“Surrealism: The Conjured Life” @ MCA Chicago

Stop Making Sense at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago

MCA2 Intallation

“Surrealism: A Conjured Life” installation view All Images Courtesy of Sarah Rose Sharp

There is a fairly structured approach to cognitive development within our society—we try to make order of chaos. We assigned meanings to symbols (like letters or shapes), and organize those symbols in configurations that generate more complex meanings (like words or images), and continue along, stringing together ever-greater numbers of shapes and letters to make cogent arguments and beautiful imagery. We (hopefully) teach our young people fluency with the existing sets of shapes and letters, so they can grow up to understand all the meaning that has come before, and potentially contribute thoughts of their own to the collective understanding.

Unless we don’t. The Surrealist movement, which formally emerged in Paris in the mid-1920s, supplanted the basic order of established meaning, challenging straight-line association and favoring experimentation across a wide range of media, including theater, writing, film, poetry, and of course, visual art. A survey of foundational and second-generation Surrealist art from the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) collection provides a vivid showcase of some of the lesser-known founders of Surrealism and those that followed in their footsteps—including a number of Chicago-based contemporary artists—and underscores the difficulty inherent in making work that disrupts the basic building blocks of meaning, as they are instilled in most of us from a young age. The work on display includes sculpture, paintings, drawings, and multi-media installations, and a wild array of subjects, rife with texture and symbols. Paradoxically, the exhibition materials provided by MCA immediately attempt to contextualize and categorize some of the symbols, themes, and motifs commonly explored by Surrealists—including death, winged messengers, sleep and dreams, the grotesque, mannequins and dolls, and phantasmagoria—which to some degree undermines the destabilizing objectives of Surrealism as a movement. Again, being nonsensical, generating and/or accepting ambiguous meaning in art, is harder than it initially seems.

MCA4 wire sculptures on wood

Harry Bertoia, Landscape Fantasy (n.d.), Lead, wire, and stone slab

The gallery is organized into two spaces, an inner circle with rich purple walls that displays some of the movement’s foundational contributors, such as Max Ernst, René Magritte, Dorothea Tanning, Kay Sage, and Remedios Varo. There are some outstanding works here, each radically different from the next – the aesthetics of Surrealism are as disparate and personal as the individuals who worked within the movement. Landscape Fantasy (n.d.) by Harry Bertoia is a delicate collection of lead and wire constructions, resembling a flea circus-like playscape, on a stone slab. This minimal and understated work sits just adjacent to Punching General (1969) by Enrico Baj—an cartoonishly-shaped and upholstered military figure on a spring, designed, presumably, to act as a sparring partner for the expression of animosity toward the military state. Within a nearby patch of wall is a four-part installation by Doris Salcedo; Atrabiliarios (1993) encases shoes recovered from victims of mass violence in wall niches, stitching them in behind semi-opaque membranes that give them an otherworldly quality.

MCA11 group pieces

Marcos, Raya, Night Nurse (1993/96), Installation view

Things are no less esoteric and trippy in the outer ring, which highlights Chicago-based artists that were influenced by the Surrealist movement. An entire wall is devoted to Marcos Raya’s disturbing installation Night Nurse (1993/96), which feels as though one of Frida Kahlo’s medical forensic paintings jumped its frame to become a department store window display. Paintings on Plexiglass suggest internal organs, literally hidden levels of processing, and highly textured paintings pile on revelations in the opposite direction—Surrealists were seemingly obsessed with abstracted notions of the body’s inner workings. The Rascette (1961) by H.C. Westermann, attempts to highlight the secret information encoded in our very palms. A freestanding display presents a two-sided work by Henry Darger—Chicago’s much posthumously celebrated outsider artist, who spent his professional life as a hospital custodian, all the while working on an longform manuscript peppered with illustrations of kewpiesque children in various fantasy states, that is equally disturbing as it is inspired.

MCA7 wooden hand

H.C. Westermann, The Rascette (1961), Painted woo

MCA9 wood soldier

Enrico Baj, Punching General (1969), Vinyl, metal, cloth, ribbon, foam,

Many contemporary artists in various media have used transcendental meditation as a method for discovering new perspectives and inspiration, and some of them—for example, filmmaker David Lynch—create work that is among the most challenging, dislocating, and original, in a field dominated by sloppy exposition and audience hand-holding. “Surrealism: The Conjured Life” presents a critical mass of work that collectively instigates a kind of dream state—surrounded by so much disordered thought, the viewer cannot help but surrender, at least temporarily, and cease to impose logic upon what she sees.

