Sacred Art @ Marygrove College Art Gallery

Installation, Events in the Life of Jesus Christ, 2018

The contemporary chasm of indifference on the part of the haute art scene to Western religious art of a devotional nature (Christian art), is absolutely uncrossable to anyone in the world of art patronage and criticism. In rare instances, however, artists themselves have attempted tenuous bridges over that chasm. Georges Rouault managed to achieve recognition as an artist through his powerful images of Christian religious figures. Christian imagery, so long a significant theme of art in our culture has evaporated. The triumph of avant-gardism in a post-Christian secular age is dogma held with neo-religious fervor. In recent decades very few artists of renown have let it be known they might actually be devoutly Catholic. Andy Warhol was quiet about his Catholic faith but daily visited St. Vincent Ferrer Church in Manhattan for Mass or to pray. The cult of celebrity and splintering into theoretical camps keep artists of faith isolated from each other, but hopeful signs appear. There are some artists today who are actively working toward a re-emergence of a serious voice for Christianity in the arts, specifically, the visual arts. Catholic art societies have been established in New York, Chicago, and elsewhere. Artists who are Catholic are answering the call and challenge of St. Pope John Paul II in his “Letter to Artists,” to “enrich the cultural heritage of each nation and of all humanity.”

Ron Scott Teachworth is one such artist.

Mr. Teachworth has an MA from Wayne State University and has for years been an abstract and landscape artist, working primarily in acrylics on canvas and watercolors on paper. It was his encounter with Fra Angelico’s frescos at the San Marco Convent in Florence, Italy, particularly The Annunciation, which compelled Mr. Teachworth to express his own conversion experience through visual art. Beginning with an Annunciation of his own, he painted scenes from the life of Christ, not consciously working toward a series, but desiring to express his own deep allegiance to the Gospel. When his Annunciation was accepted into the juried biennial St. Vincent College Catholic Arts Competition in 2014, Teachworth was greatly encouraged to study the masters’ interpretations of the life of Christ. This effort would culminate in the current series of twenty paintings done over the course of a decade.

The exhibit is in the beautiful Marygrove College Liberal Arts building and is entitled Events in the Life of Jesus Christ. The watercolor paintings chronicling the life of Jesus are commensurate with Teachworth’s spiritual development as a Catholic. The works are an openly sincere expression of the faith that can transform a life by changing the heart. They contain nothing of the modernist’s obligatory irony, or the cynicism brought to bear when dealing with the main theme that formed and informed Western culture for two millennia. They are true, in the sense that they are an honest telling of the Gospel story by someone who believes in that story even now, in the face of brash materialism and hostile disbelief.

Ron Teachworth, Jesus Christ, 22 x 30″, Watercolor on paper, 2018

Upon entering the gallery space, one is met with an image entitled simply Jesus Christ, a recent painting (2018) of the mature Man Who’s story we are about to see unfold. Its composition is a fitting introduction to the manner of composition Teachworth employs in all of the paintings. Though the central figure or figures dominate, the backgrounds are always worthy of close scrutiny. They will contain other figures, symbols, buildings and landscapes whose meanings are sometimes obvious, other times open to interpretation. Always they are carefully patterned and painted, conveying a sense of thoughtful devotion to both the craft of the artist and the subject of the work.

Teachworth’s palette is richly chromatic but not overly so. His colors are lively without jarring, and though somber when appropriate, are never dreary. Forms are defined with subtle tones layered or placed next to each other to blend softly, while in other places, edges and values are sharply distinct to define contours; all done with an assurance of purpose. Watercolor can be an extremely difficult medium to control, but Teachworth seems to have accomplished it. The exhibit overall is consistently visually engaging and pleasing to look around at. Each piece shines on its own, and builds on what has come before; it then leads one to go on to the next painting and event in the story. Though done over a period of ten years, the paintings hold together well as a continuous narrative, making for a cohesive series and exhibit.

