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

Exhibition view

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.

Nested

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

Some Assembly Required @ the Hill Gallery

 

Mr. Bill Raushauser with Maggie Hill, MOCAD, 2015 Courtesy of Ron Scott

Mr. Bill Raushauser with Maggie Hill, MOCAD, 2015 Courtesy of Ron Scott

Since 1980, the Hill Gallery, under the direction of Timothy and Pamela Hill has been exhibiting fine art that specializes in material exploration and an exceptional 19th and 20th century Folk Art collection. The summer group show, Some Assembly Required, features work among others by Alfred Leslie, Gordon Newton, Joel Shapiro, Mark di Suvero and Bill Rauhauser. I covered Motor City Muse: Then and Now, at the Detroit Institute of Arts, that featured Rauhauser’s photograph Stone Burlesk, where his work was included with photography by Robert Frank and Henri-Cartier Bresson. Rauhauser received the 2014 Eminent Artist award from the Kresge Foundation, where his work was recently on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit.

Bill Rauhauser “Kresge Court” 20” X 30”, 1970, Pigment Print, Archival Paper

Bill Rauhauser “Kresge Court” 20” X 30”, 1970, Pigment Print, Archival Paper

Bill Rauhauser, born in Detroit in 1918, received a Bachelor’s Degree in Architectural Engineering in 1943 from the University of Detroit. He spent 18 years in the engineering field before a career change into the field of education. Over the next 30 years, Mr. Rauhauser taught photography at The College for Creative Studies and taught as a guest lecturer at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and at Wayne State University. He has made Detroit his main subject, walking its streets and alleys with his camera since the 1940s, and many of his photographs are in the collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts as well as in numerous private collections.

 

Gordon Newton “For Turner” 1988 Mixed Media 19”h x 20.5” x 13.25” Image Courtesy Hill Gallery

Gordon Newton
“For Turner”
1988
Mixed Media
19”h x 20.5” x 13.25”
Image Courtesy Hill Gallery

Born in Detroit in 1948, Gordon Newton began taking art classes at Port Huron Community College. In 1969, he moved to Detroit to attend the Society of Arts and Crafts (now College for Creative Studies) and Wayne State University, both located in Detroit. In 1971, Newton’s work was included in the inaugural exhibition at the Willis Gallery, a cooperative space run by artists working in the Cass Corridor, Detroit. His work has also been included in exhibitions at the Guggenheim Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Detroit Institute of Arts and most recently the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. A reluctant Kresge Fellowship recipient in 2009 is demonstrated by his shy and reclusive lifestyle juxtaposed to his bold and assertive work that often seems like an exploration of material. The work For Turner provides the viewer with an assemblage that reaches out to its audience with art related objects, a metaphor for his approach to painting. The title may reference the work of J.M.W. Turner, the English artist whose work of fluid landscape bordered on abstraction at a time in deep contrast to artists of that era.

 

Alfred Leslie “Ornette Coleman”  1956 Oil on Canvas 7 ft h x 9 ft w  Image Courtesy Hill Gallery

Alfred Leslie
“Ornette Coleman”
1956
Oil on Canvas
7 ft h x 9 ft w
Image Courtesy Hill Gallery

Alfred Leslie, the famous abstract expressionistic painter from the 1950s who’s known for losing his oeuvre of fifty paintings in a fire, had his 1956 painting Ornette Coleman in storage at the time. The painting is made up of four panels that demonstrate action, a wide brush stroke, and multiples fields of under painting, which provide the viewer with a rich sense of composition and color. If there were an influence, it would have to be Willem deKooning. I can think of few artists who have worked in so many genres that include super-realist figure painting, sculpture, drawing, collage, and computerized photography. In a 2009 Art in America interview with Judith Stein, he is quoted as saying “Subverting expectations has always been integral to my work.”

Mark di Suvero “Untitled Sculpture”
 2003
 Cut and Welded Steel 37”H x 43”W x 24”D Image Courtesy Hill Gallery

Mark di Suvero
“Untitled Sculpture”

2003

Cut and Welded Steel
37”H x 43”W x 24”D
Image Courtesy Hill Gallery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mark di Suvero was a philosophy major at the University of California before moving to New York City in 1957 to pursue a career in sculpture. His early work was constructed of large wooden timbers and structural steel that pave the way to an Abstract Expressionistic approach to sculpture. In 2010, di Suvero received the National Medal of Arts from the National Endowment for the Arts. In a quote from the NEA Blog, he says, “I’ve been doing it for more than fifty years, so it’s just become a regular routine. I go to work until I am exhausted… That’s the kind of principle that I work with, and I’m very much hands-on so that I don’t send my work out to fabricators.” In the Untitled piece in the Hill Gallery, there is a rough elegance of balance where two pieces of I-Beam steel are connected in contrast by abstract shapes. It simply plays on weight, space, and shape.

