Cynthia Greig @ Paul Kotula Projects

“Cynthia Greig: Sans Souci”

Installation view of “Cynthia Greig: San Souci,” Paul Kotula Project, all images courtesy of Cynthia Greig

We have been looking at Cynthia Greig’s elemental photographs for years now. We look at them for their elegant and deceptive simplicity and uncanny calm. She has choreographed complex, intriguing photographic projects that engage art history and manipulated narratives that parody the representation of gender construction and sexuality. Both her “Representation” and “Nature Morte” (Still Life) series, with their ghostly picturing of common objects (household fan, globe, coffee cups) and traditional still lifes (with fruit, wine glasses, books, flowers) befuddle our definition of painting and photography, while exuding a formal sensuality and intriguing beauty.

Cynthia Greig, “Gallery Horizons,” archival pigment prints, 14.5”X 22,” 2013

Her current project, “Cynthia Greig: Sans Souci,” at Paul Kotula Project, continues her interrogation of the institution of art, with images of the interiors of well-known art galleries. A series she refers to as “Gallery Horizons,” features five pictures of the intersecting seam of where the floor of the gallery meets the wall. One of the iconic features of contemporary galleries is their characteristic flat gray cement or shiny, polyurethane floors. The best background color for exhibiting art is commonly thought to be white, so art gallery’s walls are almost always white with gray or wooden floors. The museum or gallery is an idealized space for showing art that has evolved since the mid 19thcentury into the proverbial “white cube.” Since Alfred Barr curated the famous 1936 Museum of Modern Art exhibition, “Cubism and Abstract Art,” the white cube has been the model for the ritualized exhibition of art and the ritualized social space of art patrons. However, in Greig’s “Gallery Horizons,” photographed in many galleries the United States and Europe, the art has been erased. Invariably, the intersection of drywall or plaster and the cement floor is left unfinished, resulting in a jagged seam at the bottom of the wall. With only a portion of floor and wall shown the image becomes something else and, remarkably, the image appears to be like a horizon line of where the sky meets the earth or sea.

Exploring her Gallery Horizons, you look at a jagged fissure bordered by shades of gray and white, at figure-ground ambiguity. A photo is incomplete until the viewer engages and with Greig’s images the viewer is even more complicit because of the uncertainty of what is pictured. Ultimately a white wall meeting a floor is identified but each of the five photos suggest other readings specifically. They become enigmatic images of open spaces which evoke emotions contrary to the social construct of art galleries: rolling ocean wave beneath icy sky, jagged coastlines along the sea, barren farm fields with lonely village in the distance. The viewer has an option to either enter the fiction or resist.

There is in Greig’s photographic practice a subversive action to question the role of the gallery by looking elsewhere, at the other, instead of the subject, which in a gallery is art. Each of the Horizons is photographed in a specific gallery, with the name of the artists who are being exhibited identified, which creates a conceptual context. In this hyperbolic space where nuanced perception of images–artistic as well as the vanity of curating ourselves—are almost solely the issue, the absence is rupture. “The horizons” themselves are something else, not only do they become something other than floors with walls they are the thing that shouldn’t be looked at. The floor meets the wall beneath the subject that hangs on the wall. There is an aspect of surveillance and appropriation in her project. These are main stays of contemporary photographic practice and of course all of them challenge concepts of beauty but Greig accomplishes both a critique and sublime representations of the white cube simultaneously.

Cynthia Greig, “David Novros/Paula Cooper/ New York, 30.5”X44,” 2017

A related and more recent series is entitled “Threshold,” which are large scale prints of gallery interiors. An edition of five is included in the exhibition, and again, the “white cube” is depicted with people looking at blank, white walls. Greig has erased the art. Like the “Horizons,” the galleries in “Threshold” create an austere, existential landscape, with the inhabitants– real people looking at art– becoming like characters in a Samuel Becket, Theater of the Absurd play. They stand in quizzical postures, performing nonsensical actions and, one imagines, articulating one artistic “cliché” after another. The Paula Cooper print is particularly evocative of this existential script with a figure, wearing trousers that seem too short, standing in an epic sized space with images of art surrounding him in reflections on the floor. The idea that all photographs are unanswered questions is even more doubly true with Cynthia Greig’s “Gallery Horizons” and “Threshold,” because they pose the riddle of “what’s going on here?”

