100 Photographs: Detroit 1970-1990 @ CCS Center Gallery

100 Photographs: Detroit 1970-1990 opened to the public on November 16 and closes on December 15, 2019, at College for Creative Studies’ Center Galleries. Featured are five social documentary photographers: Michelle Andonian, David Griffith, Don Hudson, Dave Jordano, and Glenn Treist.

Installation Image, 100 Photogrpraphs 1970-90, CCS Center Gallery 2019 All images courtesy of Olivia Gilmore

The gallery is designed in such a way that viewers naturally move through the space in a counter-clockwise motion. A symbolic gesture—the cyclical and counter-clockwise arrangement of the photographs thrusts Detroit’s past into the present moment—linear time dissipates as recurrent history reflects back at the viewer.
A look (back?) into the mirror of history; motifs on situations that are strangely ongoing in Detroit’s and America’s present. In other words, the exhibition is a poignant reminder that we still have much work to do. The image planes are brimming with people: striking, gathering, celebrating. Of course, there are quiet moments of pleasure, too.

In its totality, the exhibition captures a parallel Detroit that is not so different from today, despite the modern trimmings that have made the city today appear different prima facie.

Michelle Andonian, Fleetwood Cadillac Plant, 1987

Andonian’s photograph, Fleetwood Cadillac Plant, 1987, captures a strike at General Motors automobile factory, likely before it closed the same year and left 1,500 workers jobless. There is a sense of solidarity between the picketing crowd, likely workers who were facing joblessness upon the plant’s closing. The photograph recalls the recent past: the nearly six-week-long United Auto Workers strike of G.M., which concluded in October of 2019 with workers successfully gaining wage increases and additional benefits; it also echoes the more than soon-to-be-laid-off workers at the G.M. Hamtramck-Detroit.

Glenn Treist, Woman with Roses on Overpass, Summer 1983

Triest’s image, Woman with Roses on Overpass, Summer 1983, is a sweet moment. Flowers cover a portion of the woman’s face, and although the photograph is in black-and-white, one could swear that the roses are yellow, or maybe pink. The viewer enters the frame and can imagine the vibrancy of the hot, summer day and the smell of the roses. It is difficult to say if she is aware of the camera or not—does she gracefully look away—knowingly? Or is she just as wholly absorbed as we are on her walk?

Dave Jordano, Man Handing Out Muslim Newspapers, Detroit 1973

Jordano’s Man Handing Out Muslim Newspapers, Detroit 1973 is of a man at perhaps the state fairgrounds or a public outdoor event passing out Mohammed Speaks the official newspaper of the African American political and religious organization the Nation of Islam, from 1960 to 1975. His brow is furrowed perhaps because of the camera nearby, because of bright sun, or a mixture of both. At first glance, he looks ahead focused intently on something else, however on second glance, we realize he could be looking at the camera. His crisp suit and pensive stance impart an absolute seriousness and determination.

David Griffith, Detroit, Michigan 1980

Griffith’s image Detroit, Michigan 1980 depicts a bevy of blonde women bearing sashes that read “Dutch’s Dollies,” along with matching gingham skirts and sheer, white blouses. Men are dispersed behind them. Dutch was Ronald Reagan’s nickname, and surely this was the Republican National Convention of 1980 held at the now-defunct Joe Louis Arena. On the right side of the image plane is a woman adorning a patriotic “I’m for Reagan” boater hat. The women are in song or in a chant. Not too dissimilar from the 2016 RNC outfits, except for the fact that at the latter convention, the skimmer hats were replaced with cowboy hats, and the outfits were patriotic cum cowboy regalia.

Don Hudson, Detroit, State Fairgrounds, 1980

In Hudson’s photograph, Detroit, State Fairgrounds, 1980, the focal point is of the man, kneeling on a blanket; he gazes through the eyepiece of an 81 MM Mortar assault weapon. The M29 Mortar was notably used just five years prior—throughout the duration of the Vietnam War. The man is flanked by other men and boys. Close by, on another blanket, stands a young boy, five or six, passively holding a rifle and smiling half-heartedly at his father snapping a photo.

