Moving Forward @ OUAG

Oakland University Art Gallery opens the fall season with a faculty exhibition

Installation image, Moving Forward, OUAG, 10.2020

Every fall since I can remember, the Oakland University Art Gallery, under the direction of Dick Goody, Professor of Art, Chair of the Department of Art & Art History and director of the Oakland University Art Gallery, has started off the fall season with a large curated show (supported with a four-color catalog) that would have required months in the planning and often brought in artwork from various parts of the United States and beyond.  Given the current situation under Covid 19 restrictions, Goody has opted to curate a faculty show, including his own work, supported with information on the web site to provide a venue for his faculty members. I suspect he is waiting until later in 2021 to present the public with something more in keeping with his previous tradition. Nevertheless, the gallery is open to the public, with Covid 19 restrictions in place,  noon – 5 pm, Tuesday through Sunday, closing November 22, 2020. It’s worth a visit.

Cody VanderKay, Flattening, 32 X 43 X 3 20, PAINTED OAK, 2020

 

The work of art that jumped out at me was Backstage, by the artist Cody Vanderkaay, an eclipsed shape object with a highly constructed surface of vertical squared planes painted in progressive shades of green. It’s a new experience.  Not a figure, landscape, still life or photo image reference, but a newly experienced object.  In the surge of artist returning to painting the figure, Vanderkaay stays on course with his abstract imagery presenting a consistent path for his work to expand and enlighten.

He says in his statement, “The artworks explore and consider how individuals, objects and spaces interrelate, and how relationships between these entities develops over time. The sculptures displayed in this exhibit signify various states of change: A circular plane of wood appears pleated and compressed to produce a variegated effect; a vertical square column bends in diverging directions under invisible force; a small-scale architectural relief implies stories behind the scenes.”  Cody VanderKaay was born and raised in North Metro Detroit and graduated from Northern Michigan University with a B.F.A. in Sculpture and from the Lamar Dodd School of Art at the University of Georgia with an M.F.A. in Sculpture.

Sally Schluter Tardella, Bulb, Oil on Canvas, 72 x 48”, 2020

The work of Sally Schluter Tardella, Bulb, also attracted this writer, a sort of melancholy oil painting that revolves around a painter’s favorite subject, light.  This single bulb illuminates its surrounding  vertical space filled with tones of red, brown and grey and a repeating motif of ellipses, lines and small shapes creating a somewhat mysterious abstract space.  It is the idea that draws the viewer to the work of art highlighted by something we all recognize: a small domestic light bulb.

Tardella says in her statement, “A wall surrounds, encloses, immures. A barrier, it is a continuous surface that divides rooms, separates and retains elements. I see transparent and opaque layers of material from above and below, as I imagine cross sections of wood beam structures folding into new systems of wall. In Bulb the atmosphere is lit by the single light bulb, the space defined is both deep and blocked by surface texture, whereas in Light, the light source is transparent and the space is shallow. In Fan the screen is made of tactile architectural symbols.”  Sally Schluter Tardella uses architectural tropes as metaphor to explore personal ideas of body, gender, culture, and politics. Tardella moved from New Jersey to study Painting at Cranbrook Academy of Art.

Susan Evans, Some Art From My House, Mixed Media, 2020

This eclectic collection of photo imagery, Some Art From My House, is exactly that, a mixture of small photographic images that vary in color size, format and subject, which is meant to demystify the taking of images and their content.  There are images I like and others not so much, but it is a window into her perception of what photography is, at least for her.

Evans says in her statement, “ What we look at everyday becomes familiar and generally, familiar things become preferences which define ideas, beliefs and experiences. Although I have not made any of these works as a group these pieces become an intimate self-portrait. The true meaning of the piece is not about each image individually, instead it is about the sum, juxtaposition and connection between the different elements. Who then is the true author of the artwork?”  Susan E. Evans received her B.F.A. in photography/holography from Goddard College, and an M.F.A. in photography from Cornell University.

The Moving Forward exhibition features the work of the full-time faculty of the Department of Art & Art History at Oakland University that includes the work of Aisha Bakde, Claude Baillargeon, Bruce Charlesworth, Susan E. Evans, Setareh Ghoreishi, Dick Goody, David Lambert, Lindsey Larsen, Colleen Ludwig, Kimmie Parker, Sally Schluter Tardella, Maria Smith Bohannon and Cody VanderKaay.

