Larry Cressman @ K.Oss Contemporary Art

Larry Cressman, Installation, Fieldwork, All images courtesy of K.Oss gallery

Larry Cressman: Fieldwork Exhibition at K.Oss Contemporary Art

Like a straightforward black and white film liberated from the distractions of color and spectacle, the “Larry Cressman: Fieldwork” exhibition at K.Oss Contemporary Art, given its elemental hues, might have been titled “Black and White.” Upon entering the snug, spartan gallery, Cressman’s reductive, purified palette, content (“fieldwork”), and elemental format (rectangles abound) immediately cue visitors: striking displays lie ahead. Whether framed and portable or installational (bare branches hovering an inch or two in front of a wall), the dozen and a half compositions, essentially shallow reliefs, proffer a bevy of intricate, engaging configurations.

Birthed, as they are, from excursions into the fields near his home and studio, Cressman collects the raspberry cane, dogbane, and dried daylily stalks that initiate the process of gestation. Then, as the slender, fragile branches and twigs are joined one to another with nearly invisible wires, dusted with graphite, and mounted on the walls with thin, sturdy pins, his “linear landscapes” fill out and mature. As many as 200 or more conjoined branches may be necessary to scale up to an easel size armature.

Larry Cressman, On Line, raspberry cane, powdered graphite, matte medium, wire, pins, 60 x 90 x 12 inches, 2017-18

In One Line, for instance, a zig-zagging single line, fabricated from a gross of raspberry canes, begins or terminates at upper left or lower right. Swiftly, it carries the eye, body, and psyche some five feet across (and to heights of nine feet) along the jerky, twitchy pathway, like a marathon runner, rock climber, or artist. Further enhancing the journey are the myriad shadows thrown upon the wall that seem to double or triple the length and aesthetic thrum of the journey. Such adrenal feats, like a host of durational endeavors, literal or figurative, both exhaust and exhilarate participants.

Larry Cressman, Podcast IV, dogbane with seedpods, powdered graphite, matte medium, wire, pins, 60 x 36 x 19 inches, 2018

Podcast IV, another large installation drawing, measures six feet in height, and rather than composed solely of branches, incorporates intact the delicate seedpods of the dogbane plant. The seedpods, intended by nature to be wafted to the four corners of the earth, add a decided note of ephemerality to this singular structure. The way a podcast links listener and speaker, albeit fleetingly, is evoked by the flanking vertical forms to either side. Their charged and electric bond, suggested by the overlapping branches and seedpods in tandem with the whiplashing shadows cast on the wall the length of the central section, is delicate and intimate. This ecstatic, sensual interlacing projects from the wall fully 19 inches, the farthest of any of the works in the show. Such animated liaisons between two entities, albeit reciprocal and intense, may however be short and fleeting. So goes the way of all flesh.

Larry Cressman, Gathering Lines, Raspberry cane, powdered graphite, matte medium, pins, 13 x 41 x 2 inches, 2018

Another striking work, distinctly different in kind from others in the show, is Gathered Lines, an ultra- simple constructed drawing (Cressman’s term for framed vs. installation examples of his art). Here, a densely packed, horizontal sprawl of tightly packed, five inch raspberry canes, thirty-three inches in width, floods one’s peripheral vision. Its concise, dark form seems to belie its “soft” title: gathered lines (as in a family gathering/a gathering of friends). Little breathing space or respite is allotted an observer, as the tug toward the tiny, self-protective cluster envelops one’s whole being, effectively obliterating everything on the margins.

This potent, powerful work, like others in the exhibition, embodies the resonance and spectrum of readings that the artist’s “fieldwork” sets into play, while simultaneously offering aesthetic forms and pleasures. Perhaps Cressman’s summary statement, in which he describes “imagery reflective of the structure, randomness, and fragile nature of the constantly changing Michigan landscape” might be amended to embrace the “changing world” in lieu of the “Michigan landscape.”

“Larry Cressman: Fieldwork” is on view at K.Oss Contemporary Art, 1410 Gratiot Avenue, Detroit, through Dec. 29, 2018. Cressman, who received his BFA and MFA degrees from the University of Michigan, is a Professor Emeritus of the university. An Ann Arbor resident, he has lived and worked in Michigan throughout his career, while exhibiting his works across the United States and Europe.

