We Used to Gather @ Detroit Library Street Collective

Installation, We Used To Gather, Library Street Collective, 8.2020

The walls of Detroit’s Library Street Collective are lined floor to ceiling with vibrant canvases that match the bright, sunny days of this hot Detroit summer. The gallery’s first opening since the widespread closures following the COVID-19 pandemic, We Used to Gather ambitiously responds to communal anxieties with a series of figurative works by 26 different artists. As we begin to tiptoe wearily out of social isolation, many of us are reflecting on what we learned both about ourselves and our relationships with our communities over the past few months. The show reminds us that reflections of ourselves are everywhere we look and often, we struggle to make sense of what we see. The title itself recalls a time when we were able to gather freely, only here, the presence of others is supplanted by two-dimensional representations.

Tylonn J. Sawyer, American Gangsta: Uncle Sam, 2018 Oil on canvas 48 x 60 in. (121.92 x 152.4 cm)

At the very entrance of the gallery, the eye is immediately drawn to Tylonn J. Sawyer’s American Gangsta: Uncle Sam, 2018. Sawyer’s fine technical skill and command of his medium shine through in this life-sized depiction of a Black man sporting a clean suit and touting a cigarette in front of the American flag. With a gun tucked in his belt line, he peers critically out of the canvas. His dubious expression begs the question: who exists to protect and serve America? And likewise, who does America exist to protect and serve?

Conrad Egyir, Sydney King, 2020 Oil with mixed media on panel 48 x 48 in. (121.92 x 121.92 cm)

Conrad Egyir, JustTina, 2020 Oil with mixed media on pane, 48 x 48 in. (121.92 x 121.92 cm)

Conrad Egyir touches on similar themes in the two works he has featured in the show. In Sydney King and JustTina, his subjects are framed by another hallmark of national institutionalism: the postage stamp. Both women gaze outwards with their right hands laid gently over their hearts. Ghanan-born Egyir is interested in how African identity is perceived as it travels across the diaspora. The postage stamp is quite literally a vehicle for the transportation of words and ideas. It also serves as a sort of tribute to those prominent figures who we, as a society, have chosen to honor. In these two works, Egyir chooses to honor Black women, whose lived experiences and contributions are far too often overlooked in daily life.

Maja Djordjevic, Be here and be loud, 2020 Oil and enamel on canvas 48 x 36 in. (121.92 x 91.44 cm)

Maja Djordjevic, Waiting and hoping, 2020 Oil and enamel on canvas 48 x 36 in. (121.92 x 91.44 cm)

A little further down the salon-style lineup of paintings hangs a work by Serbian artist Maja Djordjevic. The artist has two pieces featured in the show, both of which depict a pixelated nude female figure in dramatic posture. With her stiff limbs and mouth fixed open, she bears semblance to an inflatable sex doll. Though painted entirely by hand without tape or stencils, the digitized style of Djordjevic’s work alludes to the virtual realities many of us live via the internet, especially over these past few months when contact with the outside world has been so limited. To whom do we turn for comfort during these trying times? More often than not, it’s the women in our lives, be they real or digitally imagined, who play the role of caregiver.

Gisela McDaniel, Do Right, 2020 Oil on canvas, found object, resin, flower, sound on USB, 40 x 20 in. (101.6 x 50.8 cm)

An ode to the feminine is also made in Gisela McDaniel’s Do Right. McDaniel creates visual realms where victims of sexual abuse can seek refuge from their trauma. In Do Right, a woman envelops herself gracefully in her own criss-crossed arms. Intertwined with her are two small white dogs. Bright colors, vibrant foliage, and three-dimensional trinkets fixed to the surface of the canvas all serve to delineate a personal fortress where this woman reigns free. Stories, especially as they are told and personally reclaimed by women, are at the heart of McDaniel’s work.

