No Boundaries @ the Charles Wright Museum

 

Installation

No Boundaries, Installation Image – All Images Courtesy of Ron Scott

As part of a national tour, No Boundaries opened at the Charles Wright Museum of African American History on January 18, 2016. The exhibition represents nine aboriginal artists from the continent of Australia who were inspired by their ancient cultural traditions. The contemporary exhibition incorporates more than 75 paintings created between 1992 and 2012. The works are drawn from the collection of Debra and Dennis Scholl, Miami-based collectors and philanthropists.

“The artists all have a common thread, and each had reached a senior status in their communities.” said Dennis Scholl. “We chose works by those who, to paraphrase the artist Paddy Bedford, after having painted all of their mother ‘country’, and finally chose to simply paint.”

The indigenous aboriginal art of Australia has a rich history that has been studied by scholars from all parts of the world, especially the work that pre-dates the European colonization. The oldest forms are the paintings on rock in Central Australia that depict people, animals, plant life and spirituality. It is believed that Aboriginal people are the descendants of a single migration from Africa to the continent 64,000 to 75,000 years ago. All the artifacts and the earliest human remains suggest that the region now referred to as Queensland, was the single most densely populated area of pre-colonialized Australia. But this exhibition is about contemporary Aboriginal art that, according to some artists, is tied to their past.

Paddy Beford Ngamalingy 2003

Paddy Bedford, 70 X 64 Polymer on Canvas

Paddy Bedford comes from Jurrawun, Australia and spoke the Gila language. His work was integral to the development of the landmark exhibition, “Blood on the Spinifex” that was held at the Ian Potter Museum at the University of Melbourne in 2002. In his artwork, he introduced a new expressionism, one that recognized the use of both positive and negative space and stark contrast. He rose to national acclaim when his images brought to memory the station massacres, because to some, they symbolized aerial maps. Paddy Bedford’s work is held in collections throughout Australia, Europe and the United States.

Boxer M Tjampitjin Purkiti 2005

Boxer Milner Tjampitijin, 40 X 32, Polymer on Canvas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boxer Milner began painting in the 1980s at the Warlayirti Art Center in the Wirrimanku Balgo region. Buried in his palette and restricted formal syntax is his mastery of geometry and form. These rigid structures with high-keyed colored geometric shapes offer a rare idiosyncratic iconography not seen in other aboriginal art. Rendered in a measured architecture of lines and dots, they move into a more sophisticated sense of design. His work is part of many collections throughout Australia and at the National Gallery of Victoria.

Tommy Mitchel 2012

Tommy Mitchel, 36 X 36, Polymer on Canvas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Born in the Gibson Desert near Papulankutja, Tommy Mitchel came to painting late in life. His glowing fields of overlapping dots create a patchwork of grids. Mitchel was quickly recognized as a regional talent at the Warakurna Art Centre. His graceful use of color and space take the viewer on a visual journey. He has described his work as drawing on his early life in the Ngaanyatjarra Country where he wandered as a child. His work is part of many collections, including the National Gallery of Victoria and the Art Gallery of South Wales.

Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri Kalparti 2003

Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri, 66 X 70, Polymer on Canvas

Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri is originally from Lake MacKay but lived nomadically with his family in the remote western desert. He eventually settled in to paint at the Papunya Tula Art Centre. His swirling lines of dots create a pulsating field of optical intensity. Shimmering like a mirage, they invoke a shifting of movement in the desert sand, a metaphor for the energy fields while ‘Dreaming’ that runs through everything. His work is part of many collections in Australia, including the National Gallery of Australia.

There is a wall of introductory information presented in the exhibition that includes biographies of each artist. The material introduces the term ‘Dreaming’ which occurs while the artist is awake or sleep. “For the artists in this exhibition, the Dreaming goes by different names: Tjukurrpa in the Western Desert; Ngarranggarni in the Kimberley; and Derulo in the North. The Dreaming incorporates ancestral beings, the creation of the universe and the laws governing social and religious behavior. It also dictates connections to a place that define individual Aboriginal identities. The Dreaming encodes the location of essential waterholes and food sources into stories, dances, and song.”

There is a short video as part of the exhibition, which is narrated by an art gallery owner. The cut-away shots of aboriginal people show them with little clothing and often sitting on the ground painting their dots. It caused this writer to research the history of the Aboriginal people of Australia which uncovered concerns raised by a United Nations report about unethical and discriminatory practices against Aboriginal indigenous people. Australia’s 460,000 Aborigines make up about 2 per cent of the population. They suffer higher rates of unemployment, substance abuse, and domestic violence than other Australians and have an average life expectancy of 17 years less than the rest of the country.

