Epicenter X @ Arab American National Museum

Exterior, The Arab American National Museum, Dearborn Michigan, 2017, All images courtesy of the AANM

Epicenter X is a small exhibition, but as the Michigan’s first significant show of contemporary art from Saudi Arabia, it carries some cultural weight. Featuring works by 20 emerging and mid-career artists, this traveling show, supported by Saudi Arabia’s newly established King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, has already worked its way through six other venues as it travels across the country; future stops include New York and Washington D.C. Through October, Epicenter X can be viewed at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, a city famously home to the nation’s largest concentration of Arab Americans.

In the exhibition catalogue, Devon Akmon, director of the AANM and curator of the show, writes that although Saudi Arabia is a crucial ally of the United States in the Arab World, little is known in America about its people or its culture. Redressing this, Epicenter X seeks to challenge stereotypes of Arab culture by amplifying the voices of contemporary Saudi artists with a particular emphasis on the exploration of “urbanization, globalization, religion and the impact of American popular culture in Saudi society.”

Ahmed Angawi, Wijha 2:148 – And everyone has a direction to which they should turn, 2013, Digital Lenticular Print mounted on Aluminium

The exhibition features photography, graphic design, performance, video, sculpture, and painting, frequently delivering traditionally Arabic forms (particularly calligraphy) through modern media. While much of the art on view is clearly rooted in hundreds of years of Arabic visual culture, other works are emphatically contemporary, making conceptual, politically-charged statements on current issues like immigration, Guantanamo Bay, or the 2011 Arab Spring (its reverberations still echoing in Syria today).

Qamar Abdulmalik’s Asylum of Dreams, for example, presents viewers with a functional mechanical-claw arcade game filled, not with toys or plush animals, but passports from several dozen countries; they’re teasingly on display, yet, like political asylum itself, frustratingly unattainable for many people. The work is a poignant metaphor of the plight of those with no state-established identity– people who, as Abdulmalik movingly states, “are homesick but have no place to be homesick for.”

Qamar Abdulmalik, Asylum of Dreams, 2017, Crane Machine installation with printed passports

Similarly addressing a serious issue with understated humor is Musaed Al Hulis’ Ideologies for Sale, a vegetable cart ironically equipped with a prominent mihrab, the ornamental architectural element found in any mosque which indicates the direction of Mecca, toward which all the world’s Muslims pray. In this wry juxtaposition of a fixed point with a mobile pushcart, Al Hulis criticizes “cheap ideologies, seasonal beliefs, and lack of direction…toying with compliant minds, solely in the pursuit of power, supremacy and profit.”

Musaed Al Hulis, Ideologies for Sale, Mixed Media on Wood, 2013

Many works on view inventively translate traditional Arabic culture into a 21st century visual language, such as Nugamshi’s visually hypnotic “calligraffiti.” There’s a calligraphic work created on site in the show’s primary exhibition space, but a video on the AANM’s second level shows the artist at work on other projects, and his process is thoroughly mesmerizing. Nugamshi spreads canvass on the ground and enacts a sort of dance with a large paint-loaded brush (which looks like a broom), which he gracefully swoops across the canvass in rapid strokes while somehow maintaining absolute control over the subtle variations in the value and thickness of each calligraphic swipe. The result is something which has both the curvaceous elegance of traditional Arabic script and the raw intensity and large scale of street graffiti.

While Epicenter X is intimate in scale, there’s an impressive variety of media and diversity of participants (among the artists include a dentist, an architect, and a Facebook developer). The show comes with a helpful complimentary exhibition catalogue (available online), itself easily worth the $8 price of admission, but to get the most from the experience, perhaps time your visit to correlate with the culinary walking tours the AANM offers of the surrounding markets. Many of us too often treat the pan-Arabic world as a monolith, and in adding even just a bit of nuance and texture to our understanding of Arab culture, this show fosters increasingly-necessary cross-cultural dialogue, and serves its purpose well.

Arab American National Museum

 

 

 

Butter Projects @ Wasserman Projects

Have+Hold, a collaboration of Wasserman Projects and Butter Projects

Showing me around the exhibition Have+Hold, a collaboration between Wasserman Projects at Eastern Market and Butter Projects, formerly based in Royal Oak, curator Alison Wong mused about the concept she and her partner, John Charnota, envisioned when they founded Butter Projects, a multi-purpose gallery space, studio, and community hub for artists that’s been fighting the good fight since 2009. Like the ubiquitous dairy product of its naming, the space was conceived, Wong told me, to encapsulate that essential quality, oft overlooked, that makes everything it touches better. For artists those essentials include space to work and a community engaged in opening dialogs and forging new friendships. Wong and Charnota now command well-earned respect in Detroit and beyond for their brilliant aesthetic and their knack for assembling beautifully serendipitous group shows.

