Elizabeth Youngblood @ 9338 Campau

 ” Righted” – A Trajectory of Work by Elizabeth Youngblood – A retrospective work in progres

ey-installation

Elizabeth Youngblood, Installation

ElizabethYoungblood defines herself first as a craftsman. A quote that describes her trajectory well is a simple one- “I respect making.” The broad range of media she employs- textiles, drawing, basket-weaving, ceramics, wire sculpture- attest to her democratic fealty to a very personal, singular hunt. With Righted- A Trajectory of Work by Elizabeth Youngblood, Youngblood has transformed 9338 Campau’s sprawling Hamtramck gallery space into a hive of activity, presenting her work in an unprecedented format- a retrospective that includes works in progress that Youngblood is developing within the gallery itself. She is taking advantage of the vast amount of space there to both gather her work into one place large enough to give it breathing room, and realize large works on paper that she has long desired to explore but hasn’t had the space, until now, to properly develop. Youngblood’s residency at 9338 Campau feels revolutionary, both for an artist in full command of her powers with a distinguished career in the bag already, and for an explorer who makes the most of every space she is given for her work to take center stage.

Asked to qualify her vast body of work into a single context, she explains how one branch of her exploration leads, maintaining conceptual consistency, from one medium to the next. Youngblood’s devotion to mastering the strengths of every material that passes through her hands, and the joy she takes in immersing herself in the process of finessing each one, gently, into her lexicon, is doubly striking in the context of Righted, where one can view long-culminated works alongside raw, vulnerable works in progress. The very presence of the works in progress casts Youngblood’s retrospective work in an unusual light- as open-ended, questioning works in progress themselves. This impression suits Youngblood’s whole-hearted focus on process as a studio practice- allowing the current of her concept to carry her from medium to medium, presenting each work as a direct flowering from the clues unlocked, and the questions raised, in the last.

image-1-elizabeth-youngblood

Elizabeth Youngblood, Woven Black Piece, 1992-93 All Images Courtesy of Clara DeGalan

Talking with Youngblood about her work reveals the ultimate unimportance of form in her studio practice. This came as a surprise in light of the striking formal continuity I made out in her work- indeed, it was the first thing that enabled me to pass cohesively from one piece to the next, given what different media she ropes in. This formal consistency, it turns out, is Youngblood’s soul pattern, a template on which she explores such concepts as the dogged devotion of craftsmanship, the solitary joy of wreathing visions out of tactility, and the construction of planes out of lines.

image-2-a-textile-mounted-on-paper-elizabeth-youngblood

Elizabeth Youngblood,Untitled, 1995

Youngblood’s artistic chronology mirrors her bodies of work. Trained as a graphic designer, she has worked in that profession, on and off, since her tenure as an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan. She is quick to point out, rightly, the subtle craft demanded by graphic design. Between her design work, her teaching career, her years spent in New York, and interludes in craft-oriented industries such as bar-tending, she has snatched pockets of time to hone her planar exploration in various media at artist residencies such as Haystack and Penland School of Crafts. Her travels have pulled a variety of media into her exploration- her vision remains remarkably consistent as she applies it to different traditions of making. She emphasizes the importance of material and craft as a conduit toward greater understanding of place, such as North Carolina and its history as a hub of furniture craft (the baskets on display in Righted were created at Penland, inspired by the materials and methods of furniture-making.)

image-3-righted-elizabeth-youngblood

Elizabeth Youngblood, Twin Baskets, 1999

This breath of Place, in turn, enriches Youngblood’s exploration of process as a path toward distillation of an artifact of conceptual, rather than utilitarian or formal value. Youngblood speaks with quiet admiration of the traditions of crafting she has been privileged to explore, and how they have added their own regional, historical voices to her practice.

