After Industry @ Wasserman Projects

Group Exhibition – After Industry:  Willy Verginer, Christer Karlstad, Jason DeMarte

Installation image, All images Courtesy of Wasserman Projects

Seduction by a master artisan is achieved by the deft handling of his medium, the uncanny finesse of the hand in endowing plastic material with irresistible form — and in the case of “After Industry,” the current offering of Wasserman Projects, the seduction is complete. We are at the mercy of three tantalizing maestros of composition. Each of these artists — Italian sculptor Willy Verginer, Norwegian painter Christer Karlstad, and Michigan-based photographer Jason DeMarte — has such command of his medium that the discursive process of understanding the work becomes secondary. We are awestruck (undressed as it were) by the artistic accomplishment before we understand it, and with each artist the process of understanding requires a traditional method of unraveling and interpretation.

Willy Verginer, The Dark Site of the Donkey, Lindenwood and Acrylic

Willy Verginer is a woodcarver from Val Gardena, a town in the Dolomite Mountains of Northern Italy known for its woodcarvings of the saints and their stories in Catholic theology. Catholic churches throughout the world have for hundreds of years displayed dramatic woodcarvings of the saints in sculptural vignettes fashioned by the wood carvers of Val Gardena. Verginer apparently learned his craft well there.

Enigmatically arranged throughout Wasserman Projects’ main space are a dozen figures and objects, carved in lindenwood by Verginer, interspersed with a couple of dozen, color-coded, fifty-gallon industrial barrels. The barrels, and four of the carved figures compose a large installation, including two adult males crawling into barrels, two boys earnestly chewing or biting a donkey, and an adult male figure sitting atop two stacked barrels and gesticulating as if directing the ensemble or preaching. The color-coded barrels, habitual symbols of industrial pollution, create a minimal, contextualizing stage for the vignette. Two other independent sculptures feature a man in suit, tie and glasses, with tires attached to his feet, seeming to ride the donkey backwards and the other is of a grazing deer atop two green barrels with a miniature pine forest emerging from its humped back.

The surreal ensemble is at first incomprehensible, but the carved figures are stunningly realistic, producing the kind of awe that one experiences with classical sculpture or religious icons. Lindenwood has a smooth and clear grain, like Grecian white marble, such that each figure is imbued with a glowing, classical sculpture presence. The simply arranged tableau suggests a Biblical allegory (donkey being Christian symbol of hardwork and intelligence), with the human figures enmeshed in a parasitic relationship with industry and nature. Four elegantly carved representations of tires, emblazoned with brand words Goodyear, Detroit, Wasserman Projects, and General Motors, affirm an industrial reading of the allegory.

Overall, a toxic, imbalanced interdependence between man, nature, and industry is symbolized in Verginer’s landscape of figures. And like a carving of the Christian narrative of a suffering Christ on the cross, there is a strange irony in celebrating, through a gorgeously carved and composed tableau, the story of the fall of both man and nature through industrial consumption. Like entering a cathedral filled with Christian iconography, experiencing Verginer’s landscape might require a kind of a catechized literacy, a “Sunday School” notion of fall and redemption, to fully appreciate the lineage of his art.

Christer Karlstad, Psychopomp, Oil Painting on Linen

For his uncanny paintings, the Norwegian painter Christer Karlstad has composed a pitch- perfect northern landscape and ethereal atmospheric backdrop. Featuring totally benign and dependent human forms entwined with beneficent but wild northern animals, Karlstad’s paintings, staged in these palpably painted Norwegian woods, are like brief parables rather than literary narratives. Each painting sees a human figure contained and cared for in a kind of graceful protection by these animals of the north. The “attitude” of the enormous elk in “Psychopomp,” as it supports a seemingly repentant young man draped over it, is touchingly docile. The face of the elk in the toxic environment of “Sulphur,” again supporting a draped but seemingly yielding young man, is watchful, protective and spiritually transportive. The precision of characterizing the landscape and the articulation of human and animal forms suggest the profundity and emotional depth of the great German Renaissance painter Albrecht Durer’s art.