Cynthia Greig, “Replication (Galerie Thaddeus Ropac/Paris), 80.5”X32,” 2014/2018

To emphasize the discursive eye that Greig has on the art world she has included two actual sized replicas of a doorstop that she has appropriated from an art gallery. One is composed acrylic resin and the other of plaster, graphite and wax. She also had one fabricated out of crystal but it was not shiny enough so she went with plastic one instead. They sit on classic gallery pedestals and, like the “Gallery Horizons” and “Thresholds,” perform an enigmatic subversion of the ideals of most art galleries by celebrating a derelict object found behind a door of a gallery. And perhaps the most decorative intervention is “Replication (Galerie Thaddeus Ropac/Paris),” a manipulated image of a gallery staircase in Paris. Both the doorstop and the replication of the stunning backlit metal staircase function, as all of her incisive but brilliantly maneuvered work does, as startling and ironic components of the structure of the art world.

In addition to her photographic practice Greig has also experimented with videos. In “Sans Souci” she has included, “Museum Mandala/Detroit Institute of Arts 2017/2018,” a video that she made of visitor’s legs and feet ascending and descending a stairway at Detroit Institute of Arts. It is edited in a fast moving, almost musical, kaleidoscopic fashion and extends her intervention into the art world as material for her own art practice.

Cynthia Greig, “A.W.E./B.P. Los Angeles, 2015/2016, 1.25X6X1.25 inches

“Cynthia Greig: San Souci,” @ Paul Kotula Projects

April 14-June 2, 2018

 

 

Heloisa Promfret & Neha Vedpathak @ N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art

Heloisa Promfret & Neha Vedpathak Exhibition Installation image, 2018

There is definitely a synergy in the new exhibition at the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary art. These non-objective abstract works go beyond being executed by two female artists, working with unconventional material, approximately the same scale. The director of the Center fo Contemporary Art, George N’Namdi, is bringing together two artists that share a sensibility that involves an unexpected process. The exhibition opened April 13, 2018 with the work of Neha Vedpathak who works picking at Japanese paper and Heloisa Promfret who involves the palimpsest process where layers of paint are scratched to reveal paint beneath. The synergy that I speak of here is the juxtaposition of energy, both physical and psychological, creating work you cannot ignore.

Neha Vedpathak, Detroit, Plucked Japanese handmade paper, acrylic paint, thread, 70 x 68″ 2017

The large, 70 x 68” paper construction, titled Detroit, is layered in a way that allows for transparency to play a part in the composition.  Neha Vedpathak uses shades of yellow that surround this broken cross and dominates the interior.  She uses the term “plucking” when she picks the surface of the paper, appearing both solid and transparent, while occasionally using acrylic polymer for strength.

She says “I am drawn to paper, it is familiar, flexible and a giving natural material. I have been using Japanese hand-made paper in small parts in my paintings over the years. But since 2009 ”paper” has become the main focus of my investigation. After playing with this paper for a while, I developed a technique I call ‘plucking”. ”Plucking” is the main technique used in all my paper sculptures and installations. Here, I separate the fibers of the Japanese hand-made paper using a tiny pushpin. The resultant paper resembles a lace fabric, which I then use to make individual works.”

Neha Vedpathak, Hold Tight, Plucked Japanese handmade paper, acrylic paint, thread, 34 x 34″ 2018

The piece Hold Tight resembles a terrain map with colors differentiating borders of countries around a body of water.  Here the contrasts between solid and textured surfaces are more evident. The efflorescent paper delicately creates a latticework that draws the viewer close.

Heloisa Pomfret, Untitled (Threshold Series), Oil on Canvas, 34 x 39″ 2018

When first confronted with the work of Heloisa Promfret, as in Untitled, 34 x 39” this viewer gets a feeling of seeing the cross section of a walnut when cut in half using a band saw to reveal the interior design. But on closer observation there is a transformation from this first impulse to acknowledging a more mark-making technique that involves color and texture. In what she describes as her Threshold Series we see canvasses that are cut, re-stitched, and the paint is scratched with metal blades revealing the colors below.