The Hill Gallery selects works from artists who have been recognized both locally and nationally and who have defined an authentic aesthetic voice. Their involvement with these artists is long-term and personal, with many relationships of 20 years or more.

 

Some Assembly Required    June 4th-  July 9th

 

http://www.hillgallery.com/#!current/ce6o

Greg Fadell @ the Museum Of Contemporary Art Detroit

Greg F S.Birth of Venus  Ofalisque, Museum Posters Altered by Chemicals, 2014

Image,  Greg Fadell,  Birth of Venus, Odalisque, Museum Posters, Altered by Chemicals, 2014

Greg Fadell is part of the Detroit Affinities Program, a series of solo exhibitions at Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD), beginning in September 2014 with John Maggie and continuing through January 2018. Ten artists, half from Detroit, and half from outside areas will exhibit during that period.

“We try to bring a broader community together around issues. It’s about letting us understand ourselves better, it has also provided a broader network for local artists and elevated them onto the national and international stage of contemporary art, including showing their work outside Detroit,” says Elysia Borowy-Reeder, executive director of MOCAD.

Mr. Fadell’s work opened May 15, 2015 and includes two-dimensional work, three dimensional work, and video. The two dimensional work is taken from museum posters where the imagery is worked over with chemicals in a kind of abstract expressionist manner. For this observer, the work is not a parody, like in Marcel Duchamp’s Mona Lisa L.H.O.O.Q. 1930, but in some sense could be interpreted as a ready-made with an alteration. Throughout the exhibition, Fadell pays careful attention to the size and shape he presents where he intentionally smudges the art history reproductions, leaving some reveal. When Andy Warhol screened a Campbell Soup can, some thought it was a spoof. When Roy Lichtenstein enlarged a frame from a comic strip, there were those who thought he was putting them on, and when the minimalist, Ad Reinhardt made an all-black painting, the work challenged most viewers’ patience. And some will remember when Robert Rauschenberg made a drawing with an eraser, titled Erased de Kooning Drawing, in 1953. All of these works build off an intellectual idea that an artist’s work is embedded in the viewers explicit knowledge of the process of making art: an artistic moment. Windows in Paris, where he was drawn to the soap-like swipes on vacant retail display area, inspired Mr. Fadell’s work. He came back to Detroit and soaped some windows, and then he soaped some large canvases and called them Nothing. His exhibition at the Simone DeSousa Gallery in 2012 was called Nothingness. No image is not new, but what is new is Fadell’s use of famous, well celebrated historic imagery that has been smudged over. If I had to call it something, I might call it a Dada practice by a skateboard enthusiast.

 

Greg Fadell, Ahh...Youth, Balloon Dog, Henri Matisse, 2014 Museum poster altered by chemicalsImage, Greg Fadell,  Ahh…Youth, Balloon Dog, Henri Matisse, Museum Poster Altered by Chemicals, 2014

I posed a few questions for Greg Fadell.

Ron Scott – How and when did you first get interested in making visual art?

Greg Fadell – As long as I can remember I’ve been into artistic ways of expression and I consider skateboarding, which I’ve done since I was six years old, the first and most important one. When I was young I also enjoyed drawing, in high school I was really into photography, and I chose to study film in college. Lately I’ve leaned toward painting, but I let my ideas dictate what medium to choose.

RS – Having heard your talk, you mentioned being bored by art history?  Did you mean the art history classes that bored you?

GF – The literalness of how art history is treated bores me. I have always thought what lies between the lines of “historical facts” is more interesting.  I view art history as mostly opinions that are fluid and malleable, so why not shape it my own way and create something more interesting than the ideology that is presented and usually just parroted.

RS – Do you like or have criteria for the art museum posters that you select, or is that arbitrary?

GF – It is not a question of liking or disliking – I look at the posters and the imagery I choose as a tool.  If the tool fits my purpose, I use it.

RS – Is there any relationship between your skateboard work and your visual artwork?

