Piles of Distinction @ David Klein Gallery

David-Klein-Gallery- Playground Detroit

Mitch Cope, Kari Cholnoky, Lisa Waud, and Patrick Ethen in a group exhibition

There’s a mixture of playfulness and deadly seriousness, grounded in filth and pointing to transcendence, in the current exhibitions at David Klein Gallery’s new Detroit space. Brooklyn-based Kari Cholnoky’s meaty paintings and sculptures, gathered under the brilliant title “Semi Lucid Steaks,” seek to invade the viewer’s physical and psychic space, propelled by bonkers materials like spray foam, pantyhose, synthetic hair, and Cheetos (all of which are listed with deadpan sincerity in the descriptions that accompany each work) and a mind-bending palette of fluorescent hues that could have come straight from my Trapper Keeper circa 1992.

Cholnoky_Specimen

Kari Cholnoky, Specimen 2015, Faux Fur, Insulation Board, Urethane Foam, Epoxy Putty, Synthetic Hair, Acrylic, Collage, Spaghetti 28 x 30 x 10 Inches – All Images courtesy of Clara DeGalan

Cholnoky’s palette isn’t the only oddly scholastic reference I picked up in her work. The template of art class projects- laminated odes to creative expression made with macaroni, textural, day-glo hued paint, and other materials culled from donations by suburban hoarders and civic-minded businesses- is distilled into moments of subtle, sophisticated formalism in Cholnoky’s sheer devotion to these humble, hideous materials, and her loving care in curating their mind-boggling combinations- some works seem to simmer with a low inner fire, others to ooze and swim with primordial energy.

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Kari Cholnoky, Sideshow 2015, Faux Fur, Acrylic, Collage, Urethane Foam, Epoxy Putty 52 x 60 x 6 Inches.

Moving from one piece to the next is an increasingly heady experience that ropes synesthesia in with wild visual confusion- you begin to almost smell the work. Cholnoky’s present exploration seems most fully realized in her handmade book, part of an ongoing series, which turns everything that defines “book” on its head. It is a cumbersome, overwhelming object that looks as if it would be sticky to touch, which doesn’t lessen one’s urge to touch it (a latex-gloved gallery attendant will turn its leaves for you, worse luck.)

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Kari Cholnoky, Real Book 2015, (detail) Mixed Media, 15 x 14 x 9 Inches

The formal puzzle of Cholnoky’s materials jumps out from page after page. Grasping their meaning, and their point of entry into the psyche, might be as difficult- and seductive- as grasping the book itself.

“Totems,” Mitch Cope’s body of photographs, sculptures and documentary film, dovetails neatly with “Semi Lucid Steaks” in its focus on curated combinations of low materials- garbage, in this case- that seek to question our relationship with them. Cope’s exhibit is accompanied by a gorgeous piece of writing titled “Zen and the Art of Garbage Hunting and the Protectors of Refuse.” It describes the garbage hunter’s process of identifying “Piles of Distinction,” or garbage heaps that have drawn the protection of a totem, seen here as hilarious spirit-animal beings preserved on film via a “highly sensitive and specialized machine.”

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Mitch Cope, Garbage Totem Scrap-a-House, 2014, C-Print, 30 x 46 Inches

Once identified, these piles of distinction are transformed by yet another machine (the documentary film is taken from the machine’s point of view, so only its powerful front incisors are seen- it stacks old tires and charred furniture into imposing piles to an oddly perfect Bach soundtrack) into vertical plinths of stacked garbage assembled in honor of their original owner, “recently deceased friend and neighbor,” in hopes of attracting permanent protection to the vicinity, as well as honoring the inherent power individuals leave behind with their earthly belongings. The piece is funny, sentimental, and serious all at once, maintaining a light touch with its potentially problematic content- garbage-strewn, run down neighborhoods, excesses of objects that have outlived their owners and practical usefulness, death itself.

Accompanying “Totems” and “Semi Lucid Steaks” are a playful, sensual floral installation by Lisa Waud, the magical mind behind Hamtramck’s Flower House project, and a light installation by Patrick Ethan, who is also currently exhibiting at Playground Detroit.