She says “My work is about the energy, order and chaos that occurs during
psychological or physical stress, which serve as theoretical support to the mark-making and constructs of my work. The surface is often an analogy to the body and memory, in which experience occurs and is transformed. The visual elements of the brain, along with its scientific charting and diagrams, serve as inspiration and a starting point of abstraction for paintings/drawings and installations, in both traditional and non-traditional materials.”

Heloisa Pomfret, Clarity II (Threshold Series) Oil on canvas, 33 x 53″, 2018

In Clarity II there is a strong feeling of the feminine for this viewer, almost like an embryo in its early stage of development. The dominating symmetry is something we would find in nature, like a seed, plant or early development in an insect.  This flat high contrast image takes on a sense of three dimension using light and color to create a sculpted form. In addition, her work includes “Maps”, an installation of over 250 images cut from truck tire inner tubes.

Helosia Promfret’s work here, is called “Threshold”. She earned her MFA from Wayne State University in 2002.  Helosia Promfret was born in Soa Paulo, Brazil, lives and works in Detroit, Michgan.

Neha Vedpathak in her work called “Of The Land”.  She earned a five- year diploma in Fine Arts from Abhinav Kala Maha Vidhyala, Pune, India. She currently lives and maintains a studio in Detroit, Michigan.

These two solo shows will be on display at the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art through May 5, 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Al Held @ David Klein Gallery

Installation image of Al Held at David Klein with “Orion V,”1991, Acrylic on canvas,198”X192” and “Duccio VIII,” 1991, Acrylic on canvas, 108”X108”   Photography provided by Robert Hensleigh

 

In 1979 Detroit’s Cass Corridor art scene was thriving and, while he didn’t represent what was to become the iconic Cass Corridor aesthetic, Wayne State University painting professor John Egner was making interesting art. It was that year that he painted “Burnt Umber,” which eventually was purchased by then Director of the Detroit Institute of Art, Fred Cummings, and hung in the administrative offices of the Detroit Institute of Arts for a while before eventually hanging in the Modern Galleries. “Burnt Umber” is a monumental sized, stunning oil painting of almost spiritual implications, that bridges hard edge geometric abstraction and abstract expressionism with an interesting optical element as well. Incredibly energetic and busy, it was a unique painting for the Detroit art scene and was the centerpiece of Egner’s solo exhibition at the Susanne Hilberry Gallery. It was a very visible painting to all who lived in the Cass Corridor. It was in fact a painting that inspired poets to write poems and this poet to begin writing about painting.

Al Held, “Geocentric IV,” 1990, 96”X144” and “Scand III,” Acrylic on canvas, 72”96”

Walking into the Al Held exhibition at the David Klein gallery this week, it was overwhelming to experience the imposing presence of his geometric abstract painting, “Orion V,” 1991. Immediately reminiscent of Egner’s big painting of nearly 40 years ago in its monumentality (actually the same size) it is what a Renaissance painting is supposed to be and do. Like Egner’s it is awe inspiring.  Like the constellation Orion’s prominence in the night sky itself, the painting demands immediate attention and defies immediate description.  Of course, like the constellation the painting looks nothing like Orion the hunter, after whom it was named, but you make it fit because that is what Held called it. It is ripe with all manner of geometric shapes and perspectives—instead of angels, cherubs and saints, hollow cylinders looming out of a distant sky, a quixotic, puzzle-shaped plane of vibrant orange, concentric rings floating in imagined ether, a pure purple triangular wedge—in fact other than a distant blue sky-like back drop, the colors seem purposely mystifying and the composition is anything but modern. The acrylic paint is seamlessly laid on like powder-coating on a custom car.  Because of the strange, bottomless, topless, perspective the viewer is somehow disembodied amidst the gyre of movement in the painting. Held was inspired by the abstract formulations of Mondrian but because Mondrian was firmly planted on earth, with a stubborn horizon that wouldn’t let him escape, he eventually painted with horizontal and vertical lines. Inspired by Renaissance conceptions of the universe, Held was out in the universe where there is no up and down or in and out, and “Orion V” describes that.

