Michele Oka Doner @ Wasserman Projects

Michele Oka Doner,  Hominin Relic, The Release, Fertilized Capsule

Wasserman Projects opened an exhibition February 16, 2018 with the work of Michele Oka Doner, the prolific and inventive maker of sculpture, installations, jewelry, furniture, functional objects and handmade books.

Michele Oka Doner, Life Forms, 2005, Project for the Life Sciences Building at Rutgers University, Piscataway NJ. Wide view of atrium floor. Bronze embedded in terrazzo. Image from The Watch All publication

Her work celebrates organic forms, particularly seashore life, but also seeds, trees, the human body and other forms of natural growth. Michele Oka Doner is probably best known for her creation, A Walk on the Beach, an installation on the floors of Miami International Airport. It is one of the largest public artworks in the world, featuring 9,000 unique bronze sculptures inlaid with mother-of-pearl in over a mile-and-a-quarter long concourse of terrazzo.

I recall meeting her and seeing her work at the Gertrude Kasle Gallery in the early 1970s, and then again in 1977 with her one-person exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts, Works in Progress, much of what was titled Burial Pieces, was previously laid out on the floor of Gallery 7. She has come full circle since that time in this exhibition at Wasserman Projects.

Michele Oka Doner, Book of Psalm, All Images courtesy P.D.Rearick, Wasserman Projects

Always inspired by nature, Michele Oka Doner composes a collection of flattened plant fronds on a grid with variety in the mono-colored objects, giving it the title Book of Psalm. Traditionally, this is a biblical reference in both Christian and Jewish worship as in the Book of Psalm, comprised of religious verse, many ascribed to King David. With a title like that, the subject matter reaches out to many people and relies on their experience for its explanation.

In this exhibition at Wasserman Projects, forty years later, it’s as if this artist has a genre all her own, work fueled by a lifelong study of the natural world. Mathematicians have long established a code for human forms, from plants to rock formations. Best described by Carl G. Jung and explained by Joseph Campbell, Michele Oka Doner exploits the collective unconscious of these forms, shapes and material in her art work.

Alison Wong, Director of Exhibitions at Wasserman Projects says in a statement, “Michele Oka Doner’s illustrious multi-decade practice has been guided by a passion for the natural world, and a fascination with the history held within the remnants of living things, such as twigs, leaves, seeds, shells, pods and stones. In her diverse installations, public works, sculptures, photographs, and drawings, these organic fragments are integrated, replicated and reimagined in new contexts that speak to the ephemeral yet enduring nature of life.”

Michele Oka Doner, Inlay Study in plaster.

These shell images and assorted shapes set in a plaster inlay are especially interesting in that the object is modest in size and an abstract composition of spiral shapes. The spiral meaning or symbolism can represent the consciousness of nature beginning from its center and expanding outward. So in keeping with the broad theme of the natural world, Michele Oka Doner works with some of the oldest geometric shapes dating back to the Neolithic period, the product of people over thousands of years, as illustrated in the famous ancient spirals at Newgrange in Ireland. Often the spiral is a feminine symbol, representing not only women, but lifecycles, fertility and childbirth. She  places the viewer above and looking down at these various shapes that are cloaked in a gold patina that elevates the meaning.

Michele Oka Doner, Installation of table, objects, and materials.

As part of the exhibition, there is a long table that extends out into the gallery space, which contains a collection of objects, books, various material and sculptures. As the table meets the wall there are two human figures, a child made of porcelain and a standing figure made of terra cotta clay without a head and a spiral-textured surface. These are typical of Michele Oka Doner’s work with the human figure, and in this setting provide a contrast to her dried plant-based work.

Michele Oka Doner, Glyphs

It has been a mark of her work throughout the years to place these glyph objects on the floor where their light color and textures contrast with the dark concrete floor. Her art becomes the process of making, finding and arranging, these small objects to create questions in the mind of the viewer. It feels like a universal language capable of reaching all people. They are hieroglyphic in nature and vary in size, material and spacing, as if you are looking back in time to a Mayan writing system.

