Ragnar Kjartansson, Steve Shaw, Chloe Brown @ MOCAD

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Ragnar Kjartansson – Installation 2016, All Images Courtesy of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit

The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit –  Winter Exhibition: Ragnar Kjartansson, Steve Shaw, Chloe Brown

The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit’s cavernous galleries often echo with sound, from the frequent band shows in the café space (which is my current favorite place to drink coffee and catch up with my emails) and from the steady influx of multi-media works that always lend a distilling element to MOCAD’s exhibitions. Sound really is the cornerstone of MOCAD’s winter exhibition, most notably produced by a solitary, guitar-strumming lady seated upon a revolving dais in a large, empty gallery curtained off by gold tinsel streamers. This is “Woman in E,” a performance piece created by Ragnar Kjartansson.

Parting the gold curtains to enter the space, one is confronted with eerie, resonant chords and dim, sparse space that evoke the strange interstice after a party has ended, a telling shadow of the real action, which took place sometime before. Potent symbols of Motown, glitter rock and funk are all here, with the solemn, oracle-like figure strumming in E Minor (chosen for its melancholy, reflective effect) on an electric guitar as the focal point.

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Film still from Dancing in the Boardroom (Turnin’ My Heartbeat Up), 2013. Chloë Brown.

The theme of after-party fallout and cultural epoch is approached as well in the film and drawing of Chloe Brown, who’s body of work exploring the youth culture and economic gloom surrounding the closing of a Spode ceramics factory in Stoke-on Trent, England pinpoints the essential relationship between music, movement and identity in the face of great loss. Brown’s film, “Dancing in the Boardroom (Turnin’ my Heartbeat Up)” depicts a young couple dancing to Northern Soul music in a spacious, dim room with beautiful parquet floors that once bore the weight of executives, secretaries and free enterprise. Shots of the abandoned Spode factory’s lush interiors and tremulous lighting stand in stark contrast to the couple’s unabashed joy in moving to this Motown-inspired music.

A dose of life on the street is supplied by photographer Steve Shaw. Shaw’s documentary-style images of Detroiters making their way with dance, dress, and grit in a constantly shifting urban landscape supply the unstudied immediacy that is stylized out of the other artist’s work.

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Steve Shaw, Black & White Photograph, Gratiot & Shene 1983, Courtesy of the artist.

In a show anchored in performance, Shaw’s photographs depict people drawing from the same cultural well and making many of the same movements as the performers in Chloe Brown and Ragnar Kjartansson’s works, only in real time, with skin in the game.

The Winter Show is on display at Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit from January 15 through April 24, 2016.  http://www.mocadetroit.org 

 

30 Americans @ the Detroit Institute of Arts

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Photo Credit: Kwaku Alston

The new director of the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), Salvador Salort-Pons, took the podium and introduced the new 30 Americans exhibition with relaxed confidence. The selection and planning for this exhibition had begun more than a year ago when he was head of the European Department at the DIA since 2008. With a Ph.D. in art history and a MBA with a focus on finance and strategy, he comes to the museum directorship with an additional strength: sound business sense. His time at the podium was brief, but I sensed a transitional moment for the museum and the larger Detroit community.

30 Americans is an important exhibition, extremely well curated, designed, and at the right place and time for the City of Detroit. It reminded me of how I felt at the opening of the Shirin Neshat exhibition, March 2013, when the DIA hosted her mid-career retrospective and simultaneously reached out to the community, educating people on Islamic art. 30 Americans is similar in how it will educate the Detroit community by showcasing some of the most talented African-American artists in the United States today. In the 2010 census, 82% of people living in Detroit responded as African American.

30 Americans powerfully demonstrates contemporary African American artists’ interests in the complexities of identity and developing a range of artistic approaches to portray or reference its distinctions and similarities,” said Valerie J. Mercer, DIA curator.

The exhibition comes from the well-known Rubell Family Museum in Miami, Florida. It is one of the world’s largest, privately-owned Contemporary Art collections, and the first time this work will be on display at the DIA. Each year, Rubell creates thematic exhibitions drawn from its collection, “We only show art we own. That is a founding principle of the Rubell Family Collection, a principle that gives us tremendous freedom and enormous constraints. When we set out to conceptualize a new exhibition, we know we will only get the depth and quality we seek if we already have a strong foundation of works by a core group of artists.”