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Cholnoky/Waud Installation Image

Pile of Distinction Group Exhibition,  on display at David Klein Gallery’s Detroit space from February 6 through March 12, 2016.

www.dkgallery.com

Desire Bouncing @ Wasserman Projects

Three Person Exhibition – Alejandro Campins, Nancy Mitchnick, and Alex Schweder

Installation image

Installation image, Courtesy of Clara DeGalan

The warehouse-scaled galleries at Wasserman Projects are a fitting site for an evolving, and continuously intriguing, dialog about architecture that began with its grand opening show, a glittering event featuring a life-sized, polychromed modular house- a spectacular building within a building. The vast space seems barely enough, however, to contain the work of the three artists in its current, architecturally themed exhibition, “Desire Bouncing.” It’s not so much the work itself that strains the capacity of the space (in fact everything is so gracefully installed and lit that one can fully experience each work on its own) as the raw ideas, romantic (and sometimes sexual) yearnings, and visceral snippets of emotional engagement that come spilling out of the work of these three mature, accomplished artists and ricochet around in the rafters, drawing emotional investment, in turn, back from the viewer. It’s surprising to be confronted with that so immediately in a show that turns on architecture. Make no mistake, this is not some dry, conceptual survey. I need to stick “chthonian” in front of “architecture” to begin to get my head around this work.

The centerpiece of “Desire Bouncing” lurks behind a huge theatrical curtain toward the back of the space. Though you can’t see it at first, you hear it everywhere, it’s the heartbeat of the show. That feeling you’re getting that the work here is not quite what it seems, is maybe alive? Yes. The slow beat that affirms it is the soundtrack of Alex Schweder’s sculpture The Sound and the Future. Enclosed in its own cavernous, red-lit space, The Sound and the Future is a massive, inflatable cluster of rectilinear and phallic forms crafted from silver and faux fur fabric that expands and contracts as air is pumped in and out of it.

Wasserman sculpture

Alex Schweder’s – The Sound and the Future – 2016 Image Couresty of JeffSusan Cancelosi

The sound that accompanies it is a track by Underground Resistance, one of Detroit’s and, as Detroit is the birthplace of Techno, the world’s first Techno groups. Reduced to a tenth of its speed, the track sounds like a slumbering dragon’s heartbeat. Stand in front of it and spend a few (or a lot of) moments being hypnotized by the constantly shifting forms that rise and droop in desire and repose, forming vaguely architectural structures as they engorge with air, and then breath-takingly yonic mouths that gape and close as the seductive silver fabric deflates. While two other works by Schweder describe, in two and three dimensional mock-up, alternatively designed living spaces that elaborately endeavor to keep their human occupants separate at all times, The Sound and the Future suggests no specific model for living, while emphasizing connection- juxtaposing the swaying stamens of the sculpture, a “women’s urinal,” also installed by Schweder, winks in a dark corner.

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Female Urinal, Quahog, – 2001 – Vitreous china 18″ x 32″ x 26″ Image Courtesy of Clara DeGalan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is a similar dialog with romance through form, albeit a quieter one, in the work of Alejandro Campins, which come from a series exploring interiors of historic theatres in Detroit.

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Alejandro Campins -Eastown Theater, 2015 Oil on canvas 59″ x 78″ Image Courtesy of Clara DeGalan

There’s a fine balance of linear and painterly effects in Campins’s big paintings, and he gets the iconic outlines of theatrical architecture just right, combining these solemn interior forms with interesting landscape embellishments, blurring landscape and interior in a now iconic view of Detroit’s half fallen, once grand temples to culture.

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Close-up section of Eastown Theater

The paintings seem to have been smoothed over with a squeegee at the finish, both drawing the eye back to dwell on the finesse of his surfaces, and enclosing the works tidily.

Where Campins’s works are quiet, somber, and canny, Nancy Mitchnick’s group of paintings and works on paper, which are the first you see as you enter the gallery (and which take a walk-through and return to begin to properly grasp) express the desire of the theme in a very different way. As an artist who lives in Detroit while making paintings about it, Mitchnick naturally has more skin in the game, and this work is raw, unfurling, and pulsating like a wound- or, perhaps, a damp flower unfurling its petals. Mitchnick’s works depict structures, abandoned, half fallen, lapsing into neglect, patched over, mantled in snow and drenched in directionless, otherworldly light.

