Fall Exhibitions 2017 @ BBAC

The Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center kicked off its 2017 fall season with exhibitions in all of its galleries, highlighting painting, sculpture, photography and ceramic work.

Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center, exterior, 2017

For a non-profit that was established in 1957, the BBAC continues to connect people of all ages with art from every part of the Detroit Metro Area.  These new exhibitions in all the galleries are good examples of how they provide venues for a large variety of artists.

The current exhibition in the large central gallery is an exhibition titled Simultaneous Contrast and illustrates how differently two artists approach figure painting. It is interesting that both artists came from the L’Anse Creuse High School program under the instruction of Ken Hoover during the early 1970’s and then went on to pursue their different paths in visual art. 

Christine A. Ritchie, Primary Passage VI, Oil on Canvas, 36 x 60″

In her painting Primary Passage VI, Ritche demonstrates her interest in process and the intrinsic qualities in oil paint where she delivers a loose abstract expressionistic interpretation of the figure(s). The surface, the brush-stroke action, and the moment, characterizes the way she renders the human form. Supported by strong gestural drawing the painting successfully communicates movement.  She says in her statement, “My work with the figure has been ongoing and is related to my interest in the qualities of figurative movement and the idea that there is a “shared” sense of the human figure moving through space that creates a “felt” or identifiable rhythm that belongs to and is uniquely recognized.” 

For this writer, the artist came along at a time when influences from the 1960’s, artists like Arshile Gorky and Willem de Kooning, were taking the art world by storm, supported by New York critics, Clement Greenburg and Harold Rosenberg.  But the language of painting the human figure as been with us since the art work done in the prehistoric caves of Dordogne, France and will be with us for some time to come. Christine A. Richie holds a MFA in Painting from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY where she lived and worked for 23 years before returning to a studio in Detroit.

Kip Kowalski, IGGNOIRANTS, Oil on Canvas, 30 x 38″

The contrast to Richie’s work is the Picassoesque figurative paintings by Kip Kowalski is dramatic, hence the title of the show, Simultaneous Contrast.  These satirical figure paintings incorporate a kind of surrealistic still life component. In the oil on canvas, IGGNOIRANTS, Kowalski dishes up a surreal one-eared female figure, a pear and a dead bird on a string with abstract elements in the wand and background.  He says in his statement, “My work is an audacious and blasphemous satire of human ignorance and apathy that confronts the absurdities I find in contemporary religious beliefs.  I tackle the biblical lore that is celebrated as fact over the findings of empirical science, such as the denial that evolution is real. My work is also a reaction to the pervasive attitude in many secular and non-secular societies, including our own, that women are the lesser gender.”  

Kowalski’s paintings are grotesque at times as he admits, in that it may cause uneasiness to the viewer.  Are these visual distortions metaphors for the imperfections in our anatomy?  In the end, most people have a visceral reaction to viewing a work of art as opposed to the intellect, directing them to say either I like that, or not for me.  I find myself going back to Picasso in this work, whose painting from the mid-1930’s, especially the women seated series, remind me that he was the most prodigally gifted artist of the twentieth century. So when viewing Kowalski’s work, I make an effort to see his measure of detachment, perhaps even skepticism that results in a form of intrigue.  Kip Kowalski graduated from The Center for Creative Studies with a BFA and maintains a studio in the Detroit area.

Russ Orlando, Modifiers, B&W Photographic image

In the Robinson Gallery, the work of Russ Orlando combines sculptures, collages, totems and a row of photographic self-portraits that portrays this artist as having a variety of interest in media and execution. The row of black and white photographs are self-portraits that stand together as one piece and seems to this writer to be theatrical in nature and not part of a body of photographical work. 

He says in his statement, “When I start a work, I tend to gather materials that I find may be useful to me. When combining the materials, I try not to make much sense out of my choices for fear of being too rational.  In the end, the work should serve as only a stopping point, prompting many questions but leaving them unanswered.”  