Michele Oka Doner, Whip

Michele Oka Doner was born and raised in Miami Beach, but for thirty years she has lived and worked out of her studio in Soho, New York. She says in an interview with CBS News, in Miami, “I really could speak about what I knew and saw which was an accelerated notion of things growing, sprouting, ripening, decaying, the tides coming, bringing me things when I walked the beach in the morning, taking them away. It was full of wonders and richness. By really learning my own trade, it really was coming out of dipping back into myself instead of reaching out in the world and grasping that I learned daily, a step at a time, to manifest an idea, and that’s as much as we can hope to do in this world.”

Michele Oka Doner received a Bachelor of Science and Design from the University of Michigan (1966), a M.F.A. (1968), was Alumna-in-Residence (1990), received the Distinguished Alumna Award from the School of Art (1994) and was a Penny Stamps Distinguished Speaker (2008). She was awarded the honorary degree, Doctor of Arts (2016).

Her work is in collections worldwide, notably the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, and The Cooper-Hewitt, New York; La Musée Des Artes Décoratifs, The Louvre, Paris; The Wolfsoniana, Musei de Genova; The Art Institute of Chicago; The Virginia Museum; The St. Louis Museum; The Dallas Museum of Art; The University of Michigan Museum of Art; The Yale Art Gallery; Princeton University Art Museum; and the Perez Art Museum Miami.

Also on display in the rear gallery is the  new work by Detroit based artist/designer Jack Craig.

For the past decade, Oka Doner has been represented by Marlborough Gallery, New York City.

Wasserman Projects, Michele Oka Doner is on exhibit through May 5, 2018.

Susan Goethel Campbell @ David Klein Gallery

Susan Goethel Campbell: Faulty Vision, David Klein Gallery

Installation image of front gallery.   All images courtesy of David Klein Gallery 2017

Susan Goethel Campbell’s installation “Faulty Vision” currently showing at the David Klein Gallery has all of the ingredients of the mise-en-scene of a surreal film. Like a Japanese garden it is challengingly eye-opening while meditative. In keeping with Campbell’s engagement with both architectural and “natural” space, “Faulty Vision” is designed as a response to the Beaux-Arts architecture of the Klein Gallery itself. The Grand Entrance, to use Beaux-Arts terminology, of the gallery, entering off of Washington Boulevard, Detroit’s premier Beaux-Art avenue, is activated by Campbell’s large, atmospheric black and white dune-scape photos seamlessly embedded into the walls; her uncanny, actual sized, cast earth and grass column echoes the classical Doric column next to it; magically engineered grassy, target-like images float in the middle of the gallery space; and black and white photos of planet-like orbs float around the space, all suggesting a strange landscape indeed. Each of the objects and images has evolved from the trajectory of recent related, but separate, projects that collectively comprise Campbell’s hybrid artistic practice. It is an elegant albeit enigmatic installation to contemplate.

Susan G. Campbell, “Dune No. 2,” 2017, Black and white digital print, 40” x 60”

Trained as a printmaker, it has become a method and process of her practice to see and think in multiple images and variations of those accumulations, as well to consider the processes of the “natural” world (germinating seeds and growth) and of the engineering processes of industrial manufacturing itself that compete with nature. For years now Campbell herself has become a kind of research and development factory, experimenting with organic materials such as seeds, plants, leaves, and even more ephemeral conditions like light, night sky and air itself. The overarching gesture then of “Faulty Vision” is to, it seems, if not challenge, then assay and respond to the symbolic permanence of that Beaux-Arts designed gallery space. Early in the twentieth century, Detroit and most American cities adopted a pared down version of Classical Greek and Roman architectural models, that have historically symbolized the enduring strength and permanence of European culture.

