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

 

 

Campins & Yaque @ Wasserman Projects

Two Cuban Artists create work from the City of Queen Anne’s Lace

Alejandro Campins & José Yaque, Installation image. All images courtesy of the Detroit Art Review.

Wasserman Projects opened a new exhibition of work by two Cuban-born artists, Alejandro Campins and José Yaque on April 21, 2017, curated by Rafael DiazCasas, a curator based in New York City. The exhibition, City of Queen Anne’s Lace,  grew from conversations when gallery owner Gary Wasserman saw the work of Campins while on a visit to Havana, Cuba in 2015 and had an intuition about the resurgence of art that grew out of a developing transformation, both here in Detroit and Havana.

José Yaque, Autochthonous Soil, Found objects, earth, oil, plants, 16 x 13 x 4′ 2017

I visited the exhibition shortly after it opened to experience an installation by José Yaque that captivates one’s attention anew, a construction, Autochthonous Soil, built on a wood frame, 16 x 13 x 4’. This rectangular mass depicts a cross-section of material indigenous to a collection of debris in and around the vacant lots of Detroit. The bottom is created from fieldstone bonded with mortar, followed upward by human created debris, then burnt housing remains, capped off with sod and flowers growing on the top level. The young Cuban artist, who lives and works in Havana, has created in his exhibitions a combination of works on paper, and installations. Recently, in 2015 while in residency, he created a large hurricane / tornado type installation stretched from floor to ceiling, encapsulating wood and metal debris, all tied together with straps of metal. It is as if once Yaque has an impression in mind, he executes the installation with a construction that communicates permanence, both in material and scale, resulting in a powerful impression.

In a statement from her press release, Director Alison Wong says, “For the exhibition here at Wasserman Projects, Yaque has constructed a large-scale installation on site in the gallery, using recycled material sourced from throughout Detroit. Inspired by the study of earth’s interior, the work visually and conceptually references the layering and archiving of experience and the changes that naturally develop through time.”

José Yaque, Detroit Houses series, Photo Transfer & Charcoal, 2017 All work courtesy of Galleria Continua

Drawn to urban landscape compositions, the installation is accompanied by a series of images on paper. The series Detroit House, mixed media on paper, is a collection of nine images captured on his earlier visit to Detroit photographically, and then a photo transfer is made, and hand rendered charcoal is added to personalize the work. He provides the viewer with an architectural assortment of large dwellings that typifies housing styles constructed from the early part of 20th century in Detroit. His exhibition career began after studies in Cuba at the Superior Institute of Art, but has spread to include venues in Italy, France, London and the United States.

Alejandro Campins, Vientre ll, 102 x 152″, Oil on Canvas, 2017 All work courtesy of Sean Kelly Gallery, NYC

The work of Alejandro Campins provides the viewer with the large canvas of urban structures that speak to both representational imagery and abstraction. The work, Vientre ll, 102 x 152” relies heavily on composition, color, and scale. Although this image may rely on the reference from an architectural photograph, Campins provides the viewer with a romantic vision that blends history and memory. There are multiple elements that deliver on imagery that makes us feel secure. Added to the mix is subdued color and illusion, which draws the viewer into this dark centered box, where the artist decides to not continue with the brown rectangle above the protruding marquee. It is a strong example of combining representation and abstraction.

Alejandro Campins, Vientre, 70 x 102″. Oil on Canvas, 2017

 

Much of the same can be said of Vientre, 70 x 102” regarding representation and abstraction in one painting. The combination of formality presented with a heavy hand plays against the offset square with a red dot. In addition, the viewer is presented with a perspective that leads inward to a dark place, intentionally creating a secluded mystery. The work in these two paintings of abandonment creates metaphysical spaces veiled in silence and an unoccupied beauty of a time gone by.

Alejandro Campins had his first exhibition, Lapse in the United States at the Sean Kelly Gallery in New York City in February 2016, where Kristine Roome writing for ArtFuse said, “Campins’ style and vision are expressly his own. And how could it not be?  Formed by his experiences living on an ostensibly allochronic island, known for its cultural diversity – built from Spanish, African, French and Asian influences – Cuba is a curious place. In a few short years, Campins has developed an impressive portfolio of solo exhibitions in Cuba and Spain, and has been featured internationally in biennials in Cairo, Lisbon and Havana.”  Campins was named a finalist for the Farber Foundation as Young Cuban Artist of the Year in 2015.

Curator Rafael DiazCasas says in his statement, “Campins and Yaque came to Detroit with new eyes, exploring the history and looking toward the future. The Fields of Queen Anne’s Lace that overtake and inhabit the city can be thought of as a temporary stage, one with the potential to spawn new growths of life. Campins’ and Yaque’s mutual gaze encompasses a society in change.”