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Kehinde Wiley, Equestrian Portrait of the Count Duke Olivares – 2005, oil on canvas. Courtesy of Rubell Family Collection, Miami

 

The most well-known artist in the exhibition is Kehinde Wiley, whose work dominates the show with three large paintings. The painting, Equestrian Portrait of the Count Duke Olivares, depicts a young black male figure in hip-hop clothing, set against a rich floral background. Based on the Spanish artist Diego Velazquez’s painting from 1634, Wiley engages in a type of surreal photorealism on a grand scale of 366 by 366 inches. He braids his foreground and background together, creating a picture plane tension. As a boy growing up in Los Angeles, he spent his time looking at historical paintings at the Library in San Marino, CA. He earned his undergraduate degree from San Francisco Art Institute and his M.F.A. from Yale in 2001.

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Kehinde Wiley, Sleep, 2008, oil on canvas. Courtesy of Rubell Family Collection, Miami

As you enter the second room, you are met with Sleep, a 132 X 300-inch monster-sized figure painting, part of his series of reclining erotic figures. Here again, his use of British Arts & Crafts designs in the background also enters the foreground in what has become a consistent element in his work. At times, it reminds me of paintings of Christ after he was taken down from the cross. Wiley’s signature portraits of street people designed around specific historical paintings seem to draw attention to the absence of African American people from Western cultural narratives. Like this work or not, he is a major force in contemporary art in American painting today.

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Mickalene Thomas, Baby I Am Ready Now – 2007, acrylic, rhinestone and enamel on wooden panel. Courtesy of Rubell Family Collection, Miami

The irrepressible Mickalene Thomas is comparable to Wiley in her weight and influence on the American art scene. The New York-based artist is known for her elaborate and complex work that often has a sexual overtone. She may be presenting what she thinks it means to be a black woman regarding a kind of cultural stereotype. The paintings are often composed using patterns, enamels, acrylic, and rhinestones and usually present a provocation. Her painting, along with the title, seems to bait the viewer. These round corners were a favorite of hers back in the mid 2000’s, but the new work has moved forward with a kind of spin on Picasso’s figurative Cubism. Check out: She Ain’t a Child Anymore #2, 2015.

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Jean-Michel Basquiat, One Million Yen – 1982, oil on canvas with wood and jute. Courtesy of Rubell Family Collection, Miami

More familiar to audiences is Jean-Michel Basquiat. The late American artist achieved notoriety during the 1980s when he was part of the Andy Warhol and Keith Haring scene in New York City. Born in Brooklyn, Basquiat was half Puerto Rican and half Haitian and has been described as a precocious and gifted child. Kellie Jones, who wrote Lost in Translation: Jean-Michel in the (Re) Mix says, “Basquiat’s cannon revolves around single heroic figures: athletes, prophets, warriors, cops musicians, kings, and the artist himself. In these images the head is often a central focus, topped by crowns, hats and halos. In this way the intellect is emphasized, lifted up to notice, privilege over the body and physicality of these figures (i.e. black men) commonly represented in the world.”

The Rubell piece, One Million Yen, from 1982 creates one of his “dichotomies” utilizing social commentary that attacks a power structure, while at the same time imparting a strong Neo-expressionist composition using mixed media material.

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Gary Simmons – Duck, Duck, Noose, Installation, 1992 Image Courtesy of DIA

The exhibition is peppered with work by a variety of African-American artists that speaks directly to racial violence in the United States. When you enter the room housing the Duck, Duck, Noose piece by Gary Simmons, 1992, you are confronted by emotional experience where nine stools are arranged in a circle with KKK hoods on the seat with a noose hanging down in the center. The life-sized installation capitalizes on the audience’s familiarity with these symbols, reminding us of our historical past where injustices were committed against black men and women in the late 19th and mid 20th centuries. The title is a play on the English nursery game, Duck, Duck, Goose. The installation brings into focus the injustices that are continually committed against all peoples and through a juxtaposition of history where art imitates life. Gary Simmons’ work is currently representing the United States at the 2015 Venice Biennale.

30 Americans exhibits 55 paintings by artists such as Barkley Hendricks, Kerry James Marshall, Carrie Mae Weems, Lorna Simpson and the late Robert Colescott. Their influence on a younger generation can be seen in the works of artists such as Nick Cave and Kara Walker. Overall, the exhibition reflects a variety of approaches to creating artwork around identity, gender, race, sexuality and a confrontation to the traditional American genres.

Bravo to the DIA for bringing this exhibition to Detroit…now what’s next? A big contemporary exhibition? As soon as there is a curator.