Like Verginer, Karlstad requires a kind of spiritual, if not Christian, vocabulary for the viewer to gain traction in understanding these paintings, otherwise one might slip into a mocking irony. His human figures seek redemption through engagement with nature, and in each composition, the wild animal is a comforting, healing force.

Both artists suggest an emotional abyss between human existence and nature, and both seek a solution to breach that abyss. Verginer’s abyss is shrouded in a symbolic, industrial gloom, and his human figures seem to surrealistically, abjectly grovel before, or seek control, either of nature or the industrial landscape.

Jason DeMarte, Pokeberry Persuasion on “Lickerish(Wallpaper)” Archival ink print on digital print.

The third artist in the “After Industry” exhibition, Detroit photographer Jason DeMarte, challenges our comprehension of the photographic medium itself and (in keeping with the curatorial theme of man’s relationship with and intervention in nature) of the representation of nature as well. In a selection of five photographs and a mural, DeMarte constructs hyperreal photo-landscapes of climbing vines, flowers, birds and trees that transform nature into a bizarre, ornamental confection and a parody of human spiritual imbalance and perception. DeMarte’s digitally enhanced, diorama-like images, symbolic of our synthetic consciousness, are not only garishly ornamental, but are embellished with colorful jellybeans, candy canes and cake sprinkles, as if nature needed a makeover. “Candied Cultivation,” 2015, is a stunning evocation of this surrealized notion.

Jason DeMarte, Candied Cultivation, Archival ink print on digital print.

Wasserman Projects’ director Alison Wong has put together an exhibition, that in its use of historical forms (such as classical iconography in Verginer’s vignettes, Karlstad’s narrative parables, as well as Demarte’s over-the-top, diorama-like photographs) challenges prevailing minimal or expressionistic artistic strategies, as well as our relationship with social and political landscape. Each of the artists operates at an unusually high level of traditional craft and technique, while pushing the envelope to bring these classical forms to explore contemporary consciousness in a post-industrial landscape.

In the tradition of master craftsman, the son of Willy Verginer, Christian Verginer, also has a pursued artistic career in wood carving, and whose work is also currently at Wasserman Projects,  featured in “After Industry.”

WassermanProjects, After Industry, on view through April 8, 2017

www.wassermanprojects.com

 

Love Songs: Sam Friedman @ Library Street Collective

 

Sam Friedman, Installation image, All images courtesy of Library Street Collective

Sam Friedman’s artist statement for Love Songs, a solo exhibition of paintings and works on paper that opened at Library Street Collective on February 11, mentions the Japanese aesthetic philosophy of Wabi Sabi as an influence in his work. This world view exults the “transience of imperfection; a beauty that is imperfect, impermanent and incomplete.” It’s hard to discern much imperfection or incompletion in Friedman’s imposing acrylic paintings, with their crisp, technically rigorous paint handling. Every mark bears an identical edge that somehow holds its own amid countless other razor sharp edges. Despite this uniformity, areas of Friedman’s paintings break down into surprising illusions of space, dazzlingly beautiful gradations, and vibrating forms that actually seem to move before the eye, and stay burned upon it. You see Friedman’s snaking forms gestures across white walls for several moments after you’ve turned your gaze away from the work.

Sam Friedman, Untitled, 2016 (48 x 48 inches; Acrylic on canvas, white floater frame)

Friedman wrings a surprising range of surface effects from a severe economy of techniques. Every one of his identically edged marks is, apparently, applied the same way- in one single, virtuosic stroke that embodies hand skill and discipline. While each painting contains a huge number of nearly identical marks, no mark is valued over any other. This doesn’t flatten the composition, or render it uninteresting. Friedman’s democratic approach to mark-making lets your eye take in both the whole of the work, and miraculous openings into smaller, more intimate moments. It’s an unusual painter who creates such an impression of deep space, foreground and background, with such a uniform, crystallographic approach to the picture plane.