100 Photographs: Detroit 1970 – 1990, CCS Center Gallery through December 15, 2019

Robert Schefman @ David Klein Gallery

Robert Schefman, Installation image, David Klein Gallery, 2019

In his first solo exhibition with David Klein Gallery, Robert Schefman presents a series of works exploring the hidden world of secrets. Via social media, Schefman asked followers to send him one personal secret, no names attached. Protected under a cloak of anonymity, Schefman coaxed quite a few people out of their shame and guilt to reveal the darkest of grave-destined secrets. These confessions became the framework for this series. The paintings are allegorical visual poems inviting the viewer to peer into the subjects’ private space glimpsing their angst or discomfort. Particularly striking is “On the Edge of the Moon,” wherein a woman seated alone on the beach in an ordinary kitchen chair, faces out toward the gloom. She appears to be contemplating her circumstances while the rhythm of the surf calms and comforts. A vital component of this painting is scale. At 78 x 120”, the viewer can mentally walk right into this scene illuminated only by the headlights from a waiting car.

Robert Schefman, “On the Edge of the Moon,” oil on canvas 78 x 120″ 2019

Visually poignant is “In Love with My Best Friend.” Unable to declare his love, possibly at the expense of a valued friendship, the unrequited lover sits amongst tokens of lovelorn and childhood toys, possibly symbolizing the length of the relationship. A bare light bulb harkens to harsh interrogation, coercing the admirer to give up his ghost and confess. His head is slightly bent toward his chest, implying the burden he carries on his broad but heartbroken shoulders.

Robert Schefman,  “In Love with My Best Friend,” oil on canvas 72 x 56″ 2019

Using our familiarity with texting and Twitter, the laser cut words-only pieces, devoid of a supplied visual reference, allows the viewer to consider their secrets. As a painter, reading “Someone Else Did One of My Paintings and I Signed My Name” caused my left eyebrow to rise in Scarlett O’Hara judgment. Identifying with an author makes the show somewhat participatory and taps into empathy on shared common ground. #metoo

Robert Schefman, “I Prefer My Mom’s Company Now That She Has Alzheimer’s,” laser-cut paper 16 x 20″

Robert Schefman,  “I Can’t Admit to All of the Drugs and Alcohol I Constantly Use to Get High” laser-cut paper 16 x 20″

Technology lends to speed and convenience. It made collecting this subject matter considerably easier. What makes this show genuinely compelling is mindful, patient execution. Schefman deftly wields his paintbrush with the best of the Renaissance Italians, masterfully telling dramatic stories through light and shadow. Throw in a side of Dutch trompe l’oeil, and the illusion is astonishing. Upon close inspection, however, it is surprising and delightful to discover the brushstrokes are looser than anticipated affording a soupçon of personal expression. A very relatable image is “Secrets.” In an attempt to silence his torment, this secretary seeks to ‘bury the evidence literally. I get that this image is metaphorical, but the idea of a thief on the precipice of capture, hastily disposing of material that will surely convict him, is far more romantic.

Robert Schefman, “Secrets” oil on canvas 44 x 30″  2017

 

KF: Assuming the models aren’t the confessors, why are most of the subjects’ backs turned?

RBS: Point of view is a valuable element in the narrative, with implications for both content and visible form. It accomplishes a number of goals. The back of a figure gives the viewer an easier opportunity to project themselves into a subject, rather than an encounter a specific person. In “The Edge Of The Moon,” point of view was used to keep the viewer isolated from the figure on the beach, and still experience the intersection of earth, water, sky, and self.

KF: Your genre has historically been an illusionist narrative via sculpture and painting. Why spell it out now with the text-only/no image pieces?

RBS: So much of the “Secrets Project” was generated by words that I wanted to honor the written word with pieces that focused on them. I have a long history of making paper sculpture as well as 2-dimensional work, and developing an idea with these elements resolved itself in a pointed way.