 

 

 

 

Zacarias and Meyohas @ Wasserman Projects

Marela Zacarias: Coatlicue’s Return and Sarah Meyohas: Speculations

Installation view of Zacarias/Meyohas exhibition at Wasserman Projects.   All photo images: PD Rearick courtesy Wasserman Projects

In her recent talk at the College for Creative Studies, Mexican artist Marela Zacarias explained her shift from figurative mural painting to abstract sculpture.  While painting a scarf on a female figure in a commissioned mural, she realized she was much more interested in the abstracted folds and arabesque shapes of the scarf, and its relationship to the history of textiles and women, than in the figure she was painting. Up until then, Zacarias had been painting mostly murals. She explained that the social and political climate when she went to college, particularly at Kenyon College where she was in art school, led her to the political activism of painting murals. Ultimately she combined the sculptural abstract form inspired by textiles, as well as architecture, to create what are essentially abstract sculptural wall reliefs or murals, and unlike a mural, enwrap an object rather than use it as a support.

Marela Zacarias, “Coatlicue’s Return,” 2018, Acrylic on plaster and wire mesh, wood, and milk cartons, 74”x 74”x 74”

In keeping with her site-specific practice and her interest in Diego Rivera’s Industrial murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts, in creating “Coatlicue’s Return,” the title of her suite of sculpture/murals at Wasserman Projects, Zacarias researched Detroit’s material culture through its architecture, landscape and museum collections. She imbued her sculptures with objects and abstract painting that reference a few of Detroit’s monumental icons. Having grown up with and studied the Mexican Mural movement in Mexico she of course engaged with the Rivera’s Industry murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts. The center-piece then of “Coatlicue’s Return” is a large, free-standing undulating sculpture (enwrapping plastic milk crates, artefactual debris from Detroit life, and suggesting Coatlicue’s nurturing identity.) Composed of nine separate interlocking parts, symbolizing the myth of Coatlicue’s ultimate murder and dismemberment perhaps, they nest together like a puzzle. Referencing both the Aztec myth of the Coatlicue, the Earth/Mother goddess of both Creation and Destruction of Aztec culture, and Rivera’s painting of Coatlicue as an enormous anthropomorphized machine, that both creates (cars) and destroys (the worker). The abstract painting on the sculpture suggest Rivera’s decorative Aztec trim in his Detroit mural.

Marela Zacarias, “South Wall,” 2018, Acrylic on plaster and wire mesh, Detroit mirrorized window, 49” x 46” X 33”, “North Wall,” 2018, Acrylic on plaster, wire mesh, Detroit mirrorized window, 69” x 62” x 19”

Composed of wood and screen armatures, manually coated with plaster, Zacarias’ sensuous forms take shape through an arduous sculpting and sanding process. Before being painted, they already have a lively, biomorphic presence reminiscent of French surrealist sculptor Jean Arp. Stretching the definition of mural painting, Zacarias, drapes her sensuous forms over architectural details such as locally found window frames and objects like hanging tire swings, recovered from Detroit neighborhoods. Like Mexican women’s use of rebozos, which are lengthy, multipurpose fringed, shawls, employed during child birth and for nurturing and carrying their babies, the draping sculptures suggest the long association of women and draping textiles and by association, the creation of the world. In a sense, all of Zacarias’ sculptures are images of giving birth or of creating the world.

Two sculptures inspired by Rivera’s murals, “South Wall” and “North Wall,” have a very immediate sense of playfulness and giving birth. Both windows, recovered from Detroit’s landscape, have mirrors wrapped in Coatlicue’s birthing textiles, that reflect the beholder, implying that, even now, Coatlicue is at work creating us, the viewers. Both are painted in the respective palette of Rivera’s walls. On her explorations of Detroit, Zacarias visited the Guardian building, the Art Deco office building totally based on Mayan design elements. Painted with the graphic design and colors of the Guardian Building, the wall relief “The Guardian,” suggests the notion of a textile metamorphosing into that space.