OUAG Hosts Faculty Exhibition Moving Forward closing November 22, 2020

 

 

Visual Citizenship @ MSU Broad Museum

Visual Citizenship, installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2020. Photo: Eat Pomegranate Photography.

The exhibition Visual Citizenship, on view at Michigan State University’s Broad Art Museum through December 26, is a considered show that comprises politically-charged prints and photographs that snugly fill the museum’s trapezoidal Collections Gallery.  Its title comes from scholar, author, and filmmaker Ariella Azoulay, who argues that image-viewing is an active civic engagement, and Visual Citizenship explores the implied moral, ethical, and civic questions and obligations presented when a viewer confronts images, particularly images of injustice. The show is thoughtful, timely, and visually satisfying, and it includes artists whose names carry some real weight in the art-world, such as Kathe Kollwitz, William Hogarth, Francisco Goya, and others.

The advents of photography and printing democratized the image to a degree unparalleled until the age of the internet.  They’re both relatively inexpensive media, and they don’t rely on moneyed and powerful patrons.  Furthermore, photos and prints are easily reproduceable, and together they helped introduce a new visual language of civic and political discourse.

Francisco Goya wasn’t the first artist to harness printmaking to document social and political injustice, but he’s certainly among the most famous.  His series of just over 80 prints which comprise his Disasters of War relay in first-person perspective and with unrelenting honesty the gritty and violent events that transpired when Napoleon’s army invaded Spain.  The show’s informational panels aptly compare Goya’s etchings to the photographs captured by a modern-day war correspondent.  On view is an etching from his Disasters, showing hangmen leading prisoners to a makeshift scaffold where several dead bodies already swing.  There are also several etchings from his satirical Follies series.  These images, never published in Goya’s lifetime, are freighted with dark and surreal imagery that seems to anticipate by a hundred years the style of the early 20th century symbolists.  Goya’s work is rarely pleasant, but it’s a welcome foil to much of the fawningly polite Napoleonic propaganda produced by the likes of Jacques Louis David or Antoine-Jean Gros.

Duro es el paso! (The way is hard!), from The Disasters of War, 1810-14. Etching and aquatint, 9 1/2 x 12 7/8 inches. MSU purchase, funded by the MSU Development Fund 64.76

Perhaps the most arresting and uncomfortable ensemble of images in the show is the Erased Lynchings series by conceptual artist Ken Gonzales-Day.  Gonzales-Day scanned images from actual postcards spanning from 1870 to 1940, all of which depicted photographs of the lynching of Lantin Americans, African Americans, Native Americans, and Asian Americans.  He then digitally erased the victims, leaving only the spectators, who now become the subject of the image.  The series addresses the role that bystanders and spectators play during social and political atrocities, and also the erasure of uncomfortable moments from our national narrative.

Erased Lynchings, installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2020. Photo: Eat Pomegranate Photography.

Lynching of Frank MacManus, Minneapolis, MN, 1882, from Erased Lynchings 2006-2019.  Archival inkjet print on rag paper mounted on cardstock, 6 x 4 ½ inches. MSU purchase, funded by the Nellie M. Loomis Endowment in memory of Martha Jane Loomis, 2019.17.1-5

A generous selection of photographs of significant political marches, rallies, and protests highlights the role that documentary photography played in making people aware of the Civil Rights Movement, perhaps something easily taken for granted now that anyone with a smartphone and a social media account is a potential lay-photojournalist.  These images include an ensemble by Leonard Freed, a photojournalist whose seminal work Black in White America (1968) documented the Civil Rights Movement with sensitivity and empathy, emphasizing the humanity of his subjects rather than the acts of violence and brutality they endured—the reverse of what Susan Sontag referred to in On Photography as the “atrocity exhibition,” which have a danger of becoming counterproductive to their cause.  Here, a selection of Freed’s photographs variously document a civil rights protest in Brooklyn, the historic 1963 March on Washington, and the 20th Anniversary March on Washington in 1983.

