wait, as the spacious and beautiful new museum sits high just off the Hudson River overlooking the Highline Park and Chelsea art community. Organized by Christopher Y. Lew, the Whitney’s associate curator, and Mia Locks, an independent curator, the exhibition highlights work by sixty-three individuals and collective’s artist works from all parts of the United States. The diversity of artists and media is staggering when considering the large demographic of contemporary art that is represented.

I was mostly surprised by how much space was committed to each artist, where entire rooms with 5 to -7 pieces of work were on display by each artist. It speaks to the size and space the new museum provides, luring an art-world audience, as the selections confront edgy social issues in the American culture.

Maya Stovall, Liquor Store Theatre, Video Performance, 2016

As promised, let’s start with Detroit. The videos of post-minimalist ballerina Maya Stovall are front and center as she offers her art from the sidewalks of Detroit illustrating modern dance working with collaborators Biba Bell, Mohamed Soumah, and Todd Stovall, she presents the motivations, genealogies, and sources of her Liquor Store Theater.

She says in her statement, “I am an artist interested in monumental questions of human existence. I am interested in place and space, cities, power, and the affect and desire of the day-to-day in people’s lives. I approach monumental questions of human existence with up close rigor. My work is steeped in philosophy, theory, and resonates with my way of being in the world.” The video screens and audio-fed headphones document a series of dance performances from the streets of Detroit. Stovall pays respectful homage to the cultural traditions in the Detroit black community as commercial developers swirl rapidly to gentrify the city.

Dana Schutz, Elevator, 2017. Oil on canvas, 144 x 180″

The artist Dana Schultz grew up in Livonia, attended High School at the Adlai Stevenson High School, and went on to obtain her BFA from the Cleveland Institute of Art, and an MFA from Columbia University. As the elevator opens on the fifth floor of the Biennial, the viewer is immediately confronted with a large figurative oil painting, Elevator, which displays a kind of chaos occurring in the transitional space between two elevator doors, perhaps either opening or closing. There is an abstract, even cubist feeling to this colorful figure painting, depicting struggle and larger-than-life insects, adding to the feeling of anxiety, even fear. It took me a moment to understand why there were these two side panels attached to the work, until I read the title.

Dana Schutz, Open Casket, 2016. Oil on canvas, 40 x 56″

Schutz’s work seems to draw on social environments, best illustrated in her 2016 painting, Open Casket, that depicts her version of the mutilated corpse of Emmett Till, a seminal event in the American civil rights movement. Controversy swirled around the work as exploitation, best described in The New Yorker by Calvin Tomkins:

In the current climate of political and racial unrest, Emmett Till seemed like a risky subject for a white artist to engage with. “I’ve wanted to do a painting for a while now, but I haven’t figured out how,” [Schultz] said. “It’s a real event, and it’s violence. But it has to be tender, and also about how it’s been for his mother. I don’t know, I’m trying. I’m talking too much about it.” In a later conversation, [Schultz] said, “How do you make a painting about this and not have it just be about the grotesque? I was interested because it’s something that keeps on happening. I feel somehow that it’s an American image.”

Dana Shultz resides in New York City, works out of her studio in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, and is represented by the Pretzel Gallery in New York City.

Carrie Moyer, Glimmer Glass, 2016. Acrylic and glitter on canvas, 96 x 78 in”

Another Detroit artist in the Biennial, now living in Brooklyn, NYC, is Carrie Moyer, who received a BFA from Pratt Institute in 1985, and an MFA from the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts at Bard College in 2001. In an interview with Jennifer Samet for Hyperallergic, she says, “I was born in Detroit, where my family has longstanding roots. My grandfather was a policeman during the Detroit riots in the 1960s. But I had countercultural parents who put us in a van when I was nine and drove us out to California with all of our belongings. My family lived all over the Northwest for the next ten years — California, Oregon, and Washington.”