Marela Zacarias, “The Guardian,” 2018, Acrylic on plaster and wire mesh, 47” x 40.5” x 15”

Bookending “Coatlicue’s Return” in the Wasserman Project galleries is New York artist Sarah Meyohas’ project, “Speculations,” which is, judging by her past artistic endeavors, driven by her engagement with the workings of the economy and the organization of the world’s trading and financial market. Once a student at the prestigious Wharton School of Business, her multimedia visual experiments are often beautiful, always slick, and uncertainly, critiques of the vagaries of time and money. “Speculations,” includes four tantalizing photographic images of mirror images reflecting mirror images of mirrors, and so on, into the darkness of infinity. Each photograph of the “Speculations” series is differentiated by an enticing decorative tableau, which is multiplied, and its attractiveness enhanced, by the mirrors. “Pink and Yellow Speculation,” 2015, reflects a coral colored wall into the darkness of infinity, the coral slowly darkening into black, into the unknown metaphorical future. Foregrounding the image is a branch of brilliant yellow flowers that tints the overall image and is magnified, and made even more enticing, by the repetition of the mirrors. Metaphorically, it could be a commentary on the aleatoric nature of financial speculation or specifically on the speculative and illusory nature of beauty and the art market. “Flaunt Speculation, 2018, is the same arrangement of mirrors but surrounded by, presumably, Meyohas own nude body enhanced, comically, by sprays of purple flowers. Most interesting is that in each of the “Speculation” series there is a slight offset to the mirrors, like a winding snake, which in the calculus of the interpolation, in following the arc of mirrors, would come back and bite the ass of the beholder.

Sarah Meyohas, “Pink and Yellow Speculation,” 2015, Framed Chromogenic Print, 91.75 x 61.75” x 2”

The piece de resistance of the whole exhibition is “Generated Petals Interpolation,” Meyohas’ video installation that employs an engaging room of mirrors and a mesmerizing, computer generated program of an evolving, ever changing grid of rose petals. Meyohas hired a pool of temp workers to pick through thousands of roses, picking the most “beautiful” from each bouquet and photographing a single petal from it. Those photographs were digitally entered into a computer and an algorithm created to select and create an infinite number and variety of petals that are projected onto the wall. The mirrored environment, like the fitting room at Nordstrom’s, reflects a room full of infinity and titillating, pulsating images of rose petals. Like the infinity of repeating images in the “Speculations” series, it suggests and tests the technological generation and replication of beauty and its economy of labor and production.

Sarah Meyohas, “Generated Petals Interpolation,” 2018, Video Production, mirrors.

While both Zacarias and Meyohas engage in a spectacular use of materials and technology there is an equal engagement with ideas formed with a kind of visual literacy (both live in and develop visual ideas) that suggests many compelling contemporary issues. Especially interesting is the engagement that each artist has with time. Meyohas’ images confront the nature of beauty through manipulated technology. In “Speculations” and “Generated Petals Interpolation,” the repetition of the imagery, creates its own seductive beauty in a warp of a circuitous infinity. Time becomes a dizzying and perplexing existential quandary. Zacharias employs a convincing and at once beautiful and frightening Aztec myth to explain the cosmic and local creation of everything.

Wasserman Projects: MARELA ZACARIAS: COATLICUE’S RETURN and SARAH MEYOHAS: SPECULATIONS, through December 15, 2018

 

 

Abstraction & Politics @ UMMA

Sam Gilliam, Situation VI—Pisces 4, ca. 1972, polypropylene painted multiform. Williams College Museum of Art Museum purchase, Otis Family Acquisition Trust and Kathryn Hurd Fund. Courtesy of Joseph Goddu Fine Arts, Inc., New York. © Sam Gilliam

Visitors stepping out of the University of Michigan’s Taubman Gallery (currently paying host to a punchy and politically-charged exhibition of art of the African diaspora) who then wander in to the adjacent show, Abstraction, Color, and Politics in the Early 1970s,will perhaps find themselves in a gallery space austere by comparison, containing four allusive abstract paintings and sculptures.  It’s a highly conceptual micro-exhibition comprising works by Helen Frankenthaler, Al Loving, Sam Gilliam, and Louise Nevelson.  In spite of the show’s title, as political statements, their significance isn’t self-evident (something perhaps tacitly acknowledged by the interrogative opening line of the show introductory text: Can abstract art be about politics and identity?), but what the artists in this tactfully assembled ensemble have in common is their defiant refusal to conform to the art-world’s expectations of what their art should be.

