Romare Bearden @ N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art

Installation image, N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, All images courtesy of the Detroit Art Review

Black History Month during February is an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing the central role of blacks in U.S. history, a story that begins in 1915, half a century after the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in the United States. It was in September, the Harvard-trained historian Carter G. Woodson and the prominent minister Jesse E. Moorland founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), an organization dedicated to researching and promoting achievements by black Americans and other peoples of African descent.

George N’Namdi’s Center for Contemporary Art opens this new exhibition in celebration of the work of Romare Bearden, an African-American artist renowned for his collages and photomontages, a technique he began to experiment with in the 1950s, establishing his reputation as a leading contemporary artist.

Romare Bearden, Cora’s Morning, Collage and Watercolor, 11 x 14, 1986

Although influenced by modernists such as Henri Matisse, Bearden’s collages also derived from African-American slave crafts such as patchwork quilts and the necessity of making artwork from whatever materials were available. In this exhibition, he uses images from mainstream pictorial magazines such as Look and Life, and black magazines such as Ebony and Jet. Bearden inserted the African-American experience, its rich visual and musical production, and its contemporary racial strife and triumphs, into his painted collages, thus expressing his belief in the connections between art and social reality. Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso introduced collage into the modernist vocabulary. As a result, Bearden located a methodology that allowed him to incorporate much of his life experience as an African American, from the rural South to the urban North and on to Paris, France.

Romare Bearden, Salome with the Head of John the Baptist, 35 x 29″, 1974

From a series of prints called the Prevalence of Ritual, Bearden reconfigured age-old stories as allegories of modern life. In John the Baptist he drew on the biblical story of Salome, who had performed a dance for King Herod that so pleased him he offered to grant anything she might ask. At her mother’s urging the young girl requested the head of John the Baptist, who had spoken out against her mother’s marriage to the king. The masklike heads of the figures in John the Baptist blend West African and Egyptian visual traditions with a narrative about vengeance and naïveté.

Romare Beraten, Mecklenburg Memories, Collage and Watercolor, 14 x 17″

Drawing upon the recollections of his Southern roots for inspiration, Bearden conjured up both his childhood memories and the shared memories of his ancestors. Bearden absorbed the traditional rituals of the church, the hymns and gospels, sermons and testimonies; as well as the traditional rituals of the family, the music of the kitchen, the outdoor wash place and fire circle, which permeated his upbringing. The work in many of these watercolor/collage pieces is the flatness of the composition combined with the strength of strong primary colors.

Bearden’s career as a painter was launched in 1940 with his first solo exhibition in Harlem and then another, four years later, at the G Place Gallery in Washington, DC, while he was serving in the Army. In 1945, shortly after his discharge, he joined the Kootz Gallery on 57th Street and exhibited there for the next three years. He then traveled to Paris on the G.I. Bill in 1950 where he studied philosophy at the Sorbonne. In 1964, he was appointed the first art director of the Harlem Cultural Council, a prominent African-American advocacy group. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1972. He died in New York City in 1988.

Romare Beraten, Autumn of the Rooster, Lithograph, 18 x 24″, 1983

Romare Bearden’s museum retrospectives include those organized by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, NY (1971); Mint Museum of Art in Charlotte, NC (1980); Detroit Institute of the Arts in Detroit, Michigan (1986); Studio Museum in Harlem in New York, NY (1991); and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC (2003). His work is represented in public collections across the country including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Museum of Modern Art, New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Studio Museum in Harlem, NY.

Romare Bearden – through March 31, 2018

N’Namdi Contemporary Art

 

 

 

Nabil Mousa @ Arab American National Museum

Flag of a Complicated Nation: Nabil Mousa’s Vision of the American Landscape at Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, MI

Image Courtesy of Artist

It is a complicated time in the United States, with polarizing politics pushing questions of what it means to identify as American. In truth, ideas of nationalism in most countries are increasingly complex, due to the up-tempo of immigration and displacement, and the generally more global nature of contemporary times. Flags, as a starkly graphic symbol of national identity, tend to fall short as representational entities for countries full of individuals with radically divergent backgrounds, experiences, and inter-cultural connections.