The majority of the pieces in the exhibit are based on incidents recorded in the Gospels. However, in Mary Visits Jesus, an incident is depicted which is not in the Holy Scriptures. Perhaps because the story is unfamiliar, the painting is all the more intriguing. The figures are shown outdoors. Jesus is shown as a young man at a workbench while His Mother is to the side as if having just entered the scene. Her right hand is on Jesus’ forearm; Her left hand and face seem to express an entreating manner. Jesus’ head is down, bent to His work, though He seems to be aware of His Mother’s presence. There is a river (the Jordan?) behind the figures, and on the other side, a continuous line of buildings indicating a city.

Ron Teachworth, Mary Visits Jesus, 22 x 30″, Watercolor on paper, 2012

Curiously, it is only Mary who has a halo of golden light around her head. Jesus does not have a halo, only a yarmulke. Does this indicate that she is, for this moment, the one inspired by the Holy Spirit? Is she entreating Her Son to look up from His work to the wider world beyond – across the river to the people who need Him? This is all reminiscent of a scene which is recorded in the Gospel of John, the wedding feast in Cana, when Mary simply informed her Son of a particular need, trusting the outcome completely to Him.

Ron Teachworth, Ascension of Jesus Christ, 22 x 30″, Watercolor on paper, 2017

In the Ascension of Jesus Christ, Teachworth demonstrates his graphic design sense to meaningful effect. The figure of Christ and three of His disciples (Peter, James, And John?) are shown enclosed in a column of light. Also in the light is the figure of a donkey, the animal Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, when the common people hailed Him as their King. Jesus is shown in the air above the three looking up at Him. Is the light surrounding them meant to show the close friendship these three shared with Jesus? The entire group of the disciples and Mary are shown in a peaceful and expansive countryside as they look up to Jesus’ accent. The setting seems to speak of the calm reassurance the followers of Jesus must have felt seeing Him alive again and hearing His promise to “be with them always.” The sky, however, is filled with large cumulous clouds. Could they indicate the storm of persecutions that will break out when this little band upsets the whole world with their preaching of the Gospel of Jesus?

Though it has been denigrated for many years, figurative painting is currently undergoing a strong and widespread resurgence of practice and interest (it has always been an essential component to the expression of the Christian faith.) It is to be hoped this renewal of interest in depicting, and honoring, the highest good of the created order, the image of God in humanity, continues with a vital urgency. Visual art has endured the greatest degradations in the post-modern art world, as compared to other art forms. For most people, contemporary art no longer amuses or befuddles. They simply ignore it. The current art scene serves no purpose in their lives; its products and its heroes appear openly hostile, when not merely aloof. Most people return the favor in kind, and are uninterested in art, or are baldly contemptuous of art world pretentiousness. A new type of artist is needed. One who, while conversant with developments in visual culture, is not enslaved by fashionable trends or blinded by the pursuit of infamy and mammon, but who is a practitioner of lucid visual languages. People have need of a space for contemplation, a window to transcendence, an idea that can uplift, ennoble, and provide relief from the burden of banality. Artists can give that to people.
With this exhibit, Ron Scott Teachworth has taken his place among such artists.

The Event in the Life of Jesus Christ at Marygrove College art gallery, 8425, McNichols, Detroit, Liberal Arts Bldg. 4th fl.- runs through December 30, 2018.

Open to the public 9-5 pm daily or by appointment. 248-321-2979

Detroit Group Exhibition @ Oakland University Art Gallery

The Oakland University Art Gallery (OUAG) has opened an exhibition, Who Were They Then, on October 20, 2018, that puts together visual artists with ties in and around Detroit. Five artists working in different media create a biographical sketch of their work spanning back to what they might consider as early beginnings.