Have+Hold, Installation image, Wasserman Projects, all images by PD Rearick

The dearth of prominent female curators has been a topic of conversation around Detroit this summer. Wong, who curates for Wasserman Projects as well as Butter Projects, is on the vanguard of bucking that trend. She has easily transitioned from the intimate scale of Butter Projects to the off-puttingly huge Wasserman space with a cluster of exciting exhibitions. Have+Hold, however, breaks the Wasserman mold somewhat. There’s a warmth to Have+Hold that I haven’t seen in previous Wasserman shows. There’s a healthy emphasis on craft and the (often literal) presence of the hand- the human figure and how it meets and draws nourishment from its environment is the subject of many works. The works don’t feel enshrined in the sprawling space. Each is as inviting and approachable as it would be in the artist’s studio, with the space around them allowing for a more lingering, meaningful exchange. Even still, the works flow and accentuate one another- this is genius curating.

The show begins with a haunting wall of water media paintings by Loren Erdrich, comprising snapshot-like portraits and intimate, raw studies of limbs.

Loren Erdrich, Firecracker, Raw organic pigments on paper

Erdrich’s paintings encompass the most traditional approach to the figure in the exhibition, despite their striking palette and unusual perspectives. From here, things get more wayward. Like stumbling across a sprawled couple in a dark house at night, it’s a bit of a shock to come from the paintings to Kasper Ray O’Brien’s sculpture “Take Me Home.” Made especially for Have+Hold, the piece places two pairs of legs extending across the floor in suggestive semi-undress. The couple’s feet cross just slightly in a gesture that could imply either platonic or sexual intimacy. The dismembered state of the legs ought to feel macabre but doesn’t at all- they evoke a physical turning of joints toward the warmth of another body that you remember in your own flesh while interacting with the piece.

Kasper Ray O’Brien, Take Me Home, Mixed Media

Juxtaposed with O’Brien’s work are two films by Margaret Hull. “Lightly Touched By” is a beautiful meditation on the surfaces of the body, with the artist drawing a latticework of lines onto her hands and feet with a makeup crayon. This ritual body mapping reinforces the visceral response that “Take Me Home” begins to evoke. The nature of tactile memory is further explored in installations by Shane Darwent and Sophie Eisner. Eisner’s assemblage of objects made from cast silicone, titled “Soft and Heavy,” suggests a utilitarian space of platforms and mundane vessels, soap cups, washtubs. Her creamy pastel palette and soft, drippy material render these objects not only seductively tactile but almost edible. Darwent is rapidly establishing himself as a young artist to watch. His structures, which use architectural materials and razor-sharp, life-sized digital prints blur the lines between actual objects and renderings of them, trafficking in a new spin on trompe l’oeil. Heaviness, the inevitability of collapse, the awkwardness of exurban sprawl, and the arbitrariness that defines what is “well-built” all find their way into his work, with unsettlingly cinematic lighting straight from David Lynch.

Ellie Krakow’s mixed media sculptures that combine finely wrought casts, hand built ceramic of torqueing elbows and shoulders with photographs of arms and hands mimicking the cast positions meditate in a cooler, more conceptual way on the nature of embodied movement, while Margo Wolowiec’s woven pieces are a delightful surprise, roping yet another handcraft into Have+Hold and resembling the layered, slightly offset strata of thought processes and memory.

Sophie Eisner, Soft and Heavy, Mixed Media

Shane Darwent, Joseph’s Garden, Mixed Media

Don’t visit Have+Hold if you’re in a hurry- it’s worth it to take in the broad sweep of the show then slow down and spend a little time with each work. The warmth of the show I referenced above opens most fully with a little lingering and savoring- a harkening back to when life was made up of such moments. Movement, touch, intimacy, homing, and connection well up in a visceral, embodied experience of work well conceived and wrought with love. Have+Hold reminded me that a good show should grab hold of all your senses and leave them stirred and warmed.