1963, Washington D.C., USA (March on Washington, 8-28-’63), 1963. Photograph  11 x 14 inches.   Courtesy Special Collections, MSU Libraries, Michigan State University

Finally, a quartet of engravings by William Hogarth adds some levity to the exhibit, as Hogarth’s wry, satirical works always tend to do.  His characteristically tongue-in-cheek series Humours of an Election, based on an actual 1754 Oxfordshire election, implicates both the Whigs and the Tories in trying to hijack the election through any means necessary.   Hogarth’s humorous approach to political critique is about as far from Goya’s nightmarish visions as one could possibly get, though both artists certainly shared a jaundiced perception of those in political power.

Four Prints of an Election: Plate II, Canvassing for Votes, 1757. Hand-colored engraving, 15 3/4 x 21 1/4 inches. MSU purchase 64.16

Visual Citizenship is a rewarding show, and each vignette of photographs or prints could easily be the starting point for a subsequent exhibition.  It’s certainly relevant and timely, and not just because this happens to be an election year. After all, in the age of social media, the smartphone, and the viral video, images have become the primary way we gather news and process information, which certainly seems to underscore Ariella Azoulay’s original point that image-viewing is a civic act.

MSU Broad – Visual Citizenship, on view at Michigan State University’s Broad Art Museum through December 26, 2020

 

 

Marcia Freedman & Ani Garabedian @ M Contemporary Art

Figuratively Dreaming: Marcia Freedman and Ani Garabedian

Installation, Freedman & Garabedian exhibition, 2020

The paintings by Marcia Freedman and Ani Garabedian in Figuratively Dreaming present a current interpretation and exploration of a genre that is versed and familiar but still evolving. Abstract painting rose from a multi-century evolution that moved away from the realistic religion-based storytelling of the Italian Renaissance through the French Impressionists and on to schools of thought like Dada. The devastating experience of World War II and its inconceivable human cruelty formed a new generation of avant-garde American painters leading to an explosion of creativity and the birth of cool in 1940s New York. Miles Davis and his contemporaries laid down the soundtrack for painters like Jackson Pollock whose artistic and political concerns were explored through their revolutionary work. Abstraction has since become part of the standard art vernacular while maintaining its mystique.

Ani Garabedian’s paintings capture nostalgic moments lingering between a state of reality and abstraction. She explores the notion of memories; how they decay over time and the tipping point at which they become forgotten or lost. In The Shore, Garabedian’s magnetic use of bright colors projects a playful joy that demands immediate attention. Her subject is a fond memory many of us share of summer days at the beach with–or as–children. The combination of a fully treated object, like a rendered ponytail, in contrast with merely the outline of a pail and the girls’ legs creates the sensation of a fragmented fading image. In the instant the memory is created, it is already evaporating.

Ani Garabedian, The Shore, 2020 oil on canvas, 60×48

In Family Portrait the focus is on the children as dominant parents tower out of view while the dog photo bombs in the corner looking to its loved ones for inclusion. The children communicate their sense of security through easy facial expressions and a cocked head. Simple lines over muted fields of diluted color demarcate one figure from another creating a friendly softness. However, the father figure’s crossed arms and a hand-held, unidentifiable object in the lower left disturbs the otherwise homogenous suburban scene.

Ani Garabedian, Family Portrait, 2020, oil on canvas, 48×36″

Long Time Alone is decidedly melancholy. The palette is somber; facial expressions somewhat nervous and wanting. A murky landscape sets a despondent stage through darker tones, aggressive motion and a jarring shot of pink in the distance. The trio’s legs and feet are barely visible, hopefully an indication this scenario isn’t permanent.

Ani Garabedian, A Long Time Alone, 2020, oil on canvas, 42×42″

Head I seems to be a detail from a larger painting where Garabedian gives us her favorite focal point: the face. Here she delivers a youthful expressionless face and employs similar compositional components like outlined neck and hair on a purely abstract background.

Ani Garabedian, Head I, 2020, mixed media on birch plywood, 16 ¾ x 16 ¾”

Marcia Freedman’s large sweeping abstract paintings have been an indelible fixture in the Detroit art scene for years. She’s consistently attacked her subjects with furious strokes and color. In On the Piano she continues to demonstrate her command of this genre. The limited palette allows the viewer to focus on the vigorous expressive brush strokes. The asymmetrical diptych format is critical to containment of the composition. Abstracted emotion at its best.