Morgan Barrie, Pest 1, 40 x 50″ digital archival print, 2018

Morgan Barrie photo collages are landscapes that usually include an animal, as in the example Pest 1, a 40 x 50-inch digital archive print, in which the artist places an animal on a pedestal and surrounds the subject with flowering plants native to the Midwest.  The formal arrangement and centered fox, with a solid background and this array of plants carefully placed, would seem to be an application in composition, shape, and color. Needless to say, all of these elements are brought into a digital environment, carefully placed, where the light varies slightly.  There are five of these vertical compositions, each with an animal at the center: a dog, a fawn and a cat.    Her work in Re: Formation, at 600 Jefferson Avenue, Toledo, Ohio where she places a female figure in the landscape with floating Plasticene bags in Future Seasons, suggests an interest in environmental issues. In fact, she has created a body of work dominated by these bags set against clean water and open sky as subjects.

She says in her statement, “I view landscapes as teeming with millions of constantly changing factors…I like to have sections of the frame that are overwhelming to capture that idea.  All my work is a way to have a dialogue with my fear and confusion as I try to understand the way we as humans relate to the rest of the natural world, or rather don’t relate to it.”

Morgan Barrie earned her Bachelor of Arts in photography from Columbia College Chicago and her M.F.A in Photography from Eastern Michigan University.

Mel Rosas, Rooftop III, 6.5 x 9.75″, lithograph, 1981

 

Mel Rosas, Professor of Painting and Drawing at Wayne State University takes us way back to his lithograph Rooftop III, 1981 as a starting point for his magical realism in a landscape. There are few artists from Detroit who have had a long and successful career being represented in New York City by a major gallery.  For Mel Rosas, it was 1991 when he began his relationship with Davison Contemporary then located on 724 Fifth Avenue, and in 2014 moved to Chelsea on West 26th street.

These images over the years have shared common components.  The apparent elements are his use of a flat picture plane facing the viewer, and always an opening to space beyond, whether it’s the ocean, a sky, a room or just around a corner.  The settings are Latin American culture and ethnic identity, an influence that may come from his father’s homeland of Panama. The symbolism included on his street walls is often of graffiti, old movie posters, religious iconography, traffic signs and automobiles from the 1950s. Occasionally the figure of a man in a white suit appears in his work, as in Searching for the Romantic, where he places himself in the painting. In visual art, as in literature, it’s hard to get beyond oneself.

Mel Rosas, Gentrification, 36 x 36″ Oil on Panel, 2016

In Gentrification, Mel Rosas gives us the iconography of a Latin urban landscape with suggestions of construction and rebirth. Traditionally, he places his focus on composition, color and space with extraordinary detail to texture in this one-perspective rendition of a street scene.  Most who are friends of the artist know he has always added two numerals indicating his age at the time he executed the work.

He says in a statement, “I have developed an interest in Latin American Literature, both realism (Bolano) and magic realism (Borges, Marquez). I am fortunate to have traveled through several Latin American countries; my research is an ongoing investigation addressing questions of place, culture, and ethnic identity.”

Mel Rosas earned his Master of Fine Arts from Tyler School of Art, Temple University, and he has been a recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts Grant, Charles H. Gershenson Distinguished Faculty Award, and a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant, New York, NY, 2009.

Bryant Hillman, Honda Accord, 16 x 20″, Acrylic on Canvas, 2014

Bryant Tillman is a Detroit artist who has been painting Detroit expressionistic landscapes for over thirty-five years.  In this exhibition, he presents ten works of art, fluid representational compositions of cars, people and buildings.  These high-contrast acrylic works are probably executed in a short time, from start to finish before the acrylic dries. In his painting, Honda Accord, he paints in his shadow as he takes his image during low light.  Back in the studio, the “moment in time” gets rendered with a loose, painterly brush stroke with surfaces that grab the viewer’s attention.

He says in his statement, “Painting like a dead Frenchman, you tend to often think like one when selecting subject matter, locale, or method. Natural scenes and surroundings, like freshly manicured lawns and gardens or wildly verdant wooded areas, are not alien to Detroit.  Also, the impressionists often included subjects that are considered contemporary to that time…steamships and steam locomotives, for example. So I felt it only natural to include in my work an occasional late model car in my urban scenes.”