Have+Hold, a collaboration of Wasserman Projects and Butter Projects by Alison Wong and John Charnota, is on view at Wasserman Projects in Detroit through August 26, 2017.

http://wassermanprojects.com/have-hold/

 

 

Sandwich Project @ Art Gallery of Windsor

Installation Image, Sandwich Project, image courtesy Cynthia Greig 2017

“The Sandwich Project” at the Art Gallery of Windsor centers around famed American artist Martha Rosler’s 1974 video, “Semiotics of the Kitchen,” a visionary send-up of the entrapment of women in the machinery of the kitchen. It features a very young Rosler parodying more famed cooking show host Julia Childs.

After more than forty years, and our global digital brain transplant, the six-minute B&W video remains mesmerizing both intellectually and as a performance. With deadpan facial and bodily gestures, Rosler punctuates an alphabet of the accouterments of cooking — Apron, Bowl, Chopper, Dish, Egg Beater — objects that traditionally have signified women’s domestic identity, but become as sinister as the crippling machinery of the factory.

As Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp had been pushed over-the-edge by the machine of the factory in his 1936 film Modern Times, thus defining the generation of pre-union, factory workers, Rosler’s Julia Childs dramatizes the enslavement of women in the signifying machinery of the kitchen.

Rosler’s video, however, is only a set-up for the rest of the engaging Sandwich Project, which was the brainchild of Windsor’s renowned Iain Baxter&, an early conceptual artist, painter and photographer, and was curated by Art Gallery of Windsor’s Jaclyn Meloche, also an artist, performance artist and writer. Baxter& conceived the Sandwich project as a play on “all things Sandwich,” to quote Katherine Mastin, AGW’s Director,

Sandwich, one of the earliest neighborhoods in Windsor, namesake of England’s once important port, was the origin of the name for the portable lunch, which (after the Fourth Earl of Sandwich) like this exhibition, composes layers of ingredients (often between two slices of bread). The word dredges up all kinds of history both in England and in Windsor, in the underbelly of which lies the War of 1812, a conflict that to some locals seems as though it was between Detroit and Windsor. In fact, Sandwich, Ontario was the site of important 1812 battles.

Iain Baxter&, “Iain Baxter as an open-faced sandwich” 1978

Iain Baxter&, born in England, his own art fraught with visual hi-jinks, was obviously quite cognizant of this back story in conceiving the project, which is ripe with delicious visual puns and ironies.

Likewise it’s the relationship of food to social and political history, popular culture and feminism, that Meloche ran with to create six independent exhibitions, each of which is self-contained, with moments of delightful humor and brilliant art, while at the same time executing an engaging critical perspective on food and culture. A video entitled “Food as Metaphor,” moderated by Meloche, which includes statements and discussion by the artists, punctuates the exhibitions.

Baxter&’s own contribution, entitled “Baxter&Food,” is a collection of more or less still-life photos of nourishment.  “Iain Baxter as an open face sandwich,” c.1978, is typical of his dadaistic play with art history in which he humorously features himself as both the maker and material of art. Equally the dada irony looms huge in “Still Life with Winter Vista,” 1996, which features a glass patio table laden with a cornucopia of tropical fruit and vegetables, with a classic Lake St. Clair winter landscape in the background. Baxter&’s energetic art prompts thinking about big issues like ecology, food and identity, rather than simply art stuff, yet at the same time his work has a subtle aesthetic valence that is hard to categorize. His “The Primaries,” composed of bottles of ketchup, mustard and blue Gatorade that he classifies as “found objects,” is not only a great commentary on our food culture and its ironic spectacality, but a rather wonderful conceptual sculpture.

Iain Baxter&, “The Primaries,” Found Objects, 2017

Of the six exhibits in The Sandwich Project, the one most provocative to the central issue of our food culture is “Food, Feminism and Kitchen Culture.” Introduced by Rosler’s video, the exhibition sets up a discourse on the landscape of the kitchen as an imprisoning construction of which women are the principle inhabitants.

Cynthia Greig, “Representation no. 29 (toaster), chromogenic print, 20 x 24”

If Rosler’s video sees the objects of the kitchen as an almost violent lexicon of possibilities for the construction of women’s identity —Apron/Women, Bowl/Women, Chopper/Women, Dish/Women — Cynthia Greig’s (Detroit’s best kept secret) manipulated photographs become escapes from the reality of the haptic world into a realm of diagrammatic ghosts, from realism to shadows of the real. In reducing photographs of common objects of the kitchen — toaster, milk cartons, coffee cups, French fry carton — to elemental outlines, they become ideas that hold us captive. These graceful, elegant shapes become enigmatic containers that define and thus limit ­— limitations to being, to exuberance, and diagrams that ultimately beckon language to elucidate and emancipate them.

