Detroit Art Review

Critical art reviews of Detroit galleries and museums weekly

David Barr @ Collected Detroit Gallery

David Barr: Structural Relief, at Collected Detroit through April 13, 2024

An installation view of David Barr: Structural Relief, which is at Collected Detroit through April 13.  Images courtesy of Detroit Art Review. 

Novi artist David Barr, who died in 2015, was a creative polymath whose work ranged across media, including giant metal sculptures, wooden-relief wall hangings of great precision, and lithographs documenting a preposterous geometric intervention in the earth’s crust.

David Barr: Structural Relief at Collected Detroit gallery through April 13 focuses mainly on the artist’s multiple “structurist reliefs,” large, 3-D wooden wall hangings with layered straight lines and curves of varied colors that achieve an almost immediate architectural presence.

The exhibition was curated by Leslie Ann Pilling of the Metropolitan Museum of Design Detroit.

Also on the walls are the four rather elegant lithographs that “document” Barr’s Four Corners Project, which the Archives of American Art spotlit in a 1985 film for the Smithsonian Institution. In the early eighties, Barr enlisted the University of Michigan’s Institute of Mathematical Geography to figure out how to embed an imaginary tetrahedron – a pyramid – in the earth, with its four corners just poking through the soil in South Africa, Easter Island, Indonesia and Greenland. Barr traveled to each site to mark it with a small marble pyramid.

David Barr, Four Corners Project, Lithograph, 1981.  Image courtesy of Collected Detroit. 

But it’s the structurist reliefs that occupied most of Barr’s attention for several decades, and the geometric works on display here in Collected Detroit’s airy, fourth-floor digs are defined by crisp, sharp-edged lines, whether straight or curved. As noted, at times, these multi-layered compositions seem to leap out of an architect’s sketchbook. Structurist Relief No. 104 leans particularly hard in this direction, with its floating planes and cubes – see the detail below – looking a bit like something that might have emerged from Walter Gropius’ Bauhaus Studio, circa 1928.

David Barr, – Structurist Relief No. 104; Mixed Media 44.5 by 48 inches, 1974. 

David Barr, Detail, Structurist Relief No. 104; Mixed Media 44.5 by 48 inches, 1974.

Barr, who grew up in Grosse Pointe, was going to follow in the footsteps of his father, a Chrysler engineer. However, once enrolled at Wayne State, the young man found himself unexpectedly seduced by the fine arts. Barr ended up focusing on sculpture and industrial design, borrowing materials and concepts from the engineering trades that he deployed in installations and reliefs. After graduating in 1965 with a Master’s in Fine Arts, the artist began a lifelong career as a professor teaching at Macomb Community College.

Exactly thirty years later, Barr founded what in many respects might be his greatest contribution to the arts — Benzie County’s remarkable Michigan Legacy Art Park near Crystal Mountain, with 40 sculptural installations along 1.6 miles of forest paths that wind through 30 acres of deep woodlands. Installations include his lumber-industry Sawpath series, as well as other remarkable pieces of great size by Lois Teicher, Sergio DeGiusti, David Greenwood, Leslie Laskey and Joe Zajak, among others.

David Barr, Structurist Relief No. 310; Mixed media, 41 by 47.5 inches, 1991.

But Barr never abandoned his trademark reliefs. And over time, the compositions seemed to stretch and assert themselves in new ways. A budding sensuousness crept into what initially had been a mostly rectilinear universe. Starting in the 1980s, curvaceous forms began to compete with narrow verticals in charged juxtaposition, as in the rather breathtaking Structurist Relief No. 310, above.

Surfaces began buckling and cracking, spurning the strict geometry of Barr’s early years, as with Structurist Relief No. 271 from 1986. But even here, while the edges may be curved or slightly irregular, each element, as with the pink pieces below, still occupies a single plane. No waves or undulations are to be found.

David Barr, Detail – Structurist Relief No. 271; Mixed media, 50 by 66 inches, 1986.

Curator Pilling says she was immediately mesmerized by the shadows that the elements in the reliefs cast. She adds that the works’ unusual magnetism can be read in the way visitors progress through the gallery. “People spend time with each relief,” she said. “A lot of times people going through exhibitions are, like: Walk, walk, stop, walk, walk. But this is more: Walk, walk, STOP. They really take them in.”

