NAIAS 2017 @ Cobo Hall, Detroit

2017 Charity Preview

2017 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) Charity Preview Event

What is now known as the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) began as an event in 1899. The first official Detroit Auto Show was held in 1907 at Beller’s Beer Garden in Riverview Park, where a total of 33 new motor vehicles were shown by 17 vendors, and spectator admission was 50 cents.

So, you wonder, why are you reading about a car exhibition in the Detroit Art Review? We’ll answer that question with a question: How many people who are responsible for the creation of an automobile attended art school? Plenty, as it turns out.

Every week, we at the Detroit Art Review explore the work of artists in galleries and museums in the Detroit Metro Area, but we’ve never tipped our hats to the men and women who contribute to the aesthetics of an automobile. Because we are doing our work here in Detroit, the home of the automobile and most of the automotive industry, it seems fitting to mention an annual event that contributes $500 million to our local economy. More than 800,000 attendees last year and press from all around the world gathered to see the new cars produced that provide a basic staple of American culture: Individualized Transportation. NAIAS has displayed the wares of the automotive industry, a million square feet of it, at Cobo Hall since 1967.

Not to take away from the prestige of the event over all, but the design work that goes into an automobile is recognized by EyesOn Design Awards, which are the sine qua non design awards in the industry, sponsored by the Henry Ford Health System, Department of Ophthalmology. As proof of design excellence, consider a production car that rises to the top in terms of aesthetic appeal: the 2017 Lincoln Continental.

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Ford Motor Company, Lincoln Continental, 2017

The understatement of line, shape and proportion provides the viewer with a feeling of strength and security. It is not a pointed, aggressive look, but a mature profile in its approach to visual stability. The lines curve down and inward, an aesthetic seen sometimes in European sports cars. The repetition of roundness is soothing. Stylish elements abound, like the way the E-latch door handles provide a graceful inset in the side door, and five LED lamps create a slender design to what used to be a larger headlamp. The front grill is refined, delicate and proportionate to the front profile, unlike the majority of cars these days that feature a sweeping, forward design with pointed grills, like the V-Motion Nissan sports look, something you might see on a Star Trek movie set, or the Lexus grill that reaches down so low to the street it seems designed to collect debris.

Ford Motor Company, Lincoln Continental, 2017

Growing up and now working in Detroit, I was always acutely aware of the design and engineering sensibility in the metro area that dominated our psyche. For instance, the Sunday New York Times relegates automobile coverage to the business section, while there are two sections devoted entirely to the Arts. In Detroit, there has always been an Auto section in the Sunday Detroit newspapers and no Arts section. Yet the people of Detroit and the tri-county area supported a millage to keep the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) intact. They knew intrinsically that the fine arts were important to our quality of life, and voters made a substantial ten-year commitment to help support the DIA in a time when bankruptcy threatens our city. The Center for Creative Studies has developed an extraordinary Transportation Design program that works closely with the automotive industry to help prepare young designers to meet the technological needs of a changing work force. I know clay sculptors who form the full-scale prototypes at the General Motors Technology Center, and they often exhibit their hand thrown pottery at local art exhibitions.

So at the beginning of each year, the North American International Auto Show displays the new products of an American industry in which artistic design elements, both interior, and exterior, play a vital role. I, for one, am proud to be from Detroit and active in its art community, which includes all the men and women who work to design beautiful products. For those who attend the show or see the Lincoln Continental on the road, take a close look at the design elements and how they personify the rich aesthetics of a luxury car, and remember the Continental was made by artists and engineers here in Detroit.

 

 

 

 

Charles McGee @ Charles H. Wright Museum

 

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Charles McGee unveiling of United We Stand sculpture -Farnsworth Entrance to the Charles H. Wright Museum

Charles McGee, the first Kresge Eminent art artist in 2008, and one of Detroit’s most well-known artists was present July 23, 2016, at the Charles H. Wright Museum for the unveiling of his massive sculpture, “United We Stand”. The new sculpture displays seven abstract figures in black and white motifs that one cannot help observing the symbolism in its meaning: one people together.

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Charles McGee, United We Stand, Poly-chrome steel, high-gloss enamel paint, concrete base

Funded by the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation, the award of $50,000 was used to create the sculpture that is prominently located just west of the museum’s Farnsworth entrance. The sculpture will serve as a capstone to a long and prestigious career by the Detroit artist, Charles McGee. McGee’s paintings, assemblages, and sculptures are part of many distinguished collections. One of my favorites is “Noah’s Ark” at the Detroit Institute of Arts in the Prentis Court. The enamel and mixed media piece measures fifteen feet long and ten feet high and combines two female figures with animal forms and colorful bands of color.

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Charles McGee, Noah’s Ark Genesis, Collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts

Charles McGee, now 91 years of age, migrated to Detroit from South Carolina at the age of 10, and attended the College of Creative Studies (then called the Society of Arts and Crafts). He taught art for 18 years at Eastern Michigan University, before retiring in 1987. He also taught at the University of Michigan and received an honorary doctorate from the College for Creative Studies. “The creative mind, “ McGee has written, “continues to test the parameters of conventional knowledge, forever in pursuit of new vistas.”

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Portrait of Charles McGee by Ray Manning

“United We Stand” is to kick off the upcoming year of exhibitions and activities to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the 1967 summer of the Detroit Riots.