Russ Orlando, Untitled, Slip Cast Porcelain, Gold Leaf, and metal stand.

The Untitled work of these three birds, slip cast porcelain, with the interior of gold leaf is interesting, assuming they are not commercially made and altered, which would make them found objects. The base height seems right, but I would prefer more attention is made to the base’s top material: not plywood, but stone, or glass. Perhaps these works are like the artist says, stopping points, prompting many questions, but leaving them unanswered.  Born in Detroit in 1964, Russ Orlando received his Bachelor of Fine Arts from Wayne State University, Detroit and his Master of Fine Arts from Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, MI.  As part of his Kresge recipient statement he says his work is informed by the lure of the sell, shaped from his many years as an advertising agency art director. His sculptures and performances-which he calls experiences-often employ his body as a flash point for social criticism and a viewer’s self-examination.

Rosemarie Hughes, House of Homage, Encaustic, Photo Transfer on Wood Panel

The BBAC has a Ramp Gallery that currently has the work of Rosemarie Hughes.  The smaller and more intimate work is base on a theme, The Home. In her statement she says, “My art is based on the idea of a home. I strive to create work that draws the viewer to take a closer look.”   Originally from the Detroit area, Rosemarie has lived and studied in Austin, San Francisco and London. She received a BFA and MA in photography but her passion for working with textures and a variety of materials ultimately led to her identifying as a mixed media artist.  She currently resides in the Detroit area where she divides her time between her studio and working as a licensed massage therapist.

The Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center is a model for communities through out the region to visit and learn how a non-profit can enrich their citizenry by offering classes, workshops, and exhibitions.

Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center 

Epicenter X @ Arab American National Museum

Exterior, The Arab American National Museum, Dearborn Michigan, 2017, All images courtesy of the AANM

Epicenter X is a small exhibition, but as the Michigan’s first significant show of contemporary art from Saudi Arabia, it carries some cultural weight. Featuring works by 20 emerging and mid-career artists, this traveling show, supported by Saudi Arabia’s newly established King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, has already worked its way through six other venues as it travels across the country; future stops include New York and Washington D.C. Through October, Epicenter X can be viewed at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, a city famously home to the nation’s largest concentration of Arab Americans.

In the exhibition catalogue, Devon Akmon, director of the AANM and curator of the show, writes that although Saudi Arabia is a crucial ally of the United States in the Arab World, little is known in America about its people or its culture. Redressing this, Epicenter X seeks to challenge stereotypes of Arab culture by amplifying the voices of contemporary Saudi artists with a particular emphasis on the exploration of “urbanization, globalization, religion and the impact of American popular culture in Saudi society.”

Ahmed Angawi, Wijha 2:148 – And everyone has a direction to which they should turn, 2013, Digital Lenticular Print mounted on Aluminium

The exhibition features photography, graphic design, performance, video, sculpture, and painting, frequently delivering traditionally Arabic forms (particularly calligraphy) through modern media. While much of the art on view is clearly rooted in hundreds of years of Arabic visual culture, other works are emphatically contemporary, making conceptual, politically-charged statements on current issues like immigration, Guantanamo Bay, or the 2011 Arab Spring (its reverberations still echoing in Syria today).

Qamar Abdulmalik’s Asylum of Dreams, for example, presents viewers with a functional mechanical-claw arcade game filled, not with toys or plush animals, but passports from several dozen countries; they’re teasingly on display, yet, like political asylum itself, frustratingly unattainable for many people. The work is a poignant metaphor of the plight of those with no state-established identity– people who, as Abdulmalik movingly states, “are homesick but have no place to be homesick for.”

Qamar Abdulmalik, Asylum of Dreams, 2017, Crane Machine installation with printed passports

Similarly addressing a serious issue with understated humor is Musaed Al Hulis’ Ideologies for Sale, a vegetable cart ironically equipped with a prominent mihrab, the ornamental architectural element found in any mosque which indicates the direction of Mecca, toward which all the world’s Muslims pray. In this wry juxtaposition of a fixed point with a mobile pushcart, Al Hulis criticizes “cheap ideologies, seasonal beliefs, and lack of direction…toying with compliant minds, solely in the pursuit of power, supremacy and profit.”