If you haven’t been to Collected Detroit since the pandemic, be aware that the gallery has moved from its first-floor location on Fourth Street just around the corner. It’s now on Henry Street, on the top floor of an adjacent building.

Also well worth a look if you visit the gallery are freestanding works here and there by Harry Bertoia, Joseph E. Senungetuk, Detroit’s legendary Charles McGee and, most astonishing, the Hollywood actor Anthony Quinn. The sinuous “Nude” that this Renaissance man sculpted out of marble sits on a ledge right by a window, one ankle resting delicately on the other, cool as a cucumber.

David Barr: Structural Relief will be at Collected Detroit through April 13.

Marisol: A Retrospective @ Toledo Museum of Art

Marisol, The Party, 1965-1966, installation, Toledo Museum of Art, 15 figures, 3 wall panels, painted and carved wood, mirrors, plastic, television set, clothes, shoes, glasses and other accessories. Toledo Museum of Art Collection, photo: K.A. Letts.

It’s far from common for a major artist’s retrospective to drop at Detroit’s doorstep rather than on the coasts, but “Marisol: A Retrospective,” at the Toledo Museum of Art has just landed like a thunderclap, shattering previous dismissive evaluations of the artist’s work and life. Until June 2, anyone with eyes and transportation should be beating a path to this paradigm-shifting survey of a boundary-breaking artist.  For museum visitors who may previously have seen only one or two of Marisol’s pieces, this exhibition will be a revelation.

 Born in Paris in 1930 to an elite Venezuelan family, Maria Sol Escobar spent her early childhood traveling between the U.S. and South America. Despite the family’s comfortable circumstances, Marisol suffered early trauma when her mother, Josefina, committed suicide. In response, she began a prolonged period of silence, a gesture that became a habit. Throughout her life Marisol maintained a Garbo-esque mystique which both intrigued and alienated her audience and may have contributed to later critical neglect of her work.

Marisol arrived in New York in the 1950’s where she studied at the Art Students League, the New School for Social Research and the Brooklyn Museum of Art School. Several works from this early period, during which she was influenced by Pre-Columbian clay figures, as well as Rodin’s Gates of Hell, are on display in the museum’s entry gallery, and along with a comprehensive timeline of her life, provides an introduction to the more iconic work that follows.

Although Pop art, with which Marisol was later strongly associated, was in its early stages, her work was first noticed and shown by Leo Castelli in 1957. Spooked by the sudden attention, the artist left for Rome in 1958 and stayed away for two years, a pattern of alternating visibility and absence that repeated itself several times throughout her life. Upon returning to New York in 1960, Marisol found herself drawn to Andy Warhol and his circle. She began to work in assemblage, combining found, carved and drawn components in sculptures that came to define her singular style.  She was a sensation, both artistically and socially. Warhol included her in two of his films, and she was often photographed for Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, the New York Times Magazine, and Vogue.   Her exotic good looks made her both a victim and a beneficiary of the casual sexism of the time.

Marisol  Baby Girl, 1963 wood and mixed media overall: 74 x 35 x 47 inches (187.96 x 88.9 x 119.38 cm) Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York Gift of Seymour H. Knox, Jr., 1964

The central gallery of Toledo Museum of Art, in which the most iconic of Marisol’s sculptures are displayed, shows Marisol’s art practice during the 1960’s at the most critically successful period of her career.  The quantity and quality of the work is breathtaking. The artist’s output from this period is both intensely personal and often baldly political, formally inventive yet thematically transparent. Though Marisol’s career pre-dated the second-wave feminism of the seventies, and she was never a fully “feminist” artist, many of her pieces are filtered through an unmistakable female identity.

Two of the most celebrated sculptures on display from this period are the enormous Baby Boy (1962-1963) and Baby Girl (1963). These sentimental yet monstrous infants–Baby Boy is 8 feet tall, and Baby Girl, if standing, would reach 10 feet in height—are psychologically fraught comments on the dominant role children play in society’s definition of women as mothers. Each child clutches a tiny representation of the mother, both of whom are likenesses of Marisol herself.  The artist also said that Baby Boy, who is wearing red, white and blue, was a representation of the United States as an infant, heedlessly throwing his weight around on the world stage.