KF: What about your secrets? Are they lurking somewhere in this series unidentified?

RBS: Most of the secrets fell into categories; experiences, fears, and obsessions that we all share, myself included, but the rule of the project is anonymity, so my secrets remain.

Technology has permeated just about every aspect of our lives. From the comfort of our sofa, we command our smart devices to deliver groceries or name a state capitol. (I shudder to think what’s being recorded.) Many people are using social media channels as a crowdsourcing confessional, looking for validation from strangers as often as from people they actually know. It’s getting harder to maintain personal privacy while we demand transparency from public figures. Some feel relieved when they finally clear the slate. What about the participants in this project? Did this action unburden the keepers and free them from their prison? Ask Alexa.

Robert Schefman, Any Particular Secret” 54×36″ oil on canvas 2017

 

“Robert Schefman: Secrets” remains on view through December 21, 2019 at the David Klein Gallery

Kylie Lockwood:  Becoming a Sculpture @ Simone DeSousa Gallery

Kylie Lockwood, Installation image, Gallery opening, image courtesy of DAR

I was first introduced to work by Kylie Lockwood during Landlord Colors, last summer‘s blockbuster survey of Detroit artists on the world stage at the Cranbrook Museum of Art.  Her small, yet monumental sculpture Porcelain Legs in the Posture of David, stood quietly in the center of the gallery, dominating and animating the surrounding space, whetting my appetite for more. And now I have more. Lockwood’s solo exhibit, Becoming a Sculpture, is currently on view through December 21st at Simone DeSousa Gallery. It does not disappoint.

In Becoming a Sculpture, Lockwood is engaged in a project to “reconcile the experience of living in a female body with the history of sculpture.” She subverts art history’s unhealthy preoccupation with the female form as an object of desire by re-performing, with her own imperfect body, idealized poses from Greek and Roman antiquity.  She imitates and holds these poses while she casts portions of her anatomy–a leg, a hand, a torso–then re-assembles the bits and pieces of milky-white porcelain into a new kind of archetype: the female form as subject, not object.

Attempting Accroupie, by Kylie Lockwood, porcelain and nail polish, 2019 Image courtesy of Simone DeSousa Gallery

Lockwood makes a point of imperfection in her execution, avoiding over-determination of the figure. The delicate pores and subtle flaws that are apparent on the surface of the cast body parts contrast with the rough edges at the joins and painfully jagged, broken margins. Folds, cracks and tears in the porcelain draw attention to the hollow space within. She makes full use of the fleshy, skin-like texture of the porcelain, and adds life-like sheen to the nails of hands and feet by sly application of pearly nail polish.

The most formally ambitious of the nine artworks in Becoming a Sculpture is Attempting Accroupie, a nearly full-body recapitulation and reimagination of a much-copied Hellenistic sculpture. The subject of Venus surprised in her bath can be traced to an original version by Doidalses of Bithynia in 300  B.C., but the frequency with which the image has been repeated throughout art history, in all media and by artists as diverse as Bouguereau, Corot, and Picasso, speaks of its continued relevance to the prurient (male) artist’s gaze.  Lockwood has chosen her subject well.

The psychological poignancy of this Venus owes quite a lot to the broken and re-assembled features, perfect within themselves, but worked on by gravity and the considerable technical hazards of firing porcelain. The artist is engaged in a kind of ad hoc self-creation here, the undeniable beauty of the cast parts juxtaposed with agonized breaks within the body.

Elsewhere in the gallery, a number of the artworks seem to be concerned specifically with weightbearing and the physics of creating a three-dimensional object from clay. Load bearing leg in the posture of Crouching Venus delivers a strong sense of the implied weight of the body that rests invisibly above it. More painfully, Back in forward lean with fractures from bearing weight unevenly conveys a sharp sense of damage.