Sam Friedment, Untitled, 2016 (30 x 90 inches; Acrylic on canvas, white floater frame)

Passing from the gauntlet shaped front space of Library Street Collective, where Friedman’s large paintings are displayed, into the more spacious back room of the gallery which houses a collection of smaller works on paper feels like leaving a dazzling, noisy city for a vast, light filled meadow. These works feel both more personal and riskier. This might be due to Friedman’s use of a larger range of media (acrylic, spray paint, silkscreen ink). His subject is a factor, as well- the sun setting over a body of water, revisited again and again, the horizon line splitting each piece into perfect halves that meet precisely at eye level. These works present an eternal template on which Friedman proceeds to meditate on the spatial layers he applied with such closed-loop certainty in his large acrylic paintings. The more organic forms- tall grass, flower petals, atmospheric effects- combined with the unavoidably vernacular icon of sunset over water presented on poster-scaled formats, while not mind-blowing in quite the same way as the paintings, feel vastly more personal. Friedman’s mastery of abstraction comes full circle in these works. The same blunt formal power and ease with materials shows up in them, with an added dose of freedom. The smaller formats and organic, representational subject matter seem to allow Friedman to play a bit more with imagery and surface effects- there’s a feeling that the stakes are lower here, or the imagery more deeply felt.

Sam Friedman, Untitled, Untitled, 2016, 54.5 x 37.75 inches; Acrylic and vinyl paints, silkscreen ink, and acrylic spray paint on primed Stonehenge paper

One wonderful thing Friedman’s paintings and works on paper have in common is the above-mentioned whiff of the vernacular. The large, abstract paintings have the dizzy free-fall atmospherics and sophisticated, ambiguous movements of album covers and Trapper-Keeper designs from the Seventies and Eighties, revisited with the same depth and grandeur one felt, mesmerized by them, as a young kid. Friedman’s works make it as if these foundational images grew up with us. The works on paper similarly shadow mass-produced movie or art posters. They communicate in the same language, with the same saturated, iconic forms that, in Friedman’s hands, take on a breath-taking, mature refinement.

Sam Friedman: Love Songs is on view at Library Street Collective  through April 8, 2017.

Lane & Senegal @ N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art

N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art opened two exhibitions on February 17, 2017: Emerging, which showcases the three-dimensional work by Artis Lane, and BLU BLK, the photography of Stephon Senegal. Known for representing African American artists, the N’Namdi Gallery has selected a young photographer from Brooklyn, New York, whose work explores the human form, often juxtaposing two images against each other, and a well-known sculptor from Los Angles whose work is prominent in famous social and political collections from New York City to Los Angeles.

Portrait of Artis Lane, and bronze sculpture of Rosa Parks

Born in Ontario, Canada, Artis Lane attended the Ontario College of Art, and later Cranbrook Art Academy in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. The sculptor has worked in the foundry for most of her life’s journey, working in bronze to create figures and busts that often convey a metaphysical message. Lane has been honored by the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery with an installation of her bronze portrait of civil rights leader and long time friend, Rosa Parks.

In a statement she says, “My Civil Rights images led me naturally to ideas about what and who we are outside race. I went from there to the most important body of work, the metaphysical images of a generic man and generic woman emerging out of the ignorance of material concepts and evolving into spiritual awareness.”

Artis Lane, Emerging New Women, Bronze, ceramic shell, resin, steel base, 73 x 28 x 12″ 1993

The sculpture with two figures reminds us of DaVinci’s Vitruvian Man. Two bronze female figures are encompassed by a circle One figure is full, polished and complete, and is set against a second figure containing remains of plaster and wire as if to the say the perfect and the flawed co-exists in our lives. It is a metaphorical conversation between the material and the moral.

Stephon Senegal “24a” Archival pigment print, 41” x 41”, 2014

The contrast of Stephon Senegal’s work could not be more obvious in his collection of large, dark color photographs, most containing two images next to each other. The exception is this image of a large leaf over a dark-skinned figure. Senegal attended Maryland Institute of Art, and has gallery representation by Washington D.C.’s Morton Fine Art, Senegal deconstructs the human form, creating an image that is visceral yet tangible. The viewer is perplexed by the mysterious leaf canopy that covers the head.

Stephon Senegal “037” Archival pigment print, 44” x 50”, 2014

In severe contrast is this large photograph of a nude, pregnant black woman against a hanging bag of paper, all on a stark white background. The imagery is beautifully strong and moving, as is the way Senegal creates the open and abstract space in between. He moves effortlessly between these two distinct images with weight, thought and expression.