What would be educational in this exhibition is a section that places these artists in context to the overall treatment of these native indigenous people, their heritage, cultural, traditions, and challenges in a land that was colonized by Western Europeans in the mid-1700s. I am sure this kind of national show has been vetted and follows ethical standards for procurement by the collectors. Overall, the exhibition is a very good introduction to this contemporary art movement created by a native people whose art deserves recognition around the world.

This exhibit is free with museum admission. No Boundaries: Aboriginal Australian Contemporary Abstract Painting originated at the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno, Nevada and was organized by William Fox, Director, Center for Art and Environment, and scholar Henry Skerritt.

http://thewright.org/index.php/visit/general-info

Cosmologies @ CCS Center Gallery

Making Inner Space of Outer Space

CCS Group Installation

Cosmologies, Installation view – All Images Courtesy of Sarah Rose Sharp

Aesthetically, the three-person show Cosmologies, which opened at the CCS Center Galleries on January 23rd and runs through the 27th of this month, reminds me very much of a Hubble telescope picture series of a formation called formation called Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula—a star-forming region. Works by New York-based painter Assunta Sera draw directly from celestial events to create abstracted landscapes—or more accurately ‘spacescapes?’—and a full wall installation of spills of glass by Kim Harty touches down onto the floor, unavoidably suggesting the Milky Way, by association. These groups of (mostly) hanging pieces provide a lovely backdrop to four freestanding sculptural works by Detroit’s own Robert Sestok, which take pride of position in the center of the gallery. Using anodized aluminum gives a refined, gold cast to Sestok’s sculptures, more usually roughly rendered in crude iron scrap material, and creates a sense of weightlessness around the crumpled aluminum pillars—large-scale balls of metal stacked into well-balanced totem poles.

Cosmo4 Sera

Assunta Sera, Fragments Near and Far, 2015, Oil on canvas

The effect is quite lovely; it is worthwhile to avail oneself of a bench that accommodates time to sit and let the space hang around the viewer. The work is not particularly confrontational, but aside from the seeming tableau of outer space, there are deeper connections at play. Sera’s rejection of the straightforward recto-linear canvas shape in favor of irregular trapezoids and indented triangles is very much in keeping with one of the foundational principles of painting in the Cass Corridor school, in which Sestok is rooted.

Cosmo5 Harty

Kim Harty, Spill, 2016, Hot cast glass and baking soda

Similarly, Harty’s consideration of spills—for each piece of the installation is a frozen puddle of milky glass, arranged into a snaking pathway across the wall and floor—is dealing with incidental moments and commonplace events. Another tenant of the Cass Corridor school was the principle of dealing with materials immediate and available, and these spills, especially with their vague allusion to bodily or cleaning fluids, are an ultimate example of omnipresent daily reality. While the interplay of concepts and aesthetics can sometimes lead to friction, these objects and paintings coexist peacefully, forming a positive ambient space. Taken on their own, or set in another context, each individual body of work could have a different set of associations, but set together, they form a seamless environment.

Cosmo3

Robert Sestok, Anodized Aluminum Sculpture – installation view

“I didn’t start out trying to make a pretty show,” says CCS curator Michelle Perron, in an interview at the Cass Cafe. “The exhibit began with a longstanding interest in Assunta Sera’s paintings, since the 1980s, when I worked at the Michigan Gallery.” An encounter with Sera at a recent CCS grad event triggered a conversation that built into the seed for a show, and a studio visit to review Sestok’s newest “fantastic” body of work brought that seed into sprout. When Harty came on as head of CCS’s glass department, Perron found a previously untapped appreciation for glass as a medium. “Normally you could not get me anywhere near it,” she said. Harty’s full-wall installation draws the whole exhibit together, bringing the show into bloom.

That this serendipitous combination of very different artists has created such lovely celestial synchronicity seems appropriate, given the show’s theme. Perron declares that she had never seen the “Pillars of Creation” before I mentioned it, and the face that a reasonable facsimile has manifested within the CCS Center Galleries seems to me evidence of a higher order in the universe. While Perron demurs to embrace such New-Age association, as a native Californian, I am entirely comfortable characterizing this group show as deeply cosmic.

http://www.collegeforcreativestudies.edu/community-outreach-and-engagement/center-galleries

 

 

Piles of Distinction @ David Klein Gallery

David-Klein-Gallery- Playground Detroit

Mitch Cope, Kari Cholnoky, Lisa Waud, and Patrick Ethen in a group exhibition

There’s a mixture of playfulness and deadly seriousness, grounded in filth and pointing to transcendence, in the current exhibitions at David Klein Gallery’s new Detroit space. Brooklyn-based Kari Cholnoky’s meaty paintings and sculptures, gathered under the brilliant title “Semi Lucid Steaks,” seek to invade the viewer’s physical and psychic space, propelled by bonkers materials like spray foam, pantyhose, synthetic hair, and Cheetos (all of which are listed with deadpan sincerity in the descriptions that accompany each work) and a mind-bending palette of fluorescent hues that could have come straight from my Trapper Keeper circa 1992.