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Nancy Mitchnik, Framed, 2016 Oil on linen 77″ x 111″ Image Courtesy of Clara DeGalan

Mitchnick builds these skeletal structures- alternating bars of multihued wood and sky- in slabs, scrapes, flourishes and caresses of paint that lay both her innocence and her deep knowledge utterly bare, valuing neither above the other.

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Nancy Mitchnik, Close-up Section of Water Damage, 2016 Oil on linen

What she is able to channel, through an intuitive understanding of form, color and the nature of paint, is the desperate, howling human element of which these empty structures have become the symbol. This narrative slips the bonds of language and history, running parallel to each while being neither. Bypassing all traditional means of visual storytelling in the landscape genre- objectivity, language, handsome technique- Mitchnick wrings a wildly romantic, purely emotional insight about death and the fecund, unglamorous resurgence that inevitably follows it, as naturally as certain forms and grids, for reasons we cannot put into language, draw on our very souls.

Desire Bounsing – Wasserman Projects  Detroit, Michigan – February 5 through April 9, 2016

http://wassermanprojects.com

 

Carlos Rolón/Dzine @ OUAG

Oakland University Art Gallery invites the audience to an installation that includes objects and performance.

Barbershop

Carlos Rolon Dzine, Barbershop, Mixed Media & Three Channel Video 2016 All images Courtesy of the Detroit Art Review

The installation work by Carlos Rolón/Dzine at the Oakland University Art Gallery is called Commonwealth and was created by this first generation Puerto Rican artist from Chicago.

Its title makes reference to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, a self-governing unit voluntarily grouped with the United States even though it remains an independent country. A post-colonial perspective melds Rolón’s memories of his youthful Hispanic cultural that includes a diverse hybrid of carefully crafted objects, installation, and performance that inform his work.

One entire gallery space is devoted to the re-creation of a 1940’s urban Barbershop that includes wall paneling, flooring, barber’s chairs and four surrounding video panels that display the hair cutting process. Rolón says “My intention is to introduce the Barber as artist/sculptor and how the barbershop creates a home and safe-haven to allow for freedom of expression.” The site-specific installation is inspired by a photograph by Jack Delano, Barbershop in Bayamon 1941, and on the opening night, two barbers were on site to provide haircuts to attendees. My interest was piqued because of my relationship with the Puerto Rican culture after having been immersed via my marriage for forty years. The food, music, religion and way of life have been part of my life since the early 1970’s.

Fine China object

Carlos Rolon Dzine, Fine Regal China, Hand Made Porcelain, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The porcelain vase/pitcher was designed by Rolón but produced in China and replicates some of the faux objects his mother collected when he was a child. For a family steeped in religious traditions, these type of porcelain objects represented high cultural art based on objects that you might think belong to an aristocracy, as do silk flower arrangements and clocks imbedded in ceramic frames. Adding these types of objects to the exhibition recreates markers or icons within Hispanic cultural traditions. Typically, these pieces were on display in ornate wooden display cabinets along with wedding favors and family photographs, all part and parcel of the culture.

Afro Comb

Carlos Rolon Dzine, Afrocomb, High Density Urethane, Resin, Paint 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Included in the exhibition is a large and carefully crafted ‘pop art’ object, the Afro hair pic that includes a clenched fist as part of the handle, both symbols during the 1970s in urban cities. The cultural object here is used to shape hair and represent the Black Power Movement, prominent in the struggle against the establishment and a promotion of self-determination. This is yet one more part of Rolón’s installation, creating an environment that paints a picture of his early personal and cultural memories.

Vendor Cart

Carlos Rolon Dzine, Nomadic Habitat, Mixed Media & Merchandise 2016

In cities like New York or Chicago, there was a time when the vendor cart was commonplace. These carts represented all kinds of ethnic food, from hot dogs, pretzels, bagels, and blintzes to the Hispanic cart that sold tostones, empanadas, fritas and pasteles. The nomadic vending carts were located in neighborhoods where people sought a bite on the go. In his piece, Nomadic Habitat, Carlos Rolón/Dzine intentionally uses the memory of the cart to recreate a replica as a symbol of his cultural. First on exhibit in “The Potential of Spaces: The Arts Incubator helps bring the Chicago Architectural Biennial to the South Side” from the Chicago Art Institute, the piece articulates the relationship of culture to the community.