Wasserman Projects is guided by a spirit of exploration and collaboration in a space that seems to have no limits on its variety of experience and exhibition.

Wasserman Projects   Queen Anne’s Lace, through June 24, 2017

 

 

 

 

Cope & Reichert @ David Klein Gallery

Gina Reichert & Mitch Cope, Illuminated Totem – TV Tray 2017, Wood stool, kitchen spice drawer with spices, glass fridge shelf, acrylic display box, milk cartons, crystal bowl, cathode ray tube. 40 x 18 x 16 inches All images courtesy of the David Klein Gallery

We see these documentaries on PBS about people who collect ordinary items over a long period of time, and sometimes a lifetime. They hoard collections in bedrooms, living rooms, bathrooms and the garage. The documentary will usually focus on the psychological anxiety disorder Compulsive Hoarding, a subset of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) where people equate certain mundane objects and material to their own personal identity. In extreme cases, entire houses belonging to such people become fire and health hazards.

Such is the subject of the new exhibition at the David Klein Gallery: Organizational Strategies for the After Life, by architect Gina Reichert and painter Mitch Cope. The exhibition is a combination of sculptures made from found objects, paintings from found fabric patterns, plaster castings and jars of assorted small objects, all of which were meticulously obtained from a deserted neighbor’s house in Detroit.

Gina Reichert & Mitch Cope Stella’s Infinite Clothes Rack, #1 – 15. All paintings based on the fabrics of the ( never worn) clothes.

Gina Reichert & Mitch Cope Stella’s Infinite Clothes Rack, #1 – 15. All paintings based on the fabrics of the ( never worn) clothes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The exhibition represents the culmination of six years of working together as a husband and wife team to distill and categorized the home of a person with Compulsive Hoarding Syndrome. In a statement they say,

“At the risk of being overly nostalgic for a past time, we pressed on in our search to reveal what we now believe is less a picture of the past, and more of the afterlife. Too often we romanticized past generations, especially here in Detroit, as being better or greater, cleaner or safer, than it is now, but we have become quite easily convinced through our research, that although the physical aspect of the houses were in a better shape than now, (they were brand new then) the last hundred years of life on Klinger Street were not necessarily a better time.”

Over time, both the painter and the architect, became increasingly interested in the house next door, abandoned by its owner, forcing them into a process of finding and categorizing thousands of materials produced over multiple generations that went back a century. Part of this exhibition is a video presentation of the documentation process, using four video screens with audio support. The video helps the viewer understand the magnitude of their work and the transformation of materials into objects of art.

Is there a context for their repurposing of an enormous amount of material for an art exhibition? Certainly, there is a history of found art objects. The amassment and display of found objects for their aesthetic qualities dates back to at least the 16th century, when the collections of individual enthusiasts were displayed in private “cabinets of curiosities,” or what the Germans called “Wunderkammer.” But it wasn’t until the 1900s that artists began to incorporate found objects into sculptural works as an artistic gesture in 1917, where Marcel Duchamp created his “readymade” The Fountain, consisting of a porcelain urinal signed R. Mutt.

 

Gina Reichert & Mitch Cope, Gathering of the Scattered – Vision 2017, Electronic tubes, bell jar, tape. 11 x 5 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches

But where this current exhibition breaks from found art objects repurposed as art is this idea presented by Cope and Reichert where they write,

“ What if the things we use and collect in our lives carry more than the representation of what they mean to the individual who owns them, but also carry a small part of their spirit?” They go on to say, “Or if the spirit of things attaches part of it to its user?” They raise many interesting questions about the spiritual relationship between the owner and the object, all of which is explained in their writing that is available as part of the exhibition.

Gina Reichert & Mitch Cope, lluminated Totem – Root Cellar 2017, Marble book ends, preserves in glass jars, acrylic display box, glass furniture feet, enameled steel tub, assorted glass servingware. 32 x 15 x 15 inches

 

Putting this aside, many of the paintings and sculptures are quite beautiful and stand on their own, without the complex environmental project that surrounds and embodies their creations.

Gina Reichert holds a Master of Architecture degree from Cranbrook Academy of Art and a Bachelor of Architecture from Tulane University. Mitch Cope, a native Detroiter, has lectured widely throughout the US and Europe. Cope holds a BFA from College for Creative Studies, Detroit and an MFA from Washington State University.