Selected as the Visual Arts Fellow in 2013 by Kresge Arts in Detroit, Tillman shows things as they are, and lets the viewer bring their experience to the work. With his use of long, low shadows of light and color, the viewer sees a more vibrant, fertile reality than what actually exists.  He puts a painterly face on the landscapes of Detroit.

Carole Harris, Time and Again, 43.5 x 37″, cotton, silk, linen, 2018

For this writer, what is interesting about the biographical sketch of Carole Harris is the earlier work, as in View from the Kitchen on Preston Street, from quilt/ fiber artist to abstractionist, as in Time and Again, 2018.  Having written about Harris’s work when exhibited at the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art and recently in her exhibition, Repetition, Rhythm, and Vocab, with Allie McGee, at the Detroit Institute of Arts, you see a unique path to non-representational art. Here in the OUAG exhibition, you view the 1999 piece, cluttered with improvisational polygons, triangles, rectangles and squares to the 2018 work, Time and Again, that depends more on the subtlety of stitchery, layers upon layers of cloth and color, while establishing a more distinct composition working from a dark background to a light off-set foreground.  One can trace back to pre-Reconstruction in the South, where quilts were necessities, and female artists went unrecognized for their aesthetics, but Carole Harris had her beginnings in textile work in the mid-1960s and gradually evolved to a pure abstract narrative, with original gestures, layered textures and innovative compositional ideas.

She says in her statement, “As an art student in college, I remember seeing the work of Romare Bearden as one of the first artists I can remember who depicted African American imagery, which made an impact even though, and probably because, it was abstract.”

Carole Harris earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Wayne State University and was the recipient of the 2015 Kresge Visual Art Fellowship.

Clinton Snider, The Last Winter, 42 x 84″, Oil on Panel, 2013

A familiar artist in Detroit, Clinton Snider’se work in this OUAG exhibition stands by itself in a separate corner space. His expressive post-industrial landscapes vary in both size and shape, occasionally including a figure.  In this sizeable rectangular work, Last Winter, Snider creates an eerie light that sets a mood as a low sunset casting long shadows across the snow.  It almost feels apocalyptic.  Trimmed and truncated trees surrounded by old debris speaks to a time gone by in a once thriving era, perhaps Detroit, waiting to be repurposed. The architecture in Snider’s buildings are almost always pre-world war II, reflective of an older neighborhood, and sometimes nostalgic, as in Back Forty, where the extra wide angle image plays heavily into the composition with extended shadows from objects spread out across a lush lawn.

Not many visual artists collaborate, and one collaboration that includes Clinton Snider is with fellow artist Scott Hocking. Most notably, their installation, Relics, consists of some 400 identical square boxes of Detroit’s discarded found objects and rummage, that were connected and set up as a grid in the exhibition Artists Take on Detroit at the Detroit Institute of Arts in 2001.

Snider says in a statement, “I think that simply growing up in and around a city with a post-industrial status like Detroit has had the greatest effect on my work over the years. It feels like walking through the texture and material substance of history. Still, within this crumbling of infrastructure and architecture, a spirit remained intact that manifests itself in creativity, innovation, and a tenacity of people, that changes one’s perspective on how society functions. “

Clinton Snider earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the College for Creative Studies and was represented by Susanne Hilberry gallery.

Who Were They Then was curated by Dick Goody, Professor of Art, Chair of Department of Art & Art History and Director of Oakland University Art Gallery. In recent years he has reached out to curate many new types of exhibitions that would include installations, conceptual work and leading types of experimentation by artists from all parts of the country and beyond. Here, Goody comes back to an exhibition of Detroit artists, largely made up of representational work (with the exception of Carole Harris) that survey the artists’ work over time, and in some way feels like he comes full circle.

Who Were They Then at Oakland University Art Gallery runs through November 18, 2018.