Susan G. Campbell, 4“ Ground no.6 (floor installation), 2017, 51”x51”

When closely examined the stunning earth work sculptures that are installed in the main gallery are all ironically modeled on what were once called “disposable” objects. Campbell’s column is made of hundreds of cast-earth and grass water bottles, grown in molds of the plastic bottles, to form a simulated, fluted Doric column. It is an over-the-top critique of the bombast of classicism and at the same-time beguilingly baroque.  Situated in the gallery’s windows facing Washington Blvd., as if window-displays of consumer goods, are stacks of cast-earth and grass cell phones modeled on the evolving i-Phone, 4, 5, and 6 series. (As in nature phones evolve too). And echoing larger engineered earthworks (such as center pivot watering circles in contemporary agribusiness) as in “Ground No.6 (floor installation),” suggesting also ancient Native American Mound-Builder’s “ruins,” as well as many ancient, rammed earth and mud constructions. All of the materials of Campbell’s sculptures are made of natural, decomposable materials and are serious parodies of the plastic and aluminum models.

At one point in a recent talk at the gallery, Campbell alluded to the earth work of artist James Turrell and fantasized an installation of an enormous field of her own cast-earth concentric rings. “I love multiple images of the same thing…like seeing a shelf of the same product in a grocery store.” Repeating any image, such as the cell phone shape or her concentric rings, is one of the basic tropes of modern art (Warhol) and architecture (Mies van der Rohe) and belongs in any discussion of printmaking as well as mechanical reproduction. Repetition seems to insure coherence and a sense of consistency and security, versus the chaos and uncertainty of the of fickleness of nature. Repetition also is the beginning of making a pattern that creates structure and strength.

Susan G. Campbell, “Dune No.1,” 2017, Black and white digital print, 40”x62”

In the smaller rear gallery, there is a large B&W photo of a sand dune with two human figures seeming to lean into a struggled walk across the horizon. In the grand scheme of things, of the world around them, with enormous emotional sky overhead and menacing mounds of sand dune and dune grass underfoot, they seem remarkably inconsequential and existentially without destination. In a sense this image is a key to the whole exhibition in projecting a heroic, man against nature, Romantically Sublime, vision, in contrast to the constructed space of the gallery. While this photographed landscape captures the same organic materials as her engineered works—earth and grass, such as in Ground No.6– it is chaotic and foreboding, the exact opposite of Campbell’s built organic world. Three other dune photos, with haunting fog and solitary figures, also suggest a counter to the controlled order of Campbell’s engineered pieces and create a narrative tension to the whole exhibition: nature versus the built world.

Susan G. Campbell, “Water Planet No. 5,” 2017, Digital print on polyester, spray paint 22 3/4 x 30 5/8″

A third group of images triangulate Campbell’s vision and offer a surreal contrast to the architectural and natural conditions of landscape or environment that determine the rest of Campbell’s projects. The “Water Planets” are a series of images of planet-like orbs pictured as composed of water, floating in a hauntingly empty space. “Water Planet No.5” has two truncated orbs, one eclipsed in shadow and one of water, situated in a matte gray ethereal space. Each “planet” exists in ultimate isolation and, one imagines, can virtually never touch another or conjoin with the other. The “Water Planets” are an uncanny and stunning invention and throw all of “Faulty Vision” into another realm of thought and are superior evidence of Campbell’s considered world.

In “Faulty Vision,” Campbell is responding to an architectural space with its own specific, highly evolved Classical ideology. The David Klein Gallery is not simply white walls upon which to hang her work. The Beaux-Arts history, of which the Klein gallery is a part, is virtually the result of the fantasy of authority and permanence that is western culture. It is the result of a weird evolution and Campbell’s fragile, water bottle, grass and dirt column, circles and i-Phones are a remarkable response to that history. There is an umbrella of ambiguity that protects the complicated equation of “Faulty Vision,” that allows for many readings and wonderings, and Campbell plays on that.

Susan Goethel Campbell: Faulty Vision, David Klein Gallery  Through December 16, 2017

Susan Aaron-Taylor @ NCRC Gallery, Ann Arbor

Strata is Susan Aaron-Taylor’s work at the University of Michigan NCRC Connection Gallery

Susan Aaron-Taylor’s dynamic, charged sculptures, on view currently at NCRC Connection Gallery at the University of Michigan, confront the viewer like visitors from another world. Beginning with an image drawn from a dream or an astral journey (Aaron-Taylor is a student of Jungian psychology and shamanic practice) she curates a collection of challenging, specific materials into forms that utterly transcend craft. Aaron-Taylor’s sculptures are charged with an eerie liveliness- sharp, appraising eyes, extended claws, bared teeth, sensuous, bejeweled fur- and seem to exist in their own open-ended narratives, in which time assumes a dream-like quality, collapsed and overlapping. Susan Aaron-Taylor: Strata is a retrospective, encompassing different bodies of work that explore, from different perspectives, a channeling of massive power.