Marisol, Mi Mama y Yo, 1968, wood and mixed media, 74” x 35” x 47” Buffalo AKG Museum, Gift of Seymour H. Knox, Jr., 1964 (K1964:8) © Estate of Marisol / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York Photo: Brenda Bieger, Buffalo AKG Art Museum

Though it would be hard to pick out a favorite piece among the many masterworks in the gallery, a few stand out. One is an installation with multiple figures, The Party, which coincidentally is in the Toledo Museum of Art’s permanent collection. A flock of fashionable ladies in mid-century formal attire– and all with Marisol’s face– gather for cocktails, a group portrait of social isolation. Marisol puts an even finer point on her alienation in a photograph taken by John B. Schiff in 1963. The real Marisol sits at a table with two 3-dimensional images of herself in Dinner Date. She is alone yet keeping herself company.

Marisol, Pope John 23, 1961, wood, mixed media, Abrams Family Collection, photo: K.A. Letts.

In many of her assemblages and installations, Marisol shows herself to be wickedly clever at mocking social pretension, political hypocrisy, and male privilege. Her assemblage Pope John 23 (1962) shows Marisol at her most deftly satirical. A barrel-clad pope sits astride a roughly knocked-together hobby horse, its head featuring the face of the artist, literally being ridden by the patriarchy. Marisol created sculptures of prominent political figures such as the Kennedy family, the British royal family and even Lyndon Baines Johnson, holding 3 small birds representing his wife, Lady Bird, and two daughters.

Marisol, The Fishman, 1973, Wood, plaster, paint acrylic, and glass eyes, 68.25 x 28 x 33.25, Buffalo AKG Art Museum Bequest of Marisol, 2016 (2021:37a-g) © Estate of Marisol / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York Photo: Brenda Bieger, Buffalo AKG Art Museum

At the height of her fame in the late 1960’s, Marisol once again abandoned the New York art world for Tahiti, where she took up scuba diving and spent several years creating a new body of work centered around environmental themes. The artworks in the penultimate gallery at the TMA are devoted to these misunderstood images and objects, which to contemporary eyes now seem prescient. Though Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” was published in 1962, and the first Earth Day was held on April 22, 1970, the destructive relationship of humans to the planet–and its implications–hadn’t fully registered with the cultural elite. The new work also had a surrealist edge that was at odds with art fashions of that moment such as conceptual art and post-minimalism.   The glossily finished, figurative sculptures of fish she made and then exhibited in 1973 met with bafflement and critical rejection.

Marisol,   John, Washington, and Emily Roebling Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge for the First Time, 1989, wood, stain, graphite, paint, plaster, Buffalo AKG Museum, photo: K.A. Letts

 

Marisol,   Georgia O’Keeffe and dogs, 1977, graphite and oil on wood. 52.5 x 53 x 60.25” Buffalo AKG Art Museum Bequest of Marisol, 2016 (2021:44a-i) © Estate of Marisol / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York Photo: Brenda Bieger, Buffalo AKG Art Museum Marisol (Venezuelan and American, born France, 1930-2016

The final gallery in Marisol’s retrospective is filled with maquettes and examples of public art works the artist designed for North and South American sites. Her often controversial commissions featured historical and cultural figures such as the revolutionary Simon Bolivar , Father Damien(a Belgian born missionary to lepers in Hawaii), Mark Twain, Georgia O’Keeffe (and her dogs) and Queen Isabella. A particularly impressive piece is a model for a monument to John, Washington and Emily Roebling, builders of the Brooklyn Bridge, shown crossing for the first time.  Unfortunately the final work was never completed.

After a period of relative obscurity at the beginning of the 21st century, Marisol was the subject of a traveling survey of her work in 2014, organized by the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. The exhibition curator, Marina Pacini, stated at the time that Marisol was “an incredibly significant sculptor who has been inappropriately written out of art history.” Indeed, when the artist died in 2016, the headline for her obituary in the Guardian read “Marisol: The Forgotten Star of Pop Art.” This reductive assessment has begun to change through the efforts of the Buffalo AKG Art Museum, which received the artist’s estate and papers as a bequest. “Marisol: A Retrospective” is a welcome step toward the reassessment and rehabilitation of this neglected visionary.

Gallery Installation, Toledo Museum of Art, sculptures and photographs by the artist during the 1970’s, photo: K.A. Letts.

Marisol: A Retrospective is organized by the Buffalo AKG Art Museum (Cathleen Chaffee, Charles Balbach Chief Curator) in cooperation with several major museums, including the Toledo Museum of Art ( Jessica S. Hong, senior curator of modern and contemporary art.)  Exhibition schedule: Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Oct. 7, 2023-Jan. 21, 2024; Toledo Museum of Art, March 2-June 2, 2024; Buffalo AKG Art Museum, July 12, 2024-Jan. 6lm2025; Dallas Museum of Art, Feb. 23-July 6, 2025.