Musaed Al Hulis, Ideologies for Sale, Mixed Media on Wood, 2013

Many works on view inventively translate traditional Arabic culture into a 21st century visual language, such as Nugamshi’s visually hypnotic “calligraffiti.” There’s a calligraphic work created on site in the show’s primary exhibition space, but a video on the AANM’s second level shows the artist at work on other projects, and his process is thoroughly mesmerizing. Nugamshi spreads canvass on the ground and enacts a sort of dance with a large paint-loaded brush (which looks like a broom), which he gracefully swoops across the canvass in rapid strokes while somehow maintaining absolute control over the subtle variations in the value and thickness of each calligraphic swipe. The result is something which has both the curvaceous elegance of traditional Arabic script and the raw intensity and large scale of street graffiti.

While Epicenter X is intimate in scale, there’s an impressive variety of media and diversity of participants (among the artists include a dentist, an architect, and a Facebook developer). The show comes with a helpful complimentary exhibition catalogue (available online), itself easily worth the $8 price of admission, but to get the most from the experience, perhaps time your visit to correlate with the culinary walking tours the AANM offers of the surrounding markets. Many of us too often treat the pan-Arabic world as a monolith, and in adding even just a bit of nuance and texture to our understanding of Arab culture, this show fosters increasingly-necessary cross-cultural dialogue, and serves its purpose well.

Arab American National Museum

 

 

 

A Day @ the Rijksmuseum

Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands, 2017 Image courtesy of John Lewis Marshall

You may have been to Amsterdam and visited the Rijksmuseum, but if not, here are some highlights from my visit on the way to Venice, Italy this past summer. I have seen artwork from this museum for many years, usually at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Frick Collection in New York City, or at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. and always as part of a specially curated exhibition. But it’s not until you see all these paintings together, in person, that you fully appreciate the collection of Dutch masters and various acquisitions.

Rijksmuseum, Eregalrij, Image courtesy of Erik Smits

The Rijksmuseum first opened its doors in 1800 as Nationale Kunstgalerij. At the time, it was housed in Huis ten Bosch in The Hague. The collection mainly comprised paintings and historical objects. In 1808, the museum moved to the new capital city of Amsterdam, where it was based in the Royal Palace on Dam Square. After King Willem I’s accession to the throne, the paintings, and national print collection were moved to the Trippenhuis on Kloveniersburgwal, in 1885, while the other objects were returned to The Hague.

The Trippenhuis proved unsuitable as a museum. Work on a new building did not commence until 1876, after many years of debate. The architect, Pierre Cuypers, had drawn up a historic design for the Rijksmuseum, which combined Gothic and Renaissance styles. The design was not generally well received; people considered it too medieval and not Dutch enough. The official opening took place in 1885.

Johannes Vermeer, View of Houses in Delft, Oil on Canvas, 1660

The reputation of Johannes Vermeer (1632-75) rests upon a relatively small number of paintings, all of which represent a remarkable 17th-century Dutch master whose themes depict the events of daily life in the city of Delft, his birthplace and home. In his images, Vermeer conveys values rich in meaning that have fascinated viewers for centuries. In this unusual painting, View of Houses in Delft, we see a remarkable portrait of ordinary houses. The old walls with their bricks, whitewash, and cracks are almost tangible. Vermeer’s aunt lived in the house on the right with her children until her death in 1670.

Johannes Vermeer, The Milkmaid, Oil on Canvas, 1660

What can possibly be so special about a milkmaid pouring milk, entirely absorbed in her work? But this is perhaps one of the strongest works in Vermeer’s oeuvre. Except for the stream of milk, everything else is still. The maid stands like a statue in the brightly lit room, as hundreds of colorful dots play over the surface of his objects. The signature of window light cast from the left side will be used in many paintings, creating the strong three-dimensional quality of his figures.