The studio where Aaron-Taylor nurses her visions into corporeal forms is a bright, warm space, part alchemical laboratory, part cabinet of natural curiosities. Leading me around her studio, Aaron-Taylor opens drawers, draws back curtains, pulls out boxes, revealing piles of glittering stones, cords of elegantly twisted wood, curls of birchbark, mounds of multicolored felt. Beginning with an armature of found wood, each form is carefully and lovingly built, of bones, shells, quills, beads, crystals, cacti, and a hand-stitched felt “pelt” into an incredibly powerful assemblage that seamlessly evokes a recognizable animal- cats, polar bears, water rats. These creatures feel both archetypal and individual. Each projects a state of emotional extremity that could vary from viewer to viewer- the half-reclined posture and exposed bones of “Guide,” for example, presents a puzzling paradox between title and content- power invested with touching vulnerability.

Susan Aaron-Taylor, Guide, Cholla Cactus, Shells, Handmade felt, Petrified Wood, Animal Skull, Banded Iron, 12 x 29 x 14″ All Images courtesy of Tim Thayer

Each clearly has a story to tell. Though they come from a very personal place, Aaron-Taylor is reluctant to reveal her own associations with her sculptures- she finds it more interesting to learn what they evoke for viewers. It is a tenet of Jungian psychoanalysis that each symbol that appears in a dream has a meaning unique to the dreamer.

The vivid blue dressing that surrounds “Water Rat” could be a ruffled skirt or a watery environment. The rat is depicted with her forelegs raised toward the sky in a gesture that could be read as despair or exaltation. The rat is clearly a mother- her body is studded with erect nipples tipped with shimmering beads. It’s an unusual combination of signs- lowly rodent and fertility goddess.

Susan Aaron-Taylor, Water Rat, 16 x 11 x 18″, Handmade Felt, Stones, and Stitching

The ladder that “Polar Bear” climbs straddles multiple worlds- it could represent a conduit to the shamanic upper world, or index a cage through which the defiant, porcupine quilled face of the creature snarls, depending upon the angle by which one views it. Either way, the being’s survival is uncertain. It’s elongated legs balance precariously on diminutive masses of ice that threaten to float apart in warming seas.

Susan Aaron-Taylor, Polar Bear, 19 x 17 x 13″, Wood, Handmade Felt, Geodes, Porcupine Quills, Cabochons, and Beads

“Tiger Teapot” adds yet another intriguing layer of imagery, being both a functioning teapot (it technically contains an inner chamber, lid and spout, though Aaron-Taylor points out that her teapots “can only really be used for a return to those childhood tea parties where what was being served was imagination and wonder.”) and a sly, enigmatically smiling creature mid-prowl.

Susan Aaron-Taylor, Tiger Teapot, 12 x 19 x 10″, Handmade Felt, Wood, Geodes, Cabochons, and Porcupine Quills

The tea service format ropes the ritual act, the gathering around vessels invested with fragrant brew, into the dream-symbol narrative Aaron-Taylor presents in tantalizingly vague, multifaceted flashes of insight. Expertly weaving the half-remembered visuals of dreams with iconic objects that resonate with ritual, Aaron-Taylor sets the stage for viewers to have their own experience of journey and revelation. With her incredible command of materials and craft and the profound, yet somehow light-hearted feel of her sculptures, she makes for a good guide.