Viewers first encounter a geometric abstraction by Al Loving (one of Detroit’s own, though he later lived and worked out of New York City). Influenced in the 1970s by the hard-edge color squares of Josef Albers, Loving’s Bowery Morning is a simple yet disorienting network of shapes which could be read variously as an ensemble of polygons or cubes.  Loving created the work in 1971, the same year he participated in the Whitney Museum’s highly controversial Contemporary Black Artists in America, a show which acquired notoriety when fifteen artists withdrew to protest the decisions made by the show’s mostly white curatorial staff.  But conspicuous by its absence in Loving’s work was any commentary on the social or political issues of his day.

Al Loving, Bowery Morning, 1971, acrylic on canvas. Courtesy the Estate of Al Loving and Garth Greenan Gallery, New York.

The same could be said of the work of Sam Gilliam, who in the 1970s began experimenting with abstract fabric constructions (as Al Loving himself increasingly began to do). Inspired by seeing laundry hung out to dry, Gilliam liberated his canvasses from their wooden frames, transforming his paintings into fully sculptural objects which hung elegantly from the wall like giant curtains, sails, and banners, a contribution to Abstract Expressionism that occurred long before Frank Stella began producing his own sculptural paintings which burst from the wall and crashed into the viewer’s space.  Here, Gilliam’s attention-grabbing Situation VI-Pisces 4,an abstract painting displayed like a massive banner incised with with deep drapes and folds,nearly fills an entire gallery wall with a blaze of crimsons and yellows, and it’s hard not to consider this as the show’s visual centerpiece.

Sam Gilliam, Situation VI—Pisces 4 (detail), ca. 1972, polypropylene painted multiform. Williams College Museum of Art Museum purchase, Otis Family Acquisition Trust and Kathryn Hurd Fund. Courtesy of Joseph Goddu Fine Arts, Inc., New York. © Sam Gilliam

Directly across from Situation VI, Louise Nevelson’s stately and characteristically enigmatic Dark Presence seems subdued and restrained in comparison.  Dark Presence is exactly that, a mostly rectilinear scaffolding of individual wooden forms which, all painted black, coalesce into a unified whole.  A work by the second-generation Abstract Expressionist Helen Frankenthaler completes this ensemble.  Her Sunset Corner is a representative color-field painting applying her “soak-stain” method, for which she covered the canvass in nearly translucent washes of water-thin paint.

Abstraction and Politics is a challenging exhibition that certainly doesn’t patronize its patrons, and the political applications of these four works is admittedly difficult to find without the helpful explanatory text which introduces the show.  But what these diverse artists have in common is their shared refusal to adhere to expectations regarding what African-American art or Feminist-art (choose your hyphenation) ought to look like.  Nevelson’s works in particular– in part because of their imposing scale and subdued color– gleefully bucked pervading stereotypes of sculpture by women, even eliciting sexist reviews by stunned critics, incredulous that such work could be executed by a female.  The show’s theme certainly works if we view self-determination as a political act, and if we approach these artists’ defiant refusal to conform to expected narratives as a reaction against the cultural climate in which they lived, then it’s possible to view these works as an understated form of protest.  To borrow a phrase from Sylvia Plath: through their art these artists simply asserted their right to live and work on their own human terms.

University of Michigan Museum of Art   Abstraction and Politics –  Through September 29, 2019

Charles Pollock: Modernism in the Making @ Broad Museum, Michigan State University

Charles Pollock: Modernism in the Making, installation view at the MSU Broad, 2018. Image: Eat Pomegranate Photography

We all know of Pollock, the aspirant artist who studied under Thomas Hart Benton in New York, gained experience painting murals commissioned by the depression-era Works Progress Administration, and became an acclaimed Abstract Expressionist.Or do we?  After all, most of us are likely more familiar with his younger sibling, Jackson, who also studied under Benton in New York, also made paintings for the WPA, and also worked in Abstract Expressionism, following the course laid by his older brother, Charles.

Through December, Michigan State University celebrates the work and legacy of Charles Pollock, who taught at MSU for almost 30 years (1942-1969) and retired 50 years ago.  Charles worked in abstraction, though unlike his brother, his work bends more toward color-field painting, occasionally evoking the misty canvasses of Mark Rothko.  Pollock was well connected with the driving artists and personalities of the postwar New York School, and he used his connections to acquire works of art and bring artists of America’s avant-gardeto campus.  Along with the paintings, drawings, and correspondence of Charles Pollock himself, this intimate one-room exhibition also offers a cross-section of the many artists and personalities that encompassed his broad social circle.