Banksy on Vinyl: The Record Covers

Banksy, Dirty Funker, Let’s Get Dirty, 12” Single 2006, Record album. 12 x 12 inches

The British artist Banksy – graffiti master, painter, activist, filmmaker and all-purpose provocateur – is also a prolific designer of album covers. Since 1998 Banksy has designed the cover art for almost 40 albums. Many of the albums were produced by small independent record labels for obscure British bands and were usually not commercially successful. As a result, Banksy album covers were not widely distributed and only a small number have survived. A collection of fifteen record covers and the actual albums, all framed and behind glass, comprise the exhibition Banksy on Vinyl in the second room at the David Klein Gallery.

Banksy, Various Artists, We Love You So Love Us, 12” album 2000, Record album. 12 x 12 inches

David Klein Gallery

Experiment of the Modern Gaze @ Popp’s Packing

Untitled Experiment of the Modern Gaze – Oren Goldenberg and Biba Bell at Popp’s Packing

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All Images courtesy of Oren Goldenberg and Scott Tallenger

At the outset of Untitled Experiment of the Modern Gaze, a film collaboration by Oren Goldenberg and Biba Bell, a camera-in-the-round, moving across several large screens mounted in a ring, surveys a patch of woodsy, Rococo landscape (brought just barely into contemporary times by glimpses of electric wires and smokestacks on the horizon- otherwise, the golden twilight and delicate, sparsely leafed trees could have been painted by Watteau.)

Whoso List to Hunt

-Sir James Wyatt

Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind.

The roving eye of the viewer (I can’t help but signify the viewer as “he”) moves first at a leisurely pace, taking in the magically lit landscape. A dark void follows his gaze around, blotting out, for us, what the viewer is not looking at. A figure materializes from the trees- the powerful form of acclaimed dancer and choreographer Biba Bell.

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But as for me, helas, I may no more.

The vain travail hath wearied me so sore,

I am of them that farthest cometh behind.

She moves in this strange, wild clearing with natural grace, as if she belongs there. She approaches the viewer like a wary fawn. The viewer’s gaze swings toward, then away from her in a rhythm that visualizes the meter of a sonnet, with its round, half-stepping rhymes.

But may I by no means my wearied mind

Draw from the deer, but as she fleeith afore

Fainting I follow. I leave off therefore,

Sithens in a net I seek to hold the wind.

Untitled Experiment of the Modern Gaze can read, at first, as fairly unexperimental, aside from its installation, coiling around the gallery on screens installed in a huge ring. The scene it captures could be presenting the figure, a woman, as an allegory of nature, as a delicate, wild creature, not quite autonomous, a Pre Raphaelite sylph. The gaze, at first viewing, feels male in its invisibility and its meandering power, turning first toward, then away from, the woman as she floats upon, and interacts with, the landscape. What disrupts this is the woman approaching the camera and returning its gaze in an act that suddenly establishes her as autonomous from her surroundings. The camera, seemingly put off by this direct appraisal, begins to turn more quickly, it’s black void following it, engulfing more and more of the scene. The sonnet winds in toward its break.

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Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,

As well as I may spend his time in vain.

And graven with diamonds in letters plain

There is written, her fair neck roundabout:

Noli me tangere, for Caesar’s I am,

And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.

The allegories of nature and the hunt are inverted as the woman begins to pursue the camera’s gaze, chasing it as it turns faster and faster in apparent confusion. She halts it (the final couplet) and, applying physical strength to the dark voids that surround the gazer’s view, pushes them out of sight, unfurling the full majesty of the landscape, now seen in full circle. In a modern update of Wyatt’s poem, the woman is, indeed, wild for to hold, but she belongs to no one but herself. Once she has halted the camera, she turns and saunters back into the woods.

Untitled Experiment of the Modern Gaze is on view at Popp’s Packing until December 17. An artist talk with Oren Goldenberg and Biba Bell will be held at the gallery Wednesday, December 14, at 7 pm.

 

Caledonia Curry @ Library Street Collective

A Light at the End of the Tunnel- Caledonia Curry (Swoon) at Library Street Collective

“…You can start to create little cracks in the façade of possibility and inevitability that overlays all of our lives.”-Caledonia Curry at her TED Talk, 2010 

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Swoon, Installation Image, All Images Courtesy of Clara DeGalan and Sal Rodriguez

Caledonia Curry (tag name Swoon) seems intimately aware of the ephemeral, fragile nature of both the human body and human endeavor. This sensibility weaves through all of her bodies of work, which make up for the degradability of their materials with iron-clad social consciousness and fierce political engagement. Curry first gained attention on the global art scene for her large scaled, lyrical street art prints, which, like her work at Library St Collective, engage with the figure overlaid with gorgeous lacework of iconic decorative flourishes and symbols. Curry would scout out locations for her prints, then install them, on walls, lamp posts, and other architectural surfaces, using wheat paste. These delicate cut-paper and print collages are not meant to last forever- they fade away, gently and gradually, like distant memories. To Curry, physical immortality of work is beside the point- this seems unusual, given the highly formal, decorative nature of her constructions. What such highly developed technical skill and labor intensive process is meant to foster is less reverence for the made object itself than a holding of space for a new perspective, a chance to recontextualize one’s relationship with place, with symbolism, with one’s own identity.