 

 

Arab & Cuban Artists @ N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art

Exhibitions, Mitli Mitlak, & Open Scene, Installation, All images courtesy of N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, and DAR

The N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art has a history of bringing art from various parts of the world to expand the exposure of cultural arts to the audiences of Detroit. This extensive exhibition is no exception.  Present is an under riding theme that rings true for many people, which is that in times of extreme tribulation, visual artist, musicians, actors, writers, and dancers endure hardships to tell stories.  There are two distinct exhibitions: Mitli Mitlak (Like You, Like Me) curated by Biba Sheikh, reflects the work of thirteen artists, many of whom are current residents of occupied territories throughout the Middle East; and Open Scene, the figurative expressionism by Manuel Lopez Oliva, one of the most recognized Cuban artists whose theatrical masquerades form the heart of his expression.

Sinan Hussein, Iraq, “Just a Concert”, Acrylic on Canvas, 63 x 85″, 2018

Part of the Iraqi Fine Arts Society and a member of the Union of Iraqi Artists, Sinan Hussein graduated from the University of Fine Arts in Bagdad. These large acrylic figurative paintings deliver a type of surrealism that is filled with whimsical characters, both human and animal that intrigue the viewer and pull them into his world.  The work, Just a Concert, could just as easily be titled Just a Wedding, where the setting is aglow with a couple standing side by side holding animals, some realistic, some contrived, with an observer to the left that is part human, part animal. These works by Hussein speak to the confusion in his world, where the uncertainty of life and the political and historical apparatus that surrounds him and his family are in flux.

Sinan Hussein, Iraq, Untitled, Acrylic on Canvas, 63 x 85″, 2017

This Untitled work presents the first-person perspective of figures in a state of limbo, in the interior of what looks to be a bathroom amongst flying surreal animal-like shapes with faces and wings. There is a noted concern for composition and color surfaces with textures and colors that keep the viewer searching for meaning. Who is to say what a profound effect in the lives of humans under such dismantled circumstances of life and survival, will produce expressions of such disjointed life.

“I hope that through this exhibition and in the future of the company Mediterranean Fire, the meaning can be of westerners or non-refugees coming to the realization that these people are not much different than them,” says Biba Sheikh. “That we have much more in common and are part of the same.”

These two paintings by Sinan Hussein, are among fifteen other artist works that include: Hani Alqam (Jordan) Thameur Mejri (Tunisia) Taghlib Oweis (Jordan), Wael Darwish (Egypt), Ahmed Nagy (Egypt), Klaudja Sulaj (Albania) Luca Paleocreassas (Greece), Manal Kortam (Lebanon), Abbas Yousif (Bahrain), Basel Uraiqat (Jordan), Mohammed al-Hawajri (Palestine), Haitham Khatib (Syria) May Murad (Palestine), and Hassan Meer (Oman).  All of these works give voice to a variety of media and themes that are dominated by the refugee experience.

Manuel Lopez Oliva, Robert le Diable, Acrylic on Canvas, 2005

The other exhibition that compliments the extensive collection of work from the middle east, is the solo work of Manuel Lopez Oliva, a Cuban artist: Open Scene,whose acrylic work on canvas mesmerizes his viewer with an allegorical collection of figurative portraits that imbue the surface with small designs of shape, line and color.  The deep and usually dark earthy background color field most often sets the stage for a variety of female motifs.

Manuel Lopez Oliva, “Ornamental Discourse” Acrylic on Canvas, 2015

The artist was present for this exhibition and described the influence of growing up in Manzanillo, Cuba, where his father conducted workshops for people who participated in the decorations of making carnival masks. He relates to me the influence of the theater on him as a young boy, caught up in the “art of acting and stage design” where symbolism would abound and dominate the magical transformation of regular people into characters of color and light. I asked the artist about the snake-like motif that dominates much of the work, and he describes the shapes coming from the head as thoughts, and from the mouth, representing language, both in the abstract.

These masks, with a refined technique, reveal a sensual utopian aesthetic and provide a formal, chromatic, ideographic and textural intensity. Working out of his house-studio, he lives in Leonor Perez district among the streets of Havana, Cuba.