 And a Bonus: Caravaggio!

For museum visitors who can make it down to Toledo before April 14, a small but fascinating collection of Renaissance masterpieces awaits. Four paintings by Caravaggio, on loan from The Kimball Art Museum (Fort Worth, Texas), the Wadsworth Atheneum (Hartford, Conn.), the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), and the Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit) form the framework upon which the organizers of this exhibition build their survey of artworks from the Toledo Museum of Art’s own collection.  Caravaggio’s influence is foregrounded here in paintings by Hendrik ter Brugghen, Artemesia Gentileschi, and Jusepe de Ribera, to name only a few.

Jefferson Pinder: Weapons and White Music @ Wayne State University

JeffersonPinder: Weapons & White Music – Colored Entranced, 2017  Neon on painted tin

In a lecture given a few years ago, Jefferson Pinder opened by speaking about two luminaries of the Harlem Renaissance: sociologist W.E.B. DuBois, who believed the only worthwhile art a Black artist could make was propaganda that advanced the cause of social justice, and philosopher Alain Locke, who believed Black artists needed the freedom to, as Locke’s biographer Jeffrey C. Stewart puts it, “produce a black subjectivity that could become the agent of a cultural and social revolution.” Weapons and White Music, a compact anthology of Pinder’s art from the last decade or so, on view at Wayne State University’s Elaine Jacob Gallery now through April 27, showcases a body of work that balances aesthetics and activism. It addresses issues of race not with unequivocal slogans but in an audiovisual language that prompts contemplation, investigation, and soul-searching. There are no handy wall labels here to coach the visitor, so inevitably, the nature of that contemplation will vary from one person to the next.

JeffersonPinder,  Bent Spear (after John Brown), 2024  Iron, steel, ash wood, and Head of a Man, 2015  Human skull, 24-carat gold-plated teeth, frosted plastic base.

Those averse to violence on principle, for example, might be discomfited by an exhibition that features spears, billy clubs, and Molotov cocktails (never mind that the collection of armor, swords, and firearms in the Great Hall of the nearby Detroit Institute of Arts is one of the museum’s most popular attractions). Some context might help; Bent Spear (after John Brown), a piece comprising a volley of pikes displayed across one wall of the Jacob gallery’s first floor, references weapons once commissioned by the titular white abolitionist, who intended to supply them to freed Black men for use in the uprising he hoped to provoke. The spears here are arrayed behind a vitrine containing Head of a Man — a human skull with teeth plated in gold. Drawings of a similar skull are superimposed over photos of Black Panther leader Huey Newton in a series of nearby screen prints.

The musical part of the exhibition’s title also appears on the gallery’s first floor. Facing the entrance are five monitors playing a 50-minute loop of videos featuring Black “singers” lip-syncing to a series of songs by white pop-rock bands. Some of the performers onscreen are expressive, some are deadpan, and each takes a different part of the harmonies. Entitled Revival, the piece is described on the artist’s website as a “virtual choir” that “reverses a longstanding tradition of mainstream cultural appropriation.” Some of the songs featured are more mainstream than others, but many share themes of violence that “hit different,” as the kids say, when apparently voiced by Black performers. Consider Born Under Punches by Talking Heads, with its haunted refrain, “all I want is to breathe,” that can’t help evoking Eric Garner’s dying words. (Pinder had incorporated the song into the piece before Garner’s killing.) Also featured are Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, about an imprisoned youth facing execution; The Flaming Lips’ The W.A.N.D. — short for “The Will Always Negates Defeat” — which boasts, “I’ve got a tricked-out magic stick that will make them all fall / We’ve got the power now, motherfuckers, that’s where it belongs”; even The Smiths’ Girlfriend In A Coma is included. It’s hard to know what someone unfamiliar with these songs will make of the piece, but for those who know, Revival will cast the music in a different light.

The curving stairway to the gallery’s second floor is cleverly incorporated into the exhibit itself.  Toward the bottom of the stairs is a weathered neon sign with a red arrow, that might be from a historical museum’s display about the days of Jim Crow, except that a “d” has been added to turn the phrase “colored entrance” into “colored entranced,” with connotations both of wonder and bewitchment. Hovering above the top of the stairs, where the visitor must pass under it to proceed, is Gauntlet, a menacing cloud of charred billy clubs that threatens to rain harm onto anyone below.