As she continues to explore, chasing her vision of planes built of carful, joyous repetition, Youngblood pulls traditional craft forms, seemingly effortlessly, into a body of work that maintains an astonishing formal trajectory, presenting razor-sharp meditations on process in various media encased, almost like home-jarred preserves, within an all-encompassing, monolithic form. The form, seductive and enigmatic as it is, is no more than a ground for her process. Asked her opinions on the tension between fine art and craft, high and low art, she expresses less interest in that argument than in the status of media as “women’s work” versus “men’s work.” The large-scaled drawings Youngblood is developing during her tenure at 9338 Campau are an exploration into a quicker, more decisive way of making that has historically been associated with the bodies and thought processes of men.

image-4-elizabeth-youngblood

Elizabeth Youngblood, Large Drawing 1, 2016

“Men’s work” as Youngblood describes it, seems less a political appropriation on her part than a desire to master yet another craft- one she, for the moment, has the physical space to pursue. Spending time with Youngblood in her studio is a lesson in veneration for processes that unite, rather than polarize, the complex history of making as it indexes various times, places, social demographics, races, and genders. To sum up, Youngblood respects making, and, though she is acutely aware of the cultural associations that come with each material she ropes into her vision, her devotion to process and skill-building manage, miraculously, to shed the oppressive political discourse that has hung around craft for decades and present it, unilaterally, as a vast conduit for exploration of an artist’s conceptual vision. Youngblood’s is a true Twenty First Century studio practice- and she’s earned it.

Righted- A Trajectory of Work by Elizabeth Youngblood has percolated at 9338 Campau Gallery in Hamtramck, MI throughout the last breaths of summer. A public reception of her work will be held on Saturday, 9/24/2016 from 7-10 pm.

9338 Campau

“The Connoisseurs’ Legacy” @ University of Michigan Museum of Art

Treasures from the Collection of Nesta and Walter Spink at The University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Installation shot Connoisseurs Legacy 2016

Installation – Connoisseurs Legacy 2016 All images Courtesy of the Michigan Museum of Art

“Our bodies love metaphors because they join our bodies to our soul rather than abandoning them to a soulless state. The ancient alchemists called this body-soul state “the subtle body.” They believed that the deeper we go into “the subtle body,” the greater the soul treasures it contains.”    -Marion Woodman, from The Maiden King

In a recent review, I speculated that museums and galleries have become depositories for objects we currently don’t know what to do with- that seem to have lost their vital place in culture-building. “The Connoisseurs’ Legacy,” a delicately curated selection of works from the private collection of Nesta and Walter Spink, provides a stark counterpoint to that idea- it speaks of the vital place works of art still have in the private lives of people who shape, and are shaped by, the lives of these works in the outer world.

The Spinks have been collecting works of art since the 1950’s, the early days of their long marriage and the gestation period of their respective paths of scholarship. Nesta specialized in Nineteenth and Twentieth Century prints and drawings, and would become one of America’s foremost experts on James McNeill Whistler, compiling, during her years as curator at the University of Michigan Museum of Art, the most comprehensive catalog raisonne of Whistler’s prints ever written. Walter took as his subject the vast Buddhist shrine and monastery at Ajanta, India, and continues to advance his radical theory of the site’s history and development in an ongoing series of books about the caves. At age eighty-eight, he still spends several months a year in Ajanta.

The Spink’s collection is important, because it offers a unique opportunity to view great works of art from vastly different time periods, cultures and traditions side by side in one gallery. The collection, consisting mainly of works on paper from various traditions, punctuated by gems of religious sculpture, lovingly wrought textiles and charming decorative objects, testifies powerfully to the role graphic art (printmaking, illustration, stylized genre painting) plays across all cultures as a distillation of our human story into a universal, uniformly legible narrative.

Image 1

Milkmaid Manika Offering Curds to Jagannatha and Balabhadra on Horses Composed of Human Figures, India, Orissa, Puri School early 20th Century, opaque watercolor and lacquer on cot

The artists represented, from anonymous Mughal miniature painters and regional Indian folk artists to J. M. Whistler to Paul Klee and Andy Warhol, are all, “The Connoisseurs’ Legacy” clarifies, driven by the same passion- to translate lived experience into a visual language that brings the body a bit closer to the soul. This, according to the psychologist Marion Woodman, is the purpose of metaphor- literally a “carrying over” of tangible life from this plane onto the subtler plane of our interior selves. Seen in this context, the diverse work in “The Connoisseurs’ Legacy” sheds linear chronology, aesthetic movements, and regional traditions and unites in breath-taking waves of visual metaphor- allegorical dreams brought into the light.