Each of Greig’s diagrammatic images includes a referent to reality. A diagrammed toaster has images of freshly “toasted” bread popping out of it. The outlined milk carton has “spilled milk” next to it. A French fry carton has French “fried potatoes” sticking out of it. Each photograph posits the philosophical dilemma of what contains and what is contained. Pushed to their logical end, these images become a sort of dictatorial grammar of the kitchen.

Anna Frlan, “Kitchen as Factory [Mixing machine, blending machine,toasting machine]”, Steel, 2017

Complementing Greig’s skeletal works are Anna Frlan’s welded steel replicas of kitchen appliances. Actually, as if taking a hint from Greig’s diagrammatic images, Frlan’s are even more cage-like machines — a toaster oven, a blender, a mixer, a stove, a dishwasher. These drawings made of steel, at the same time as they resemble medieval torture devices, might suggest Piranesi’s images of Roman prisons. They are stunning, sinister signifiers of the role of kitchens in defining identity.

Each of the artists in this section of The Sandwich Project makes a stunning contribution to the discourse on Food, Feminism and Kitchen Culture. Marilyn Minter’s painting from her “Food Porn” series and Carly Erber’s crocheted “Salisbury Steak” make wonderfully opposite statements about women and representation of food. Christiane Pflug’s painting “Kitchen Door with Ursula,” 1966, and Annie Pootoogook’s “Tea Drinkers,” 2001, both reflect subtle personal takes on the complex psychology of kitchen life.

Sandy Skoglund, “Body Limits,” 1992

A related, borrowed exhibition, originating at the Akron Art Museum and curated by Theresa Bembnister, “Snack” is a tour de force of a generous selection of diverse representations of food, featuring Pop artists Andy Warhol, James Rosenquist, Claes Oldenburg and other contemporary artists’ takes on the western recreational activity of food and eating. Sandy Skoglund’s “Body Limits” documents a surreal tableau she created parodying a fashion shoot of two figures dressed in bacon.  French photographer Robert Doisneau’s “L’Innocent,” 1949, captures a typical Parisian gentleman’s existential encounter with his dinner in the window of a restaurant.

Robert Doisneau, “L’Innocent,” B& W Photograph, 1949

The Sandwich Project is no less than a blockbuster of an exhibition, a realization that surpasses expectation.  The fourth part, “Lunch,” collects a wonderful assortment of artifacts and images of the great pastime of noonday culture, including a wall full of school kids’ lunch boxes that in themselves are a history of midcentury pop culture, and a selection of early twentieth-century images from The Henry Ford Museum archives of Detroit cafeterias, diners, and hot dog stands.

Frederick Arthur Verner, “Untitled (River Scene, Sunset”), 1891, watercolour over graphite on paper

Two other exhibitions that bookend The Sandwich Project are AGW’s collection of nineteenth-century watercolors of the Sandwich area by artist Frederick Arthur Verner, and “Food and Film,” which features four short films on the production and distribution of food as a go-between in signifying Canadian identity. One of Verner’s watercolors features the Detroit River-front with typically English village-like architecture of early Windsor (Sandwich) in the foreground, replete with fishing boats, and a nascent Detroit industrial landscape on the far shore. During the nineteenth century, the Detroit River was famous for its astonishing fishing, supplying First Nation people and eventually Windsorites and Detroiters with bounteous whitefish and walleye. Verner’s watercolor thus becomes an ironic commentary on the devolution of food production in the area.

The Sandwich Project is a perfect summertime day trip or even two-day trip, and yields an abundance of food-for-thought about the business, culture, and representation of our relationship with food.  For lunch, Sir Cedric’s Fish and Chips is right around the corner from the Art Gallery of Windsor, reminding us of the Canadian predilection for things British. If, however your tastes are more inclined to American fare, there’s Lafayette Coney Island just across the border.

The Sandwich Project Continues through October 1, 2017

 Art Gallery of Windsor,  401 Riverside Drive West, Windsor, Ontario N9A7J1     519-977-0013

Detroit Institute of Arts & Charles Wright Museum Collaborate on 1967 Rebellion Exhibitions

 

From Left to Right – Patrina Chatman, Curator of collections and exhibitions, Charles Wright Museum of African American History, Valerie J. Mercer, Curator of African American art and head of the General Motors Center for African American Art, Detroit Institute of Arts, Kathy Locker, Program director/Detroit, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Juanita Moore, President and CEO, Charles Wright Museum of African American History and Salvador Salort-Pons, Director Detroit Institute of Arts.