Jammie Holmes, Untitled, 2020 Acrylic on canvas 60 x 44 in. (152.4 x 111.76 cm)

The show also features two works by Louisiana-native Jammie Holmes. His untitled work depicts a young man sitting, facing squarely forward, on a wicker Peacock Chair. The ornate chair was popularized in the twentieth century by countless celebrities and public figures who often posed sitting in the chair for portraits, album covers, and publicity stunts. One famous Peacock Chair portrait is that of Huey Newton, co-founder of the Black Panther Party. Here, the subject is poised in a commanding position of authority, not unlike that of Newton’s in his respective portrait. It is not difficult to imagine that Holmes might have intended to invoke the radical notions of the Black Panther Party during a time in the United States when police brutality against Black people is at the forefront of national attention.

Photography attributed to Blair Stapp, Composition by Eldridge Cleaver, Huey Newton seated in wicker chair, 1967. Lithograph on paper; Collection of Merrill C. Berman

Marcus Brutus, Annie, 2020 Acrylic on canvas 30 x 24 in. (76.2 x 60.96 cm)

Along the same lines, Marcus Brutus has four intimate portraits featured in the show. Each of them center in on a Black male figure set against bright yet minimal backgrounds. Annie is calm and stoic in its presentation of a young man gazing tiredly out of the canvas. His downtrodden expression and timeless dress are enlivened by the brilliant lime-green backdrop just behind him. Traces of bright green glint off of his skin. Brutus celebrates the ordinary with his reverent portraits of familiar faces.

Pedro Pedro, Figure Fumbling for a Cigarette, 2019 Acrylic and textile paint on linen 49 x 34 in. (124.46 x 86.36 cm)

Pedro Pedro, Portrait of Kaitlin Concerned, 2019 Acrylic and textile paint on linen 19 x 16 in. (48.26 x 40.64 cm)

In fitting contrast, LA-based Pedro Pedro offers two portraits of female figures. The features of each woman are exaggerated to the point of comedic effect, yet each composition feels wholly balanced. The warm hues and richly blended colors pay service to the expressions of the women, each of which appear to be frozen in a moment of contemplation. The variation of style and concept in We Used to Gather might at first overwhelm, but ultimately succeeds in capturing the feelings of chaos and uncertainty most of us are experiencing in these trying times.

All works mentioned above as well as many others are available to view at Library Street Collective through September 18, 2020. The gallery is open Wednesday through Saturday, 12-6PM. A virtual tour of the exhibition is also available on the Library Street Collective website. 10% of the proceeds on any works sold from We Used to Gather will be donated to the Metro Detroit COVID-19 ACE Fund.

WE USED TO GATHER

Library Street Collective, July 18 – September 18, 2020  –   1260 Library Street, Detroit, MI  48226

Soft Powers @Arab American National Museum

 

Soft Powers, dimensions variable, installation

Yasmine Diaz has already had work exhibited in both sides of the Atlantic ranging from venues such as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Poetry Project Space in Berlin, and Station Beirut in Lebanon.  But soft powers at the Arab American National Museum is her first solo exhibition in a museum space, and as such seems like a debut of sorts.  Los Angeles based Yasmine Nasser Diaz recently completed her artist in residence in March 2020 at the AANM, and with Soft-Powers, she presents an intimate and largely autobiographical reflection on the experience of coming-of-age in the United States as the daughter of immigrants.

Soft Powers wittily puns on both the medium and the message of the exhibit, referencing the silk of the show’s fiber etchings and the “soft powers” immigrants are forced to develop as they navigate conflicting loyalties and cultures.  Diaz approaches the topic from first-person perspective, having herself grown up in Chicago as the child of immigrants from Yemen.

Say No To Drugs, 30 x 38,” silk-rayon fiber etching

The exhibition is divided into two sections, beginning with an ensemble of fiber etchings based on the artist’s own photographs of Yemeni friends and family in private interior spaces.  Her fiber etchings are mostly monochromatic (and of a warm rose color palette), and the figures they portray are reductive like those of an Andy Warhol screen-print.  But there’s enough visual information to suggest some of the tension (and fusion) of differing cultures.  In one image, we see a woman wearing a “Say No! to Drugs” t-shirt; in other images, we see women dressed in what appears to be more traditionally ethnic dress. In most of these images, we see women in a group or ensemble, often embracing, and exuding sisterhood and solidarity.