Image 2 Hans Sebold Beham Achilles and Hector Engraving on laid paper 1510-30

Hans Sebold Beham Achilles and Hector Engraving on laid paper 1510-30

One of my favorite things about graphic art is its ability to both describe and subvert space- the void we move through and fill with our objects and ideas. The line that weaves through all the work in “The Connoisseurs’ Legacy,” the line that describes first and foremost, defines each century and tradition even as it unifies them. One gets the dynamic, jazzed-up line of the Twentieth Century as transcribed by Max Ernst and Paul Klee a hair before it leaps back into foursquare reality and forms a can of Campbell’s soup, appropriated as Art and autographed by Andy Warhol.

Image 3 Paul Klee Drawing for a Drama of Disunion, ink on paper, 1921

Paul Klee Drawing for a Drama of Disunion, ink on paper, 1921

Reel this line backward in time, and it grows, across America, Europe and Asia, more disciplined, hushed, and devoted to the sublime, describing fragments of statuary and architecture from Ancient Rome in two brilliantly mind-bending etchings by Giovanni Battista Piranesi that collapse space into an orderly grid of venerable objects floating on Enlightenment illumination. Leap across the gallery to a group of contemporary Mughal miniature paintings, and the same hushed veneration is there- describing the indescribable in a different way. The unearthly jewel tones and dream-like minglings of people and animals- many-armed deities astride tigers and giant pigeons- have the same spiritual devotion to beauty as their French and Italian comrades.

Image 4 Page from an Indian zodiac manuscript, Figure Mounted on a Tiger, possibly Saturn, India, Rajasthan, Jaipur school circa 1840, ink, opaque watercolor and gold on paper

Page from an Indian zodiac manuscript, Figure Mounted on a Tiger, possibly Saturn, India, Rajasthan, Jaipur school circa 1840, ink, opaque watercolor and gold on paper

The line meanders and condenses from the Warhol soup can back to a taut, potent carving of Christ crucified and back again to sensuous Jain statuary which draws on traditional Hindu sculpture to capture the ecstasy of spiritual union.

“The Connoisseurs’ Legacy” is also important because it exemplifies collecting for the best possible reasons. The works of art on display reflect the insight of the individuals who fell in love with each piece and fitted it in with the rest without an agenda, a rigid vision, or focus on material gain. It’s a reminder, as well, of the vital contribution private curation makes to the Humanities- Nesta and Walter understand the ensoulling power of these objects, and the instruction they can offer us about ourselves and our cultural inheritance. “The Connoisseurs’ Legacy” suggests a continuous loop of visual language that cross-pollinates and subtly alters itself and its context with each change in perspective, each newly discovered visual rhyme that spans continents. This privately curated collection highlights the similarities, more than the differences, between works we are trained to view as vastly different from one another.

“The Connoisseurs’ Legacy: The Collection of Nesta and Walter Spink” is on view at The University of Michigan Museum of Art from June 18 through September 25, 2016.

University of Michigan Art Museum

Michigan Fine Arts Competition @ BBAC

Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center Hosts the 35th MFCA

BBAC Install

BBAC / MFAC Installation Image – Courtesy of DAR

The Michigan Fine Arts Competition (MFAC) exhibition opened June 24, 2016, and is one of the best they have had in their long existence, beginning in 1982. Not many know that the competition was previously held by the Detroit Institute of Arts, but with their demise of leadership in contemporary art, they were pleased to find a home at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center (BBAC). The key to this year’s success is Terence Hammonds; the juror selected to make this year picks. Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, he attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston for his BFA, and Tufts University for his MA. One of the factors that make this exhibition so exceptional is that it draws on a mid-west region, where more than 500 artists compete from Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin.