Johannes Vermeer, Woman in Blue Reading a Letter, Oil on Canvas, 1663

Perhaps in no other painting did Vermeer create such an intricate counterpoint between the structural framework of the setting and the emotional content of the scene as in Woman in Blue Reading a Letter. Vermeer places the woman in the exact center of his composition, her form fully visible between the table and the chair. These structural elements are a kind of geometric framework to restrict any kind of movement, while the overall scene alludes to emotional intensity that causes the viewer to wonder what is the content of that letter. Is she expecting a child?

Rembrandt van Rijn, Night Watch, Oil on Canvas, 1642

Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-69) was a Dutch draughtsman, painter, and printmaker. An innovative and prolific master in three media, he is generally considered one of the greatest visual artists in the history of art and the most important in Dutch art history. Rembrandt’s masterpiece, the Night Watch, is a group portrait of a company of Amsterdam militiamen in the civic guard, painted in 1642 to be located in the guild headquarters. His depiction of the militiamen in action was quite exceptional: until then, the sitters in such group portraits were shown either standing or sitting stiffly next to one another. He used light to emphasize important details, such as the captain’s hand gesture and the girl in the pale dress. The size of this oil on canvas is 142 x 172 inches, and the painting was completed in 1642, at the peak of the Dutch Golden Age.

Rmabrandt van Rijn, Self-Portrait as the Apostle Paul, Oil on Canvas, 1661

Throughout his life, Rembrandt painted many self-portraits. Here is his Self-portrait as the Apostle Paul, 1661, his brow furrowed and eyebrows arched; he peers out with a meaningful view. He has portrayed himself as the Apostle Paul, who was recognized at the time by the attributes of sword and manuscript. Rembrandt renders the light on the turban, forehead and a book, using heavily modeled brushstrokes.

Rembrandt van Rijn, Monk;s Habit, Oil on Canvas, 1660

Rembrandt portrayed his son, Titus, in Monk’s Habit, with downcast eyes, wearing Franciscan monk headwear. The rules of this monastic order prescribed the life of poverty and humility. Reflective is the coarse robe and the introspective gaze on his son’s gaunt face.

Rembrandt van Rijn, The Wardens of the Amsterdam Drapers’ Guild, Oil on Canvas, 1662

The syndics inspected the quality of dyed cloth in Amsterdam. In the work The Syndics, Rembrandt portrayed them looking up from their work, as though disturbed by the viewer’s arrival. This artistic device was a clever way of enlivening the scene and thereby involving the viewer. This late work, 1662, not only attests to his endless creativity, but also to his undiminished popularity among his patrons. It’s the scale of these larger works by Rembrandt that you only experience in person at the museum.

Karel Dujardin, The Regents of the Spinhuis, Oil on Canvas, 1669

Who taught artist Karel Dujardin (1626-1678) is no longer known: it may have been Nicolaes Berchem or Paulus Potter. Besides his Italian landscapes, Dujardin also painted portraits and historical scenes in neo-Classical style—smooth, elegant and colorful—and died at an early age in Venice. Here in The Regents of Spinhuis, a servant bringing a letter interrupts a meeting. The other five men are the regents of the Amsterdam Spinhus, or better known as the female house of correction. The women imprisoned there for theft or begging spent most of their days spinning yarn.

Michel-Martin Drolling, View of the Gardens of Villa Medici, Oil on Paper on Canvas, 1811

Michel-Martin Drolling (1789-1851) began painting under the supervision of his father, the painter Martin Drolling. He later studied with Jacques-Louis David. For The Wrath of Achilles, he won the Prix de Rome in 1810. The following year he went to Rome where he lived in the Villa Medici, which housed the French Academy where many Dutch artists also studied. In this work, View of the Gardens of Villa Medici, 1816, he painted a view of the manor’s grand gardens, with the Villa Borghese in the distance and can still be seen today.