Before turning toward abstraction, his early work carried thick Social Realist accent.  Somber lithographs like After the Drought, portraying an eerily smiling cattle skull set against a bleak and unpeopled desert-scape, could easily serve as concept art for a film adaptation of a Steinbeck novel.  Similarly, his Man at the Well (1933) is hardly an optimistic portrayal of America as the land of opportunity; the empty bucket and the grim expression the on figure’s face together imply that this well has run dry.  Pollock also worked in graphic design, and it’s no surprise to see that he made the cover for an anthology of William Falkner, whose Sound and Fury viscerally gave the lie to the notion that America was a new-world Arcadia.

Pollock came to Michigan while working for the Works Progress Administration, and it was a set of mural assignments for the Lansing Water Treatment Plant and Michigan State University’s Fairchild Auditorium that brought him to Lansing.  Here, viewers can see an early sketch for his Fairchild mural; the completed work, conceived as a triptych, is still on view in the Auditorium.  The heroic imagery reveals the influence of Benton; implausibly muscular workers go about the business of making America great though brawn, brain, industry, and resourcefulness.

Charles Pollock, #95, 1967. Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, Michigan State University, gift of George F. Schwelinger in memory of Ella Schwelinger.

In the 1940s, Pollock turned toward abstraction.  Unlike Jackson, whose splashy drip-paintings seemed to suggest a haptic attitude of devil-may-care spontaneity, Charles’ paintings are, by comparison, orderly and restrained.  His #86 fills the canvass with a grid of vertically oriented rectilinear color swatches, recalling the vertically-oriented color field paintings of Barnett Newman.  And his #95 similarly offers viewers a serene grid of color fields, whose soft borders are suggestive of the color-field paintings of Rothko.

But the lion’s share of the gallery space highlights the artist’s connections with Abstract Expressionism’s famous personalities, many of whom he brought to Michigan State.  On view are photographs and correspondence  which reveal the extent of his reach, such as an invitation to famed art-critic Clement Greenburg, who came to MSU to deliver a talk.

Helen Frankenthaler, Untitled, 1950. Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, Michigan State University, gift of Clement Greenberg.

There is also an impressive selection of paintings and sculptures by names synonymous with the postwar American art scene: Kenneth Noland, Barnett Newman, Helen Frankenthaler, and others.  With the exception of an untitled metallic sculpture by Italo Scanga, consciously evoking a reductive human face, all the works on view are rooted in pure abstraction. The earliest work in the show is an untitled thickly-impostoed painting by Helen Frankenthaler from 1950, created just when Abstract Expressionism was enjoying its meteoric ascent in New York.  It’s scrubbed-in gestural tangle of circular forms shows the influence of Jackson Pollock, recalling some of his messily-painted figurative work prior to his development of drip painting. Frankenthaler become a driving force in the development of Color Field painting, influencing the likes of Kenneth Noland, represented here with a typically Noland-esque lozenge-shaped arrangement of concentric squares emerging from the center of a canvass.

Charles Pollock: Modernism in the Making, installation view at the MSU Broad, 2018. Image: Eat Pomegranate Photography

Modernism in the Making is a small exhibit, but it brings together an impressively muscular cross-section of A-list postwar artists, offering a snapshot portrayal of the emergence of Abstract Expressionism. Admittedly, it’s hard not to walk away just a touch disappointed that Charles never managed to procure for Michigan State a drip-painting by Jackson Pollock himself.  Put perhaps it’s for the best; the other Pollock has received plenty of attention—too much, really– and Charles and his circle certainly deserve their moment in the spotlight.

Broad Museum Michigan State University

Charles Pollock, Modernism in the Making runs through December 30; more information can be found here.

Beyond Borders @ UMMA

When colonial powers carved up the African continent, borders were drawn that indiscriminately sliced through culturally similar people-groups, and the inhabitants were subsequently viewed by Europeans to live in distinct, monolithic “tribes,” each of which lived in relative isolation.  Beyond Borders: Global Africa, on view in the University of Michigan’s spacious Taubman Gallery, emphatically makes the point that cultural exchange across African societies and between Africa and the West is and always has been fluid.