G.Moore

Gerald Moore, Late September Field, Oil on Canvas

Gerald Moore is an expressive landscape painter who holds an MA in painting from Central Michigan University. He says “I work opposite the Oriental painting philosophy that ‘less is more.’ ‘More’ is the engine of my work; ‘more’ is more.” His large landscape painting seems to draw on the landscape as a subject, but flirts with abstract field painting and gives us a little of both. Color field painting, championed by Clement Greenburg in the 1950’s characterized this expression as solid color creating an unbroken surface and flat picture plane. One might view the Wheat Fields of Van Gogh to see early examples.

Woodcut

Mary Brodbeck, Blanket, Woodblock Print

Maybe it’s because we don’t see a lot of artists working with wood-cut printmaking, that this landscape with rings and melting snow is so attractive. She says in her statement “ Affected by my travel and study in Japan, notably by visiting traditional Japanese gardens, my landscape prints are carefully designed in abstract and stylized ways that are intended for viewers to have a contemplative experience. “ These Zen-like impressions made by the woodblock can transport the viewer to a place that blends design, craft and a spiritual aesthetic. Ms. Brodbeck holds a BFA from Michigan State University, and an MFA from Western Michigan University.

Photo

Mario Inchaustegui, Into the Unknown, Digital Print

Mario Inchaustegui’s digital print “Into the Unknown” draws purely on composition for its power and interest. The geometry along with perspective leads us to four figures on the edge of some type of a concrete pier. This middle school teacher at West Bloomfield Schools has been part of photo exhibitions in Metro Detroit, most recently at the Scarab Club.

Clay Hydrant

Susan O’Connor, Can I Get Some Water, Clay

Susan O’Connor, who teaches hand-built ceramics at the BBAC, grabs the audience with a pop art object, that also carries a current social message. So, she got me with this Fire Hydrant from Flint, Michigan where the water has been contaminated by a decision leading to elements of lead in the water supply.

This exhibition has many generous prizes totaling $5800 and goes a long way to showcase artists in the Midwest. I will mention here that I usually stay away from covering these large competitive exhibitions, largely because they jury the work from jpegs, which makes the process more of a challenge. In this particular case, I give Mr. Hammonds a lot of credit for getting most of his decisions right. I have heard it many times, that it is the only practical way to conduct such a large undertaking, however when only viewing an image of an artwork, mistakes are made.

The 35th Annual Michigan Fine Arts Competition – June 24 – August 26

Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center

“ECHOES”: Three Artists Resonate @ Galerie Camille

“ECHOES” at Galerie Camille is a three-person show featuring the work of Robert Mirek, John McLaughlin, and Paula Schubatis . The show demonstrates points of resonance that carom throughout the individual bodies of work, as well as creating a kind of visual conversation between the three artists, who would seem to have little in common, at first glance.

Mirek and McLaughlin are both established artists with long histories in the Detroit Metro scene. Schubatis is an emerging artist and recent graduate from University of Michigan Stamps School of Art and Design, and has been tearing up the Detroit scene lately, with a turn as a Red Bull House of Art resident, and a number of group and solo shows in the area.

EC1

Installation Image, Robert Mirek, Mitosis – All Images Courtesy of Sarah Rose Sharp

Upon entering Gallerie Camille, the viewer is greeted by “Mitosis”—a large-scale wall-hanging sculpture by Mirek, composed of hundreds upon hundreds of tiny wood scraps. These are the remainders from his labor-intensive series of graphic shape sets, which he designs by computer and then cuts from plywood; two series face off against each other on the walls leading into “Mitosis”: the Strand series on the right, and the newer Thread series on the left. Mirek’s works have a feeling of alien archeology, and the interspersing of his work with that of Schubatis is nearly seamless. The two artists inadvertently echo each others’ palettes, and her abstract and lovely wall-hangings and humorous rock-based sculptures look right at home alongside his meticulous vocabulary of symbols and oil paintings that veritably leap off the page in their desire to achieve the greater dimensionality accomplished by his sculptural forms. “Mitosis,” with its many constituent parts, is the perfect centerpiece for the show, which features work that seeks to impose order upon a chaos of objects, symbols, and materials.