For me, writing about installation and performance art feels a little like a rubber band, causing this writer to stretch his experience to include new and emerging forms of artistic expression. Certainly there is a tradition in installation that includes British Artists Andy Moss, and Jamie Wardley, who created The Fallen, a visual display at D-Day landing on the beach of Arromanches in France, and Rain Room, by Berlin-based collective Random International where at Rice University you experience the rain without getting wet. Most recently at Art Prize 2014 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Anila Quayyum Agha’s installation Intersections, casts a delicate web of shadows by filling a room with carefully crafted patterns from a laser cut wooden cube powered by a single light source. The result was a room illuminated with lace-like geometries cast onto the surrounding walls, and like Carlos Rolón/Dzine, she says, “For me the familiarity of space visited at the Alhambra Palace, created memories of another time and place from my past.” Both artists used memory and culture to form their biographical oeuvre.

Perhaps this brings me to the role of the Oakland University Art Gallery in exposing its audience of students, faculty and community to new trends in all forms of art, free from commercial purpose. The Oakland University Art Gallery has been leading in this respect for a number of years and continues to set the bar for others. University based galleries have the financial base to support such important endeavors and play an important role in educating the community in Metro Detroit.

http://www.ouartgallery.org

 

The 56th International Venice Biennale through Detroit Eyes

Venice overview image

Venice overview Image, Courtesy of the Venice Biennale

There is a mystique about the Venice Biennale, partly because of its age, (it was established in 1895) and partly because of its location in the Giardini area of Venice, Italy. By 1910 it exhibited artists like Renoir, Klimt, Courbet and Picasso. Over the years it has diversified beyond art to include film, architecture, dance and music. For the purpose of this piece, I will comment on the art exhibition at the Arsenale, but there are exhibits at Giardini and throughout Venice.

The 56th International Venice Biennale celebrates its 120th birthday with 136 artists from 53 countries around the world. The curator of this year’s Biennale, All the World’s Futures, is Okwui Enwezor, a Nigerian curator, art critic and writer specializing in history. He lives in New York and Munich and, in 2006, received the Frank Jewett Mather Award for art criticism from the College Art Association.

To write a review of the 56th Biennale as a whole would be lengthy, exhaustive and near impossible, so I will confine my remarks to work at the Arsenale that exhibited over a hundred works of art in a decommissioned warehouse once used by the Navy (to build ships, I assume). The Arsenale would easily be four or five football fields long and 200 feet wide. From that experience, I have selected ten artists to mention, based on my interest and curiosity. From the opening section that was dominated by Bruce Nauman’s neon pieces, rather simple works that simulate a restaurant sign in the window, to the entire section three devoted to Katharina Grosse’s Color Riot, which was an enormous room filled with spray painted dirt and cloth. There are many pieces like Color Riot, conceptual and installation works, that I do not have either the context or familiarity with to comment on.

Color Riot 2

Katharina Grosse, Untitled Trumpet, 2015 – Germany

 

Chris Marker Passengers, France 2011

Chris Marker, Passengers, 2011 – France

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the most breath-taking moments in the Biennale was the work of the late French artist, Chris Marker (1921 – 2012) and his photographic installation, Passengers, 2011. The 134 color photograph images around the perimeter of the room are of anonymous people from the Paris Metro and include small, ever-changing LCD images from above. In Passengers, Marker tracks his Parisians and captures them in an unguarded way, often looking for imagery that reminds him of images found in art history.