Cholnoky_Specimen

Kari Cholnoky, Specimen 2015, Faux Fur, Insulation Board, Urethane Foam, Epoxy Putty, Synthetic Hair, Acrylic, Collage, Spaghetti 28 x 30 x 10 Inches – All Images courtesy of Clara DeGalan

Cholnoky’s palette isn’t the only oddly scholastic reference I picked up in her work. The template of art class projects- laminated odes to creative expression made with macaroni, textural, day-glo hued paint, and other materials culled from donations by suburban hoarders and civic-minded businesses- is distilled into moments of subtle, sophisticated formalism in Cholnoky’s sheer devotion to these humble, hideous materials, and her loving care in curating their mind-boggling combinations- some works seem to simmer with a low inner fire, others to ooze and swim with primordial energy.

Cholnoky_Slideshow

Kari Cholnoky, Sideshow 2015, Faux Fur, Acrylic, Collage, Urethane Foam, Epoxy Putty 52 x 60 x 6 Inches.

Moving from one piece to the next is an increasingly heady experience that ropes synesthesia in with wild visual confusion- you begin to almost smell the work. Cholnoky’s present exploration seems most fully realized in her handmade book, part of an ongoing series, which turns everything that defines “book” on its head. It is a cumbersome, overwhelming object that looks as if it would be sticky to touch, which doesn’t lessen one’s urge to touch it (a latex-gloved gallery attendant will turn its leaves for you, worse luck.)

Cholnoky_Book

Kari Cholnoky, Real Book 2015, (detail) Mixed Media, 15 x 14 x 9 Inches

The formal puzzle of Cholnoky’s materials jumps out from page after page. Grasping their meaning, and their point of entry into the psyche, might be as difficult- and seductive- as grasping the book itself.

“Totems,” Mitch Cope’s body of photographs, sculptures and documentary film, dovetails neatly with “Semi Lucid Steaks” in its focus on curated combinations of low materials- garbage, in this case- that seek to question our relationship with them. Cope’s exhibit is accompanied by a gorgeous piece of writing titled “Zen and the Art of Garbage Hunting and the Protectors of Refuse.” It describes the garbage hunter’s process of identifying “Piles of Distinction,” or garbage heaps that have drawn the protection of a totem, seen here as hilarious spirit-animal beings preserved on film via a “highly sensitive and specialized machine.”

Cope_Garbage_Totem

Mitch Cope, Garbage Totem Scrap-a-House, 2014, C-Print, 30 x 46 Inches

Once identified, these piles of distinction are transformed by yet another machine (the documentary film is taken from the machine’s point of view, so only its powerful front incisors are seen- it stacks old tires and charred furniture into imposing piles to an oddly perfect Bach soundtrack) into vertical plinths of stacked garbage assembled in honor of their original owner, “recently deceased friend and neighbor,” in hopes of attracting permanent protection to the vicinity, as well as honoring the inherent power individuals leave behind with their earthly belongings. The piece is funny, sentimental, and serious all at once, maintaining a light touch with its potentially problematic content- garbage-strewn, run down neighborhoods, excesses of objects that have outlived their owners and practical usefulness, death itself.

Accompanying “Totems” and “Semi Lucid Steaks” are a playful, sensual floral installation by Lisa Waud, the magical mind behind Hamtramck’s Flower House project, and a light installation by Patrick Ethan, who is also currently exhibiting at Playground Detroit.

Chonoky_Waud_Installation shot

Cholnoky/Waud Installation Image

Pile of Distinction Group Exhibition,  on display at David Klein Gallery’s Detroit space from February 6 through March 12, 2016.

www.dkgallery.com

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

 

 

Desire Bouncing @ Wasserman Projects

Three Person Exhibition – Alejandro Campins, Nancy Mitchnick, and Alex Schweder

Installation image

Installation image, Courtesy of Clara DeGalan

The warehouse-scaled galleries at Wasserman Projects are a fitting site for an evolving, and continuously intriguing, dialog about architecture that began with its grand opening show, a glittering event featuring a life-sized, polychromed modular house- a spectacular building within a building. The vast space seems barely enough, however, to contain the work of the three artists in its current, architecturally themed exhibition, “Desire Bouncing.” It’s not so much the work itself that strains the capacity of the space (in fact everything is so gracefully installed and lit that one can fully experience each work on its own) as the raw ideas, romantic (and sometimes sexual) yearnings, and visceral snippets of emotional engagement that come spilling out of the work of these three mature, accomplished artists and ricochet around in the rafters, drawing emotional investment, in turn, back from the viewer. It’s surprising to be confronted with that so immediately in a show that turns on architecture. Make no mistake, this is not some dry, conceptual survey. I need to stick “chthonian” in front of “architecture” to begin to get my head around this work.