Art of the Rebellion and Say It Loud are coordinating exhibitions to commemorate 50 years since July 23, 1967, when African Americans took to the streets of Detroit to express their anger and frustration with the injustice of law enforcement. To many people, and supported by the then media establishment, the events on 12 Street and Clairmount were conventionally referred to as the Detroit Riots, both in Detroit, Southeastern Michigan and around the country. Over the course of five days, more than 2000 buildings were destroyed, 7,200 people were arrested, 43 people killed and over 1,100 injured.

Jim Hubbard, Woman Sitting on Ledge, 13 x 19 B&W 35mm 1967

At the DIA, African American Art Curator Valerie Mercer explains that a number of the 34 works on display emerged from black art collectives that in some cases aimed to instruct a community whose self-identity was in rapid flux. “Harlem’s Weusi collective felt we African-Americans needed to learn more about African culture,” Mercer said, “which is hard for us, since it’s typically not taught in schools.”

Salvador Salort-Pons, DIA director said, “The commemoration of the 1967 Detroit rebellion provides an opportunity to call attention to the talented and often overlooked artists who were reacting to the struggle for social, political and racial justice during the 1960s and 70s. The DIA’s collaboration with the Wright Museum lays a foundation from which we are building a strategic and lasting working relationship that will help bring our community closer together.”

Wadsworth Jarrell, Three Queens, Acrylic on Canvas, 1971

At the Detroit Institute of Arts, Art of Rebellion features 34 paintings, sculptures and photographs mostly by African American artists working both collectively and independently in the 1960s and 70s. Artists in the collectives: Spiral, Kamoinge Workshop, Harlem’s Weusi, AfriCobra, and Black Arts Movement, created art for African American audiences that asserted black identity and racial justice with the Detroit rebellion of 1967 as background. The exhibition also includes works by artists who were not part of a collective and artists working in later decades who were inspired by art from the Civil Rights Movement.

Wadsworth Jarrell, Revolutionary, Acrylic on Canvas 1972

The work of Wadsworth Jarrell is prominent in the DIA exhibition in that it captures a color depiction of African American figures using a kind of alphabet soup to communicate a variety of literary messages. Wadsworth Jarrell is an African-American painter, sculptor, and printmaker who was born in Georgia then moved to Chicago, Illinois, where he attended the Art Institute of Chicago. He is a founding member of AfriCOBRA, a collective of African American artists formed in Chicago in 1968 as a response to the Civil Rights Movement. Its members inspired black pride by exploring and defining a black visual aesthetic that would reflect the style, colors, cool attitude and rhythm associated with their culture. AfriCOBRA artists focused on the social and political issues that affected their communities and were committed to making art that was understandable, relevant and accessible.

Allie McGee, Apartheid, Mixed Media on Masonite, 1984

Detroit artist Allie McGee, whose work is represented by the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, is featured with a large abstraction, Apartheid. The work highlights his use of angular shapes and splatters of paint to evoke tension. McGee often used sticks in place of brushes to obtain the effect he wanted. The title refers to the oppressive political system that existed in South Africa. The Civil Rights and Black Power movements inspired many African American artists to address the fight for civil rights faced right here in Detroit.

Norman Lewis, Untitled (Alabama), Oil on Canvas 1967

The outline of a hooded Klansman near the center of this painting converges with sharp angles suggests tension. The title Alabama was code for the complicity of that state’s government in the oppression of African Americans throughout the community. Strong composition and the black and white motif further supports the overall symbol in this oil-on-canvas work.

Elizabeth Catlett, Homage to Black Women Poets, Mahogany, 1984

Elizabeth Catlett’s wooden sculpture Homage to Black Woman Poets is carved from one piece of Mahogany and pays tribute to black women poets, such as Gwendolyn Brooks, Jikki Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez and Maya Angelou. Catlett is widely recognized as a contemporary sculptor known for her focus on women subjects.

Titus Kaphar, For Tryvon, Amadou, Sean, and Mike, Calk on Asphalt, 2014

The Chalk on Asphalt drawing by Titus Kaphar in 2014 brings the recent events across the country into the narrative that exists today. The images depict three black boys, perhaps those who were lost to injustice and informs the audience that the events surrounding a young black man like Trayvon Martin live on inside each and every one of our consciences.