Al Held, “Umbria XXIV,” 1992, watercolor on paper, 49”X 56 ½” and ”Primo V”, 1990, watercolor on paper, 49 3/16” X 57 ½”

Because of its title “Orion V” might be read metaphorically. It could be a celebratory image related to space travel, certainly prominent at the time, but, more likely it could simply be a secular version of the Renaissance vision. Defying famed art critic Clement Greenberg’s prescriptive ideas of flatness, “Orion V” thrives on and exhilarates in the illusion of deep space. It combines the minimalist elements of simple geometry with a hallucinatory landscape.

Another big canvas, “Geocentric IV,” 1990 is more readily grounded in nature, with an emerald green backdrop composed of hollow cylinders, cubes and triangles of heated up primary colors. With a title that sees the earth as the center of the universe, “Geocentric,” a confection of kitschy colors explodes this onslaught of primary forms, reductively standing in for the fundamental forms of nature. A tsunami of these primary forms seems to hurl toward us from a single point in the upper right hand corner. A collection of pinkish-brown cubes in the distant background serves as a substratum (earth?) for the foreground’s explosion of the primary forms. Held spent 1981-2 in Italy at the American Academy studying Renaissance painting and it could be that “Geocentric IV” is as close to a religious painting as he ever painted. Or perhaps more akin to a “Big Bang” Creation myth image, cascading, fluorescing red cubes join with brilliant blue cylinders surrounding a brilliant yellow triangle, cone and cube floating off into space. The classical compositions are unmistakable.

The remaining two paintings are also composed of a multicolored, seamlessly painted, arrangements of triangles, cubes and cylinders, and while they abound in hard-edged geometric shapes, there is a sense of an expressionistic energy behind their composition. There is a playfulness, then, in Held’s painting and brings with it a challenge to sort out perspective and the arrangement of shapes as if in a wilderness composed of a forest of forms.

The backrooms of the gallery include eight watercolors and a black and white painting. It is difficult to compare them to the acrylic painting but they are, it seems, from where the title of the exhibition, “Luminous Constructs,” is derived. Quite simply they exude light as if lit from within. “Umbria XXIV,” 1992, which probably takes its title from Held’s travels to Umbria, the magnificent Italian region of natural beauty and culture, is composed of a brilliant tangerine-orange, cruciform shape, constructed of various sized rectangular forms. The floor, the only reference to a built space in the exhibition, is emerald green and yellow checkered and the cruciform, has red, halo-like rings floating above and around it. The transparent glow of the watercolors give them an immediate, sketch-like or cartoon but sure-handed quality. Of course, the imagery of the forms are Held’s play on Christian iconography.

When John Egner was an entering art student at Yale University,  he was placed at Al Held’s interview table.  Egner told Held that he was there specifically to study with famed Abstract Expressionist Jack Tworkov.  Held called over to Tworkov’s desk and said “Hey Jack this one is for you.” Egner got up and went over to Tworkov for the interview.  Years later Egner told me, “I guess for many years at least if I was asked who was my favorite painter I would have replied “Al Held.” A little Detroit art history to go with a vibrant and rare view of an American master.

Al Held, “Victoria VIII,” 1991, watercolor on paper, 43 5/8” X 49 ¼” and “Plaza IV, 1993, watercolor on paper, 49 ¼”X63”

Al Held one-person exhibition at the David Klein Gallery through April 28, 2018

James Collins @ Simone DeSousa Gallery

Exploring the Tributaries

James Collins, Installation image, 2018

The Simone DeSousa Gallery opened an exhibition of work by James Collins on March 17, 2018, with a body of abstract paintings that exude both simplicity and complexity. A few of the paintings have an op art feel but not to their detriment, rather to their intrigue.