Cesar Boetius van Everdingen, Girl in a Large Hat, Oil on Canvas, 1645

Cesar van Everdingen (1616-78)   was born in Alkmaar and educated in Utrecht, where he learned to paint from Jan Gerritsz van Bronckhorst. Cesar became a member of the painter’s guild in Alkmaar in 1632. He joined the Haarlem Guild of St. Luke and the civic guard, where he met Jacob van Campen. In this work by Everdingen, Girl in a Large Hat, we see a young woman with her exotic, broad-brimmed sun hat and suggestively exposed shoulder offer the viewer her basket with fruit. Many of van Everdingen’s works are seen in the museums and private houses of the Netherlands, with several on display at the Stedelijk Museum Alkmaar.

Francisco de Goya, Portrait of Don Ramon, Oil on Canvas, 1823

The tempestuous works of Francisco de Goya (1746-1821) distinguish him as the most important Spanish painter of his time. Having survived an unknown illness that left him deaf and witnessed the atrocities committed during Napoleon’s occupation, which are hauntingly portrayed in the mass execution of Spanish civilians in The Third of May 1808, Goya went on to create some of his most somber, chilling images with his late “Black Paintings,” which were painted directly onto the walls of his home. Goya influenced numerous artists, including Pablo Picasso in the creation of his masterpiece Guernica.

Image of the renovation Rembrandt’s “Night Watch” , right, at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, April 13, 2013, Image courtesy Iwan Baan

The most recent renovation at the Rijksmuseum was completed in April, 2013, which reinstated the original Cuypers structure. The building works in the courtyards were removed. Paintings, applied art and history are no longer displayed in separate parts of the building, but form a single chronological circuit that tells the story of Dutch art and history. The building was thoroughly modernized, while at the same time restoring more of the original interior designs.

Maybe it’s obvious, but for artists working today, looking at art from earlier decades or centuries can provide insight into the basic aesthetics that never change. I would compare it to music or literature, in that when you hear a Chopin Sonata or see a play by Shakespeare there is something that can resonate with all people and make a difference within our human condition, regardless of time and place. The exposure to this experience can enrich our quality of life and motivate us to contribute to the creative endeavor.

The Detroit Institute of Arts collection is among the top six in the United States, with about 66,000 works. Among notable acquisitions are Mexican artist Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry fresco cycle, which Rivera considered his most successful work, and Vincent van Gogh’s Self-Portrait, the first Van Gogh painting to enter a U.S. museum collection. My visit to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam was just an extension to my many visits to our own DIA. They have a new web site, if you haven’t noticed, https://www.dia.org

 

Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Netherlands 2017

Butter Projects @ Wasserman Projects

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

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

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

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

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

Loren Erdrich, Firecracker, Raw organic pigments on paper

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

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

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

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

Sophie Eisner, Soft and Heavy, Mixed Media

Shane Darwent, Joseph’s Garden, Mixed Media

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

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

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

 

 

Detroit Institute of Arts & Charles Wright Museum Collaborate on 1967 Rebellion Exhibitions

 

From Left to Right – Patrina Chatman, Curator of collections and exhibitions, Charles Wright Museum of African American History, Valerie J. Mercer, Curator of African American art and head of the General Motors Center for African American Art, Detroit Institute of Arts, Kathy Locker, Program director/Detroit, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Juanita Moore, President and CEO, Charles Wright Museum of African American History and Salvador Salort-Pons, Director Detroit Institute of Arts.

Art of the Rebellion and Say It Loud are coordinating exhibitions to commemorate 50 years since July 23, 1967, when African Americans took to the streets of Detroit to express their anger and frustration with the injustice of law enforcement. To many people, and supported by the then media establishment, the events on 12 Street and Clairmount were conventionally referred to as the Detroit Riots, both in Detroit, Southeastern Michigan and around the country. Over the course of five days, more than 2000 buildings were destroyed, 7,200 people were arrested, 43 people killed and over 1,100 injured.