The Charles Wright Museum partnered with the Detroit Institute of Arts to create parallel exhibitions — the DIA’s Art of Rebellion: Black Art of the Civil Rights Movement opened on the same day as Say It Loud. Both are part of a community-wide reflection of the 1967 Detroit Rebellion. More than 100 local institutions will participate in this commemoration, led by the Detroit Historical Museum. The Charles Wright Museum began its remembrance of this complicated and painful historical experience with the unveiling of Detroit artist Charles McGee’s landmark outdoor sculpture United We Stand at the Museum in July 2016. The Detroit Art Review covered that event, and I spoke with McGee, a fellow artist with whomI exhibited more than once. He said, “It’s about togetherness…living together in peace.”

“Artists have a way of bringing moral clarity and promoting empathy,” said Juanita Moore, president and CEO of The Wright Museum. “They can often articulate the emotional truth of a situation in a way that breaks through our mental barriers and opens us to new perspectives in a way that other forms of communication cannot. This new exhibit will both show how some of the most significant African American visual artists have interpreted and resisted social inequities over time, and broaden the historical narrative and dialogue around the 1967 Rebellion.”

Gordon Parks, Police State, B&W, 35mm, 13 x 19″ 1997

Born in Fort Scott Kansas, at the age of 25, Gordon Parks was struck by photographs of migrant workers in a magazine. He bought his first camera for $7.50 at a Seattle pawnshop and taught himself how to take photos. He started in the fashion industry, but Parks went on to become the first African-American photographer for Life and Vogue magazines. Parks once said, “People in millenniums ahead will know what we were like in the 1930s and the important major things that shaped our history at that time. This is as important for historic reasons as any other.” In this photo Police State, the image is more about capturing a moment that delivers a blunt and literal statement to his audience.

Roko, The King of Montgomery, Oil on Canvas, 28 x 38″ 1988

This mixed media painting by the artist Roko comes from a mug shot of Martin Luther King, one of many, taken by police departments during the Civil Rights period. Known nationally for his dramatic portraits, Roko relies on deep colors and black line to capture the downtrodden state of his subjects. As part of this exhibition, it is well known that Dr. Martin Luther King led Marches in Detroit, such as the Walk to Freedom March down Woodward Ave, in 1963, the precursor to his “I Have a Dream” speech at the Washington Monument just two weeks later. It drew crowds of an estimated 125,000 or more making it “the largest civil rights demonstration in the nation’s history” at that time.

Senghor Reid, Broadcast News, Mixed Media 1971

Detroiter Senghor Reid develops paintings that explore the connections between culture, art and social sciences as in his work “Broadcast News,” with its black-stenciled letters on bright yellow background or “The ’67 Riot Did Not Take Place.” Since he was born in 1976, maybe for him, these events did not take place. He earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and a Master in Art Education from Wayne State University. A recipient of the prestigious ArtServe Michigan Governor’s Award for an Emerging Artist in 2001, Reed was a Kresge Artist Fellow Recipient in 2009.

Postscript

On Monday morning, July 24, 1967, I remember being notified to leave work and go home until further notice. Some people had heard about an overnight disturbance in Detroit, but it wasn’t until I got home that I saw the news stories on our black and white TV. ABC news anchor Bill Bonds was reporting live on a civil disturbance near Clairmount and 12th Street that had broken out when police raided an unlicensed after-hours bar on the city’s west side. When I was allowed to return to work the following Friday I was surrounded by jokes from  fellow white suburbanites.  I remember being ashamed and disgusted by these pathetic displays. I had no true sense of what was going on then, but now I realized that although there was blatant racism on both sides of my extended families, my parents had met as professional dancers and worked with artists of all persuasions. These people were made up of all races and sexual orientation. Many lived in my home from time to time during my formative years of high school.

At the time, I didn’t understand the true depth of what happened that summer, but it came to form the foundation of my values as a grown man: All people were created equal, and to quote Martin Luther King, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Art of Rebellion has been generously supported by the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan and the Whitney Fund.

Say It Loud is the recipient of a prestigious Knight Arts Challenge Detroit grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Detroit Institute of Arts

Charles Wright Museum    

The 57th International Venice Biennale through Detroit Eyes

Aerial Image of the Venice, courtesy of the Venice Biennale

I attended the Venice Biennale for the first time in 2015 and visited the Arsenale location, which was an all-day event, so this time I attended the Giardini location and other venues throughout the city.

The Venice Biennale was created by a resolution of the City Council in April 1893, which proposed the founding of a “biennial national artistic exhibition” to take place in the following year to celebrate the silver anniversary of King Umberto and Margherita of Savoy. The event, in fact, took place two years later, opening on April 30, 1895, and is known most commonly within the art world as the oldest large-scale international contemporary art exhibition.