For some, this may prove to be an extremely alienating experience, but for this reviewer, it is a welcome respite from the cultural spoon-feeding that is the hallmark of our media age, designed to sell consumer products, above all else. Any one of the works in the exhibition would be worthy of longer consideration, but the best effect of all is the collective disorientation. It is a very different kind of shock and awe than the political and media process used to handily to inspire fear and division among the populace; it is a confusion that inspires wondering, and with it, transcendence.

 

 

Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Illinois     https://mcachicago.org/Home

No Boundaries @ the Charles Wright Museum

 

Installation

No Boundaries, Installation Image – All Images Courtesy of Ron Scott

As part of a national tour, No Boundaries opened at the Charles Wright Museum of African American History on January 18, 2016. The exhibition represents nine aboriginal artists from the continent of Australia who were inspired by their ancient cultural traditions. The contemporary exhibition incorporates more than 75 paintings created between 1992 and 2012. The works are drawn from the collection of Debra and Dennis Scholl, Miami-based collectors and philanthropists.

“The artists all have a common thread, and each had reached a senior status in their communities.” said Dennis Scholl. “We chose works by those who, to paraphrase the artist Paddy Bedford, after having painted all of their mother ‘country’, and finally chose to simply paint.”

The indigenous aboriginal art of Australia has a rich history that has been studied by scholars from all parts of the world, especially the work that pre-dates the European colonization. The oldest forms are the paintings on rock in Central Australia that depict people, animals, plant life and spirituality. It is believed that Aboriginal people are the descendants of a single migration from Africa to the continent 64,000 to 75,000 years ago. All the artifacts and the earliest human remains suggest that the region now referred to as Queensland, was the single most densely populated area of pre-colonialized Australia. But this exhibition is about contemporary Aboriginal art that, according to some artists, is tied to their past.

Paddy Beford Ngamalingy 2003

Paddy Bedford, 70 X 64 Polymer on Canvas

Paddy Bedford comes from Jurrawun, Australia and spoke the Gila language. His work was integral to the development of the landmark exhibition, “Blood on the Spinifex” that was held at the Ian Potter Museum at the University of Melbourne in 2002. In his artwork, he introduced a new expressionism, one that recognized the use of both positive and negative space and stark contrast. He rose to national acclaim when his images brought to memory the station massacres, because to some, they symbolized aerial maps. Paddy Bedford’s work is held in collections throughout Australia, Europe and the United States.

Boxer M Tjampitjin Purkiti 2005

Boxer Milner Tjampitijin, 40 X 32, Polymer on Canvas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boxer Milner began painting in the 1980s at the Warlayirti Art Center in the Wirrimanku Balgo region. Buried in his palette and restricted formal syntax is his mastery of geometry and form. These rigid structures with high-keyed colored geometric shapes offer a rare idiosyncratic iconography not seen in other aboriginal art. Rendered in a measured architecture of lines and dots, they move into a more sophisticated sense of design. His work is part of many collections throughout Australia and at the National Gallery of Victoria.

Tommy Mitchel 2012

Tommy Mitchel, 36 X 36, Polymer on Canvas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Born in the Gibson Desert near Papulankutja, Tommy Mitchel came to painting late in life. His glowing fields of overlapping dots create a patchwork of grids. Mitchel was quickly recognized as a regional talent at the Warakurna Art Centre. His graceful use of color and space take the viewer on a visual journey. He has described his work as drawing on his early life in the Ngaanyatjarra Country where he wandered as a child. His work is part of many collections, including the National Gallery of Victoria and the Art Gallery of South Wales.

Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri Kalparti 2003

Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri, 66 X 70, Polymer on Canvas

Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri is originally from Lake MacKay but lived nomadically with his family in the remote western desert. He eventually settled in to paint at the Papunya Tula Art Centre. His swirling lines of dots create a pulsating field of optical intensity. Shimmering like a mirage, they invoke a shifting of movement in the desert sand, a metaphor for the energy fields while ‘Dreaming’ that runs through everything. His work is part of many collections in Australia, including the National Gallery of Australia.

There is a wall of introductory information presented in the exhibition that includes biographies of each artist. The material introduces the term ‘Dreaming’ which occurs while the artist is awake or sleep. “For the artists in this exhibition, the Dreaming goes by different names: Tjukurrpa in the Western Desert; Ngarranggarni in the Kimberley; and Derulo in the North. The Dreaming incorporates ancestral beings, the creation of the universe and the laws governing social and religious behavior. It also dictates connections to a place that define individual Aboriginal identities. The Dreaming encodes the location of essential waterholes and food sources into stories, dances, and song.”