Marcia Freedman, On the Piano, 2018, oil on canvas, 48×108″

For this show, Freedman bent toward Garabedian’s portraiture with a somewhat recognizable subject in Muse 2. Her ghostly silhouette only slightly betrays full abstraction. Freedman’s trademark loose wide strokes grant a whisper of a subject to cling to rendering it hauntingly beautiful.

Marcia Freedman, Muse 2, 2020, oil on canvas, 36×36″

Shape #1 leans traditionally abstract with clear, albeit random, shapes on a deep background that calls to Garabedian’s compositions. Truly abstract, this piece delivers a minimal but well-organized space. Compositionally it holds while creating depth of field without the luxury of a recognizable subject to lean on.

Marcia Freedman, Shape #1, 2018, oil on canvas, 48×36″

In Walter Isaacson’s Leonardo Da Vinci he states, “Skill without imagination is barren.” Garabedian and Freedman explode with the imaginative syntax of both compelling moody palettes complemented with wildly expressive brush and mark making. In the linguistics of abstraction, they expertly run the gamut between soft reality and fully abstracted work. These visual narratives keep the viewer perpetually engaged in riddling out their mysterious messages.

M Contemporary Art 205 E 9 Mile Ferndale Michigan on view through October 17

 

 

Familiar @ David Klein Gallery

Mario Moore Curates a Group exhibition at the David Klein Gallery

Familiar Installation, Jason Patterson (L) , Mario Moore (C), Senghor Reid (R) All images courtesy of David Klein Gallery except noted.

The historical moment in which we find ourselves, a moment when a pandemic and racial unrest crash into the political upheaval of a presidential campaign, seems to demand that artists respond  somehow with starkly political work that addresses our collective  pain.  And many artists have responded with polemic art, to great effect.

But there is a more intimate, personal and equally valid response to make at this juncture in our history. That is the road that Detroit artist and curator Mario Moore has chosen to follow.  For this  group exhibition Familiar, at David Klein Gallery until October 24th, Moore has chosen five other like-minded artists to join him in meditations on memory, work, and family–most particularly mothers–in Black American history. These artists have taken the cultural moment into account, but they produce art that acknowledges the zeitgeist while operating on a deeper, more enduring level.

Mario Moore has become a visual historian of Black experience through his intimate portraits of the people that inhabit his world. His recent project, The Work of Several Lifetimes, emphasizes the importance of  essential workers,  often unseen and under-appreciated. In his paintings, he brings the figures that inhabit the background into the foreground, and in so doing makes an argument for the dignity of labor in all its forms.

Mario Moore, I Continue to Dream, 2020, oil on linen,44” x 62”

The three paintings Moore has chosen for exploration in Familiar are based on a photograph he recently discovered, of a Detroit diner once owned by his family.  Moore was unfamiliar with this part of his family history and he set about learning more. Initially, he made a faithful black and white painting of the restaurant and its occupants, which included his grandmother and great grandparents. The two subsequent paintings are colored–literally–by the artist’s conversations with his grandmother, who described the place and people in more detail, thus combining archival images with familial oral history to recapture a past he never knew.

In contrast to Moore’s intimate storytelling, Illinois-born artist Jason Patterson’s images are arms-length and archetypal. He can convincingly claim to be an archivist and cultural historian of Black experience in addition to his considerable skills as a draftsman and craftsman.  For the diptych The Negro Mothers on display, part of his series New Americans: Our Mutual Improvement & Social Elevation, he has drawn from vintage photographs of Reconstruction era Black women in the Randolph Linsly Simpson Collection in Yale’s Beinecke Library. The resulting monumental pastels of upwardly mobile African American matriarchs of the 19th century stand their ground on varnished, sepia-toned raw canvas. Patterson has surrounded and embedded these towering images in elaborate, coffin-like pine boxes that foreshadow the frustration of Black aspirations during Jim Crow. To further press his point, Patterson has carved quotes from the Langston Hughes poem, The Negro Mother, into the pine boxes.