The centerpiece of “Desire Bouncing” lurks behind a huge theatrical curtain toward the back of the space. Though you can’t see it at first, you hear it everywhere, it’s the heartbeat of the show. That feeling you’re getting that the work here is not quite what it seems, is maybe alive? Yes. The slow beat that affirms it is the soundtrack of Alex Schweder’s sculpture The Sound and the Future. Enclosed in its own cavernous, red-lit space, The Sound and the Future is a massive, inflatable cluster of rectilinear and phallic forms crafted from silver and faux fur fabric that expands and contracts as air is pumped in and out of it.

Wasserman sculpture

Alex Schweder’s – The Sound and the Future – 2016 Image Couresty of JeffSusan Cancelosi

The sound that accompanies it is a track by Underground Resistance, one of Detroit’s and, as Detroit is the birthplace of Techno, the world’s first Techno groups. Reduced to a tenth of its speed, the track sounds like a slumbering dragon’s heartbeat. Stand in front of it and spend a few (or a lot of) moments being hypnotized by the constantly shifting forms that rise and droop in desire and repose, forming vaguely architectural structures as they engorge with air, and then breath-takingly yonic mouths that gape and close as the seductive silver fabric deflates. While two other works by Schweder describe, in two and three dimensional mock-up, alternatively designed living spaces that elaborately endeavor to keep their human occupants separate at all times, The Sound and the Future suggests no specific model for living, while emphasizing connection- juxtaposing the swaying stamens of the sculpture, a “women’s urinal,” also installed by Schweder, winks in a dark corner.

Image 2

Female Urinal, Quahog, – 2001 – Vitreous china 18″ x 32″ x 26″ Image Courtesy of Clara DeGalan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is a similar dialog with romance through form, albeit a quieter one, in the work of Alejandro Campins, which come from a series exploring interiors of historic theatres in Detroit.

Image 3

Alejandro Campins -Eastown Theater, 2015 Oil on canvas 59″ x 78″ Image Courtesy of Clara DeGalan

There’s a fine balance of linear and painterly effects in Campins’s big paintings, and he gets the iconic outlines of theatrical architecture just right, combining these solemn interior forms with interesting landscape embellishments, blurring landscape and interior in a now iconic view of Detroit’s half fallen, once grand temples to culture.

Image 4

Close-up section of Eastown Theater

The paintings seem to have been smoothed over with a squeegee at the finish, both drawing the eye back to dwell on the finesse of his surfaces, and enclosing the works tidily.

Where Campins’s works are quiet, somber, and canny, Nancy Mitchnick’s group of paintings and works on paper, which are the first you see as you enter the gallery (and which take a walk-through and return to begin to properly grasp) express the desire of the theme in a very different way. As an artist who lives in Detroit while making paintings about it, Mitchnick naturally has more skin in the game, and this work is raw, unfurling, and pulsating like a wound- or, perhaps, a damp flower unfurling its petals. Mitchnick’s works depict structures, abandoned, half fallen, lapsing into neglect, patched over, mantled in snow and drenched in directionless, otherworldly light.

Image 5

Nancy Mitchnik, Framed, 2016 Oil on linen 77″ x 111″ Image Courtesy of Clara DeGalan

Mitchnick builds these skeletal structures- alternating bars of multihued wood and sky- in slabs, scrapes, flourishes and caresses of paint that lay both her innocence and her deep knowledge utterly bare, valuing neither above the other.

Image 6

Nancy Mitchnik, Close-up Section of Water Damage, 2016 Oil on linen

What she is able to channel, through an intuitive understanding of form, color and the nature of paint, is the desperate, howling human element of which these empty structures have become the symbol. This narrative slips the bonds of language and history, running parallel to each while being neither. Bypassing all traditional means of visual storytelling in the landscape genre- objectivity, language, handsome technique- Mitchnick wrings a wildly romantic, purely emotional insight about death and the fecund, unglamorous resurgence that inevitably follows it, as naturally as certain forms and grids, for reasons we cannot put into language, draw on our very souls.

Desire Bounsing – Wasserman Projects  Detroit, Michigan – February 5 through April 9, 2016

http://wassermanprojects.com