Nabil Mousa, American Landscape #38, Mixed Media on board, 24 x 96″, 2008

Perhaps this is why Nabil Mousa’s, American Landscape—a series that includes some 40 works produced by the artist between 2008 and 2012—feels so timely and resonant. Nine of these works are on display at the Arab American National Museum, and most of them incorporate the American flag, as a literal or symbolic material. The series is a way for the artist to reconcile his own questions of identity, both as a Syrian immigrant and an openly homosexual man. Mousa came to the States with his family in 1976, at the age of 12, and since coming out as gay, has been estranged by his family, according to their stringently Christian beliefs. It stands to reason that the flags he presents are emotional, messy affairs, with blurring lines, dramatic brushstrokes, mottled palette, and populated by little icons representing anonymous men and women of the LBGTQ+ community.

Jasper Johns, Three Flags, 77 x 155cm, Pigment & Warm wax, Image courtesy of the Whitney Museum

Flags in general, and the United States flag in particular, have a long history of use in contemporary are for their symbolic value. Jasper Johns first began to iterate the symbol with the encaustic painting Flag (1954-55), following his discharge from the United States Army, and returned to the flag as subject matter numerous times over the course of his career. Political artist Dread Scott first presented his controversial work, What is the Proper Way to Display a U.S. Flag? In 1989, prompting the passing of the “Flag Protection Act” in Congress. In protest, Dread Scott and two other artists burned a U.S. flag on the steps of the Capitol Building, which resulted in a federal court case that made it all the way to the Supreme Court in 1990. Artist David Hammons famously created the African American Flag, which is in the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art. Flags provide pre-loaded symbolism, and evoke strong feelings in those that choose to identify with them as a form of national identity, thus making them appealing to artists who question where they may fit in with such broad social representations.

Nabil Mousa, American Landscape, # 34, Mixed Media on oil board, 48 x 48″, 2009

As a member of (at least) two populations that are often vilified, singled out, or marginalized, Mousa has a great deal of personal experience in alienated nationalism to work through in his paintings, yet with American Landscape, he has chosen to present these themes using some of the most universal symbols available—aside from the flag, the majority of figures in Mousa’s landscapes are the male/female icons designating gender on public restroom doors. In Mousa’s context, these figures appear exclusively in same-sex couplings or groups; four women holding hands across an apocalyptic and bleak multi-media landscape in American Landscape #34 (2009), or dozens of men holding hands in rows that fill out the stripes of a 12-foot-wide American Landscape #1 (2009), which dominates the entire entry wall of the gallery, and, as the largest work, serves as the focal point of the exhibition. The figures seem to blend with flag behind them, suggesting their invisibility, and in many of Mousa’s works, the flags themselves smear and drip, or even fragment—as in the case of American Landscape #19 (2009), which incorporates cut-up pieces of an actual U.S. flag in the foreground, obscuring portions of the large-scale male figures in the painting, including the place where they are (presumably) holding hands.

Nabil Mousa, American Landscape #1, Oil on Board, 90 x 144″, 2009

In some ways, Mousa’s work at AANM might be trading in the bluntest symbolism, but the emotive nature of his brushstrokes and the frenetic energy of such bold and colorful works in a relatively small gallery space make the work personal and the exhibition space feel extremely dynamic. Perhaps this is a show that seeks to connect with those who feel excluded by the conventional presentation of the flag, which blithely assumes a one-for-all American spirit that is obviously not borne out in issues of policy-making, opportunities, justice, or social equity. With American Landscape, Mousa has complicated the flag, and in doing so, raised a new version, which seeks to include people whose American identities are more complicated than simple red, white, and blue.

Nabil Mousa, American Landscape, #20, Mixed Media on Board, 96 x 72, 2009

 

Nabil Mousa: American Landscape continues at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan through April 8.