Chris Ofili, UK, 2015 Bending Over for Justice & Peace

Chris Ofili, Bending Over for Justice and Peace, 2015 – Great Britain

Having seen the solo exhibition Night and Day at the New Museum in NYC, November 2014, it was not surprising to see Chris Ofili’s work at the Biennale representing Great Britain. The vibrant and technically complex work enlists sexual, cultural, historical and religious references. His subject matter challenges and reinterprets racial stereotypes. Represented by the David Zimmer Gallery in New York City, his work often exposes the darker undercurrents of society. His M.F.A. was completed in 1993 at the Royal College of Art, and he won the prestigious Turner Prize in 1998. Bending Over for Justice and Peace, Ofili presents a staggeringly mysterious painting with flowing patterns around two inverted figures. The London-born, Trinidad-based artist presents four paintings in this year’s Biennale.

Daniel Boyd Austalia

Daniel Boyd, Untitled Diptych, 2014 – Australia

A young indigenous Australian artist, Daniel Boyd provides a fresh abstract interpretation of line and space to this year’s Biennale. Counter to his earlier figurative work in which he explored the relationship between the aboriginal people and the British Empire, he has moved to abstraction with the same methods except filters out color and focuses on interconnected space. The lively compositions are comprised of a dotted, intense surface that engages the viewer in the overall matrix.

Terry Adkins USA

Terry Adkin, Matinée, 2007-2013 – Bronze, steel, hangers, burnt cork – USA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The late artist, Terry Adkins (1953 – 2014) was a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and was born in Washington, D.C. A musician and multi-media artist, his work explores historical figures and acts from Beethoven to Hendrix. His work Matinee at the Biennale approaches the art-making process from the viewpoint of the composer over a lifetime that was shortened in 2014 when he died of heart failure. His work has been arranged as sculpture, video and photography where he modifies musical instruments that are repurposed as objects.

Kay Hassan, South Africa, Untitled 2015 Paper construction

Kay Hassan, Untitled, 2011, Paper – South Africa

Born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1956, Kay Hassan is best known for his pieces of printed billboard posters but also works with painting installation and video. His themes have always revolved around migration, dispossession and urban life. Growing up as a child in Soweto, he witnessed the constant flight of South Africans as apartheid policies forcibly took peoples’ land. The mural-sized work depicts townspeople on the run. His techniques of deconstructing and constructing are realized fully on close inspection when it is clear that the work was made up entirely of disregarded paper.

Meric Algun Ringborg Turkey, Souvenirs for the Landlock 2015 Installation

Meric Ringborg, Souvenirs for the Landlocked, Installation, 2015 – Turkey

Meric Ringborg was born in Istanbul, Turkey in 1983 and now lives in Stockholm. Her ready-made installation, Souvenirs for the Landlocked, is a large room reconstructed in Section 6 with objects that have a particular meaning for her. The installation is typical of her earlier work in that it takes a group of sculptural works and places them in a domestic-like room space environment. In her narrative she writes about her grandfather’s maritime travels, from which he would bring objects from all parts of the world. Each object in the installation carries with it a special meaning that reveals a type of interconnectivity. Ringborg did her graduate work at Royal Institute of Art, Stockholm, and she says in her statement, “Souvenirs are representative of what ‘has been seen’ and thus echo a highly subjective sight, much like photographs; albeit contrary to an image they are sculptural representations of experiences, markers of the transference from event to memory.

Lorna Simpson, US Three Figures, 2014 screenprint on Clayboard

Lorna Simpson, Three Figures, Ink & Screen-print on Claybord, 2014 – USA

The artist Lorna Simpson is represented at the Biennale with figure paintings and her photo-silkscreen, Three Figures. Her early work was as a street photographer where she reflected her feeling about race, society and multiculterism. She came of age during the early 1980’s after a generation of black power and the civil rights movement. Eventually she began to question the truth these supposedly objective photographs revealed and shifted to conceptual photography, which focuses on the idea, rather than the end product. She completed her M.F.A. in 1985 at the University of California and now lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

Gedi Sibony US Trident, 2015

Gedi Sibony, U.S. Trident, – USA

Born in New York in 1973, Sibony received his M.F.A. from Columbia University in 2000. His paintings draw on minimalism in a kind of pared down aesthetic. In the painting Trident, he uses a self-contained object, here a riveted piece of a ship or plane part. He has used cardboard, wood, and plastic sheeting, in a kind of simple style focusing on color and composition. Sibony has the ability to elevate this ready-made work to a kind of poetic beauty. He says in his statement, “I want to convey a kind of discovery by moving through things the way allegory incorporates various energies in a harmonious environment. This might be understood as an alignment of symbolic thinking and material tactility.”