He says “My work is an exploration into the depths of maturation, chronicling the deconstruction and reconstruction of the human psyche and form. I build histories around obsessive notions and violent motivations while studying how those subsequent interactions convert into ritual and vice.” Senegal attended Maryland Institute of Art and has gallery representation by Washington D.C. at Morton Fine Art,

In these exhibitions George N’Namdi stays true to his mission, and although he has always exhibited artists of all racial backgrounds, his focus here is on the extraordinary talent of two African American artists.

N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art

Kehinde Wiley @ Toledo Museum of Art

Kehinde Wiley (American, born 1977), Morpheus. Oil on canvas, 2008. 108 x 180 in. (274.3 x 457.2 cm). Courtesy of Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, California; Sean Kelly, New York; Galerie Daniel Templon, Paris; and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London © Kehinde Wiley

Aside from having seen his work in print, I first saw the original work of Kehinde Wiley at the 30 Americans exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts in 2015. There I experienced his figure painting Sleep, an 11 X 25-foot oil painting from 2008, with a European Arts & Crafts-designed background. It was breath-taking, even overwhelming. As part of the Rubell Collection, this erotic figure called out as I described in that review, “like a painting of Christ after he was taken down from the cross.”

From the few works I saw back then, I was unable to ascertain the larger and broader work of Wiley, that is until his current exhibition at the Toledo Museum of Art, which just opened a large retrospective of Kehinde Wiley, A New Republic, on February 10, 2017. The exhibition presents sixty paintings, sculptures and stained glass works curated by Eugenie Tsai, the Curator of Contemporary Art at the Brooklyn Museum, and is a traveling exhibition.

When I first saw the work in Detroit, I asked myself: Is this about the scale of portraiture with decorative backgrounds? But one needs to see the scope of this exhibition to realize this is not about scale, as there are many small and intimate paintings that dispel that first impression. Wiley had taken his early study of art and acquired experience from undergraduate school at the San Francisco Arts Institute and combined it with an MFA from Yale to begin a crusade.

Kehinde Wiley, Conspicuous Fraud, Oil on canvas, 60 X 72″ 2001

Entering the exhibition, it was the painting in the first room, Conspicuous Fraud, Series #1, from 2001, Wiley’s last year at Yale, that I went back to after seeing the entire exhibition. The work seems like a major departure, a step forward that puts him on a trajectory that he develops and elaborates on over the next fifteen years. The painting is larger. We see an African American male in a suit with meandering black clouds. He notably breaks with the picture plane, clouds in both background and foreground. The larger than life figure in this painting disturbs the tropes of portraiture painting and intentionally elevates the subject’s status, juxtaposed to all preexisting social stereotypes. The road ahead is established and paved here in 2001. The idea of portraying young black men in power positions, be they political, social, or religious, will become Wiley’s focus, beginning in the United States on the streets of Harlem, but eventually expanding to include Senegal, Dakar, Rio de Janeiro and Mumbai, ultimately to become what Wiley would describe as the World Stage.

With his accomplished technical set of tools in hand, at Yale the issues that honed his perspective would be discussions surrounding identity, sexuality, gender and symbols of political power. The exhibition A New Republic focuses on African American males, Old Master portraiture and backgrounds, and then moves on to African American women, stained glass and sculpture.

Kehinde Wiley, The Two Sisters. Oil on linen, 2012. 96 x 72 in. (243.8 x 182.9 cm). Collection of Pamela K. and William A. Royall, Jr. Courtesy of Sean Kelly, New York. © Kehinde Wiley. (Photo: Jason Wyche, courtesy of Sean Kelly, New York)

“The magnitude of this exhibition will impress even those familiar with Wiley’s work,” said Brian P. Kennedy, TMA director, president and CEO. “He has taken the grandeur of portrait painting and translated it with his portrayals of contemporary African American men and women. Wiley bridges the gap between traditional portraiture and our daily lives, and in doing so, he raises questions about identity and how we perceive ourselves and others.”