Thick as Thieves, 28 x 36,” silk-rayon fiber etching

Truth or Dare, 44 x 58,” silk-rayon fiber etching

The second space in the exhibit is an immersive installation of a bedroom with some interactive components.  This is the third iteration of her Teenage Bedroom series, and comprises all the elements you’d expect to find in the bedroom of two fictional children of immigrants to America.  There’s enough detail that wandering around the space feels almost creepily voyeuristic.  Having come of age myself in the 90s, I appreciated anecdotal elements like the California Raisin collectibles placed on the television set, and the Trapper Keeper binder on the floor, details that imparted a bit of whimsey and (for me anyway) shared experience.  Queen Latifah posters, stacks of cassette tapes, a stack of People magazines, Islamic prayer beads, and black and white photographs of presumed relatives are a few elements in the room that collectively hint at cultural synthesis as these children embrace American culture while acknowledging their traditions and family histories.

Video Courtesy of the Arab American National Museum

Unfortunately, by its nature Teenage Bedroom loses some of its impact when just viewed online, and since the AANM is closed indefinitely due to Covid 19, the show must be experienced digitally by default.  However, the AANM assembled a virtual walk through of the exhibit, narrated by Diaz herself.  And most of the silk-etchings from the show are viewable on her website.  Though the show can’t be viewed in person (for now), it remains a timely and relevant exhibit, particularly against the backdrop of the 2017 travel ban which affected aspirant immigrants from Yemen.  In this show, Diaz quietly urges us to look at arrivals from other homelands with empathy, and she imparts a healthy respect for the soft powers these immigrants develop as they tactfully navigate the bridging of cultures.

They Talk About Us,  36 x 30,” silk-rayon fiber etching

They Talk About Us,  36 x 30,” silk-rayon fiber etching

Elise Ansel & Al Held @ David Klein Galleries

Installation image, courtesy of the David Klein Gallery, photo by Samantha Schefman

Both exhibitions delayed their openings this spring because of the Covid 19 pandemic, but now, each are on display separately at the two galleries. The new exhibition of oil paintings at David Klein downtown, Palimpsest, is a collection of eleven works of art by Elise Ansel.

You ask yourself where do artists get their ideas for a painting?  Is it from observation, photographs, events, setting up objects, imagination or from the depths of the collective unconscious?  The answer is usually all or a mix of the above. Artists bring their own experience to the creation.

Elise Ansel finds motivation in historical works of art from which she reconstructs a realistic representational work of art using abstract expressionism as her vehicle. The work in this exhibition bases its reconstructions on Old Master paintings from the Detroit Institute of Arts collection.

She says in her statement, “I create by translating Old Master paintings into a contemporary pictorial language. I mine art historical imagery for color, structure, and meaning. Thus, my paintings use the Old Masters as points of departure. They move into Abstraction by transforming the representational content, which is obfuscated and ultimately eclipsed by my focus on color, gesture, and the materiality of paint. I interrupt linear, rational readings so that the real subject becomes the substance and surface of oil paint, the range of its applications, and the ways in which it can be used to celebrate life. My work deconstructs both pictorial language and authorial agency to excavate and liberate meanings buried beneath the surface of the works from which my paintings spring.”

Elise Ansel, Hybrid 1, Oil on canvas, 48 x 36, all images courtesy of the David Klein Gallery

 

Rachel Ruysch, Flowers in a Glass Vase, Oil on canvas, 33 X 26, 1704, Image courtesy of the Detroit Institute of Arts

The work Hybrid 1 draws on the Ruysch still life and attracts the viewer in a multitude of ways. Set against a black background, the textured strokes, color palette,  Miro-like delicacy and  expressive linework renders a kind of feminine harmony. Hybrid 1 plays off Rachel Ruysch’s Flowers in a Glass Vase, 1704,  and leaves the experience wide open to interpretation.  The most profound concept here is that we all bring our own personal experience to a work of art. So when I view the Ruysch still life, where do I go?  Handsomely composed and decorated, like the photograph of an apple, it leaves little room for interpretation.