Basquiat @ Cranbrook Art Museum

BASQUIAT BEFORE BASQUIAT: East 12th Street, 1979-1980

Jean-Michael Basquiat at Great Jones Studio, 1985

In the spring of 1971 when I had just graduated from Wayne State University with an M.A. in painting, I was making surreal landscape paintings. I had not heard of Jean-Michel Basquiat, of course, because he was only ten years old and attending St. Ann’s Catholic school in New York City. Soon after that he was bound for San Juan, Puerto Rico with his father and family for three years, before returning to Brooklyn and finishing high school.

And it wasn’t until the late 1990s when my son Julian Teachworth was finishing his senior year at The Cooper Union in NYC that he told me Basquiat’s work had influenced his painting. It was only then that I became familiar with his work, and that was ten years after his tragic death from a heroin overdose at the age of twenty-seven in 1988.

Andrew Blauvelt, Director of the Cranbrook Art Museum, said, “The exhibition and accompanying catalogue presents New York City in the late 1970s and early 1980s through the prism of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s art and provides a window into the art-rich time that he inhabited and impacted so profoundly. Ultimately, this exhibition will attest to Basquiat’s virtuosity in formation–the creative impulses that yielded a distinctive voice, but also the many diversions or paths he explored as he was developing a signature style.”

Alexis Adler, B&W photographic images of Basquiat performing in the apartment, 1979

Jean-Michel Basquiat first appeared in New York City in 1980 depicting street graffiti using neat block letters and his SAMO© tags on the surrounding streets of lower Manhattan. It was these early years when Basquiat started dating Alexis Adler and living with a close friend, Felice Ralster, that is the subject for this new exhibition at Cranbrook Art Museum: BASQUIAT BEFORE BASQUIAT: East 12th Street, 1979-1980 that opened November 17, 2017. Basquiat and Adler moved into a small apartment at 527 East 12 Street, commonly referred to as the East Village, and became part of the punk culture largely based around musicians and artists at the Mudd Club scene.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled, Acrylic and Oil Stick on canvas. 1984

It was at P.S. 1 in a group survey show, New York / New Wave where his work was a step above graffiti street art, as illustrated by his ability for putting things together: masks, words, marks and disconnected phrases. The exhibition included Keith Haring, Robert Maplethorpe, and Andy Warhol. The day after the opening he returned home to Brooklyn around 6:00 in the morning to proclaim to his father, “Papa, I’ve made it!”

Basquiat made money for paint and his share of the rent by selling T-Shirts on the street. 1979

Basquiat’s riff with his father and his association with Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf, led him to Club 57 and a strong and close relationship with who would become his mentor, Andy Warhol. Back then, Basquiat made his living by selling clothing on the street. On display at the Cranbrook exhibition are T-Shirts he transformed into living works of art to be worn and celebrated as part of his artistic practice.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled (Cadmium) Oil, oil stick, acrylic on canvas 1984

Looking back, I think we see Jean-Michel Basquiat as an artist who emerged from being a graffiti artist during the “punk scene” era, and then ended up as a celebrated artistic phenomenon. Skillfully, he brought together disparate traditions, practices and unconventional styles that established a baseline for artists to come. He was an African-Caribbean artist, who came along at a time when the art world was dominated by exhibitions of Minimal and Conceptual art.

Alexis Adler, Drawing by Basquiat on wall of apartment, Archival pigment print, 1980

Using an archival approach, much of this exhibition comes from the collection of Alexis Adler, and a visit to the exhibition Basquiat Before Basquiat deepens your understanding of this artist while simultaneously providing the viewer with a context of his early work in 1980s New York City. Concurrently, the museum is hosting exhibitions by Keith Haring, Maya Stovall and Ryan McGinness.

Alexis Adler, B&W photograph of Baquiat in the apartment, 1981

BASQUIAT BEFORE BASQUIAT: East 12th Street, 1979-1980, organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver.