Rudra

Emily Young, Fufluns, Rouge de Vitrolles Marble, Great Britain – 2015

Additionally, I would like to mention an artist whose work was not on exhibit at the Biennale. Instead, sculptor Emily Young’s Call & Response was on display at the cloister of Madonna dell’Orto church in Venice. Using rock from quarries near her studio in the Etruscan hills, Young’s work fuses the age-old principles of stone carving with a progressive, widely informed approach to form and composition. The contemporary and ancient are united in these sculptures, creating a rare and poetic presence.

So how does an artist, say, from Detroit, get their work accepted into the 56th International Venice Biennale? Well, I am not sure I have the answer to that question because what you come to realize is that the answer lies between the published lines. There are eligibility requirements: You must be a U.S. citizen and come from a non-profit museum, school, gallery or visual art organization. An advisory committee convened by the National endowment for the Arts and composed of curators, museum directors and other curatorial experts reviews proposals. You don’t send off your images in an application. And it is written that you don’t submit a proposal without first discussing your project with the Cultural Programs Division of the U.S. State Department. Translation: You have be connected. To be selected as the curator of the Venice Biennale, you probably have to walk on water.

The 56th International Venice Biennale, All the World’s Futures,was curated by Okwui Enwezor, organized by la Biennale di Venezia and chaired by Paolo Baratta. The exhibition opened at the Giardini della Biennale and at the Arsenale to the public on Saturday, May 9th, and will close November 22nd, 2015. The awards ceremony and the inauguration took place on Saturday May 9th, 2015.

 

 

 

 

30 Americans @ the Detroit Institute of Arts

30A-artists-group

Photo Credit: Kwaku Alston

The new director of the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), Salvador Salort-Pons, took the podium and introduced the new 30 Americans exhibition with relaxed confidence. The selection and planning for this exhibition had begun more than a year ago when he was head of the European Department at the DIA since 2008. With a Ph.D. in art history and a MBA with a focus on finance and strategy, he comes to the museum directorship with an additional strength: sound business sense. His time at the podium was brief, but I sensed a transitional moment for the museum and the larger Detroit community.

30 Americans is an important exhibition, extremely well curated, designed, and at the right place and time for the City of Detroit. It reminded me of how I felt at the opening of the Shirin Neshat exhibition, March 2013, when the DIA hosted her mid-career retrospective and simultaneously reached out to the community, educating people on Islamic art. 30 Americans is similar in how it will educate the Detroit community by showcasing some of the most talented African-American artists in the United States today. In the 2010 census, 82% of people living in Detroit responded as African American.

30 Americans powerfully demonstrates contemporary African American artists’ interests in the complexities of identity and developing a range of artistic approaches to portray or reference its distinctions and similarities,” said Valerie J. Mercer, DIA curator.

The exhibition comes from the well-known Rubell Family Museum in Miami, Florida. It is one of the world’s largest, privately-owned Contemporary Art collections, and the first time this work will be on display at the DIA. Each year, Rubell creates thematic exhibitions drawn from its collection, “We only show art we own. That is a founding principle of the Rubell Family Collection, a principle that gives us tremendous freedom and enormous constraints. When we set out to conceptualize a new exhibition, we know we will only get the depth and quality we seek if we already have a strong foundation of works by a core group of artists.”

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Kehinde Wiley, Equestrian Portrait of the Count Duke Olivares – 2005, oil on canvas. Courtesy of Rubell Family Collection, Miami

 

The most well-known artist in the exhibition is Kehinde Wiley, whose work dominates the show with three large paintings. The painting, Equestrian Portrait of the Count Duke Olivares, depicts a young black male figure in hip-hop clothing, set against a rich floral background. Based on the Spanish artist Diego Velazquez’s painting from 1634, Wiley engages in a type of surreal photorealism on a grand scale of 366 by 366 inches. He braids his foreground and background together, creating a picture plane tension. As a boy growing up in Los Angeles, he spent his time looking at historical paintings at the Library in San Marino, CA. He earned his undergraduate degree from San Francisco Art Institute and his M.F.A. from Yale in 2001.