There is a short video as part of the exhibition, which is narrated by an art gallery owner. The cut-away shots of aboriginal people show them with little clothing and often sitting on the ground painting their dots. It caused this writer to research the history of the Aboriginal people of Australia which uncovered concerns raised by a United Nations report about unethical and discriminatory practices against Aboriginal indigenous people. Australia’s 460,000 Aborigines make up about 2 per cent of the population. They suffer higher rates of unemployment, substance abuse, and domestic violence than other Australians and have an average life expectancy of 17 years less than the rest of the country.

What would be educational in this exhibition is a section that places these artists in context to the overall treatment of these native indigenous people, their heritage, cultural, traditions, and challenges in a land that was colonized by Western Europeans in the mid-1700s. I am sure this kind of national show has been vetted and follows ethical standards for procurement by the collectors. Overall, the exhibition is a very good introduction to this contemporary art movement created by a native people whose art deserves recognition around the world.

This exhibit is free with museum admission. No Boundaries: Aboriginal Australian Contemporary Abstract Painting originated at the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno, Nevada and was organized by William Fox, Director, Center for Art and Environment, and scholar Henry Skerritt.

http://thewright.org/index.php/visit/general-info

Cosmologies @ CCS Center Gallery

Making Inner Space of Outer Space

CCS Group Installation

Cosmologies, Installation view – All Images Courtesy of Sarah Rose Sharp

Aesthetically, the three-person show Cosmologies, which opened at the CCS Center Galleries on January 23rd and runs through the 27th of this month, reminds me very much of a Hubble telescope picture series of a formation called formation called Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula—a star-forming region. Works by New York-based painter Assunta Sera draw directly from celestial events to create abstracted landscapes—or more accurately ‘spacescapes?’—and a full wall installation of spills of glass by Kim Harty touches down onto the floor, unavoidably suggesting the Milky Way, by association. These groups of (mostly) hanging pieces provide a lovely backdrop to four freestanding sculptural works by Detroit’s own Robert Sestok, which take pride of position in the center of the gallery. Using anodized aluminum gives a refined, gold cast to Sestok’s sculptures, more usually roughly rendered in crude iron scrap material, and creates a sense of weightlessness around the crumpled aluminum pillars—large-scale balls of metal stacked into well-balanced totem poles.

Cosmo4 Sera

Assunta Sera, Fragments Near and Far, 2015, Oil on canvas

The effect is quite lovely; it is worthwhile to avail oneself of a bench that accommodates time to sit and let the space hang around the viewer. The work is not particularly confrontational, but aside from the seeming tableau of outer space, there are deeper connections at play. Sera’s rejection of the straightforward recto-linear canvas shape in favor of irregular trapezoids and indented triangles is very much in keeping with one of the foundational principles of painting in the Cass Corridor school, in which Sestok is rooted.

Cosmo5 Harty

Kim Harty, Spill, 2016, Hot cast glass and baking soda

Similarly, Harty’s consideration of spills—for each piece of the installation is a frozen puddle of milky glass, arranged into a snaking pathway across the wall and floor—is dealing with incidental moments and commonplace events. Another tenant of the Cass Corridor school was the principle of dealing with materials immediate and available, and these spills, especially with their vague allusion to bodily or cleaning fluids, are an ultimate example of omnipresent daily reality. While the interplay of concepts and aesthetics can sometimes lead to friction, these objects and paintings coexist peacefully, forming a positive ambient space. Taken on their own, or set in another context, each individual body of work could have a different set of associations, but set together, they form a seamless environment.

Cosmo3

Robert Sestok, Anodized Aluminum Sculpture – installation view

“I didn’t start out trying to make a pretty show,” says CCS curator Michelle Perron, in an interview at the Cass Cafe. “The exhibit began with a longstanding interest in Assunta Sera’s paintings, since the 1980s, when I worked at the Michigan Gallery.” An encounter with Sera at a recent CCS grad event triggered a conversation that built into the seed for a show, and a studio visit to review Sestok’s newest “fantastic” body of work brought that seed into sprout. When Harty came on as head of CCS’s glass department, Perron found a previously untapped appreciation for glass as a medium. “Normally you could not get me anywhere near it,” she said. Harty’s full-wall installation draws the whole exhibit together, bringing the show into bloom.