Cranbrook Art Museum

Through March 11, 2018

 

 

 

Keith Haring @ Cranbrook Art Museum

Dark Haring Rises: 30 Years After its Installation, Keith Haring’s “The Detroit Notes” reappears at Cranbrook Art Museum

Keith Haring at Cranbrook Art Museum, 1987 Photograph by Tseng Kwong Chi, 1987 © Muna Tseng Dance Projects, New York Art work: © Keith Haring Foundation, New York.

Keith Haring is internationally known for his ebullient and evocative figure drawings, rising to art world fame in the mid-1980s on a wave of graffiti-influenced NYC street culture. Like many of his contemporaries, Haring was part of an early wave bringing art to market as a prestige commodity, and like many of his fellows, he died at a lamentably young age due to complications connected with AIDS—in Haring’s case, at the age of 31, in 1990.

Keith Haring, Apocalypse (1988), by Keith Haring and William S. Burroughs (installation view)

As part of its Fall program, the Cranbrook Art Museum presents a small suite of works by Haring that bookend his career, Keith Haring: The End of the Line. The centerpiece of the exhibition is a reconstruction of a temporary mural, “The Detroit Notes,” installed at Cranbrook in 1987, bracketed on either side by a gallery of very early and very late work by the artist.

Cranbrook Art Museum Director Andrew Blauvelt poses in the reconstruction of “The Detroit Notes” 1987 mural by Keith Haring

“There was the sort of public persona of Haring, and the kind of drawing that he would put out in public, versus the kind of things that he would do post his AIDS diagnosis,” said Andrew Blauvelt, Director of the Cranbrook Art Museum, by way of introducing a wall of documental photographs taken by Haring’s friend, artist Tseng Kwong Chi, who also died of AIDS in the 1990s. These photographs capture Haring at work adorning New York City subway station advertisements with his signature iconography, and are mounted opposite a rare example of one of the actual billboards. In the piece, Haring’s work is juxtaposed with and ad for Perdue Franks asking, “Should you buy a hot dog from this man?” and demonstrates the artist already in command of the cartoonish and highly abstracted figures that would populate and morph throughout the course of his career.

Also on display is Haring’s thesis project from SVA, a video titled “Painting Myself into a Corner,” wherein the young artist does literally that. “He did a lot of work that was floor-based, [Jackson] Pollack-esque,” said Blauvelt, “and then picked up the kind of iconography that he was known for. That video showed him working in a performative way, and we wanted to pull that out, because he always thought of his practice as performative.“

This aspect of Haring’s work stands in conversation with another of the shows in the Fall program, Maya Stovall’s Liquor Store Theatre Performance Films, which combine cultural anthropology, dance, and performative public spectacle into improvisational encounters between Stovall (and other dancers) and random Detroiters on their way in and out of liquor stores.

Blauvelt and Senior Curator Laura Mott point out details in the Keith Haring mural

“A lot of these historical art figures, like [Jean-Michel] Basquiat and Haring, didn’t quite fit into easy categories, and the same is true of Maya Stovall,” said Blauvelt. In her first solo museum show, Stovall presents a set of existing works, including those that were a part of this year’s Whitney Biennial, as well as a new piece in the series commissioned by Cranbrook. Just like Stovall’s newest video work, Haring’s mural was a commission for the museum, and the exhibition happens to coincide with the 30-year anniversary of the mural’s presentation, which was also accompanied by a lecture.

“I started drawing in the subway in New York City in 1980,” said Haring, during the lecture, which took place on September 25, 1987. “…The situation sort of presented itself almost by accident. …For the first time, it seemed like I had made something that made sense to be in public because it had a kind of communicative power.”

Indeed, while Haring’s style is instantly recognizable, it is perhaps the somewhat blank nature of his figures that make them so accessible and universal. But the Cranbrook murals reveal a new phase in Haring’s works, what Blauvelt characterizes as “dark Haring,” and speculates foreshadows the public revelation of his AIDS diagnosis.