Growing up in South Center Los Angeles in the late 1980s, Wiley began studying art early on, spending time in museums and seeing how the figure was presented over the last three hundred years. Africans were depicted as slaves, then servants, and ultimately as drug dealers, gang members and inciters of violence.

Wiley says, “Painting is about the world we live in. Black people live in the world. This is my way of saying yes to us.”

What seems to develop gradually is a complex multi-layered approach to his feelings about the lack of African Americans depicted in a positive way. He uses scale, Old Master settings, elaborate background patterns, and changes to the picture plane, all part of his tool bag to express the beauty and grandeur of normal people, something that has become his passion. He expands exponentially to include women, sculpture, stained glass and smaller paintings framed as if they were part of a cathedral altarpiece. All of this is an effort to attack the lack of existing works that depict African American subjects in a positive way. He has taken on the mission—I began by referring to it as a crusade—as one man, one artist, to fill the void in the complete history of Western Art.

Kehinde Wiley, After Memling’s Portrait of Man with a Coin of the Emperor Nero. Oil on wood panel in artist designed hand fabricated frame with 22k gold leaf gilding, 2013. With doors open: 24 1/2 x 29 x 5 in. (62.2 x 73.7 x 12.7 cm)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wiley comments, “What I wanted to do was create a body of work in which empathy and the language of religious and the rapturous all collide in the same place.”  What does the coin he holds say? “In God We Trust?” On closer observation, it replicates the Roman coin used in Hans Memling’s Man with a Roman Coin, 1471, oil on a panel.

Wiley says, “There is something to be said about the power of smallness. As an artist who is in love with the material practice of painting, I can’t help but be amazed every time I look at Hans Memling’s small panel portrait…the simplicity of the small mark made well.”

Kehinde Wiley, Anthony of Padua. Oil on canvas, 2013. 72 x 60 in. (182.9 x 152.4 cm). Seattle Art Museum; gift of the Contemporary Collectors Forum

An aspect of Wiley’s portraiture painting is the issue of his breaking the picture plane, using the background and then bringing it forward over the subject. This goes back to paintings by the Old Masters, where there was a sense that it was necessary to preserve the integrity of the picture plane, to provide a flatness under and above the illusion of three-dimensional space, a technique discussed by Clement Greenburg in his essay “Modernist Painting” in which he talks about this concept being used in modern art as well. Wiley knows this all too well and intentionally works against this concept to say to his viewer, this is not photorealism, in case you were wondering. The element is playful, colorful, spatial and defiant.

Kehinde Wiley seems inspired by historical paintings of aristocrats and royalty where he uses his models—many cast in the streets of Harlem—and has them do dress-up for his photo sessions. My guess would be that he begins with high-resolution images captured in the studio with the precise control of light. The images are then projected onto a large linen canvas where the drawing begins, including the intricate backgrounds, using skilled assistants to save time. He probably works with oil paint primarily on the figure(s), while the antique and wallpaper-like backgrounds are painted using others.

Looking back through art history at paintings by Titian, Gainsborough and Ingres, Wiley projects heroism onto his black men and women as subjects who are missing from the history of Western art. He has developed his own distinct vocabulary from these Old Masters settings juxtaposed with these young, quintessential models. A New Republic, as a state in which supreme power is held by people through their elected representatives, is code for new representatives missing from our past.

Wiley delivers these skillful masterpieces to provoke a conversation about gender, race, politics and religion.

Toledo Museum of Art   Kehinde Wiley, A New Republic, February 10 – May 14, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cope & Reichert @ David Klein Gallery

Gina Reichert & Mitch Cope, Illuminated Totem – TV Tray 2017, Wood stool, kitchen spice drawer with spices, glass fridge shelf, acrylic display box, milk cartons, crystal bowl, cathode ray tube. 40 x 18 x 16 inches All images courtesy of the David Klein Gallery

We see these documentaries on PBS about people who collect ordinary items over a long period of time, and sometimes a lifetime. They hoard collections in bedrooms, living rooms, bathrooms and the garage. The documentary will usually focus on the psychological anxiety disorder Compulsive Hoarding, a subset of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) where people equate certain mundane objects and material to their own personal identity. In extreme cases, entire houses belonging to such people become fire and health hazards.