Although there are two major sites for viewing art, there are many satellite venues throughout the city. This year’s curator, Christine Macel, has called it an exhibition inspired by humanism. She says, “This type of humanism is neither focused on an artistic ideal to follow nor is it characterized by the celebration of mankind as beings who can dominate their surroundings. If anything, this humanism, through art, celebrates mankind’s ability to avoid being dominated by the powers governing world affairs.”

The Viva Arte Viva 57th Venice Biennale offers a route that unfolds over the course of nine chapters of artists, beginning with two introductory realms in the Central Pavilion in the Giardini, followed by seven more realms to be found in the Arsenale and the Giardino delle Vergini. There are 120 invited artists from 51 countries around the world; 103 of these are participating for the first time.

Lorenzo Quinn, City Sculpture, Courtesy of the Detroit Art Review, 2017

 

Early in May 2017, contemporary artist, Lorenzo Quinn, unveiled his new monumental sculpture at the Ca’ Sagredo Hotel, Venice. The installation, part of the Biennale, showcases Quinn’s artistic progression and his experimentation with new mediums and subject matter to transmit his passion for eternal values and authentic emotions. This sculpture was located right next to my Vaporetto stop at Ca D’ Oro.

Quinn addresses the human ability to change and re-balance the world around us – environmentally, economically, and socially. The sculpture has both a noble air as well as an alarming one – the gesture being both gallant in appearing to hold up the building while also creating a sense of fear in highlighting the fragility of the building surrounded by water. “I wanted to sculpt what is considered the hardest and most technically challenging part of the human body. The hand holds so much power – the power to love, to hate, to create, to destroy.” says Lorenzo Quinn.

Sam Gilliam, Drapes, Courtesy of the Venice Biennale 2017

With so much work at the Venice Biennale, it’s probably easier to focus on American artists, a Russian artist and one artist in particular from Detroit.

Sam Gilliam, whose work has been exhibited at the N’Namdi Contemporary Center in Detroit, was born in 1933 and has been known for his color field painting, especially during the 1960s when Abstract Expressionism came of age. As an artist who has experimented with draped-painted canvas, he has also worked with iridescent acrylic, handmade paper, steel and plastic material. His large draped work, Yves Klein Blue, 2016, is the introductory work at the entrance of the Central Pavilion on the Giardini campus.

 

Sam Gilliam, Screen Models lll, 60 x 110, Mixed Material on Canvas, 2014

An example of a hardedge canvas, Screen for Models III, he uses striped off tape, letting color bleed through various levels of under-painting. He has said he is inspired by everything; his own history, the books he reads, the lifetime of traveling and the examples set by artists who came before. In a recent interview, he talks of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, Monet’s Water Lilies and Countee Cullen, whose poem Yet Do I Marvel provided the title of the new piece for the National African American museum. Sticking to one style, Gilliam says, never struck him as a good idea. “There are theories in art, just like in music,” he explains. “You switch from Little Jimmy Dickens to Bob Dylan and Miles Davis to Art Blakey.” Gilliam received his B.A. in fine art and his M.A. in painting from the University of Louisville in Kentucky. He has taught at the Corcoran School of Art, the Maryland Institute College of Art and Carnegie Mellon University.

 

On the Giardini campus, and exclusively representing the United States is Mark Bradford, at the U.S. Pavilion. While many pavilions have multiple artists’ work, Bradford is the artist selected to represent the United States at the 2017 Venice Biennale. The multi-room installation is a narrative that reflects on the artist’s trajectory, using everyday materials that embody social meaning. Tomorrow Is Another Day, reveals how individual lives are also history in the best sense of the word. Upon entrance, we are confronted with the first space being occupied by a bulbous mass that hangs from the ceiling with a red and black surface made of layering commercially printed-paper and blasting it with a pressure hose. Spoiled Foot pushes the viewer to the periphery of the room, leaving the viewer literally on the margins, inviting human touch.

Mark Bradford, Spoiled Foot, Mixed Materials 2016

Mark Bradford, Go Tell It to the Mountain, Mixed Material, 2016

The African American artist, best known for his large-scale abstract paintings that examine the class, race, and gender-based economies that structure urban society in the United States, Bradford’s richly layered and collaged canvases represent a connection to the social world through materials. Bradford uses fragments of found posters, billboards, newsprint, and custom-printed paper to simultaneously engage with and advance the formal traditions of abstract painting. Mark Bradford was born in 1961 in Los Angeles, where he lives and works. He received a BFA (1995) and MFA (1997) from the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia.