EC3

John McLaughlin, Ground Floor (diptych) Painting / Collage

This is evident in McLaughlin’s work, which sits mostly apart from the others, in the deep-set black box gallery. Collage typically implies the layering of images—by contrast, McLaughlin’s mixed media drawings on paper are a colorful motif of stand-alone squiggles, each cut from media materials, which occasionally abut each other, but do not overlap. The effect is something like pouring a colorful jigsaw puzzle out onto a white table; there is a sense of some potential connection or relationship between these shapes, but it is not figurative and not explicit. The whitespace becomes equally as important as the particulates, and the eye caroms around the visual static, looking for imagery—a kind of highly mediated form of cloud-watching. Though his work stands physically and materially apart from Mirek and Schubatis, McLaughlin’s works collectively reinforce the effect created by ECHOES, with swarms of shapes hanging together that effectively echo Mirek’s symbol-clusters in the main gallery.

EC6

Schubatis, Wall Hanging, flanked by Mirek’s Paintings

Schubatis has drawn her components into an even tighter matrix—that of the woven body. Her weavings have been, at times, highly experimental in her incorporation of odd materials, such as caution tape and other plastic waste, but even in these more conventional wall-hangings, her impeccable sense of balance and bold color choices make for dynamic and achingly lovely compositions. In the center gallery, which is almost entirely work by Schubatis, these are interspersed with sculptural oddities—improvisations on rock forms, embellished with melted candlewax, paint, and bedazzling gemstones. The combination of bold materials, mineral shapes, and paradoxically minimalist finish create a kind of paleo-futuristic effect; these works would be fitting interior decorations for the Starship Enterprise.

EC7

Robert Mirek, Stand Series, detail view

Or perhaps, again, that influence is seeping through from Mirek’s work, which inescapably suggests alien art: mysterious shapes that beg for translation. The Strand series finishes his plywood forms in an exterior of gray pumice punctuated by sharp chartreuse pebbles of window glass. There is an undersea feel to these, like the superstructure of a reef, the rough irregularity of which has given rise to vibrant life. The Thread series reveals more of the underlying woodwork, and give the sense of architectural models for fabulously modern space-buildings and complexes, with the threads tracing out colorful infrastructure—water lines, green spaces, or transit systems (hovercrafts, one imagines). In the small transitional space between main gallery and the back room dominated by Schubatis, her work and Mirek’s mix almost indiscriminately. Here, a wall hanging is flanked by two of Mirek’s standalone wall sculptures, which tonally mimic each other so perfectly that the truth of that happy accident seems stranger than fiction. There, another woven piece by Schubatis provides a calm striation of undulant yellow-on-gold-on-brown forms, which make a harmonious landscape for several pieces from Mirek’s Scorch, series, which seem almost carved out of bone, with the darker backdrop material revealed, upon closer inspection, to be hundreds of tiny drawn and glued elements—replicating just like cells, alluded to in the title of Mirek’s sprawling centerpiece.

Altogether, much to be considered and enjoyed within ECHOES, proving that sometimes the best part of work is the visual echoes that emerge when visions bounce off each other.

Indigenous Beauty & Invisible Conflict @ the Toledo Museum of Art

IB8

Charles & Valerie Diker (left) – TMA Director Brian P. Kennedy All Images Courtesy of Sarah Rose Sharp

This month, the Toledo Museum of Art opened the fourth and final installation on the tour of Indigenous Beauty: Masterworks of American Indian Art from the Diker Collection. The show features a breathtaking array of cultural artifacts and several contemporary works of Native American art, collecting material culture from tribes that spanned the North American continent. Charles and Valerie Diker, who were approached by the American Federation of the Arts to create this exhibition, were on hand for the opening and to present a Master Series Lecture at TMA on Thursday, February 11. Their relationship with fine art collecting began with modern art, and having been drawn to Taos, New Mexico, they found similar points of resonance in Native arts. They describe their interest as aesthetic-driven, choosing to seek out and present survey of the most virtuosic examples of work by members of many different tribes and regions, rather than specializing in a particular area.