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Kehinde Wiley, Sleep, 2008, oil on canvas. Courtesy of Rubell Family Collection, Miami

As you enter the second room, you are met with Sleep, a 132 X 300-inch monster-sized figure painting, part of his series of reclining erotic figures. Here again, his use of British Arts & Crafts designs in the background also enters the foreground in what has become a consistent element in his work. At times, it reminds me of paintings of Christ after he was taken down from the cross. Wiley’s signature portraits of street people designed around specific historical paintings seem to draw attention to the absence of African American people from Western cultural narratives. Like this work or not, he is a major force in contemporary art in American painting today.

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Mickalene Thomas, Baby I Am Ready Now – 2007, acrylic, rhinestone and enamel on wooden panel. Courtesy of Rubell Family Collection, Miami

The irrepressible Mickalene Thomas is comparable to Wiley in her weight and influence on the American art scene. The New York-based artist is known for her elaborate and complex work that often has a sexual overtone. She may be presenting what she thinks it means to be a black woman regarding a kind of cultural stereotype. The paintings are often composed using patterns, enamels, acrylic, and rhinestones and usually present a provocation. Her painting, along with the title, seems to bait the viewer. These round corners were a favorite of hers back in the mid 2000’s, but the new work has moved forward with a kind of spin on Picasso’s figurative Cubism. Check out: She Ain’t a Child Anymore #2, 2015.

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Jean-Michel Basquiat, One Million Yen – 1982, oil on canvas with wood and jute. Courtesy of Rubell Family Collection, Miami

More familiar to audiences is Jean-Michel Basquiat. The late American artist achieved notoriety during the 1980s when he was part of the Andy Warhol and Keith Haring scene in New York City. Born in Brooklyn, Basquiat was half Puerto Rican and half Haitian and has been described as a precocious and gifted child. Kellie Jones, who wrote Lost in Translation: Jean-Michel in the (Re) Mix says, “Basquiat’s cannon revolves around single heroic figures: athletes, prophets, warriors, cops musicians, kings, and the artist himself. In these images the head is often a central focus, topped by crowns, hats and halos. In this way the intellect is emphasized, lifted up to notice, privilege over the body and physicality of these figures (i.e. black men) commonly represented in the world.”

The Rubell piece, One Million Yen, from 1982 creates one of his “dichotomies” utilizing social commentary that attacks a power structure, while at the same time imparting a strong Neo-expressionist composition using mixed media material.

Duck, Duck, Noose

Gary Simmons – Duck, Duck, Noose, Installation, 1992 Image Courtesy of DIA

The exhibition is peppered with work by a variety of African-American artists that speaks directly to racial violence in the United States. When you enter the room housing the Duck, Duck, Noose piece by Gary Simmons, 1992, you are confronted by emotional experience where nine stools are arranged in a circle with KKK hoods on the seat with a noose hanging down in the center. The life-sized installation capitalizes on the audience’s familiarity with these symbols, reminding us of our historical past where injustices were committed against black men and women in the late 19th and mid 20th centuries. The title is a play on the English nursery game, Duck, Duck, Goose. The installation brings into focus the injustices that are continually committed against all peoples and through a juxtaposition of history where art imitates life. Gary Simmons’ work is currently representing the United States at the 2015 Venice Biennale.

30 Americans exhibits 55 paintings by artists such as Barkley Hendricks, Kerry James Marshall, Carrie Mae Weems, Lorna Simpson and the late Robert Colescott. Their influence on a younger generation can be seen in the works of artists such as Nick Cave and Kara Walker. Overall, the exhibition reflects a variety of approaches to creating artwork around identity, gender, race, sexuality and a confrontation to the traditional American genres.

Bravo to the DIA for bringing this exhibition to Detroit…now what’s next? A big contemporary exhibition? As soon as there is a curator.

The Detroit Institute of Arts  5200 Woodward Ave. Detroit, Michigan  48202    313.833.7900

For information about admission pricing, and hours: http://goo.gl/OJU15N