Susan Aaron-Taylor: Strata is on view at Connections Gallery, North Campus, University of Michigan, from September 5 through December 12, 2017

 

Cooper Holoweski @ CCS Center Galleries

Copper Holoweski presents Basement Cosmos at the College for Creative Studies Center Galleries

Cooper Holoweski, Cannibal Universe, Video loop with sound, 4min 30sec, 2016

The Detroit-based multimedia artist, Cooper Holoweski has a solo exhibition of work that opened at the CCS Center Galleries September 15, 2017. Curated by the director of the galleries, Michelle Perron, the exhibition is comprised of two large projected video loops that include an audio track and three sculptures that Holoweski made in collaboration with his three-year-old son, Cassius Oak. The exhibition space is painted entirely black to contrast with the two – wall to ceiling – video images, Cannibal Universe, and Food, Clothing, Shelter. These video loops of images contrast, as one seems to focus on the universe’s celestial night sky with a large variety of imagery and the other illustrates a short series of images from materials that are part of our experience in the natural environment.

Holoweski says in his statement, “One thing that tends to bind my work is a quality of “tension” or “contradiction.” In the past, I have used digital 3D modeling to create piles of virtual garbage. The idea being that 3D modeling is typically used for prototyping new objects; so the medium represents the beginning of a life cycle, while the junkyard represents the end. With the work in Basement Cosmos and my piece in Dlectricity I’m taking on some grandiose subject matter (the creation of the universe, the origin of consciousness, the infinite and the unseen), things that many, including myself, hold quite sacred. With some exceptions, I’ve generally used very banal materials and processes to depict these things. For me, this counterbalances the grandiosity of the subject matter, makes the work more inviting (and sometimes humorous even), and creates a bit of that tension by coupling the sacred with the every day.”

Cooper Holoweski, Food, Clothing, Shelter, Video loop with sound, 3min 28sec, 2017

It was just recently upon my visit to the Venice Biennale 2017 that I experienced video artwork that was an integral part of many countries exhibitions. I mention this because the popularity of video as an art medium seems to grow each year and it is within this context that I energetically viewed the Basement Cosmos installation. Tracing its origins to the birth of video art in the 1970s, it has increased in popularity as production technology has become more readily accessible. Today, video installation is ubiquitous and visible in a range of environments—from galleries and museums to an expanded field that includes site-specific work in urban or industrial landscapes. The only requirements are equipment, electricity, and darkness (for projection). It would be a guess, but the video work on display in this exhibition could have been originated in one’s basement and then projected on a large wall that amplifies the scale. Having a traditional art practice myself, all of this has forced me to better understand video artwork as a fine art, and where fits into the universe of visual art. The best I can do is to perceive video pieces much in the same way I see performance art: a fleeting experience, like a ballet or a stage play (that can be re-performed) for an audience, but not purchased to be placed in a domestic living room, but yes, part of a museum collection. One may think of video screens as a new type of canvas with moving images.

Cooper Holoweski, Cannibal Universe Video loop with sound 4min 30sec 2016

If you have a passing acquaintance with video art, you’re probably familiar with The Clock (2010), by Christian Marclay, which is perhaps the most hyped art video during that period. The premise was deceptively simple: it ran for 24 hours and was a mash-up of movie scenes featuring either a clock face or a reference to the time that was synonymous with the actual time. Other video installation artists include Pipilotti Rist, Cory Archangel, Hannah Black, and Ryan Trecartin. Some of these artists have a narrative; others are purely visual in their use of video imagery.

This review comes on the heels of an exhibition at Oakland University Art Gallery, where I mention the role of a university exhibition space, and now at CCS where they can pursue new ideas without a concern for commerce: a much-needed function in the Detroit Art Community, and acknowledgement of those curators who take full advantage of this position.

The exhibition Basement Cosmos includes three sculptures: Mobius Strip, Cala-bi-Yau Manifold, and Ouroboros Ghost Worm Eating its Own Butt and represents a form of eternal cyclicality. It is not clear how these works fit into the video displays of work and seem like somewhat of an after thought or perhaps humorous relief. Cooper Holoweski earned a B.F.A from the University of Michigan and an M.F.A from the Rhode Island School of Design. He lives and works in the Detroit area and participated in this year’s Delectrity 2017.