Studio, Elise Ansel

Elise Ansel, Judith lll, Oil on Canvas, 72 x 56″,

The same concept applies to the reconstruction of Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith 1. Ansel goes to great lengths in the interpretation by writer Mary Garrard with references to her book, Reclaiming Female Agency: Feminist Art History After Post Modernism, in which she writes, “The cultural habit of seeing woman as an object-to-be-looked-at, the site of scopophilic pleasure” is denied and replaced with a focus on the artist hand.  What exactly is being killed in Gentileschi’s painting: toxic scopophilia and the myth of white supremacy.” Forgive me, but there aren’t too many psychiatrists who use Sigmund Freud in their practice these days.

Ansel’s paintings are vibrant and compelling in their execution.  Using an extra-large brush stroke of vibrant colored oil paint against these mostly dark backgrounds without reference to Caravaggio or Rembrandt would work just fine.  Some paintings retain images from Old Master works she has dissected, while others are pure abstractions whose relationship to any source is invisible. The visit to the museum feels more like contrivance and is not needed for this viewer as the paintings stand on their own and express their own individual form of abstract expressionism.

Elise Ansel, a native of New York City, is a graduate of Brown University and earned an MFA from Southern Methodist University. Her work has been exhibited widely in the United States and abroad and is in multiple private and public collections, including the Museum of Contemporary Art Krakow, Poland, Brown University, Providence, RI, and Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, ME. Elise Ansel lives and works in Portland, Maine.

 

Al Held @ David Klein – Birmingham

Al Held, Installation, All images courtesy of David Klein Gallery

For this exhibition, David Klein draws on the Al Held Foundation for a modest show of Al Held watercolors from the early 1990s, which were painted mostly near Rome, Italy, at his studio on Janiculum Hill sometime after his residency at the American Academy (1981-82) where he spent time creating his watercolors and studying what some would call the Renaissance vision.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1928, Al Held grew up in the East Bronx, the son of a poor Polish family thrown into the stresses of welfare during the depression. He showed little interest in art until leaving the Navy in 1947, where he enrolled in the Art Students League of New York. In 1951, with support from the G.I. Bill, Held traveled to Paris for two years to study at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. In Paris, he decided that realism was not for him and moved into Abstraction and worked alongside the early 50s abstract expressionists. The single major retrospective of his career remains the survey curated by Marcia Tucker at the Whitney in 1974, which traced his development from his heavily pigmented, gestural Expressionist paintings in the 1950s, to his pioneering of flatly rendered geometric Abstraction in the context of post-painterly Abstraction in the 1960s, to his veering off on his own path in his reintroduction of illusionism into abstract painting in the early 1970s.

Installation image

Al Held, Tesoro 14, Watercolor on Paper mounted on board, 31 x 40″, 1993

The watercolors are dominated with geometric shapes, often either suspended in space or moving backward in perspective.  The use of primary color played against secondary color creates a convergence of color and shape.  Some of these paintings have horizontal windows, reminding me at times of Diego Rivera without the use of the figure.  These futuristic landscapes defined by complexly organized architectural scaffolds are not grounded nor do they pay attention to an outside light source; instead, they darken the interior of a cube or box. Inspired by Renaissance conceptions of the universe, one could see classical compositions that are topless or bottomless, juxtaposed to Mondrian, firmly planted on earth. These works on paper are stretched on stretcher frames and float in their picture frames, much like an oil painting.

Al Held (1928-2005) was one of the last and best of the big-impact abstract painters to emerge from the postwar era.  My personal favorite in this exhibition is Tesoro 14  that moves horizontally, right to the left, in a circular motion like a giant cog in a wooden windlass that harnesses and transfers energy.  The use of color complements is dominated by primaries and a centered composition that generates its densely packed strength.

In 1962, Held was appointed Associate Professor of Art at Yale University in 1962. He was awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship in 1966. He has also been included in exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and the Art Institute of Chicago, to name a few. His work is in the public collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

At David Klein Galleries, both exhibitions are on display through August 22, 2020.