McArthur Binion, Installation image, courtesy of the Detroit Art Review

I was surprised to learn the McArthur Binion attended Wayne State University for his BFA in 1971 just as I completed my graduate work there. He moved on to complete his MFA at Cranbrook Academy, the first African American to do so and had a solo exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts. In 1973 Binion moved to New York and was soon curated into a group exhibition by Carl Andre at the Irving Sandler Gallery. In the early 90’s, he moved to Chicago to teach at Columbia College, and in isolation from the public, developed his emotionally based abstract paintings. Since 2003, Binion has been producing his DNA series, using a kind of geometric grid rigor with a minimal approach to abstraction. His childhood began in Macon, Mississippi, where he began picking cotton at the age of three and was one of eleven children. It was moving to Detroit to help his family survive that made his abstractions personal. He says in his statement, “I’m making abstraction personal. It’s taken me fifteen years to learn how to do it. Painting and sculpture are an old man’s game. To call yourself an artist, you have to earn it.”

McArthur Binion, DNA Black Series, 2015

Like many successful artists that fit the modernist profile, Binion makes work that is a study in oppositions: line and shape, figure and ground, image and abstraction, copy and original, color and black & white. His modus operandi is to somehow magically blend an assault of binaries into a single, unified emblem of the unique and complicated self.

Taus Makhacheva, Tightrope, Video Projection, 58m, 2-15

Taus Makhacheva, Tightrope, CU Angle, 58m, 2015

Among the sea of work at the Biennale, there were many video projected images and cinematic creations. I have selected one here by the artist Taus Makhacheva, born in Moscow, Russia who has a background in film-making. In her video, Tightrope, 2015, she records an activity from several angles, enough to convince you this is not a green screen performance against a live action background. The professional tightrope walker Rasul Abakarov carries 61 paintings, one at a time, from one side of a ravine to another, over an expanse of about a hundred feet and elevated many times more. Makhacheva is a Russian artist trained in London and mostly living in Dagestan where she explores the tension between tradition and modernity. Most of her work is performance-based, as she analyzes the body as a supporting structure, often challenged in off-limits situations. Makhacheva was born in Moscow in 1983. She studied at London College of Communication and the University of the Arts London. In 2007, she completed a BA program in Contemporary Art at Goldsmiths, University of London. In 2006, she graduated in World Economics from the Russian State University for the Humanities.

Tom Parish, In My Solitude, Oil on Canvas, 2015 Image Courtesy of the Artist

There are fifteen satellite shows to see during a visit to the 2017 Venice Biennale. One is the solo exhibition at the Madonna dell’Orto, Il Polso dell’Acqua, by Detroit artist Tom Parish. Nestled away in the neighborhood of Cannaregio, is the fifth exhibition for the Detroit artist, whose work continues to capture the urban water-laden landscape of Venice. The longtime Professor Emeritus of painting at Wayne State University in Detroit, journeyed to Venice some thirty years ago to discover subject matter that filled his curious and esthetically provocative imagination. For years his painting developed as architectural abstraction, with a formality that includes the ancient buildings juxtaposed to water and light. Parish’s recent work, on display in Venice, In My Solitude, combines his strengths: a composition that stretches out spatially and draws on elements of abstraction, and his command of painting the reflection-struck water swirling in the turbulent canals.  There have been four major exhibitions of Tom Parish’s Venice work, one in Chicago in 2010 at the Gruen Gallery, and three in Venice, Italy. This new work – Il Polso dell’Acqua – is the fifth exhibition and the second at the historic Cloister of the Church of the Madonna del Orto in Cannaregio, Venice.

The Viva Arte Viva, 2017 Venice Biennale, in a world full of conflicts, where art bears witness to the most precious part of what makes us human. It is the ultimate ground for reflection, individual expression and freedom. The fine art presented is the favorite realm of dreams and utopias, a catalyst for human connections that roots us in both nature and the cosmos. Many see art as the last garden to cultivate above and beyond trends and personal interests. It stands as an unequivocal alternative to indifference. The role, the voice and the responsibility of the artist are more crucial than ever before within the framework of contemporary debates. It is in and through these individual initiatives, like the 2017 Venice Biennale, that we find the hopes and dreams of tomorrow.

2017 Venice Biennale