Thighs in slight Contrapposto, by Kylie Lockwood, porcelain and unfired clay, 2019 Image courtesy of Simone DeSousa Gallery

Near the back of the gallery, Lockwood has created a piece that is more modern in its affect and effect. Unlike her more classically derived pieces, Thighs in slight Contrapposto conveys, in its awkward stance, a palpable sense of the artist’s physical presence.  Though the piece is less elegant than the other  artworks, its loss in grace is redeemed by its augmented emotional eloquence.

Lockwood’s Torso in non-classical harmony is a less successful departure from her more complete pieces; this pairing seemed to me a little too flat and inert. By contrast, her sprightly Left hand and leg positioned at rest, as well as her Left foot poised between movement and repose, and Left foot firmly planted in an archaistic stance with hand draped across it in mutual support,retain, in fragmented form, all of the energy and animation of Attempting Accroupie.

Though Lockwood critiques a patriarchy that was ancient long before the Roman era, she seems to have an affinity, even a love, for the archaic and discarded. Her work retains some of the poignancy of recently excavated sculptures from antiquity, damaged yet recognizable to the modern eye. Or to quote the artist’s statement, ”To empathize with the ancient is to identify with the fragment, to feel the pressure entropy through an abbreviated form … which time has chipped away.”

Kylie Lockwood, Becoming a sculpture, archival inkjet prints, single edition, 2019 Image courtesy of Simone DeSousa Gallery

Becoming a Sculpture shows Lockwood at her most thoughtful.  Her recent work is perfectly imperfect, delivering a satisfying combination of conceptual rigor and visual pleasure.  She is in possession of the technical means to realize her vision and appears to be sure of her artistic mission: to transform our art historical preconceptions of beauty and agency in the female body.

Becoming a Sculpture is now on exhibition at the Simone DeSousa Gallery through December 21, 2019 

 

 

Between Light and Shadow @ Toledo Museum of Art

Intersections, installation – All images courtesy of the Toledo Museum of Art

Many in the Midwest will already be familiar with Pakistani artist Anila Quayyum Agha, whose luminous sculpture Intersections won both the Public Vote and Juried Grand Prize at Art Prize 2014, the only time  this has happened at Grand Rapids’ highly acclaimed and much-imitated public art festival.  Through February 9, 2020, three installations by Agha transform a suite of galleries at the Toledo Museum of Art, comprising the exhibition Between Light and Shadow. Visually, these immersive works are an extension of her prizewinning installation originally displayed at the Grand Rapids Art Museum, but these new works are subtly informed by current events, and in addition to being undeniably beautiful, they carry an understated political resonance.

In a public conversation at the exhibition’s opening with Diane Wright, the TMA’s curator of glass and decorative arts, Agha revealed that she had always faced obstacles as a female artist.  In Lahore, Pakistan, where she was born and raised, she was barred entrance to some spaces open to men.  In the United States where she received her MFA, one of her instructor’s, speaking from personal experience,  told her to expect to work twice as hard for the same opportunities accorded to men.  But Agha humorously revealed that it was the defining moment when her son, anxious for a pair of Nike shoes, asked “why are we so poor?” that she realized her only option was to face her prospects with the unflagging grit and steely determination needed to succeed, whatever the odds.

She started as a fiber artist, drawn to the medium for its practicality and commercial marketability.  But her work became increasingly sculptural and immersive, gradually incorporating light and shadow.  She was particularly influenced by the exploded sheds by Cornelia Parker– sheds detonated by the artist and then partially re-assembled in gallery spaces; lit by an internal light, these suspended works scatter their shadows across the gallery space, and seem to arrest a moment in time, mid-explosion.  Looking at Agha’s works in Between Light and Shadow, all of which are illuminated from the interior, it’s easy to detect Parker’s influence.