GF – For me skateboarding is more than an activity – it is a mindset; a way of thinking that permeates my work consciously and subconsciously.Jens & FudallJens & Fudall

Jens & Fudall

Jens & FudallImage, Jens Hoffman, MOCAD Curator, and Greg Fadell, Artist Talk, MOCAD 2015

Greg Fadell gave a talk with curator Jens Hoffman on the Saturday following the opening. Along with some slides, he made the case for his work using historical references and some chronological slides of his earlier work. Today it’s commonplace for venues to have the artist present, and for this viewer it was important to hear how the artist came to his conclusions. Overall, the work seems like an investigation, one that takes information and makes changes to the imagery. The transition from his pure abstract work to these altered museum posters seems logical and may give him some traction in terms of authenticity. A question might be would I like to have one in my living room? If I am a collector who is looking to be the first to enjoy the novelty, maybe so. Fadell seems to use skateboarding as a metaphor for his life: Anything is possible. Take action and be yourself and tap into the creative flow.

Greg Fadell solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit.

http://www.mocadetroit.org

Tom Phardel @ Popps Packing

Installation

Installation-Courtesy of the Artist, Photo – Ron Scott

Popps Packing on the northeast side of Hamtramck is a gallery that describes itself as an experimental arts venue. April 25 through May 17, 2015, it hosts an exhibition, Inner-Core, with sculpture by Tom Phardel. The building has been converted from a 1930’s meat packing plant to a cookie factory and now a gallery that has an artist residency as part of its purpose. The large space serves to function as studio practice, architectural interventions, and alternative systems projects. Founded in 2007 by Graem Whyte and his wife, Faina Lerman, the upper portion of the structure also serves as their residence.

On a fundamental level, Mr. Phardel’s work could be described as modern, contemporary, and even conventional in comparison to installations that use waste material and found objects as their medium. All of the work in the exhibition would qualify as made-by-hand objects that vary in material from stoneware clay to fabricated steel. Mr. Phardel’s work in this exhibition is modest in size, and influences that come to mind are Ellsworth Kelly and John Duff. There are both reliefs and stand-alone pieces that do not radically break away from tradition, but rather find themselves on an evolving continuum of recognized work, accompanied by a high level of technical execution. The ceramic work is complex but accessible, but in pieces where the steel fabrication process is used, it goes beyond a layperson’s understanding. One might picture an object-mold made of plastic, plaster or wood being used as a form that provides the uniformity of shape. But the technical accomplishment of Mr. Phardel’s sculpture stands second to the conceptual ideas he presents. Duality of form, earth-like surfaces, and at times a sense of spirituality, provide the audience with a feeling that is old and new, organic and industrial, ancient, yet modern.

In a statement, Mr. Phardel says, “In my artwork I try to distill universal forms and experiences to their core essence. There are portals exposing hidden interior spaces, surfaces that have acquired a visual language of usage, time and ephemeral translucent elements that transmit only the essential outlines of form and color. These elements tell the human story, a yearning to understand the unknown. The work selected for this show, both new and old, are all based on the concept of revealing an inner essence of forms, the Inner-Core. I hope the pure love of making objects comes through clearly as well as the need to communicate deeper experiential thoughts within a simplified framework. ”

Red Bindu, Fabricated Steel 16 X 28

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Red Bindu, Fabricated Steel  16 X 28, Courtesy of the Artist  Photo – Ron Scott

An example of duality is the steel fabricated piece with two holes vertically placed and the surface spray-painted and sanded many times to produce the radiant red. The title Red Bindu could refer to the gateway to the Himalayan Yoga tradition where people hunger for connection to the core of life through meditation. These Yoga Meditations combine philosophy, practice, and oral instructions passed on through time. Whether or not this is accurate, when experiencing the relief, we converge on an attractive meditation that takes us to a place that resonates. A place we understand.

Do I like some of these objects better than others? Sure, but it reminds me that we all bring our own experience and sensibility to the art experience, and the end result is different for everyone. In the case of Tom Phardel’s work, we get originality, exploration of form, unusual and sophisticated use of material, and at times a spiritual presence.

Golden Plateau, Salt fired black stoneware, Maple

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Golden Plateau, Salt Fired black Stone, Courtesy of the Artist

Popps Packing   http://www.poppspacking.org

12138 Saint Aubin, Hamtramck, MI 48212    313-733-6793