Jefferson Pinder: Fire Next Time, 2021 Glass bottles, graphite, fabric, matches, and catalyst.

At the top of the stairs is Fire Next Time, a set of four shelves of varying widths arranged in an inverted pyramid, upon which are displayed 25 Molotov cocktails — improvised incendiaries made from bottles, rags, and gasoline, associated with what’s sometimes called irregular warfare. They appear both grubbily utilitarian and oddly compelling in the way weapons often are. Up close, they’re revealed to be adorned with wire, duct tape, packed mud, BBs, matches, hair, shards of glass, and other materials. The presentation is formal, its ascending shape suggesting escalating conflict or the rising flames themselves.

Projected onto a wall on the other side of the gallery is a new work, a video installation called Greatest Hits (violent pun likely intended); it’s a montage of scenes from movies and television programs in which white actors utter the N-word. The films range from earnest dramas (Roots; Do The Right Thing; In The Heat of the Night) and cop flicks (Dirty Harry; The French Connection; Starsky & Hutch) to satire (Blazing Saddles; a notorious Saturday Night Live sketch featuring Chevy Chase and Richard Pryor), broad comedy (Bad News Bears; The Jerk), and more, including the works of Quentin Tarantino, without which no such compilation would be complete. The montage closes with two musical performances: punk godmother Patti Smith belting her 1978 song “Rock & Roll N—,” adding herself to a long line of white artists who have tried to liken themselves to marginalized minorities in an attempt to set themselves apart from mainstream society; and a 1972 episode of The Dick Cavett Show, in which John Lennon and Yoko Ono remark on the abuse of women across the racial spectrum with their song “Woman is the N— of the World.”

JeffersonPinder: Weapons & White Music Greatest Hits, 2024  HD video (runtime: 23 minutes)

The creators of these films would presumably have justifications for their use of the offensive term, even if it was only for verisimilitude. For viewers familiar with these films, the contexts in which the slur is used will be understood, though not everyone will accept the justifications for its use from one film to the next, or at all. To anyone unfamiliar with them, the piece may not be much more than a litany of hate speech being ejected from anonymous white mouths. Throughout, though, there are intriguing juxtapositions within the montage, such as a scene from the Civil War drama Glory mashed up against one from Kubrick’s Vietnam picture Full Metal Jacket, drawing a line between the two conflicts. A theme emerges of white anti-heroes excusing their racism with the claim that they hate everybody equally. And while it’s unclear how Beastie Boys’ song “Sure Shot” relates to the scenes from The Jerk and Roots over which it’s played, putting The Moody Blues’ “Nights In White Satin” over a clip featuring Ku Klux Klan “knights” from Birth Of A Nation makes for a jarring audiovisual pun.

Jefferson Pinder: Weapons and White Music on display at the Elaine L. Jacob Gallery Wayne State University through April 27, 2024.

 

Look At Me! Look At Me Now! Magical World of Dr. Seuss @ Art Leaders Gallery

An installation view of Look At Me! Look A Me Now! Exhibition at West Bloomfield’s Art Leaders Gallery, up through March 30.

In a treat for anyone who loves cartoons, The Imaginative, Profound & Magical World of Dr. Seuss: The Rare Editions Exhibition will be up at Art Leaders Gallery in West Bloomfield through March 30, 2024. On Saturday, March 23, the gallery will host a special open house for the Seuss exhibit from 3 to 6 p.m.

This show of prints and sculptures, which you’ll find at the center of the Art Leaders space, is surprisingly magnetic. On display are a number of treasures that will appeal to fans, including several “before and after” pairings, where the original rough draft – with multiple, seemingly messy lines working out each visual element – is framed in a diptych with the polished, final version. It makes for fun viewing and gives a little glimpse into the process that produces what looks like simple art.

Consider the two versions of Look at Me Now, starring Seuss’ best-known creation, the Cat in the Hat, who’s juggling all manner of breakable items while balancing on a ball. It’s classic Seussian absurdity, and an almost universally recognizable childhood image.

Dr. Seuss, Look At Me Now!, Look At Me Now!,  Diptych, 26.5 by 17.5 inches. (Photos courtesy of Art Leaders Gallery.)