Though these works are variations on a common visual motif of diffused light and shadow, each of the three installations in this exhibit subtly convey different aims.  The centerpiece that anchors the show is a variant of her Intersections.  In this iteration, the sculpture is metallic, yet, suspended from the ceiling by barely noticeable thin cables, it appears to hover weightlessly and the gallery transforms into an ethereal space in which the Earthly laws of physics no longer apply.  The cube’s complex geometric arabesque patterns are direct quotations from the Alhambra in Spain, a place historically associated with religious and ethnic tolerance during Moorish rule of the Iberian Peninsula.  Though all the versions of Intersections apply the common motif of an internally-lit suspended cube, subtle variations ensure that wherever these works are displayed, viewers will never experience the same environment twice.  Here, the red walls of the gallery space were inspired by the red wedding dress a Pakistani bride traditionally wears on her wedding day.

Occupying the two other rooms in the gallery suite are similar installations, The Greys in Between and This is Not a Refuge! 2, and both deliver subtle social and political commentary.   Like Intersections, the internally lit Greys in Between diffuses light and shadow across the gallery space.  But this ensemble of laser-cut sculpted forms comprises two distinct but similar and symbiotically connected rhomboidal elements.  In its original state, Agha wanted the surface of these forms to reflect the serene greens and blues she had recently encountered during a trip to the Florida Keys.  But in 2017 the Trump administration’s rhetoric toward immigration became increasingly hostile, and in response Agha subsequently blackened the work, responding to the diminishing prospects of immigrants in America.  In this work, Agha wanted to add the element of time; the mechanized parts of Greys in Between rotate at one revolution per hour, and viewers who linger a bit may notice the sculpture’s organic and vegetal patterns slowly, almost imperceptibly, moving across the gallery walls.

Greys in Between, installation image courtesy of the Toledo Museum of Art

The political undertones in Agha’s work are generally understated, but not so in the candidly titled work This is not a Refuge! 2.   The sculpture is based on a previous work of the same title, a highly permeable house intended to be displayed outdoors and exposed to the elements, and thus utterly unsuitable for use as an actual shelter.  The work was conceived as a response to xenophobia in the United States and Europe.  Delicately applying the gentlest possible language to offer historical context, Agha says that many of the current problems which led to the immigration crisis are rooted in conflicts and wars that “the CIA may have fiddled with.”  But she concluded her conversation with Diane Wright remarking that it’s precisely because she loves America so much that she feels the urge to critique it.

This is Not a Refuge!2, installation image courtesy of the Toledo Museum of Art

Agha’s works are poignant and timely, but she avoids the high-decibel screech and the gravitational pull to cliché which is so overabundant in our current political discourse, and somehow manages to deliver understated socio-political commentary through works of art whose transcendent beauty verges on the sublime.  While they respond to real-world issues, they also impart a sense of wonder, which is perhaps what gives her work such widespread appeal.  And as for her son, when an inquiring audience member asked if he ever got his coveted pair of Nike shoes, Agha was happy to report, that yes, in fact he did.

Video courtesy of the Toledo Museum of Art

Between Light and Shadow now on view through February 9, 2020

Richard Prince: Portraits @ MOCAD

“Richard Prince: Portraits,” Installation image, 2019 – Image Courtesy of MOCAD

Richard Prince, who invented “rephotography” back in 1977, is still at it in 2019, apparently undeterred by any number of litigious skirmishes and accelerating technology. The 91 works on view in Portraits, his plainly titled exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, have been appropriated from Instagram (IG), the mega-expanding social-media platform, founded in 2010, that now counts some 600 million plus users. That number alone offers the omnivorous Prince a mind boggling trove from which to lift, enlarge, and revamp the posts of swanning millennials and Generation Z’s from which he draws his subjects.

As curated by director Elysia Borowy-Reeder and installed in the largest of MOCAD’s galleries, the hang is an unexpectedly old fashioned one: Salon style, cheek by jowl in multiple tiers, canvases ganged nearly edge to edge, blanketing every square inch of wall space available. Moreover, the format from image to image is identical, the portrait looms at the top followed by multiple lines of text: up first is often a description drafted by the Instagrammer, then the greedily coveted tally of “likes,” #hashtags, comments from sundry “followers,” and a concluding cryptic blurb by Prince or one of his handles (@joankatzz, for example). The whopping impact of 90-plus ink jetted canvases of widely different sizes is pretty overwhelming, the antithesis of a standard line-up of worthies stationed at eye level.