Dorota & Steve Coy, and Adrian Wong @ Wasserman Projects

Wasserman Projects has extended its two spring exhibitions, Dorota & Steve Coy: The Five Realms and Adrian Wong: Tiles, Grates, Poles, Rocks, Plants, and Veggies, into summer 2020. Both exhibitions were slated to open to the public on March 13, but were closed just days prior in accordance with health and safety guidelines. The Five Realms features five distinct immersive installations that continue Detroit-based artists Dorota & Steve Coy’s examinations of the relationships between humanity, the natural world, and commodity, past, present, and into the future. Tiles, Grates, Poles, Rocks, Plants, and Veggies includes works from across 10 years of Chicago-based artist Adrian Wong’s practice, which together capture his engagement with the underlying conceptual ideas and historic contexts found within simple, everyday design elements. These exhibitions communicate with each other through an exploration of the commodification of resources that sustain life itself and the ones that make it worth existing at all.

Adrian Wong, Rock Stack I with Ferns, Foliage, 2020 Fiberglass, paint, artificial plants 66.5” x 63” x 40” All images are courtesy of Wasserman Projects.

This show’s narrative alternates between the two exhibitions beginning with Adrian Wong’s opening remarks on structure, pattern and a desire for beauty that attempts, through aggressive pursuit of the material, to quell personal insecurity but winds up unnatural and often flawed. In 1935, Mr. Aw, the inventor of the Tiger Balm Ointment, built a private residence adjoining a garden for public enjoyment. Noted for its spectacular assortment of Taoist, Confucian and Buddhist characters on display in a picturesque setting and a ferocious tiger seated on the brink of a cliff, [Tiger Balm Garden] captured the imagination of the older generation of Hong Kongese. Rock Stack I with Ferns, Foliage, 2020 is a riff on Mr. Aw’s artificially created garden using amplified color-charged ‘rocks’ and plastic foliage generating an unsettling vibe.

Adrian Wong, Untitled (Grates VIII/IX: Derrick Industrial Building / Shun Tak Ferry Terminal), 2014 MDF, latex, enamel, stainless steel, glass, neon 46” x 46” x 7”

Untitled (Grates VIII/IX: Derrick Industrial Building / Shun Tak Ferry Terminal) references both a demarcated public space and the Buddhist symbol of the eight spoked wheel, a symbol of both compartmentalized physical and psychological space. His grates explore seen and unseen social and cultural boundaries. Its geometry is a perfect visual transition to Dorota and Steve Coy’s adjacent mathematical sketches.

Dorota & Steve Coy, Metatron 2, 2020 Ink on Paper 16.75” x 17” (framed: 18.75” x 19”)

Dorota & Steve Coy, Spirit of the Forest, 2020 Cast aluminum, automotive enamel Unique edition of 7, 87” x 22” x 15”

From here the story moves into what looks like a mad scientist’s notes, ponderings, warnings. Dorota and Steve Coy have translated actual text into an imaginary language underscoring celestial maps, DNA strands and geometric equations that calculate and consider global catastrophes like warfare and disease through math and science. The Spirit of the Forest, a deer/human centaur-like statue, stands sentinel, beckons and tempts you to the next engagement. It’s antlers call to a lonely tree’s branches just inside a completely dark second realm. The mystery draws you around the corner to the shock and sadness of a single spotlight illuminating a golden melting rhinoceros. Looking deeply into its glass eye, its soul is present, pleading. The Black Forest’s menacing trees are right out of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, you’re half expecting them to move, taunt or maybe throw their apples in an effort to push you through. Nothing to see here . . . A perfect metaphor for corporate greed’s indiscriminate destruction of natural resources for the benefit of their bottom line.

Dorota & Steve Coy, Nature of Commodity, 2020 Fiberglass, resin, gold enamel 38” x 125” x 92”

Dorota & Steve Coy, The Deity, 2020 Fiberglass, resin, paint, marble 120” x 132” x 132”

Carrying the weight of that realization, you are suddenly thrust out into a large open and airy space dominated by a ten foot Ganesh-blue female human/ram, The Deity, presented as a symbol of hope and recovery. Included in this Hall of the Gods are three panels of icon paintings reminiscent of Byzantine altar triptychs often employed for private devotional use. These images combine traditional Christian postures and palette, but replace the Madonna and Child with the recurring theme of horned animals meant to inspire strength in their power.