Dr. Seuss published his first children’s book, “And to Think I Saw That on Mulberry Street,” in 1937. But it was “The Cat in the Hat” exactly 20 years later that really catapulted the artist into the pop-cult stratosphere. It was fame that never flagged. His death in 1991 at 87 prompted all sorts of elegiac summaries: In its front-page obituary, the New York Times called Seuss “the modern Mother Goose,” while Time Magazine declared he was “one of the last doctors to make house calls – some 200 million of them in 20 languages.”

(“The Cat in the Hat,” by the way, was significant not just for its unhinged hero — who generated childish excitement and anxiety in equal measure — but also because it employed a limited vocabulary of about 220 “beginner’s words” recommended by reading specialists. Seuss then wrote it all up in a cadence — “anapestic tetrameter,” if you must — that was particularly easy for young readers to master and learn. From there on in, his books aimed to make learning how to read fun – quite a shift from the old “Dick and Jane” primers of the time.)

One of the charms of Seuss’ work, of course, has always been its complete lack of pretension and his willingness to make fun of himself. Four months after the launch of “Cat in the Hat,” the Saturday Evening Post helped the artist do just that when it ran what would become the most-iconic Seuss self-portrait, The Cat Behind the Hat – featuring the good doctor as his famous feline, looking dyspeptic, complete with stovepipe hat – in its July 6, 1957 issue.

Dr. Seuss, The Cat Behind the Hat, 20 by 10 inches.

Theodor Seuss Geisel – aka Dr. Seuss – initially got his start in advertising. Two years out of Dartmouth College in 1927, the young Geisel, from Springfield, Massachusetts, got a job drawing ads for “The Flit” — a household insecticide spray Standard Oil of New Jersey produced which promised to kill almost anything that crept, fluttered or crawled. Charmingly, the style of one ad from the early forties is unmistakably Seuss-ian, with an impish bug in a red-striped shirt who’s just flown right through a woman’s fancy hat, sparking predictable outrage.

Once Seuss was working full-time on children’s literature – his output was staggering – he took to working on his own personal art at night and on weekends, much of which is in the Art Leaders exhibition. Some, like the luridly colored Worm Glowing Bright in the Forest in the Night, approach abstract expressionism, albeit with the puckish intrusion of a befuddled yellow worm. Others, like Life’s a Great Balancing Act, play with patterns in a way that’s slightly reminiscent of Escher, but always, again, with a dash of oddball humor.

Dr. Seuss, Life’s a Great Balancing Act, 30.75 by 22 inches.

A man of his times, Seuss has, perhaps inevitably, come under fire for depictions of minorities that now seem tone-deaf and condescending. The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum in Springfield, Massachusetts, announced in 2017 that it would replace a mural that included such images. And in 2021, the Seuss estate said it would voluntarily stop selling six titles, including Mulberry Street, thought to contain egregious examples of racial and ethnic stereotypes.

Happily, the art in this spirited exhibition avoids those sorts of dated allusions. Most just underlines Dr. Seuss’ gift for enchanting idiocy, and his ability to spin magical, gossamer worlds out of thin air. His approach is almost unfailingly gentle, indulgent, and tolerant of the frailties of this brittle world. In Seuss-land, all human rancor can be boiled down to the contentious standoff between two neighbors featured in My Petunia Can Lick Your Geranium, competing over who had the better garden.

Dr. Seuss, My Petunia Can Lick Your Geranium, 27 by 34 inches.

 The publisher of The Art of Dr. Seuss, Robert M. Chase, notes that almost everyone has a “significant Dr. Seuss memory” and that any number of creative artists and writers acknowledge the master’s influence on their work. “Indeed,” writes Chase on the website of the same name, “what Walt Disney was to entertainment, Theodor Seuss Geisel was to art and literature.”

Dr. Seuss, Cat from the Wrong Side of the Tracks, 22 by 44 inches.

The Imaginative, Profound & Magical World of Dr. Seuss: Look At Me! Look At Me Now! The Rare Editions Exhibition will be at West Bloomfield’s Art Leaders Gallery through March 30, 2024.

 

 

 

Islands Inlands: James Collins @ Matéria Core City

Islands Inlands: James Collins at Matéria Core City previously Simone DeSousa

The series of paintings on display at Matéria Core City embodies the most recent explorations of Detroit-based artist James Collins. Since the onset of his career in the late 1990s, Collins has been working with the harmonies and disharmonies of oil and acrylic paint on canvas. His dedication to the study of these materials has resulted in an array of abstract compositions that align his work with minimalist philosophy from the 1960s, bringing it into the present day.