Such is the subject of the new exhibition at the David Klein Gallery: Organizational Strategies for the After Life, by architect Gina Reichert and painter Mitch Cope. The exhibition is a combination of sculptures made from found objects, paintings from found fabric patterns, plaster castings and jars of assorted small objects, all of which were meticulously obtained from a deserted neighbor’s house in Detroit.

Gina Reichert & Mitch Cope Stella’s Infinite Clothes Rack, #1 – 15. All paintings based on the fabrics of the ( never worn) clothes.

Gina Reichert & Mitch Cope Stella’s Infinite Clothes Rack, #1 – 15. All paintings based on the fabrics of the ( never worn) clothes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The exhibition represents the culmination of six years of working together as a husband and wife team to distill and categorized the home of a person with Compulsive Hoarding Syndrome. In a statement they say,

“At the risk of being overly nostalgic for a past time, we pressed on in our search to reveal what we now believe is less a picture of the past, and more of the afterlife. Too often we romanticized past generations, especially here in Detroit, as being better or greater, cleaner or safer, than it is now, but we have become quite easily convinced through our research, that although the physical aspect of the houses were in a better shape than now, (they were brand new then) the last hundred years of life on Klinger Street were not necessarily a better time.”

Over time, both the painter and the architect, became increasingly interested in the house next door, abandoned by its owner, forcing them into a process of finding and categorizing thousands of materials produced over multiple generations that went back a century. Part of this exhibition is a video presentation of the documentation process, using four video screens with audio support. The video helps the viewer understand the magnitude of their work and the transformation of materials into objects of art.

Is there a context for their repurposing of an enormous amount of material for an art exhibition? Certainly, there is a history of found art objects. The amassment and display of found objects for their aesthetic qualities dates back to at least the 16th century, when the collections of individual enthusiasts were displayed in private “cabinets of curiosities,” or what the Germans called “Wunderkammer.” But it wasn’t until the 1900s that artists began to incorporate found objects into sculptural works as an artistic gesture in 1917, where Marcel Duchamp created his “readymade” The Fountain, consisting of a porcelain urinal signed R. Mutt.

 

Gina Reichert & Mitch Cope, Gathering of the Scattered – Vision 2017, Electronic tubes, bell jar, tape. 11 x 5 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches

But where this current exhibition breaks from found art objects repurposed as art is this idea presented by Cope and Reichert where they write,

“ What if the things we use and collect in our lives carry more than the representation of what they mean to the individual who owns them, but also carry a small part of their spirit?” They go on to say, “Or if the spirit of things attaches part of it to its user?” They raise many interesting questions about the spiritual relationship between the owner and the object, all of which is explained in their writing that is available as part of the exhibition.

Gina Reichert & Mitch Cope, lluminated Totem – Root Cellar 2017, Marble book ends, preserves in glass jars, acrylic display box, glass furniture feet, enameled steel tub, assorted glass servingware. 32 x 15 x 15 inches

 

Putting this aside, many of the paintings and sculptures are quite beautiful and stand on their own, without the complex environmental project that surrounds and embodies their creations.

Gina Reichert holds a Master of Architecture degree from Cranbrook Academy of Art and a Bachelor of Architecture from Tulane University. Mitch Cope, a native Detroiter, has lectured widely throughout the US and Europe. Cope holds a BFA from College for Creative Studies, Detroit and an MFA from Washington State University.

Banksy on Vinyl: The Record Covers

Banksy, Dirty Funker, Let’s Get Dirty, 12” Single 2006, Record album. 12 x 12 inches

The British artist Banksy – graffiti master, painter, activist, filmmaker and all-purpose provocateur – is also a prolific designer of album covers. Since 1998 Banksy has designed the cover art for almost 40 albums. Many of the albums were produced by small independent record labels for obscure British bands and were usually not commercially successful. As a result, Banksy album covers were not widely distributed and only a small number have survived. A collection of fifteen record covers and the actual albums, all framed and behind glass, comprise the exhibition Banksy on Vinyl in the second room at the David Klein Gallery.

Banksy, Various Artists, We Love You So Love Us, 12” album 2000, Record album. 12 x 12 inches

David Klein Gallery