In her large acrylic painting, Glimmer Glass, it is the overlay and transparency that compliments her distinctive use of form. The vibrant painting embraces visual pleasure with watery veils of florescent hues, often mixed with glitter. The artist explains, “I’m interested in abstract painting that is experienced both visually and physically. The forms are constantly shifting from the familiar to the strange in a way that seems to escape words.”

Carrie Moyer, Candy Cap , 2016. Acrylic and glitter on canvas, 72 x 96″

With her beginning in graphic design, Carrie Moyer has been a force in abstract painting since 2000 with a strong familiarity with the language of Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism; she draws on influences like Georgia O’Keeffe and Elizabeth Murray. I was struck by the work, Candy Cap, where she depends heavily on a feminine composition of flower and organic shapes to form this work using acrylic transparency, glitter, and Flashe on canvas. Moyer is a Professor in the Art and Art History Department at Hunter College, where she is the Director of the Graduate Program. Moyer is represented by DC Moore Gallery.

Samara Golden, The Meat Grinder’s Iron Clothes, 2017. (Installation, 5th floor West Gallery). Insulation foamboard, extruded polystryrene, epoxy resin, carpet, vinyl, fabric, acrylic paint, spray paint, nail polish, plastic, altered found objects and mirror.

The artist Samara Golden was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1973, and received her BFA from Minneapolis College of Art & Design, and an MFA from Columbia University in 2009. She is an installation artist based in Los Angles, CA where her work often includes a combination of sculpture, video, and sound. Her first solo exhibition was The Flat Side of the Knife and was organized by Mia Locks at the Museum of Modern Art PS1. Golden’s work in the Biennial, The Meat Grinder’s Iron Clothes, feels like a dystopian environment overlooking the Hudson River that contrasts office and domestic spaces. Admittedly, this writer has limited skill in describing the aesthetic aspects of this work of mirrors, living rooms, and wheelchairs.

Henry Taylor, “THE TIMES THAY AINT A CHANGING, FAST ENOUGH! (2017), acrylic on canvas, 72 x 96″

 

There are sixty-three artists represented in the Whitney Biennial, and this review has had Metro Detroit artists as its focus, but I would like to mention another artist, Henry Taylor, living and working out of Los Angeles, CA. With a BFA from California Institute for the Arts and a variety of life experience, Taylor has created a body of work that has a critical social sensibility that confronts the racial tension between law enforcement and the community they serve. In his work, The Times They Ain’t A Changing, Fast Enough! drawn from video, captures the moments after Philando Castile had been fatally shot by a police officer. Aside from the social message, I am drawn to the composition and naïve style in which Taylor executes his unaffected imagery. His empathetic style may draw on his ten years of working at the Camarillo State Mental Hospital near Santa Barbara, CA. Taylor’s work is represented by Blum & Poe in Los Angles, CA.

Aliza Nisenbaum (b. 1977), La Talaverita, Sunday Morning NY Times, 2016. Oil on linen, 68 x 88″

It could be that because this writer is also a painter, the work in the Biennial by Aliza Nisenbaum is immensely attractive. Known for depicting undocumented immigrants, there is something in the work La Talaverita, Sunday Morning NY Times, that combines working from live models, an elevated camera angle, and the casually colorful subject that connects with so many people. Born in Mexico City, Nisenbaum earned a BFA and MFA from the Chicago Art Institute. She says in her statement, “My work has repeatedly reflected on ideas of empathy or pathways for exchange between different people. My status as a legal American citizen makes me one of the few and privileged immigrants from my home country. Whether working with abstraction or, more recently, with still life and portraiture, I have tried to make paintings that support the experience of looking closer and with greater intention. My current body of work makes this connection explicit in its focus on the human face, which the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas suggests is inherently an ethical call to greater human justice.”

For me, her work personalizes the immigrant experience and could easily reflect the life in South West Detroit.

The new Whitney Museum of Art in its new location demonstrates in the curation of it’s 2017 Biennial a refreshing supply of under-recognized artists with diverse perspectives from all parts of the United States, and places itself at the center of American contemporary art.

Whitney Museum of Art

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