The same curious mixture of preciousness and ephemerality finds its way from Swoon’s street art practice into Curry’s site specific installation at Library St Collective. As lovingly wrought and beautifully realized as Curry’s life-sized figurative prints and elaborate cut paper confections are, they are installed with no greater measure of preciousness or economic value than her wheat pasted public works. Curry’s figurative cut out prints hang suspended from strands of fishing line, freed from the relative safety, and canonical indexing, of traditional wall installation. They move in the breeze- they’re equally visible from front and back. Curry’s incredible paper cut-outs, executed in black and white and resembling every beautiful, lace-like form a viewer can call up, from snowflakes to double helixes to Celtic knot work, drape freely from the gallery’s ceiling and dangle, like the figure cutouts, from strands of fishing line, inviting touch, uncannily mimicking the slight movements of sentient life.

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Swoon cut paper intallation-detail

The heaviness of Curry’s concept for her site specific install at Library St is what grounds these floating works. Taking the narrow, tunnel-like structure of the front part of the gallery as inspiration, Curry is attempting, with The Light After, to recreate for the viewer her own narrative of a phenomenon known as “the empathetic death experience.” Curry encountered this phenomenon in a dream of a space filled with falling snow and “blossoms of light,” during which she felt that her mother had died. Upon awakening, she discovered that her mother had, indeed, passed away.

The snow-blossom motif of Curry’s installation occupies Library St.’s space as a tunnel of atmospheric light similar to those described by people who have had near-death experiences. Dispersed around this bright, ungrounding fairyland are Curry’s life-sized figurative prints which, despite their ephemeral construction, nail the viewer with quietly appraising or imploring gazes, each taking the form of a step on the initiation path toward death. Curry’s figures are iconic- an old, bearded hermit leaning on a walking stick, his lower body morphing into ramshackle architecture which crumbles, at his feet, into a profusion of skulls. A heartbreaking double image of a woman filled with youth and vitality, holding a baby, while her forward-projected shadow looms behind her, emaciated, rigged up with oxygen tubes, her eyes engaging the viewer’s in abject, human terror of proceeding down the very tunnel that surrounds her.

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Swoon, Memento Mori, 2016, block print on hand cut mylar,edition3 of 12, 84-x-67″

Curry takes the viewer through this legendary tunnel, which leads into a stark hallway painted in black and white geometric and organic forms- a nice visual metaphor for the space between the end of the tunnel and what comes after- into the gallery’s larger, airier back room or, as Curry titles it, “The Meadow.” The figurative prints in The Meadow aren’t allegories of death, but of rebirth- the color scheme of The Meadow is warmer, more organic, the 3D elements more tactile and sensual- piles of green velvet take the place of the ethereal cut-paper hangings within the tunnel. Mother-child pairings and figures surrounded by simple, ancient symbols of life and birth- paisleys, triple knots, spirals- gaze invitingly out or, more often, appear turned inward, eyes closed, in a private ecstasy of union with the life-power of the universe.

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Swoon, Milton II, Diogenesis, 2016 block print on hand cut mylar edition, 3 of 6 89×66″

There’s an uncanniness, a formal directness, and a powerful combination of personal and political narrative to Curry’s work that makes it difficult to contextualize in contemporary studio practice. The bald allegory and mirror-image rendering of her figure-prints awakens the viewer to the power of such imagery as expressed in every layer of our society, from religious painting to Chuck E. Cheese animatronics- all of them evoke the same frisson. Curry’s work reveals why this is so. Confronted with our own image reworked into symbolism, we begin to examine the foundations of universal truths- birth, death, spirit, the afterlife, the sentience of so-called inanimate objects- with the understanding that these truths emanate from our own bodies. Our bodies are ephemeral. What we can do with them, change with them, what we can leave to succeeding generations, is eternal. It is this truth that forms the kernel of Curry’s work in every medium and context that she engages.

“Swoon- The Light After” is on display at Library Street Collective through November 26, 2016.