Center for Creative Studies, Center Galleries           Basement Cosmos, runs through October 21

Matthew Hawtin @ David Klein Gallery

Matthew Hawtin, Installation image at the David Klein Gallery, image courtesy of DAR

In his Solo Exhibition, Matthew Hawtin Presents Minimal Abstraction

It seems fitting to mention that abstraction has been with us since the Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky migrated his landscape to a purely abstract form on canvas sometime in late 1910. I always make the comparison to music, since instrumental music is abstract by nature—it does not try to represent the exterior world, but expresses in an immediate way the artist’s inner feelings, from Mozart to John Cage.

The David Klein Gallery opened the Matthew Hawtin exhibit September 9, 2017, with pure minimalist abstract objects executing perfected forms and pristine surface qualities. These shaped canvases rendered in primary/secondary colors, could not be executed more flawlessly. Some are on “torqued canvas,” others on fiberglass panels, all accompanied by a variety of exquisite surfaces. The copiousness of Hawtin’s invention, and his conception seem to allow him to explore each and every multiplicity of these ideas uniquely.

Matthew Hawtin, Stargazer, 45 x 45 x 19, Acrylic on Fiberglass paner 2017

Hawtin says, “Although each series has its own technical demands, they all live in aesthetic parallel that blurs the line between artistic disciplines. There is a determination to continually push the work forward through aesthetic variations, technical refinements and experimenting with new materials. Within this forward trajectory, there is an overall vision to create art that is ‘other-worldly’ and in a sense, futuristic.”

Matthew Hawtin, Cardinal, 42 x 44 X 12, Acrylic on Fiberglass Panel, 2017

The basic context for Hawtin is the color minimalist from the 1970s, including Ellsworth Kelly, Frank Stella, Kenneth Nolan, and Anne Truitt. The secondary would be the shaped canvas artist, revisited recently in an exhibition by Luxembourg & Dayan in New York, with artists like Lynda Benglis, Elizatheth Murray, and Charles Hinman. Hawtin’s work is a hybrid of these two concepts that fights hard against representational artwork and abstract expressionistic painting, with a large degree of success. The new works that fit into corners are particularly interesting and unique. These works, composed of parallelograms, diamonds, trapezoids, rhomboids, and circles, are reductively streamlined, solid in their color and simplified in their forms that, forty years later, remain robust and encompassing in an array of approaches, especially with respect to the surface material.

Matthew Hawtin, Working in the studio, 2017, Courtesy of Artnet

Born in England, and then moved to Windsor, Canada in 1979, Matthew Hawtin earned a bachelor of fine arts degree from York University in Toronto and an master’s in architecture from the University of East London, in London.

 

Bryan Graf’s Photographic images: DEBRIS OF THE DAYS

Bryan Graf, Interstates, Shortcuts, A Factory an Open Field and a Few Homes, 2016 c-Prints mounted with cleats, 40 Unique, 8 x 10″

In the second gallery at the David Klein Gallery, the artist Bryan Graf focuses on Photograms, one of the earliest forms of photography, to create abstract tension between text and image, in a variety of scale.

Photograms are images made without a camera by placing objects directly onto the surface of a light-sensitive material, such as photographic paper, and then exposing it to light. Like drawing or painting, the process is like creating a collage without the need for scissors or glue. Rather, Graf has become highly skilled at controlling the process in the darkroom using color, shape and composition.

Bryan Graf, Chromatic Aqueduct, 40 x 74″ 2016, Unique Photogram and C-Print

Director of the David Klein Gallery, Christine Schefman says, “The photographs in Debris of the Days originate in a garden. It is a cultivation of ongoing works not limited to themselves, but rather a procession of generative images. Graf integrates his own gestural activity into the work by utilizing materials gathered on site as well the use of manipulations in the darkroom. His inquiry into the positive tension between text and image, as well as literary and musical influences, are evident in the arrangement of works for this show. His practice continues to reveal his interest in the history of photography and its relationship to design, painting and narrative fiction.”

Bryan Graf earned a bachelor of fine arts from the Art Institute of Boston and a master of fine arts from Yale University in 2008.

The exhibitions by Matthew Hawtin and Bryan Graf run through October 21, 2017

David Klein Gallery