Dorota & Steve Coy,  Therianthropic Deity 2, 2020 Acrylic and gold leaf on panel 36.75” x 23.75” x 1.5”

Here the flow is interrupted allowing you to choose your own path. The artists’ choice is to enter a museum set 10,000 years from now featuring elements of debris and a particularly poignant sculpture, Lover of Wisdom, which is comprised of a classical bust wearing a respirator. Here you are faced with the consequences of our current treatment of our shared home, Earth. Living in an American goal-oriented society, is this what we’re shooting for?

Dorota & Steve Coy,  Lover of Wisdom, 2020 Cast concrete 21” x 18.5” x 11”

Heading to the rear of the gallery you enter the final chapter in this tale of humanity. The Hygienic Dress League project, a high-end boutique which offers items like cans of air, food and clean water communicating the scarcity of basic necessities to simply sustain life and their ominous commodification. For the discerning consumer, couture respirators glitter for their buyers. One More Sunny Day is either an image of what’s outside or an homage to what was outside, presented in that 3-paneled configuration where blue sky and fluffy clouds are the objects of our adoration.

Dorota & Steve Coy,  Provisions: AIR, 2020 Mixed Media 10” x 10” x 7.875” (AIR 4.875” x 4.125” x 4.125”)

The sales pitch is complete with Adrian Wong’s octagonal barber shop poles, ubiquitous across Asia, hawking everything from noodle shops, parking lots, one-woman brothels and meat vendors in a kinetic coded language. The motion along with an audible buzzing puts you on edge prompting a swift exit; after you score a cheap pair of flip flops to wear while hanging out in your man-made garden in search of peace.

Adrian Wong,  Hypnagogia (Espadrilles, Flip Flops), 2020 Corian, acrylic, fluorescent tubes, magnetic drive motors, vinyl 42.25” x 13.75” x 7”

Adrian Wong, Tiling Error IV (Dogwood & Danishes), 2019 MDF, enamel, sanded grout 36.5” x 60.5”

Dorota & Steve Coy, Homosapien Vessel (BB2) c.2000-2020, 2020 Stoneware, glaze 6” x 8.5” x 1.5”

Powerful gods and human flaws. Are we at the mercy of the gods, or can we recognize our flaws and correct them by contemplating through formal means and spaces? Are the spirits and the heavens closer than we think, hovering next to us at this very moment? Is there any difference between what we choose to worship as a channel to holy transformation such as the Buddhist 8-spoked wheel, or those we choose to discard like a random pattern stamped on the bottom of a garbage can? After all humanity has discovered and employed for the advancement of our society, does it amount to nothing but fossilized plastic bottles or can we leave a legacy of compassionate, intelligent and courageous change?

A big congratulations to Wasserman Projects for being selected by MEDC + PATRONICITY for the MI Local Biz Covid-19 Support Grant! The Michigan Economic Development Corp will match dollar for dollar all donations raised to support their artists and audiences. They just have nine days to meet their goal so donate now!

https://www.patronicity.com/project/wasserman_projects_exhibition__program_support#!/

 Wasserman Projects is located at 3434 Russell Street #502 in Detroit. Exhibition can now be viewed in person by appointment.

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/private-viewing-by-appointment-tickets-108599877156

Visual Art in Virtual Reality

MSU Broad and Able Eyes

Over the past few months, cultural institutions have out of necessity navigated creative ways of making their content available online.   This works better for some forms of media than others.  Most of us already experience music digitally by default, and what happens in the recording studio is pretty much exactly what we experience through our headphones; little gets lost in translation.  But the visual arts exist in space, and they lose a dimension when viewed online.  But emerging technologies, particularly 360-degree photography and virtual reality (VR), have the potential to make digitally exploring visual culture much more rewarding.

Without getting into the technical details, a VR headset (like those offered by the brands Oculus and Vive) makes the Street View content from Google Maps fully immersive and interactive.  Since Google has taken its cameras into many museums, cultural institutions, and architectural spaces, this makes it possible to navigate these spaces not just on a regular computer screen, but also in VR.  With a VR headset, we see the Google Map imagery life-size and surrounding us in 360 degrees, and it really does disconcertingly seem to place us on location.