Manuel Lopez Oliva, “Seduction has a Mask”, Acrylic on Canvas, 2009

Manuel Lopez Oliva is a consulting professor at the Superior Art University and Art History Faculty of Havana University.  The exhibitions Open Scene and Mitli Mitlakare now on display at the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art and run through January 5, 2019.

Zacarias and Meyohas @ Wasserman Projects

Marela Zacarias: Coatlicue’s Return and Sarah Meyohas: Speculations

Installation view of Zacarias/Meyohas exhibition at Wasserman Projects.   All photo images: PD Rearick courtesy Wasserman Projects

In her recent talk at the College for Creative Studies, Mexican artist Marela Zacarias explained her shift from figurative mural painting to abstract sculpture.  While painting a scarf on a female figure in a commissioned mural, she realized she was much more interested in the abstracted folds and arabesque shapes of the scarf, and its relationship to the history of textiles and women, than in the figure she was painting. Up until then, Zacarias had been painting mostly murals. She explained that the social and political climate when she went to college, particularly at Kenyon College where she was in art school, led her to the political activism of painting murals. Ultimately she combined the sculptural abstract form inspired by textiles, as well as architecture, to create what are essentially abstract sculptural wall reliefs or murals, and unlike a mural, enwrap an object rather than use it as a support.

Marela Zacarias, “Coatlicue’s Return,” 2018, Acrylic on plaster and wire mesh, wood, and milk cartons, 74”x 74”x 74”

In keeping with her site-specific practice and her interest in Diego Rivera’s Industrial murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts, in creating “Coatlicue’s Return,” the title of her suite of sculpture/murals at Wasserman Projects, Zacarias researched Detroit’s material culture through its architecture, landscape and museum collections. She imbued her sculptures with objects and abstract painting that reference a few of Detroit’s monumental icons. Having grown up with and studied the Mexican Mural movement in Mexico she of course engaged with the Rivera’s Industry murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts. The center-piece then of “Coatlicue’s Return” is a large, free-standing undulating sculpture (enwrapping plastic milk crates, artefactual debris from Detroit life, and suggesting Coatlicue’s nurturing identity.) Composed of nine separate interlocking parts, symbolizing the myth of Coatlicue’s ultimate murder and dismemberment perhaps, they nest together like a puzzle. Referencing both the Aztec myth of the Coatlicue, the Earth/Mother goddess of both Creation and Destruction of Aztec culture, and Rivera’s painting of Coatlicue as an enormous anthropomorphized machine, that both creates (cars) and destroys (the worker). The abstract painting on the sculpture suggest Rivera’s decorative Aztec trim in his Detroit mural.

Marela Zacarias, “South Wall,” 2018, Acrylic on plaster and wire mesh, Detroit mirrorized window, 49” x 46” X 33”, “North Wall,” 2018, Acrylic on plaster, wire mesh, Detroit mirrorized window, 69” x 62” x 19”

Composed of wood and screen armatures, manually coated with plaster, Zacarias’ sensuous forms take shape through an arduous sculpting and sanding process. Before being painted, they already have a lively, biomorphic presence reminiscent of French surrealist sculptor Jean Arp. Stretching the definition of mural painting, Zacarias, drapes her sensuous forms over architectural details such as locally found window frames and objects like hanging tire swings, recovered from Detroit neighborhoods. Like Mexican women’s use of rebozos, which are lengthy, multipurpose fringed, shawls, employed during child birth and for nurturing and carrying their babies, the draping sculptures suggest the long association of women and draping textiles and by association, the creation of the world. In a sense, all of Zacarias’ sculptures are images of giving birth or of creating the world.

Two sculptures inspired by Rivera’s murals, “South Wall” and “North Wall,” have a very immediate sense of playfulness and giving birth. Both windows, recovered from Detroit’s landscape, have mirrors wrapped in Coatlicue’s birthing textiles, that reflect the beholder, implying that, even now, Coatlicue is at work creating us, the viewers. Both are painted in the respective palette of Rivera’s walls. On her explorations of Detroit, Zacarias visited the Guardian building, the Art Deco office building totally based on Mayan design elements. Painted with the graphic design and colors of the Guardian Building, the wall relief “The Guardian,” suggests the notion of a textile metamorphosing into that space.