James Collins, installation of Islands Inlands at Matéria Core City, 2023,  All photos courtesy of Matéria Core City.

Minimalism emerged as a creative movement in New York City as a reaction to the traditional expectations of artists to be messengers of narrative or conduits of expressive thought. Many artists of the time became bored of methods used in abstract expressionism and other preexisting movements. Setting out to challenge the concept of romanticism in art, artists like Donald Judd, Agnes Martin, John Cage, and Meis van der Rohe simultaneously worked to explore material abstraction and the reduction of meaning in creative production. This resulted in the blurring of boundaries between painting, sculpture, architecture, writing, and music that became profoundly revolutionary.

James Collins, installation of Islands Inlands at Matéria Core City, 2023

Frank Stella, one of Minimalism’s founding painters, was famous for saying “what you see is what you see,” and in this statement, summarized the movement’s embrace of the literal properties of any object presented as art. Size, form and the work’s relationship to its surrounding environment held precedence over symbolism and emotion. Artists used prefabricated forms and geometric shapes to reduce the influence of the artist’s hand and promote an exploration of the form or process as subjects in themselves.

James Collins, installation of Islands Inlands at Matéria Core City, 2023

Naturally as a painter, the presence of the rectangle is prominent in the artist’s practice, but in addition to this geometric form that mirrors the surrounding architecture, James Collins’ “employment of the process as content” sustains traditional minimalist characteristics. The exhibition text underlines this sentiment through descriptions of the household items used to produce these images that resemble detailed aerial views of natural landscapes. However, despite us learning about what he used to make the paintings, the details of how he used them remains a mystery. Viewers have the opportunity to engage in a phenomenological experience that challenges perception through direct interaction with the work. From afar, many of them seem to be photographic prints only to reveal intricate applications of paint upon closer analysis.

James Collins, installation of Islands Inlands at Matéria Core City, 2023

Illusionism, dating back to ancient times, is an artistic tradition that attempts to mimic three- dimensional forms on two-dimensional surfaces. Artists of this practice have used color and perspective to mimic reality to such a degree that it could deceive any eye that sees it. In fact, there is an old myth from the elder Pliney in 464 BCE Greece that tells a story of the artist Zeuxis painted grapes so realistic that the birds attempted to eat them right off the wall. The occupancy of illusionism in these twelve paintings by Collins is carried forward as an effect achieved through the artist’s exploratory approach to the medium of paint. Texture is used to suggest space on these flat surfaces the way line was used to imply depth in his previous works. What is interesting about the body of work is its tendency to oscillate between an illusionist and minimalist approach, both of which are inherently opposite of one another. The sophisticated use of color in them further stimulates our tendencies to make sense of abstract
forms based on optical likeness, but in the end, time spent with the work becomes a moment of visual play that forgoes definition due to its high degree of investment in abstraction.

Photograph of the artist with his painting, 2023, photo: Matéria Core City

Each painting in Islands Inlands utilizes patterns of sharp lines that mimic the visual qualities of arteries found in nature. Blood vessels, root systems, and canyons become visible through contrasts in color and tone, and these two-dimensional simulations are achieved through the delicate chromatic gradients that render shadows into these micro or macro pathways. Small hints to inspire this read occur in titles like Here Come the Warm Jets, Points Beyond, Untitled (arquipelago #1) and Untitled (arquipelago #2). A denial of external references becomes present, however, through the majority of untitled works in the show, and it is again confirmed through the same textures having seemingly exploded into fragments on a few white canvases. The reduction of subjectivity is another marker of minimalist thought that emerges not only in limited visual elements but also in the sparseness of information provided to guide translation. Like many creative approaches in this postmodern era of art, minimalism continues to be investigated decades after its debut. Perhaps the reason it continues to be relevant amongst the wide scope of methodologies is its ability to provide an experience of open interpretation. It can be rewarding to locate meaning in such abstraction and the ambiguous nature of these minimalist compositions allow for a range of meaning as broad as its diverse audience.

James Collins, installation of Islands Inlands at Matéria Core City, 2023.

The exhibition will be on view at Matéria Core City until March 23rd.
Learn more about the gallery here:  https://www.materia-art.com

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