In these three paintings, Collins uses acrylic over a substrate made from clear vinyl shower curtains, and then uses a squeegee that he customizes from a rubber door sweep to apply the paint. He cuts notches in the rubber sweep that provide the line work he desires, using oil paint over the acrylic. He relies on the fact that oil and water do not mix. Therefore the oil and acrylic repel one another while still in their fluid state. It is a catalytic event as the different mediums repel each other momentarily. If the chemistry is off, and the painting does not work, it has to be destroyed, and he starts over. The extraordinary result is light, delicate and playful. What more could you ask for?

James Collins, Untitled, 60 x 48″, Media on Vinyl, 2018

In this 60 x 48” abstraction, the viewer can see the stretcher frame through the translucent shower curtain, but it is the dance with paint that draws us closer. It’s worth noting that these particular pieces leave us with an experience not well captured in an image, but come alive in person.

In the gallery statement about Collins work, it says, “Detroit-based artist James Collins is known for minimalist op art and abstract works that are created through a variety of imaginative processes that embody chemistry and chance. These processes create a spacious and gestural sense of predictable unpredictability. In his multidimensional line-heavy chance-based works, Collins applies a custom process in which oil paint and water-based acrylic interact in a fluid state and repel each other.

James Collins, Untitled, 60 x 48″, Mixed Media on Vinyl 2018

It’s the handling of and application of paint that conveys the spontaneity in Collins’ art. In this untitled orange-ish painting, the stretcher frame is even more exposed, intentionally. Each painting embodies an element of chance and little regarding the predetermined outcome. The artist’s goal is not solely to create new imagery but to coax the painting to life through the gestures in its making. In conversation, when I asked Collins about other artists he looks at with interest, he mentioned Bernard Frize, Wade Guyton and Jason Dodge.

James Collins, Four Untitled, each 20 x 16″, Mixed Media on Vinyl 2018

These square blue canvases are abstract fields of cloth imprints with oil paint. Each varies based on the type of rag or material used to create an impression. The consistent elements in these four paintings are the size and the color of paint, but the impressions are random patterns of folded cloth.

James Collins grew up in Superior, Wisconsin and lived in Minneapolis before moving to Detroit six years ago. He lives and works in the Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood, on the canal. If you find Superior on a map, water and open space abound pretty much in all directions. How much of that early life determines the unconscious foundation in an abstract artist? I am not sure, but this work is original, powerful and refreshing.

Collins has shown in a number of group exhibitions, including An Anonymous System at the Rogaland Kunstsenter in Stavanger Norway; A Painting Show at Simone DeSousa Gallery in Detroit; 99 cents or Less at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit; Summer Group Show and What Birds Can See at Document in Chicago, IL; New American Paintings at the Elmhurst Art Museum, Elmhurst, IL; On the Blue Shores of Silence at Tracy Williams Ltd., New York; FOG Design and Art with Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco; Library Street Collective, Detroit; Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts, Grand Rapids, Mich. and at the West Michigan Area Show, Kalamazoo, where he was awarded the Grand Prize in 2012.

Exploring the Tributaries, work by James Collins at the Simone DeSousa Gallery, runs through April 15, 2018.

 

 

 

Jim Cogswell @ University of Michigan Museum of Art

Digital study for Cosmogonic Tattoos Installation at UMMA and the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

Jim Cogswell, Digital study for Cosmogonic Tattoos, 2016. Courtesy of the artist

The images that comprise Jim Cogswell’s frieze-like mural Cosmogonic Tattoos are lyrical, fanciful, and, at times, utterly bewildering. Anthropomorphic Greek amphoras sprout legs and scurry about. A hybrid harp/boat ferries its unusual passengers – expressive, personified hands— across surging waves. And ancient-looking architectural structures rise and collapse in post-apocalyptic ruins.

Occasioned by the University of Michigan’s bicentennial, the university commissioned artist Jim Cogswell to create a set of murals celebrating the holdings of the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) and the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. Cogswell’s mural speaks to material exchange across cultures and the necessarily distorted histories and narratives that shape when artifacts are taken out of context and placed behind glass in museum environments. It’s an ambitious and highly conceptual cycle that manages to be both playful and cerebral.