Marela Zacarias, “The Guardian,” 2018, Acrylic on plaster and wire mesh, 47” x 40.5” x 15”

Bookending “Coatlicue’s Return” in the Wasserman Project galleries is New York artist Sarah Meyohas’ project, “Speculations,” which is, judging by her past artistic endeavors, driven by her engagement with the workings of the economy and the organization of the world’s trading and financial market. Once a student at the prestigious Wharton School of Business, her multimedia visual experiments are often beautiful, always slick, and uncertainly, critiques of the vagaries of time and money. “Speculations,” includes four tantalizing photographic images of mirror images reflecting mirror images of mirrors, and so on, into the darkness of infinity. Each photograph of the “Speculations” series is differentiated by an enticing decorative tableau, which is multiplied, and its attractiveness enhanced, by the mirrors. “Pink and Yellow Speculation,” 2015, reflects a coral colored wall into the darkness of infinity, the coral slowly darkening into black, into the unknown metaphorical future. Foregrounding the image is a branch of brilliant yellow flowers that tints the overall image and is magnified, and made even more enticing, by the repetition of the mirrors. Metaphorically, it could be a commentary on the aleatoric nature of financial speculation or specifically on the speculative and illusory nature of beauty and the art market. “Flaunt Speculation, 2018, is the same arrangement of mirrors but surrounded by, presumably, Meyohas own nude body enhanced, comically, by sprays of purple flowers. Most interesting is that in each of the “Speculation” series there is a slight offset to the mirrors, like a winding snake, which in the calculus of the interpolation, in following the arc of mirrors, would come back and bite the ass of the beholder.

Sarah Meyohas, “Pink and Yellow Speculation,” 2015, Framed Chromogenic Print, 91.75 x 61.75” x 2”

The piece de resistance of the whole exhibition is “Generated Petals Interpolation,” Meyohas’ video installation that employs an engaging room of mirrors and a mesmerizing, computer generated program of an evolving, ever changing grid of rose petals. Meyohas hired a pool of temp workers to pick through thousands of roses, picking the most “beautiful” from each bouquet and photographing a single petal from it. Those photographs were digitally entered into a computer and an algorithm created to select and create an infinite number and variety of petals that are projected onto the wall. The mirrored environment, like the fitting room at Nordstrom’s, reflects a room full of infinity and titillating, pulsating images of rose petals. Like the infinity of repeating images in the “Speculations” series, it suggests and tests the technological generation and replication of beauty and its economy of labor and production.

Sarah Meyohas, “Generated Petals Interpolation,” 2018, Video Production, mirrors.

While both Zacarias and Meyohas engage in a spectacular use of materials and technology there is an equal engagement with ideas formed with a kind of visual literacy (both live in and develop visual ideas) that suggests many compelling contemporary issues. Especially interesting is the engagement that each artist has with time. Meyohas’ images confront the nature of beauty through manipulated technology. In “Speculations” and “Generated Petals Interpolation,” the repetition of the imagery, creates its own seductive beauty in a warp of a circuitous infinity. Time becomes a dizzying and perplexing existential quandary. Zacharias employs a convincing and at once beautiful and frightening Aztec myth to explain the cosmic and local creation of everything.

Wasserman Projects: MARELA ZACARIAS: COATLICUE’S RETURN and SARAH MEYOHAS: SPECULATIONS, through December 15, 2018

 

 

Abstraction & Politics @ UMMA

Sam Gilliam, Situation VI—Pisces 4, ca. 1972, polypropylene painted multiform. Williams College Museum of Art Museum purchase, Otis Family Acquisition Trust and Kathryn Hurd Fund. Courtesy of Joseph Goddu Fine Arts, Inc., New York. © Sam Gilliam