That this serendipitous combination of very different artists has created such lovely celestial synchronicity seems appropriate, given the show’s theme. Perron declares that she had never seen the “Pillars of Creation” before I mentioned it, and the face that a reasonable facsimile has manifested within the CCS Center Galleries seems to me evidence of a higher order in the universe. While Perron demurs to embrace such New-Age association, as a native Californian, I am entirely comfortable characterizing this group show as deeply cosmic.

http://www.collegeforcreativestudies.edu/community-outreach-and-engagement/center-galleries

 

 

Desire Bouncing @ Wasserman Projects

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

Installation image

Installation image, Courtesy of Clara DeGalan

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

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

Wasserman sculpture

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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Close-up section of Eastown Theater

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://wassermanprojects.com

 

A Glimpse @ Galerie Camille

Galerie Camile exterious

Galerie Camille, Exterior image on Cass Avenue

The Galerie Camille opened a group exhibition, Glimpse, January 22, 2016 under the new directorship of Melannie Chard, a Michigan native who has returned from New York City where she worked as Vice President, Head of Valuations,  Americas at Sotheby’s Auction House over the past ten years. The gallery is the creation and manifestation of Adnan Charara, Detroit artist and entrepreneur who purchased the building nestled in the heart of midtown on Cass Avenue, in the block south of Willis. He says, “The gallery was founded in 1987 and renamed after the birth of my daughter, Camille. I renovated the space in midtown Detroit and first opened my artist’s studio in January of 2012 with the gallery following in May 2014. In addition to regular exhibitions, we also provide support to estates and collectors who wish to sell art and antiques on the secondary market.”

John Mclaughlin

Spike the Punch Bowl, 2016 – Mixed media on canvas

John McLaughlin’s abstraction is a kind of mixed media of cut paper, some drawing, and paint where he embraces gesture from both natural and man-made imagery. The layers of his collage are purposely balanced both in shape, form and color. McLaughlin says, “ My art depicts a daily routine, combined with nature and music, with some mistakes along the way.” His array of hardline and organic shapes in his work Spike the Punch Bowl, becomes a field of balance where he allows the audience to form their own conclusions, a popular approach made by painters of the abstract field. I think he’s right about it when he says ultimately, “I make them because I like the way they look.”

Detroit Art Jondy Fruit of Klimt

Fruit of Klimt, 2016 – Photo on aluminum, 8 x 12 inches

The exhibition includes the work of photographer John Dykstra, whose photograph Fruit of Klimt, is a variety of Photoshop work on aluminum where he brings his attraction of Gustav Klimt’s women in robes, to his image. The solemn figure holds a pomegranate, the symbol of the ancient Greeks for the “fruit of the dead.” There is a theme to Dykstra’s work: when he uses the female figure in isolation, sitting at the end of a dock, asleep in an abandoned home, or floating in a marsh, in one word… loss.

Queen Bee

LISA SPINDLER/ SPINDLER PROJECT 
in collaboration with Dr. Lycia Trouton/ 
nail project entitled “DRIVEN” Queen Bee Photograph on paper Edition 1/25

Another photographer in the Glimpse exhibition is Lisa Spindler, whose large 40 X 60 black & white photo, Driven, is a close-up of hands that have stood the test of time. A Detroiter for the last 25 years, Spindler is a commercial photographer who has made a lot of time to produce personal work, particularly her black & white photographs of the nude female figure that uses classic composition and an acute sensitivity to light. I personally know a lot of commercial photographers who have a large body of personal work, and there is no shame in making a living with the camera for artists who must survive in today’s expensive world. Lisa Spindler’s work is divided up into categories where you find more art than product, where much is non-objective and abstract. The end result is finding your work in a gallery, instead of a high-gloss magazine. Works for me.

Camille Gallery Bill Harris

Totally Serious, 2015 Oil on canvas

Among the group of artists in the Glimpse exhibition, is the representational painter William Harris, whose Totally Serious oil painting captures the figure in multiple positions overlaid with light and movement. His work carries a commentary, and he has to keep is eye on the blurry line between a painting and an illustration. His draftsmanship and composition seems to be headed towards painting. When he opens the scale of his work to larger dimensions, good things could easily happen.

Opening and pursuing a gallery business is a noble and altruistic venture that everyone in the Detroit art community has to admire. “Glimpse is a window into what the gallery will be showing over the next year” says Melannie Chard, “We hope to provide opportunities to both seasoned and emerging artists.” Galerie Camille has a good location, a well-designed space, and ownership with a kind heart.

The Glimpse exhibition participants: Jon Parlangeli, Dessi Terzieva, Karianne Spens-Hanna, William Harris, MALT, Lisa Spindler, Scott Taylor, TEAD, Aimee Cameron, Brian Day, Robert Mirek, Paula Zammit, Paula Schubatis, John McLaughlin, Adnan Charara, Tony Roko, Alan Kaniarz, Kim Fey and John Dykstra.

Gallery hours are Wed-Sat 12-5. All other hours are by chance or appointment(313) 974-6737   info@galeriecamille.com

4130 Cass Ave, Suite C

Detroit, MI 48201

http://www.galeriecamille.com