“Richard Prince: Portraits,” Installation image, 2019 – Image Courtesy of MOCAD

Prince rather vividly narrates in a wall text and poster how the immersion in IG posts is like scurrying down a rabbit hole for hours on end following a gazillion leads, threads, and hashtags in pursuit of portrait material. In an excerpt from his journal Birdtalk, he lays out the raison d’etre of his motives and practice: “I can start out with someone I know and then check out who they follow or who’s following them, and the rabbit hole takes on an outer body experience where you suddenly look at the clock and it’s three in the morning. I end up on people’s grids that are so far removed from where I began it feels psychedelic.”

“Richard Prince: Portraits,” Installation image, 2019 – Image Courtesy of MOCAD

Embarking on a similar process, museum visitors pan across the fatiguing (periodic pauses are recommended) array of images; espy known (Miley Cyrus, Brooke Shields) or unknown subjects; parse texts replete with non sequiturs, truncated spellings, made-up words, and innuendoes; identify recognizable operatives (Jerry Saltz, New York art critic, John Sinclair, Michigan activist); overlook absent punctuation, dismiss absurdities, treasure pearls of wisdom, decode overabundant emojis, and so on.

Richard Prince, “Untitled (@gab3),” Ink jet on canvas, c. 2015-19 Image Courtesy of DAR

AND marvel and revel in the visual audacity, weirdness, and sexiness of poses, gestures, facial expressions, props, costumes, and locales, from @psytranceclub’s transformation into an elegant, horned human and animal hybrid to embody her belief in the bond between species, to the surreality of the necklace of shoes that circles the torso of @violetchachki, or the rarified identity between owner and pet in @katevitamin, in which both mistress and hairless cat sport blond bobs. A visitor might also be moved by the sad young men backdropped by a Los Angeles sunset in @gab3; one wears a Hello Kitty sweatshirt, the other hangs a cross on a chain over a skull emblazoned top. Alternatively, an onlooker might be swept along by @barbaraperezw, a bronzed surfer with wind-blown hair blithely skateboarding to her destination. Hair, big or razor sharp, figures in @afropunk and @fatalbert69: perhaps she calls to mind Diana Ross or Angela Davis as commentator @joankatzz snidely trolls (while also name-checking John Sinclair); and he, via a mirror, simultaneously displays both a tousled hairstyle head on and a sharply etched zig-zag design on sides and back.

Richard Prince, “Untitled (@barbaraperezw),” Ink jet on canvas, c. 2015-19 Image Courtesy of DAR

Taxing as surveying these and other abutting panels is, MOCAD’s installation and Prince’s modus operandi further ramp up the impact of Portraits.  The austere white walls of the gallery, the bright, shadow free fluorescent lighting, and the absence of any ancillary furnishings—benches, pedestals, or caption labels—plus Prince’s smooth, toothless canvas in a brilliant white–manufacture a crisp, chilly white on white perimeter. The fusion of Prince’s art and the museum’s style of display heightens the focus on the IG subculture (per Prince’s nomenclature) and the performative, narcissistic display of its followers.

Richard Prince, “Untitled (@afropunk),” Ink jet on canvas, c. 2015-19 Image Courtesy of DAR

Portraits exists, simultaneously, as a group display of appropriated Instagram accounts (two thirds of and by women); and a showcase of Prince’s enlarged screenshots which he hijacked by appending strings of obscure, laconic comments; and as recollections of the portraits/self-portraits vaingloriously posted by the initial Instagrammers. That’s three shows in one generated by the umpteen intersecting and overlapping dynamics of these pieces, so it is no surprise that Prince refers to his portrait spawn as “friendly monsters.”

“Richard Prince: Portraits” remains on view at MOCAD through January 5, 2020