Visitors stepping out of the University of Michigan’s Taubman Gallery (currently paying host to a punchy and politically-charged exhibition of art of the African diaspora) who then wander in to the adjacent show, Abstraction, Color, and Politics in the Early 1970s,will perhaps find themselves in a gallery space austere by comparison, containing four allusive abstract paintings and sculptures.  It’s a highly conceptual micro-exhibition comprising works by Helen Frankenthaler, Al Loving, Sam Gilliam, and Louise Nevelson.  In spite of the show’s title, as political statements, their significance isn’t self-evident (something perhaps tacitly acknowledged by the interrogative opening line of the show introductory text: Can abstract art be about politics and identity?), but what the artists in this tactfully assembled ensemble have in common is their defiant refusal to conform to the art-world’s expectations of what their art should be.

Viewers first encounter a geometric abstraction by Al Loving (one of Detroit’s own, though he later lived and worked out of New York City). Influenced in the 1970s by the hard-edge color squares of Josef Albers, Loving’s Bowery Morning is a simple yet disorienting network of shapes which could be read variously as an ensemble of polygons or cubes.  Loving created the work in 1971, the same year he participated in the Whitney Museum’s highly controversial Contemporary Black Artists in America, a show which acquired notoriety when fifteen artists withdrew to protest the decisions made by the show’s mostly white curatorial staff.  But conspicuous by its absence in Loving’s work was any commentary on the social or political issues of his day.

Al Loving, Bowery Morning, 1971, acrylic on canvas. Courtesy the Estate of Al Loving and Garth Greenan Gallery, New York.

The same could be said of the work of Sam Gilliam, who in the 1970s began experimenting with abstract fabric constructions (as Al Loving himself increasingly began to do). Inspired by seeing laundry hung out to dry, Gilliam liberated his canvasses from their wooden frames, transforming his paintings into fully sculptural objects which hung elegantly from the wall like giant curtains, sails, and banners, a contribution to Abstract Expressionism that occurred long before Frank Stella began producing his own sculptural paintings which burst from the wall and crashed into the viewer’s space.  Here, Gilliam’s attention-grabbing Situation VI-Pisces 4,an abstract painting displayed like a massive banner incised with with deep drapes and folds,nearly fills an entire gallery wall with a blaze of crimsons and yellows, and it’s hard not to consider this as the show’s visual centerpiece.

Sam Gilliam, Situation VI—Pisces 4 (detail), ca. 1972, polypropylene painted multiform. Williams College Museum of Art Museum purchase, Otis Family Acquisition Trust and Kathryn Hurd Fund. Courtesy of Joseph Goddu Fine Arts, Inc., New York. © Sam Gilliam

Directly across from Situation VI, Louise Nevelson’s stately and characteristically enigmatic Dark Presence seems subdued and restrained in comparison.  Dark Presence is exactly that, a mostly rectilinear scaffolding of individual wooden forms which, all painted black, coalesce into a unified whole.  A work by the second-generation Abstract Expressionist Helen Frankenthaler completes this ensemble.  Her Sunset Corner is a representative color-field painting applying her “soak-stain” method, for which she covered the canvass in nearly translucent washes of water-thin paint.

Abstraction and Politics is a challenging exhibition that certainly doesn’t patronize its patrons, and the political applications of these four works is admittedly difficult to find without the helpful explanatory text which introduces the show.  But what these diverse artists have in common is their shared refusal to adhere to expectations regarding what African-American art or Feminist-art (choose your hyphenation) ought to look like.  Nevelson’s works in particular– in part because of their imposing scale and subdued color– gleefully bucked pervading stereotypes of sculpture by women, even eliciting sexist reviews by stunned critics, incredulous that such work could be executed by a female.  The show’s theme certainly works if we view self-determination as a political act, and if we approach these artists’ defiant refusal to conform to expected narratives as a reaction against the cultural climate in which they lived, then it’s possible to view these works as an understated form of protest.  To borrow a phrase from Sylvia Plath: through their art these artists simply asserted their right to live and work on their own human terms.

University of Michigan Museum of Art   Abstraction and Politics –  Through September 29, 2019