Gleaned largely from its own collection and supplemented by works on loan from the Mott-Warsh Collection in Flint, the art on view ranges from 19thcentury through contemporary, and spans across a diverse array media.  Collectively, as Laura De Becker articulates in the exhibition catalogue, they “illustrate moments of encounter throughout history, complicating the colonial idea that the African continent is made of up ethnic groups or nations with starkly defined, impermeable boarders, or that it stands at one end of a dichotomy comprising Africa and the West.”

Artist unrecorded, Kongo peoples, Vili group, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola, Republic of the Congo, Nkisi(power figure), ca. 1800, wood, tukula powder and kaolin. University of Michigan Museum of Art, Gift of Candis and Helmut Stern, 2005/1.180.

Several sets of carved sculptural objects demonstrate thematic similarities that transcend colonial-era borders.  A selection of Minksi (Power Objects), though varied in form—ranging from representational to highly abstract—demonstrate the widespread belief that the sculpted figure could be spiritually potent and even intercede on behalf of the living.

Many of these works synthesize local traditions with European elements.  A pair of ceremonial shoes decorated with beads, for example, alludes to trade between Nigeria and Europe (most beads were imported from Venice). Furthermore, the beads create a mosaic of the British Crown, and it’s ambiguous if the reference, ingloriously appearing as it does on shoes, is understood to be a respectful homage or a wry and subtle insult to the colonial power.

Seydou Keïta, Untitled, 1956-57, gelatin silver print.

European faces make cameo appearances, carved into a Chokwe chair, for example, and European coins are inventively repurposed to decorate carved boxes and wooden figures.  Commerce and cultural exchange are addressed directly in a series of black and white photographs by Seydou Keita, hailed by many as the “father of African photography,” depicting anonymous residents of Bamako, Mali, posed with imported consumer goods that reveal the country’s rising middle class in the latter half of the 29thcentury.

Omar Victor Diop, Jean-Baptiste Belley (1746-1805), 2014, pigment inkjet printing on Harman by Hahnemühle paper. Courtesy of Mott-Warsh collection, Flint, Michigan and MAGNIN-A Gallery, Paris, © Omar Victor Diop

In a powerful pair of confrontationally large photographs, Omar Victor Diop recreates images of historically significant figures from the African diaspora.  Like the ever shape-shifting Cindy Sherman, Diop stars himself in his works, assuming varied roles.  Here, the artist recreates Samuel Miller’s portrait of Frederick Douglass, but modernizes it by brandishing a plastic referee’s whistle.  Sports paraphernalia invariably appears in his work, addressing the discrepancy between the celebrity status African athletes enjoy in Western countries and the xenophobic attitudes expressed by people in those same nations.  In a second photograph, the artist recreates a painting by Trison, posing as Jean-Baptiste Belley, a former slave who won his freedom after service in French army, and subsequently became a vocal abolitionist.  The soccer ball Diop poses with serves as a foil to his otherwise convincing 18thcentury regalia; just the same, the image, replete with the subject’s gentle contrapposto, really does seem uncannily as if a portrait from the Louvre has nearly come to life.

A painting by Kehinde Wiley lends a jolt of young and energetic star-power to this exhibition.   Known for his paintings that present works of art from the Western cannon reimagined to star black protagonists, here the artist borrowed the pose of a statue of Chief Obafemi Awolowo—a key figure in securing Nigerian independence from Great Britain—and transforms the figure’s outstretched hand into a black power salute.  Wiley’s work consistently manages to be emphatically contemporary, giving a fresh spin to the old masters, and giving the lie to the notion that traditional figure painting is dead.

Kehinde Wiley, On Top of the World, 2008, oil on canvas. Courtesy of Aishti Foundation, Beirut © Kehinde Wiley

Beyond Borders succeeds in offering a cross section across mediums and across time, demonstrating in small part the extent to which cultural exchange happened in Africa and continues to occur today through its diaspora.  Furthermore, the national conversation in recent years has increasingly placed borders (and walls) at the forefront of political discourse, giving the show a timely relevance.

UMMA  –  Beyond Borders runs through November 24.