The Detroit Institute of Arts  5200 Woodward Ave. Detroit, Michigan  48202    313.833.7900

For information about admission pricing, and hours: http://goo.gl/OJU15N

 

 

 

 

The United State of Latin America @ MOCAD

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A series of connected terra cotta pots into a kind of alchemical “works” by Ximeno Garrida-Lecca

“If you don’t know what the south is – It’s simply because you are from the north”

That is the simple, pointed statement made on a set of posters by Runo Lagomarsino, free for the taking by anyone who attends “The United States of Latin America” (USLA) exhibit, cornerstone of the MOCAD’s freshly-launched fall program. The show was co-curated by MOCAD’s Senior Curator at Large, Jens Hoffmann, together with guest curator Pablo León de la Barra, UBS MAP Latin American curator at the Guggenheim, with support from the Kadist Art Foundation , which loaned many of the works on display. Vincent Worms, KAF Chairman, had this to say about the show: “This exhibition illustrates how the Kadist Art Foundation likes to bring together collection and exhibition: international artists addressing important socio-political issues, and talented curators like Jens and Pablo—having them dialog in a visually strong exhibition.”

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Pia Camil, Espectacular (cortina), 2012, Stitched and Hand Died Canvas, 79L x 212W inches. Courtesy Kadist Art Foundation and the artist

Certainly, USLA covers a lot of ground, both conceptually and regionally, bringing together artists from all over Latin America—a massive and diverse area that, as León de la Barra pointed out when I spoke with him and Hoffmann during the show’s installation, sometimes plays second fiddle to the United States when it comes to American identity. “The exhibition’s title plays a little bit with the idea that the United States has almost taken the name of America—which is a continent—for itself,” says León de la Barra. Whether it will achieve its goal of sparking a dialogue between these two Americas is anyone’s guess, but the show is full of aesthetics and themes that are sure to resonate across international lines.

Certain of these are the natural result of similarities in the growing pains of societies trying to find their footing in the rapidly shifting sands of industrialization and global business. Columbian photographer Nicolás Conseugra has ten photographs in the show, taken in Bogota and focused on the ghostlike traces of removed letters from signs mounted to the facades of failed businesses. “It talks about urban and economical conditions, but at the same time, how much is actually left of a prior purpose of something once we take the signifiers of it away,” says Hoffman, who chose these works for the show because of their obvious resonance with Detroit’s world-renowned economic decline.

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Minerva Cuevas, America, 2006, Acrylic Paint on Wall, Dimensions Variable. Courtesy Kadist Art Foundation and the artist

Another fascinating piece that deals with a lesser-known chapter in history, as well as a direct link between Detroit and Brazil, is “Fordlândia Fieldwork” by Clarissa Tossin, which maps the efforts made by Henry Ford to exploit rubber from the Amazon. In a large-scale map, folded up in several places to create origami-like structures, Tossin overlays Detroit’s city plan with that of the abandoned city of Fordlandia, which was the rubber plantation established by Ford in the Amazonian rainforest—an attempt on his part to cut out the middlemen who acted as suppliers of caucho, the raw ingredient from rubber trees, integral for tire production. Ultimately, Ford’s concept was unsustainable, the rainforest conditions an overmatch for his ambitions, but the power of a literal connection between these two places, as well as the prescience of a failed city of Ford’s dreams—precursor to the fall of his United States empire—cannot be ignored.

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Captures from a film “Tapitapultutas (Catapults)” by Donna Conlon and Jonathan Harker

It is the earmark of privilege to simply fail to acknowledge any inconvenient truth. This is a lesson that Detroit, and its much-beleaguered native population, knows well. But like the rest of the United States, Detroit exists in a state of relative isolation and ignorance when it comes to international affairs, and the lessons we might learn from them. Both Hoffman and León de la Barra see USLA as an exciting opportunity to bring Latin American artists to light, and with them, tidings and teachings from other emerging places, cities with thriving practices of artist-led revolution and rebuilding. Places with which we, the North, might find we have a lot in common, if we only take a moment to notice.

September 18, 2015 – January 3, 2016

http://www.mocadetroit.org/exhibitions.html

 

David Klein Gallery in Detroit @ Washington Boulevard

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Exterior Gallery Image courtesy of Playground Detroit

The David Klein Gallery opened its new doors September 17, 2015 at 1520 Washington Blvd. in downtown Detroit. The gallery will keep its original space in Birmingham, Michigan that opened in 1990, while the new downtown location is home to its contemporary program.

The First Show is a group survey of the living artists represented by the gallery, many of whom work in the Detroit Metro area. The new gallery provides 4000 square feet of space, twelve foot-high ceilings, and hardwood floors – so much space that if you blinked, you might think you were in a New York City gallery.