Beverly McIver, Turning 50, 2013, oil on canvas, 40” x 30”

Beverly McIver comes at her examination of family through intimacy.  Her medium-sized square compositions are dominated by the larger-than-life heads of her subjects, in this instance her father, her sister and herself.  The backgrounds are hazy, featureless fields of color, her lively brushwork is confined to the interiors of the painted faces. Compositional simplicity powers these modestly sized but impactful paintings. The portrait of her sister, Renee, is particularly interesting, her smiling face in the upper third of the picture offset by the flat whiteness of the cat in the foreground.  McIver’s self-portrait is equally satisfying; she gazes ruefully out of the picture plane, a party hat perched on her head as she contemplates turning 50. The elegant simplicity of McIver’s paintings is a pointed reminder that sometimes less really is more.

Senghor Reid, In Which We Serve, 2020, oil on canvas, 58” x 39 ½ “

Detroit artist Senghor Reid’s harshly daylit, everyday rooms can be interpreted as metaphors for his interior life. Each element in these crowded interiors–a book, food, a potted plant–is apparently mundane but exists simultaneously on a parallel symbolic plane.  Of particular interest among the three paintings Reid has contributed to the show is In Which We Serve which brings up, once again,  the importance of the black mother in the life of the family and in the context of the larger community.  Shirley Woodson Reid, a prominent Detroit arts educator and Senghor Reid’s mother, is the  authoritative primary figure. Her stern features occupy the center of the painting, both literally and figuratively, while arrayed before her are carefully selected objects that seem to suggest devotional offerings. Her importance, both to the artist and to the community, is acknowledged even within this modest domestic setting.

Photographer Ricky Weaver examines her ambivalence toward female identity from within.  Her two self-portraits, Breathing 1 and 2, show the artist in conflict with the camera’s lens, the unwilling protagonist in her own story.  Trapped by the camera’s eye, Weaver is locked in a futile struggle to escape her environment, her blurred image simultaneously there and not-there. She makes herself  both subject and object, the viewer and the observed. The theme of the cornered subject is repeated in Untitled (Sunday Morning) which features the artist’s daughter backed up against the fence in an otherwise idyllic environment.

Chris Watts’s single translucent abstraction, Invisible Mirror II, features cloudy veils of pigment on silk; it’s an outlier among the more figurative works in Familiar.  Its intrinsic merits aside, this seems an odd inclusion in an otherwise tightly organized collection of narrative work.

The temptation for artists to descend into the topical is powerful at this moment in history, when so much seems to be in contention. But the artists in Familiar seem well aware that there is a larger story to tell, and one that will continue regardless of current events. They know that their job is not just to advocate, but also to observe, report–to think–in broader and more abiding terms about the struggles that concern us all.

Familiar Installation, Ricky Weaver (L), Mario Moore (R)

Familiar, curated by Mario Moore, includes work by Moore, Beverly McIver, Jason Patterson, Senghor Reid, Chris Watts and Ricky Weaver.

David Klein Gallery is located at 1520 Washington Blvd, Detroit. Gallery Hours, Wednesday through Saturday 12 p.m.-5:30.

 

 

Sabrina Nelson @ Galerie Camille

Sabrina Nelson, They Go in Threes, installation detail, mixed media and drawings.

Sabrina Nelson, Detroit artist, educator and activist, has chosen the totemic blackbird as the animating metaphor for her exhibit Blackbird & Paloma Negra: The Mothers, on view now at Galerie Camille in Detroit, until October 3. Through drawing and installation with both constructed and found objects, she explores the psychic territory between private grief and public mourning felt by mothers of Black children lost to racial violence.

Nelson was born during the Detroit Rebellion of the 60’s, descended from a long line of strong Detroit women who she credits with galvanizing her spirit early on.  In a recent article for detroitlover.net, she describes her female forbears as “three generations of remarkable, independent women who each had her own way of being… My mother was probably the most rebellious in the house. She was young, had an afro and this attitude like, ‘I ain’t doing none of that stuff y’all did — this is the new deal.’ She was down with the Black Panthers and was fighting for what she felt was right at the time. There was some serious rebellion going on when I was in her belly, so I’m sure there’s a part of that energy in me.”