 

“Cosmogonies,” Cogswell explains, “are our explanations for how our world came to be.”[i] His idea of a cosmogonic tattoo is sourced in the character Queequeg in Moby Dick, who bore a tattoo on his back depicting “a complete theory of the heavens and the earth, and a mystical treatise on the art of attaining truth.”[ii]   For this site-specific installation, Cogswell created hundreds of vinyl images based on his paintings of 250 objects from the holdings of the Kelsey and UMMA. Affixing them to the expansive horizontally-oriented first-floor windows of each museum, he created a frieze of images which tell an ambitiously sweeping narrative addressing the migrations of ideas, artifacts, and people.

The narrative begins on the windows of the Frankel Family Wing at the UMMA. A ship full of anthropomorphic hands (derived from paintings within the UMMA), sail across a sea in a boat toward a promontory, only to endure a series of apocalyptic natural disasters. Taking what few cultural artifacts they can carry, these travelers embark on foot to find a new home. By design, the narrative breaks, and viewers must cross State Street and traverse a block north to view the rest of the mural at the Kelsey.

Jim Cogswell, Boats and Hands, 2016. Image courtesy of the artist

Here, we see more figures on migratory journeys. Architectural structures on promontories are erected, only to be destroyed by natural forces and invasion. The figures, always on the move, carry more cultural artifacts with them, and they themselves even metamorphose into complex mash-ups of disparate elements borrowed from multiple cultures: a Roman female torso sports the head of a goose derived from a Greek wine jug, for example. The narrative is like a obius strip, and ends with migrants on the move. Cogswell didn’t conceive of the Kelsey as a destination, but rather a “roundabout,” ultimately channeling the narrative—and the viewer—back toward the UMMA.

Every character, prop, and setting in this unfolding drama comes directly from Cogswell’s digital renderings of his paintings of artifacts at the Kelsey and the UMMA. But, like Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel, Cogswell’s images synthesize disparate elements from vastly different sources. A Greek kylix becomes the satellite dish on a radio tower, for example, and the radiating concentric rings of an Egyptian necklace becomes its transmission signals. Greek amphoras sprout wings derived from decorative Roman architectural elements. The seemingly random combination of elements calculatedly speaks to the mutability of cultural artifacts and their subjective meanings.

Jim Cosgwell, Study for Cosmogonic Tattoos, Working on site, Image courtesy of the Levi Stroud

While this sprawling horizontal collage of images seem utterly haptic, every element of the mural was impressively thought-out. For example, a rendering of Greek portrait bust from Cyprus is wittily placed on a window pane right behind the actual portrait bust itself. Like Cogswell’s own mash-ups, the bust reflects visual elements from multiple cultures (Greek and Egyptian), and even obliquely addresses migration: while the Mycenean culture declined, refugees from the mainland settled in Cyprus.

Jim Cogswell,  Study for Cosmogonic Tattoos, Working on site, Image courtesy of the Levi Stroud

Cosmogonic Tattoos worthily aims to make us consider the histories of objects across space and time, and their ever-changing meanings. The British Museum’s Elgin Marbles, as a case in point, would certainly carry different associations for visitors from London than visitors from Athens. And these contemporary associations would contrast vastly from the pride and patriotism that an ancient Athenian would have felt, gazing on the same marbles in situ, wrapping, as they once did, around the Parthenon. Furthermore, America’s current changing views toward monuments to the Confederacy suggests that such change can occur even within a culture, and rapidly at that.

Admittedly, Cogswell’s mural cycle, while certainly visually engaging, might be prohibitively cryptic to anyone unfamiliar with the artist’s statement of intent and the helpful explanatory essays in the exhibition catalog (itself nicely produced and beautifully illustrated). But perhaps there’s a certain poetry to that, as it rather nicely underscores Cogswell’s metanarrative concerning the mutability of images and their meanings.

Jim Cogswell, Woman Duck,  Study for Cosmogonic Tattoos, 2016, shellac ink and graphite on mylar. Image courtesy of the artist

[i] Cogswell, Jim, et al. Jim Cogswell : Cosmogonic Tattoos. University of Michigan, 2017.

 

University of Michigan Art Museum