David Klein’s decision to move to downtown Detroit is a gamble. He is betting on the future of the City of Detroit, much of which is improving weekly before our eyes. The move, along with Wasserman projects, follows 323 East, Inner State Gallery, and The Butcher’s Daughter who took the leap to New York City. I have to say, it turned my head when Campbell Ewald, the premier ad agency formerly located across Van Dyke from the General Motors Tech Center, moved a year ago to Brush Street, sandwiched in between Ford Field and Comerica Park. For me, it was one of many signs that people and investment were moving into Detroit.

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Jamie Adams, Niagara Pair, 2015, Oil on Linen, 60 X 48

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you enter the new gallery space, the figure painting on your right, Niagara Pair, by Jamie Adams, is a knockout oil painting from his Niagara series that requires a long look. Adams earned his MFA from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, founded in 1805, that hosts a vigorous faculty and each year has visiting critics program. Even today the school has a reputation for pedagogy that addresses technical skills, and this training is evident in Adams’s work which has a technical competence not seen much these days (an exception would be Robert Schefman). When one views his body of work, it has a mid-1700s neo-classical feel. The canvases are inhabited by contemporary figures that often have Niagara Falls as background. Gazing looks between short-haired foppish men and women predominate.

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Robert Schefman, Phasd, 2015, Oil on Canvas, 54 X 42, Courtesy of David Klein Gallery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Robert Schefman’s photo realistic figure painting is even better illustrated in this new painting, Phasd, where he follows his recent trajectory of the figure, nostalgic toys. Here the young woman looks into the audience (often not the case) from an interior room with dramatic stage light. It is as if you have caught and startled her rummaging through her old records. He may want to take us back in time to antique toys and vinyl 45s and 78s on turntables. In much of his earlier work, the figures are on a treasure hunt or attending a burial. He says, “This stuff would form family histories, be the backbone of every Ken Burns narrative, but digital storage is not so stabile, and the changing formats mean that personal information will not be around for my grandchildren to discover.”

The amount of space above the subjects is more than needed, but that is obviously intentional. The space is a counter balance to the activity below, and is perhaps a new element in his work. I interviewed Schefman for a solo exhibition in 2012 and asked him what artist he admired. “If anything, I had always appreciated Philip Pearlstein. He was the closest thing to the abstraction of the figure, in the way things are placed on the page, or chopped off – the way he uses shape and form – it seems as though the figure and objects are incidental to the shapes and color is incidental, but there is not a heavy content in Pearlstein and I was looking for more content.”

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Stephen Magsig, Eastern Market, 2015, Oil on Linen, 24 X 30, Courtesy of David Klein Gallery

Stephen Magsig is a painter of discipline and routine. In addition to his work at the David Klein Gallery, he also exhibits his realistic urban and industrial landscapes at the George Bills Gallery in New York City. The discipline and routine that I refer to is his blog, Postcards From Detroit that contains 5 X 7-inch oil on linen, Hopper-esque paintings of scenes in and around Detroit. I am guessing he starts one of these small paintings outside, takes an image, and may finish in the studio, or maybe he knocks it out on location. He says in Painting Perceptions, “I have always enjoyed drawing even as a child/ I was in 3rd grade when I realized the joy of making artwork. I did a chalk mural on the blackboard and it made me aware that I had a special gift. I have been doing some kind of art ever since.”

It is hard to ignore the influence Edward Hopper must have had on Magsig, but it does not take away from the many paintings he has made that have nothing to do with Hopper, especially the portraits of storefronts, paintings of train wheels, with more attention to light, reflection and detail. His painting, Eastern Market, typifies his Detroit industrial landscape work: strong composition, with low light providing the right amount of drama. On his website he says, “I work in oils on linen canvas and linen panels in the simple and direct Alla Prima method. Although my work is representational, I am more interested in the “Story” of the scene and the “Plasticity” of the paint than in creating an exact representation of the subject.”

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Relic, Scott Hocking, Clinton Snider, Assemblage 400 Boxes, Installation, Image Courtesy of Ernst & Young

On the rear wall of the new David Klein Gallery is a large section of a Scott Hocking and Clinton Snider collaboration. Relics, 2001, part of what was originally a much larger installation, but that consists now of 66 18 X 18-inch boxes of mixed media. At its original display at the Detroit Institute of Arts for its Tri-Centennial Celebration, the installation consisted of over 400 boxes that chronicled the 300-year history of Detroit by using found objects. What makes it particularly interesting is that it finds itself reconfigured from time to time, as it does in these 66 boxes of man-made found objects that take up most of the back wall of the gallery. Also, it’s my understanding that this work is ongoing, and each artist occasionally might contribute a new box to a new configuration, site specific. Perhaps it was artists like Hocking and Snider that played their part in drawing people back to the city. In Relics, they collaborate, install, save and inspire with an artistic and sensitive approach to creating a grid of reclaimed objects. Could the installation have gradually become a metaphor for what was once thought of as old, decayed, downtrodden and obsolete? Does it not help us all to realize that Detroit is rising from the ashes?