Jim Hubbard, Woman Sitting on Ledge, 13 x 19 B&W 35mm 1967

At the DIA, African American Art Curator Valerie Mercer explains that a number of the 34 works on display emerged from black art collectives that in some cases aimed to instruct a community whose self-identity was in rapid flux. “Harlem’s Weusi collective felt we African-Americans needed to learn more about African culture,” Mercer said, “which is hard for us, since it’s typically not taught in schools.”

Salvador Salort-Pons, DIA director said, “The commemoration of the 1967 Detroit rebellion provides an opportunity to call attention to the talented and often overlooked artists who were reacting to the struggle for social, political and racial justice during the 1960s and 70s. The DIA’s collaboration with the Wright Museum lays a foundation from which we are building a strategic and lasting working relationship that will help bring our community closer together.”

Wadsworth Jarrell, Three Queens, Acrylic on Canvas, 1971

At the Detroit Institute of Arts, Art of Rebellion features 34 paintings, sculptures and photographs mostly by African American artists working both collectively and independently in the 1960s and 70s. Artists in the collectives: Spiral, Kamoinge Workshop, Harlem’s Weusi, AfriCobra, and Black Arts Movement, created art for African American audiences that asserted black identity and racial justice with the Detroit rebellion of 1967 as background. The exhibition also includes works by artists who were not part of a collective and artists working in later decades who were inspired by art from the Civil Rights Movement.

Wadsworth Jarrell, Revolutionary, Acrylic on Canvas 1972

The work of Wadsworth Jarrell is prominent in the DIA exhibition in that it captures a color depiction of African American figures using a kind of alphabet soup to communicate a variety of literary messages. Wadsworth Jarrell is an African-American painter, sculptor, and printmaker who was born in Georgia then moved to Chicago, Illinois, where he attended the Art Institute of Chicago. He is a founding member of AfriCOBRA, a collective of African American artists formed in Chicago in 1968 as a response to the Civil Rights Movement. Its members inspired black pride by exploring and defining a black visual aesthetic that would reflect the style, colors, cool attitude and rhythm associated with their culture. AfriCOBRA artists focused on the social and political issues that affected their communities and were committed to making art that was understandable, relevant and accessible.

Allie McGee, Apartheid, Mixed Media on Masonite, 1984

Detroit artist Allie McGee, whose work is represented by the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, is featured with a large abstraction, Apartheid. The work highlights his use of angular shapes and splatters of paint to evoke tension. McGee often used sticks in place of brushes to obtain the effect he wanted. The title refers to the oppressive political system that existed in South Africa. The Civil Rights and Black Power movements inspired many African American artists to address the fight for civil rights faced right here in Detroit.

Norman Lewis, Untitled (Alabama), Oil on Canvas 1967

The outline of a hooded Klansman near the center of this painting converges with sharp angles suggests tension. The title Alabama was code for the complicity of that state’s government in the oppression of African Americans throughout the community. Strong composition and the black and white motif further supports the overall symbol in this oil-on-canvas work.

Elizabeth Catlett, Homage to Black Women Poets, Mahogany, 1984

Elizabeth Catlett’s wooden sculpture Homage to Black Woman Poets is carved from one piece of Mahogany and pays tribute to black women poets, such as Gwendolyn Brooks, Jikki Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez and Maya Angelou. Catlett is widely recognized as a contemporary sculptor known for her focus on women subjects.

Titus Kaphar, For Tryvon, Amadou, Sean, and Mike, Calk on Asphalt, 2014

The Chalk on Asphalt drawing by Titus Kaphar in 2014 brings the recent events across the country into the narrative that exists today. The images depict three black boys, perhaps those who were lost to injustice and informs the audience that the events surrounding a young black man like Trayvon Martin live on inside each and every one of our consciences.