“He’s officially diagnosed in ’88 or ’89 with AIDS,” said Blauvelt. “But I think he understood that he was going to succumb to it, because most of his friend by that time were diagnosed.” Though Haring’s themes were often political and social, the work at the end of his life and career took a turn toward the deeply personal, and the scale reconstruction of “The Detroit Notes”—including a video of Haring executing the project—captures some of this new style.

The original subway advertisement billboard ‘vandalized’ by Haring during his run of subway art in the early 1980s.

Haring worked for two solid days on the mural—which was always understood to be a temporary installation—first laying down washes of orange, yellow, red and green, then circling back to doodle in black paint over the backgrounds. Though definitely expressing a Surrealist bent—dismembered robot-aliens and frightening, mythical demon-beasts—the work is nonetheless some of Haring’s most figurative, giving faces, albeit grotesque and monstrous, in place of the usually blank bobble-heads for which is he is best known. Bodies are rendered with genitalia, and in various states of dismemberment, televisions blare telescoping stacks of figures, a rosary hangs from a disjointed robot spine. The imagery is immersive and disturbing, and the reconstructed hallway closes in on the viewer as did, perhaps, Haring’s unshakable sense that the demons that were claiming so many of his art world brethren were closing in on him, as well.

Those looking for respite are unlikely to find it at the end of the mural hall, where the final gallery presents two late-life collaborations between Haring and notorious beat poet William S. Burroughs—Apocalypse (1988) and The Valley (1989). One is a series of illustrations made by Haring in response to an existing text by Burroughs; the second presents large-scale prints combining Haring’s images with a new work by Burroughs, developed in conversation with Haring after hearing of the artist’s interest in his writing. It is a fine meeting of two souls on the brink of darkness—Burroughs, who had written himself up from darkness (that included “accidentally” shooting his second wife, Joan Vollmer) to flourish as a gentleman junkie, and Keith Haring, who had gone from rising star into meteoric fall, finding himself at last in a corner he couldn’t paint his way out of.

Keith Haring: The End of the Line runs through March 11, 2018 in the Wainger Gallery of the Cranbrook Art Museum.

Monet: Framing Life @ Detroit Institute of Arts

Detroit Art Review: Monet at Detroit Institute of Art

The Early Work of Claude Monet While living in the Paris suburb Argenteuil

Claude Monet (French, 1840 – 1926 ), The Bridge at Argenteuil, 1874, oil on canvas, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon

The Detroit Institute of Arts opened a new exhibition, Monet: Framing Life, on September 22, 2017, with the work of impressionist Claude Monet(1840-1926), an early key figure in the Impressionist movement that transformed French painting in the second half of the nineteenth century.

This exhibition depicts Monet’s leisure activity in and around Paris from 1871-78. While at the Paris studio studying with Charles Gleyre, Monet met several other artists, including Alfred Sisley, Frederic Bazille, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Monet found his subjects in his immediate surroundings of Argenteuil, just fifteen minutes from Paris by train.

His asymmetrical arrangement of forms emphasized the two-dimensional surfaces by eliminating linear perspective and abandoning three-dimensional modeling. Much of this work was started plein air, where Monet would set up his easel and work directly in a natural outdoor setting, then return to the studio for completion. His vibrant brightness of color in preparing his canvas with light-colored primers, instead of dark ground under-painting, broke with traditional landscape painting.

Raised in Normandy, Monet spent his youth in LeHavre and had been exposed to the work of Eugene Boudin, known for his paintings in the open areas along the Channel coast. Boudin befriended the young Monet, then only 18, and persuaded him to give up his teenage caricature drawings and to become a landscape painter, helping to instill in him a love of bright hues and the play of light on water later evident in Monet’s work.

Monet’s paintings of poplar trees and stacks of wheat, mustard colored water off cliffs off the coast of Normandy, of women strolling with children suggest that life is inherently serene, a series of warm sunny afternoons where parasols protect a woman’s delicate skin from overexposure to the sun. His quests to capture nature also prompted him to break down space and eventually merge color and subject into an atmosphere. The end result is a feeling we absorb, much more mysterious than an intellectual or logical observation.

Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet, French, 1841 – 1919, 1872, oil on canvas, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon

The art scene in Paris was alive and well during these years for a group of artists who wanted to change the traditional approach to painting. Pierre-Auguste Renoir had become a close friend to Monet and here in this portrait, he captures him wearing a blue jacket and smoking a pipe. Renoir had a brilliant eye for both intimate human features and the day’s fashions. His images of common families and well-dressed Parisian pleasure seekers created a bridge from Impressionism’s more experimental aims to a modern depiction of the French middle-class.

Claude Monet (French, 1840 – 1926 ), Argenteuil, c. 1872, oil on canvas, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Collection 1970.17.42

The promenade along the River Seine was a popular subject for Claude Monet. The compositional structure in Argenteuil around 1872 would shape landscape painters for years to come. He divides the canvas by threes on both the lateral and longitudinal axis while capturing low light casting shadows across this old dirt river road. The stillness here is captivating, without a person in sight or smoke bellowing from the distant factories stacks. Monet’s work lays down a foundation for artists like Childe Hassam, the American Impressionist, in his watercolor, The Beach at Dunkirk or his oil on canvas, Winter Midnight, where he has absorbed the plein air approach of Monet and the ability to offer up tranquility to people from all walks of life.

Claude Monet, Rounded Flower Bed, Corbeille de Fleurs, Oil on Canvas, 1872 Courtesy of the DIA

The painting at the center of the exhibition is the work of art formerly referred to as Gladioli and now renamed Rounded Flower Bed (Corbeille de fleurs). The renaming is the result of new research recently done for this exhibition. For nearly one hundred years, the DIA has called this painting Gladioli, the title given when it first appeared on the public market in 1919. After closer inspection, the painting was lent to an 1877 group exhibition with the title, Corbeille de fleurs or Rounded Flower Bed. It was at this exhibition that the participating artists first adopted the term Impressionists to describe themselves. In the DIA exhibition, the painting sits under glass without its frame and provides the viewer with a detailed explanation of the markings on the back of the painting. The painting is reminiscent of how Monet would have worked on canvas in his garden, and foreshadows the immersive garden environment he later created at Giverny.

The Monet exhibition, which concentrates on the late 1870’s, is where Impressionism arrives and gradually begins to mature.

Claude Monet (French, 1840 – 1926 ), Woman with a Parasol – Madame Monet and Her Son, 1875, oil on canvas, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon

It is inherent in the paintings of the early 1870s, as in Woman with a Parasol, the imposing canvas of Camille and Jean Monet, the artist’s wife and young son, where the artist starts to abstract the clouds simply using marks of paint and the white dress becomes blue. Monet’s compositions were based on zones of light and shade. Two years later, in the open fields near Argenteuil, the figures are seen from a distance, and everything disintegrates into a blur of minced color.

The work of Claude Monet is so instilled into our lexicon of artwork, we tend to forget how new the work was to the art world. Cezanne has been quoted as saying, “Monet is only an eye, but good God, what an eye.” The art of impressionism conjures up a world of magical charm filled with light and color. More than anyone else, Claude Monet recognized that his garden, rather than his words, presented the path to understanding his art.

Monet: Framing Life is on exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts, through March 4, 2018. Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties: $10 for adults, $5 for ages 6-17, $8 per person for groups of 15 or more.

This exhibition has been organized by the Detroit Institute of Arts and made possible by the Bonnie Ann Larson Modern European Master Series. Generous corporate support has been provided by Park West Foundation, JPMorgan Chase, Altair, English Gardens, and Grand Hotel—Mackinac Island. Major support has been provided by Lois and Avern Cohn. Additional funding is contributed by Dr. Mark and Amy Haimann, Dr. Theodore and Diana Golden, anonymous donors, Eleanore and Dick Gabrys, and Andrew L. and Gayle Shaw Camden.