True to the spirit of the matriarchs in her family, Nelson has found her own way of being and means of expression as an artist. She recognizes the emotional dissonance between the lonely, visceral sorrow a mother feels at the loss of her child and the public rhetoric that surrounds the Black Lives Matter movement.  She honors this more personal sorrow with a series of artworks that are poignant, elegiac and at times seem poised to disintegrate into their broken and damaged constituent parts. In her statement she writes, ”We live in a hash-tag era, where Black and Brown bodies are brutally murdered and swiftly turned into hash-tag symbols on social media; where often the focus of how they were killed is sensationalized and who they were as valued beings in their communities is ignored.”

Sabrina Nelson, The First Home/ Grace 3, hanging sculpture, mixed media, size variable.

Three fragile tissue and tulle dresses hang from the ceiling in the main gallery of Galerie Camille, threatening to dissolve at the exhalation of a sigh. The dresses provide a surround for sooty and slightly deformed birdcages, their womblike forms evocatively referencing both the absence of the child and the remaining husk of the inconsolable mother. These three artworks represent the emotional core of the show and seemed, to me, to be the most direct and moving expression of her theme.

The charcoal and acrylic drawing of a monumental blackbird entitled Raven: Attempted Conspiracy, occupies a central position in the main gallery, gazing quizzically at gallery visitors as they enter. Its intent is mysterious, its cunning obvious. Her choice of the blackbird as a visual metaphor throughout Blackbird and Paloma Negra: The Mothers is both potent and equivocal and allows for multi-layered interpretations.  The corvid’s complex associations across a variety of world cultures resonate throughout the collective consciousness, freeing Nelson to play at the shadowy margins. She skates metaphorically along the borders of confinement and flight, freedom, death and the afterlife, embracing the poetic ambiguity of the blackbird. She says of the species, “Our body and our nesting always tell the truth. A group of black crows is called “a murder of crows” and a grouping of ravens is called “a conspiracy of ravens” or “an unkindness of ravens”. These poetic names were given to these corvid creatures during the 15th century.”

Sabrina Nelson, Raven: Attempted Conspiracy, charcoal and acrylic on paper, 50” x 93”

In Galerie Camille’s back gallery, Nelson strikes a reverential note with her complex, multi-faceted installation Altar, a ritual display that features devotional objects: feathers, candles and nests, along with drawings. The immediate mainstream association to a visitor might be with the commemorative ofrendas that appear yearly in Hispanic households for the Dia de los Muertos. This is a perfectly satisfactory association as far as it goes, but it’s likely that Nelson is also referencing devotional shrines of the African Yoruba religion, which forms the basis for a number of diasporic belief systems such as santeria and vodou.

Nelson is an accomplished draftsman, and her skills are on display throughout the exhibit, but are especially striking in her wall of small drawings in the gallery’s Cube Room.  Her handling of the water media in They Go in Threes is technically impressive and emotionally resonant. She employs the liquid properties of the paint to suggest shadows and fugitive movement. The drawings hint at both the presence and absence of bird souls, the accretion of images delivering a powerful charge of nostalgia and a suggestion of violence in the dripping inks.

Sabrina Nelson, Altar, installation, mixed media

Nelson specifically references Black singer Nina Simone’s lament Blackbird (released 1966) as an influence in developing the work for this show:

Why you want to fly Blackbird you ain’t ever gonna fly
No place big enough for holding all the tears you’re gonna cry
’cause your mama’s name was lonely and your daddy’s name was pain…

The continued relevance of Simone’s lyrics serves as an indictment of our slow progress toward racial equity. Paul McCartney’s Blackbird, from the same period, is also about the struggle for Black civil rights, but strikes a more hopeful note:

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to be free…

In Blackbird and Paloma Negra: The Mothers, Sabrina Nelson channels the mood of this moment in history in the U.S. and in Detroit. There is grief and pain, yes, but also hope.

An Artist Talk will be held on Sept 18, 3:00 p.m. Live on our Facebook and Sabrina’s Instagram live feed @sabrinanelson67. Galerie Camille hours are Wednesday through Saturday from noon to 5 p.m., by appointment during the pandemic. Please make an appointment by email info@galeriecamille.com