The Charles H. Wright Museum

Lois Teicher @ Robert Kidd Gallery

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Lois Teicher, Cosmic Journey #3 (Red) welded aluminum with acrylic 35 x 23-1/2 x 6-3/4 inches Cosmic Journey #1 (Black) welded aluminum with enamel 37 x 23 x 9 inches

The Robert Kidd Gallery, in Birmingham, Michigan opened an exhibition of sculpture by the artist Lois Teicher on May 21, 2016. These hand-welded shapes of metal with spray painted surfaces rely heavily on her use of space and form. Working in a minimalist tradition, Teicher brings a high level of technical accomplishment to these abstract works. These sometimes folded pieces of colorful metal are hard-fought ideas that use pure geometric forms that give the viewer a certain type of comfort that is easy on the eyes. It brings to mind a piece of Teicher’s work outside in a lush organic and natural setting where there is an extreme contrast presented.

 

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Lois Teicher, Fragment – welded aluminum with enamel 43 x 43 x 22 inches

The conceptual idea presented in Teicher’s work reminds this writer of work by Robert Mangold and Ellsworth Kelly. Searching for the roots of the minimalist tradition in a broad sense, these geometric abstractions are easily associated with the Bauhaus School in the work of Yves Klein, Piet Mondrian, and Joseph Albers. Some might suggests the movement was a reaction to abstract expressionism, but I would argue it is more of an inner-sensibility that drives this work; that there is an internal intellectual idea that says these forms are part of what creates the space/time continuum in the universe.

 

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Lois Teicher, Curved Form with Triangle and Space III – welded aluminum with acrylic and enamel 36 x 23 x 18 inches

It’s taken this writer a trip to Donald Judd’s Marfa, Texas, and Dia: Beacon up the Hudson River from New York City, to contemplate and digest minimalist concepts. The recent passing of artist Ellsworth Kelly in December 2015 bring to mind a kindred spirit with Ms. Teicher, who completed her graduate work in 1981. She says in her statement, “My studio work is generally constructed of hand-welded metal that I personally fabricate. The process of expressing ideas mostly germinates from a solitary inner experience the flows outward and takes the form of visual expression.”

 

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Lois Teicher, Eclipse Series VI – welded aluminum with acrylic 52 x 52 x 14 inches

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The work on the floor and the wall sings a similar minimalist note, but Ms. Teicher takes her own step when she makes the form fold. What needs to be said is the role scale plays in this work. Some of the work in this exhibition seems like scale models for larger work that would be placed in public spaces. Given the space afforded by galleries, it’s these models that often stand alone as works of art in search of a public space. There is a natural balance in Teicher’s pieces with a Zen-like simplicity that informs each piece of work with a high caliber of visual experience.

Continuum, May 21 – June 18, 2016  Robert Kidd Gallery, Birmingham, MI

 

Indigenous Beauty & Invisible Conflict @ the Toledo Museum of Art

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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

 

 

Many Layers to Lan Tuazon’s BAD GRASS NEVER DIES at Youngworld

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Lan Tuazon, Installation View, All Images Courtesy of Sarah Rose Sharp

As a mildly obsessive-compulsive individual, BAD GRASS NEVER DIES, a solo show by Lan Tuazon, which opened at Youngworld on Saturday, September 26th, appeals to me first on an aesthetic level. The work seems primarily interested in order and space—particularly the way that the bodies of mass manufactured plastic objects, such as water bottles, detergent containers, and even traffic pylons, can fit inside each other. In an act of reverse-knolling (a methodical arrangement of objects separated on a surface at right angles), Tuazon creates matryoshka-like collections which form layered shapes, which are neatly-halved. Their cross-sections are displayed on a series of shelves, as in Beyond the Surface of Your Skin, or in freestanding installations like Bad Grass Never Dies or From the Cradle to the Grave.

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The nesting shapes of these waste objects, meticulously architectured into perfect relationship with each other, rescues them from the waste bin—both literally, and by revealing the care and agency in their original design. The elegance of their fit and display elevates these objects, returning them from refuse. In the center of the gallery is a two-sided piece mounted on a rolling whiteboard, and it is this work, “Pit of Mundus: Smoke” and “Pit of Mundus: Scribble” that link the work on display to the performance which took place as part of the show’s opening.

Tuazon leads the ceremony for casting objects into the pit.

Lan Tuazon, Tuazon leads the ceremony for casting objects into the pit. Image Courtesy of Sarah Rose Sharp

In an outdoor ceremony during the show’s opening, Tuazon led the crowd in the ritualized casting out of possessions into a “Pit of Mundus” or “hole of the world”—literally dug into Youngworld’s courtyard. Attendees were invited to jettison objects that represented aspects of themselves or their lives that they wished to separate from. Tuazon was prepared, with a set of work clothing that symbolized a vestige of herself that she was ready to move on from. The assembled crowd had not come prepared for a transformative ceremony on the scale of the deep pit, which Tuazon referred to as a “negative monument”—but they obligingly manifested what they had on hand: two people threw in insurance cards for cars that had been totaled, a jacket, a ring (offered without commentary). Once the crowd was finished making offerings, Tuazon ceremoniously closed the pit with a “cap of caps”—a seal created by cementing a series of concentric lids together in plaster. “Take a deep breath,” she instructed the crowd, after the seal was in place, “these things no longer occupy the same air as you.” The attendees, gathered around the pit, then collectively buried the site, using their feet to push fill dirt, piled all around the pit, back into place.

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The two-sided “Pit of Mundus” pieces act as a kind of gateway (a mundus, in the context of ancient Roman culture, was thought to be the gateway to the Underworld) between the trash that has been brought back from the dead to become art, and the treasured objects that were cast out to be buried. Through this two-sided process, Tuazon has affected a lively and thought-inspiring transfer of value, inspiring us to reconsider what we discard and what we keep. Bad grass may never die, but people do—and in the end, no matter what you’ve kept, you can’t take any of it with you.

Youngworld  6121 Casmere Street, Detroit, 48212

https://www.facebook.com/youngworlddetroit