The Charles Wright Museum partnered with the Detroit Institute of Arts to create parallel exhibitions — the DIA’s Art of Rebellion: Black Art of the Civil Rights Movement opened on the same day as Say It Loud. Both are part of a community-wide reflection of the 1967 Detroit Rebellion. More than 100 local institutions will participate in this commemoration, led by the Detroit Historical Museum. The Charles Wright Museum began its remembrance of this complicated and painful historical experience with the unveiling of Detroit artist Charles McGee’s landmark outdoor sculpture United We Stand at the Museum in July 2016. The Detroit Art Review covered that event, and I spoke with McGee, a fellow artist with whomI exhibited more than once. He said, “It’s about togetherness…living together in peace.”

“Artists have a way of bringing moral clarity and promoting empathy,” said Juanita Moore, president and CEO of The Wright Museum. “They can often articulate the emotional truth of a situation in a way that breaks through our mental barriers and opens us to new perspectives in a way that other forms of communication cannot. This new exhibit will both show how some of the most significant African American visual artists have interpreted and resisted social inequities over time, and broaden the historical narrative and dialogue around the 1967 Rebellion.”

Gordon Parks, Police State, B&W, 35mm, 13 x 19″ 1997

Born in Fort Scott Kansas, at the age of 25, Gordon Parks was struck by photographs of migrant workers in a magazine. He bought his first camera for $7.50 at a Seattle pawnshop and taught himself how to take photos. He started in the fashion industry, but Parks went on to become the first African-American photographer for Life and Vogue magazines. Parks once said, “People in millenniums ahead will know what we were like in the 1930s and the important major things that shaped our history at that time. This is as important for historic reasons as any other.” In this photo Police State, the image is more about capturing a moment that delivers a blunt and literal statement to his audience.

Roko, The King of Montgomery, Oil on Canvas, 28 x 38″ 1988

This mixed media painting by the artist Roko comes from a mug shot of Martin Luther King, one of many, taken by police departments during the Civil Rights period. Known nationally for his dramatic portraits, Roko relies on deep colors and black line to capture the downtrodden state of his subjects. As part of this exhibition, it is well known that Dr. Martin Luther King led Marches in Detroit, such as the Walk to Freedom March down Woodward Ave, in 1963, the precursor to his “I Have a Dream” speech at the Washington Monument just two weeks later. It drew crowds of an estimated 125,000 or more making it “the largest civil rights demonstration in the nation’s history” at that time.

Senghor Reid, Broadcast News, Mixed Media 1971

Detroiter Senghor Reid develops paintings that explore the connections between culture, art and social sciences as in his work “Broadcast News,” with its black-stenciled letters on bright yellow background or “The ’67 Riot Did Not Take Place.” Since he was born in 1976, maybe for him, these events did not take place. He earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and a Master in Art Education from Wayne State University. A recipient of the prestigious ArtServe Michigan Governor’s Award for an Emerging Artist in 2001, Reed was a Kresge Artist Fellow Recipient in 2009.

Postscript

On Monday morning, July 24, 1967, I remember being notified to leave work and go home until further notice. Some people had heard about an overnight disturbance in Detroit, but it wasn’t until I got home that I saw the news stories on our black and white TV. ABC news anchor Bill Bonds was reporting live on a civil disturbance near Clairmount and 12th Street that had broken out when police raided an unlicensed after-hours bar on the city’s west side. When I was allowed to return to work the following Friday I was surrounded by jokes from  fellow white suburbanites.  I remember being ashamed and disgusted by these pathetic displays. I had no true sense of what was going on then, but now I realized that although there was blatant racism on both sides of my extended families, my parents had met as professional dancers and worked with artists of all persuasions. These people were made up of all races and sexual orientation. Many lived in my home from time to time during my formative years of high school.

At the time, I didn’t understand the true depth of what happened that summer, but it came to form the foundation of my values as a grown man: All people were created equal, and to quote Martin Luther King, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Art of Rebellion has been generously supported by the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan and the Whitney Fund.

Say It Loud is the recipient of a prestigious Knight Arts Challenge Detroit grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Detroit Institute of Arts

Charles Wright Museum