IB4

Some of the highly decorated garments in the Plateau & Plains region.

And virtuosic, they are. The Dikers concern themselves only with masterworks in their collection, and each piece represents skill, generational knowledge, and many hours of labor-intensive handwork. The exhibit is clustered by territory, giving one a sense of regional areas of expertise—pottery and Katsina figurines from the Southwest, wooden masks and tusk-carvings from the Western Arctic, basket-making in the Great Basin and California area. In the plateau and plains region, there is a great deal of detailed clothing, and tucked in the furthest reach of the exhibition, some breathtaking renderings of battle memories—the Great Plains area being the place where the West was truly won, or lost, depending on your perspective.

IB5

A decorated deerskin hide from the Plateau & Plains region.

That perspective is perhaps somewhat lacking, when it comes to this presentation. While the Dikers’ attraction to beautiful objects and their 40-year efforts to amass them is quite understandable, the show’s focus on beauty seems vaguely tone-deaf in light of the brutal history and continuing struggle for recognition associated with the early citizens of America—a process rooted in a similar kind of acquisition-based approach to native property. While the Dikers acknowledge this art as representative of “the first Americans,” and state that the intention of sharing their collection is to educate, there is also a sense that the concept of indigenous Americans as fully actualized and deeply expressive people (rather than cowboy-versus-Indian caricatures) is something of a revelation, in and of itself.

IB2

Guest Curator David Penney offers opening remarks at the media preview for Indigenous Beauty

Or, as stated by guest curator David Penney—one of the country’s leading scholarly thinkers and art historians in the field in American Indian art, and Associate Director of Museum Scholarship at National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.—in a brief one-on-one interview during TMA’s media preview, “American Indian culture is often thought of as something long ago, far away—an almost fairyland American Indian. It’s big in American imagination. In a sense, Americans invented American Indians that never existed. And so, those are the kinds of images that casual visitors to museums—through no fault of their own—bring to exhibitions like this. So I think it’s important to try to reconnect them to American history and [challenge] this idea that American Indian culture vanished or disappeared. That was a prediction made in the 19th century, and it’s still not true. It never was true.”

Perhaps this need to educate at the baseline is real. It is certainly worth acknowledging that there is a prevailing and biased narrative around American history, and the questioning of that narrative is an absolutely necessary precursor to change. Despite a dawning cultural awareness that holidays like Columbus Day go beyond exceedingly poor taste, there are plenty of people who guilelessly celebrate Thanksgiving as a building block of our nation (or are just happy for a day off work). Perhaps it would indeed surprise these people to consider that the skill, soul, and care invested in these cultural artifacts are a reflection of the thriving culture that very much plays a part in the shape of modern-day America. Certainly in a place like Toledo, Ohio, there is a preponderance of artists and craftspeople who can relate to the exquisite handwork of carving, beading, vessel-building, garment-making, and weaving that elevates these objects. As Charles Diker said, in his opening remarks, “There was no word for “art” among these (native) languages, it permeated every aspect of life.”

IB11

Southwestern pottery and Katsina dolls

In the same way that art and daily living were intertwined within the cultures that produced these artifacts, it is difficult for me to contemplate their beauty without also feeling a resounding sense of loss—for the people that were killed, relocated, and stripped of their heritage; for the artistic voices that were silenced or lost in the shuffle; and for contemporary society, being shaped by the inability of the colonists to envision an America that embraced and incorporated their predecessors. I can find no fault with the objects on display, and the question of their inclusion in the art canon is inarguable. If the garments standing empty on wire frames seem to imply a kind of absence, perhaps that is all for the better. Art and beauty can be, as is so often the case, the jumping off point for more a serious process of reconciling the pain in which all of us, as Americans, are complicit.

Toledo Museum of Art  –  http://www.toledomuseum.org/

Indigenous Beauty: Masterworks of American Indian Art from the Diker Collection  –    February 12 – May 8, 2016