There are admittedly some problems with viewing art in virtual reality.  Pixilation can be an issue.  On a regular computer screen, a Google Street View image might look just fine, but with a VR headset, even slightly pixelated images are rendered as aggravatingly blurry.  The Google Street View rendering of the interior of New York’s Metropolitan Art Museum, for example, looks great on a computer screen, but the paintings get pretty fuzzy when seen in VR.  Exterior views of architectural spaces are much more forgiving.  A second problem (with or without VR) is that Google’s 360-degree cameras photograph interiors from a vantage point of about eight feet in the air, which can be problematic; if you try to “stand” directly in front of a painting you’ll often find yourself looking down at the work from an awkward angle.

In some instances, though, this elevated vantage point is actually useful.  One of the best places to digitally explore is the Doge’s Palace in Venice; the extra boost we get from Google’s camera offers us a marginally better view of the Renaissance murals which cover every inch of its walls and ceiling.  We can also get satisfyingly closer to the marbles which once adorned the Parthenon, now housed in the Acropolis Museum in Athens.  And we’re offered a much better perspective of some of the larger than life, cinematic Napoleonic propaganda (such as David’s Coronation of Napoleon) that adorns the walls of the Palace of Versailles.

Among the museums which are rendered in sufficiently high definition so as to not appear pixilated (even when viewed through an unforgiving VR headset) include the British Museum, where the imagery is so crisp that we can read the didactic text on the wall.  The same could be said for the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.  Also impressively lucid are Google’s renderings of the Getty Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Some architectural spaces and ensembles especially worth exploring include the Peruvian city of Machu Picchu and the Palace of Versailles and its gardens.  The dazzling, colonnaded interior of the Mosque of Cordoba [later converted to a cathedral] is a fascinating bit of history set in stone; as we navigate its interior, we experience it as a mash-up of both arabesque and European architectural elements.  A personal favorite space to digitally wander is the luminous interior of Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia.   Closer to home is the much under-rated Driehaus Museum in Chicago, a three-story Gilded-Age mansion which has been preserved and functions as an excellent period museum.

“Machu Picchu as viewed in Google Street View”

“La Sagrada Familia as viewed in Google Street View.”

In Michigan, Google’s omniscient cameras have photographed nearly all our streets, but disappointingly few cultural institutions.  One notable exception is Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, rendered in impressively high resolution.  The park is now open again, but during the Covid shutdown, Meijer Gardens found inventive ways to bring the gardens to the public via Facebook, including posting 360-degree video walk-throughs of some of its spaces; although not as immersive as VR, this nevertheless made its Online content satisfyingly interactive.

One street in Michigan that doubles as a cultural institution is the Heidelberg Project.  An interesting feature about viewing Google Street View through the VR App Wander (a Google Map program specifically packaged for Oculus VR headsets) is that whenever a place has been photographed by Google more than once, we can reset the date, and see what the place looked like at each successive photoshoot.  The Heidelberg Project is particularly fluid, so it’s interesting to see how the project evolved yearly (starting in 2009, when Google first photographed the space) as its elements and structures appear and disappear.

We can also virtually navigate parts of Michigan State University’s Broad Art Museum, which offers a VR-compatible virtual tour of its space, and in impressively high resolution.   The interior was photographed not by Google, but by Able Eyes.  Although we can’t enter any of the Broad’s exhibition galleries in this walk-through, we can still navigate the atrium and public spaces, which are enough to sufficiently showcase architect Zaha Hadid’s relish of counterintuitive, angular forms.

 

MSU Broad and Able Eyes

There’s certainly no substitute for seeing art and architecture in person, of course.  But it’s nevertheless exciting to be on the cusp of emerging technologies which help us experience visual culture in full immersion.  Increasingly, it’s becoming possible to experience art digitally much like we can with music, with little getting lost in translation.  Wolfgang Goethe once even described architecture as “frozen music,”  and these new technologies allow us to explore these spaces in surprisingly lucid detail, note for note, and in fully immersive, navigable three dimensions.