I asked Christine Schefman, Director of Contemporary Art for the Gallery, how long has this gallery development been in the works? “It’s been three years from the time David and I saw the movement to Detroit. We spent time looking at a variety of locations and settled on this space, and its proximity to Woodward. I think David has always wanted to be in Detroit.”

The new David Klein Gallery has happened at the right time and in the right place. Certainly, this new space will provide a better opportunity to exhibit larger work that includes painting, photography, sculpture and installation. There is no doubt that both the art and business communities will take notice. Princeton University’s Center for Arts and Cultural Policy published a study on how the arts impacts communities. To summarize the lengthy study, the arts draw people together, foster trust, becomes a source of pride for the community and increase civic engagement along with a further collective action. Don’t be surprised if the David Klein Gallery becomes an anchor for more art related venues in the neighborhood.

 

This September marks the 25th Anniversary of David Klein Gallery.

FIRST SHOW, features work by 30 gallery artists, including Susan Campbell, Liz Cohen, Mitch Cope, Matthew Hawtin, Kim McCarty, Brittany Nelson, Lauren Semivan and Kelly Reemtsen.

September 17 – October 31, 2015

http://dkgallery.com

 

Two’s Company: “Discreet Vulgarities” @ Simone DeSousa Gallery

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Kupertus’ “Peep Seats” running video loops made collaboratively by the pair, on view for all prepared to kneel. Images courtesy of the artists and Simone DeSousa Gallery.

“Discreet Vulgarities,” which opened at Simone DeSousa Gallery on September 11th, could be accurately billed as a two-person show, featuring the work of photographer, multi-media, and performance artist Nicola Kuperus, and fine art painter and videographer Adam Lee Miller. But it could just as easily be considered a kind of two-headed hydra, with only the technicality of distinctions between two artists who have been in close conversation for two decades of create collaboration, as well as a 17-year marriage during which, according to Miller, they have only spent a handful of nights apart from each other.

On the surface, there are distinct bodies of work that can be instantly attributed to one artist or the other—Kuperus’ contributions largely consist of photography, particularly to capture moments within open-ended performances, as well as interactive sculptures; Miller is a formalist painter of commonplace building materials like gutter downspouts and pine studs, the tight rendering of which initially conceal a series of sly insinuations and vaguely dirty jokes.

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“2 Drips” – suspicious liquids by Adam Lee Miller. Images courtesy of the artists and Simone DeSousa Gallery.

Indeed, insinuation and lowbrow humor is the pulsing thematic of “Discreet Vulgarities” (as the title would suggest)—nothing graphic, nothing overt, but nearly every piece contains a subtle insinuation of the basic animal realities that lie beneath Kuperus’ satin gloves and Miller’s art historical references. Fluids drip from the joints of PVC pipes, gloved hand probe naughtily, two-by-fours emerge from and penetrate painted portals within the canvas. Kuperus’ “Peep Seats” go a bit beyond insinuation, forcing viewers to get on hands and knees if they wish to view through peep holes the collaborative video loops being screened within (foam kneeling pads thoughtfully provided). In another sculptural work, XXX, two wooden chairs nestle seamlessly within each other in a tender tableau of anthropomorphic intimacy. The personification of chairs cuts both ways; a photographic work features Kuperus, in a blonde wig and nude body suit, doing her best to blend in with a stack of chairs, and failing amusingly.

 

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“What A Mess,” the first collaborative painting by the pair. Images courtesy of the artists and Simone DeSousa Gallery.

“Discreet Vulgarities” also breaks some new ground for the pair, who, despite collaborating musically via their band ADULT, have never before created a painting together. Their inaugural effort, “What A Mess” not only ties together a number of the show’s visual motifs—gloves, spills, drips, bright washes of color—but creates a satisfying centerpiece in formally fusing two practices which clearly exist apart only ostensibly to begin with. Kuperus and Miller acknowledge the give and take in their partnership, exchanging help with fabrication or conceptualizing, riffing off each other, making jokes that turn serious—in the way of musicians, of married people, of prime interlocutors. The vulgarities may be discreet, but the impact and resonance of these two artists on each other is obvious, and intensely interesting.

Two’s Company: “Discreet Vulgarities” at Simone DeSousa Gallery

The Simone DeSousa Gallery, September 11 – October 10

http://www.simonedesousagallery.com