Detroit Art Review

Critical art reviews of Detroit galleries and museums weekly

Group Exhibition @ M Contemporary

General Rules Do Not Apply at Ferndale’s M Contemporary gives a quick, refreshing tour of the lyrical possibilities of colorful abstraction produced by an intriguing set of Detroit artists:  Matt Eaton (now in Los Angeles), Lauren Harrington, MALT, Jaime Pattison, Senghor Reid, Zach Thompson and Dino Valdez.  General Rules is up through June 15. 

Jaime Pattison, Afterimages, Acrylic and oil on canvas, 72 x 58 1/2 inches, 2024. (Photos courtesy of M Contemporary).

These are sophisticated abstracts — even if Zach Thompson’s striking, half-and-half canvas stars, respectively, Wylie Coyote and Pig-Pen of “Peanuts” fame. Indeed, taken as a whole, the contrast in stylistic approach from one artist to the next is exhilarating.

A downright mesmerizing work is Jaime Pattison’s Afterimages. This is a severe gridwork composition, yet rendered in utterly seductive shades of startling red and aquamarine where the former frames the latter with thin, wispy lines to great visual effect. It’s all rather high concept. Pattison’s playing with what happens when you stare at intense red good and hard, and then close your eyes. The “after image” that pops up leaps from the opposite side of the color spectrum, almost like a photographic negative. And after looking at red, that negative will always be some shade of green.

Each of the 140 aquamarine rectangles within its red frame is a tiny, meticulously constructed abstract in itself, giving the whole a visual depth that, combined with the shock of the red – in this case approaching a neon intensity — is pretty darned transfixing.

In an April interview with the online publication Canvas Rebel, Pattison says she’s been working on “a series of large dichromatic paintings investigating notions of the screen and embodiment. Painting for me is an analog process,” she added, “a process based in the hand, a sifting through digital material to make connections to this time.”

Gallery director Melannie Chard says she’s been following Pattison, who hails from Toronto, since she first saw her work a couple years ago in the annual Student Exhibition at the College for Creative Studies. At the time, Chard says, Pattison was working in a figurative vein, “but now she’s moving into pattern” –- for which we should all be grateful.

Zach Thompson, The Coyote Has to Eat Too, Oil pigment stick, spray paint, and acrylic on canvas, 48 x 36 inches, 2024.

If Afterimages gives an impression of freehand precision, the left half of Zach Thompson’s canvas, titled The Coyote Has to Eat Too, announces itself with a blast of what appears to be  slapdash enthusiasm, with an array of colorful, “careless” blotches scattered across a vivid yellow background.

At once comic and disturbing, the visual focus is our friend Wylie Coyote, lying prone in the bottom-right corner, as if shortly after being obliterated by one of those falling anvils he always seemed to attract like metal filings to a magnet. There’s also a miniature version of Mr. Coyote up above, on the edge of a vortex of swirling hues, holding a teensy sign reading, “Why me?” — a question that can’t help but trigger a laugh, even as it gets to the heart of the human condition.

A similar mix of the absurd and the profound characterizes the other half of Thompson’s work, Everything Returns to Dirt, which sports Charles Schulz’s Pig-Pen floating over, of all things, a roosting parrot. Rendered in an array of rich earth tones, including burnt orange, Thompson pulls off another oddball composition that just won’t let go.

 

Dino Valdez, Family Values, Acrylic and silver leaf on canvas, 72 x 48 x 1 1/2 inches, 2024.

Ready for something completely different? Painted in black acrylic and elegant silver leaf, Dino Valdez’s Family Values stands out in marvelous counterpoint to the color-rich works surrounding it. An energetic swirl of highly textured black brush strokes, Valdez, formerly exhibitions director at Red Bull House of Art Detroit, manages to achieve a surprising amount of depth that feels downright three-dimensional.

His CV says his recent work focuses on the understanding of violence, conflict, and resolution, which would seem to sum up Family Values, with its barely suppressed fury, rather neatly. Anchoring this visual storm is one perfectly straight white line (although it reads as gray in the image above) that seems to prevent the turbulence from blowing away and dissipating.

Chard says this particular piece is related Valdez’s martial-arts training, and likens the work to that of the classic abstract expressionist Franz Kline, “but not as aggressive. I like Family Values because it almost looks like a dance,” she added, “so expressive and so much energy behind it.”

Matt Eaton, Celestial Blanket (Yellow), Aerosol on canvas, 48 x 36 inches, 2024.

Once an energetic presence in Detroit connected with the Library Street Collective, Contra Projects and Red Bull House of Art before his move to the West Coast, Matt Eaton has sketched out a career exploring inventive possibilities in the world of abstraction. Using materials associated with graffiti and graphic arts alike, Eaton’s work has been characterized by a skilled use of color and form.

At M Contemporary, his four identically sized canvases are hung in a square like four panes of a window, through each of which we see what appears to be a piece of fabric fluttering in the air as if hung from a clothesline. Two of these are in rich colors, as with (Yellow) above, while the other two are composed in black and silvery tones. Taken altogether, they make a rich stew.

In a 2016 interview with The Detroit News, Eaton credited the visual universe of the 1980s with steering his artistic instincts in a particular direction. “Growing up at the end of the good punk-rock age,” he said, “there was a lot of hugely influential graphic design at the time. I genuinely would be content if nobody ever saw my art again,” he added. “I’m compelled to make it. It’s more a meditative ritual than a career.”

Senghor Reid, Decision at Sundown 6, Acrylic on canvas, 2024.

If Eaton’s blankets mine the potential of simplicity, Senghor Reid’s Decision at Sundown 6 deals with almost stupefying complexity and detail. An explosion of line and squiggle radiating out from a central core near the bottom, it almost reads like – going way out on a limb, here – a visual representation of nuclear fission.

But Chard, who would know, says Decision actually has water as its subject. “It’s one of Senghor’s abstracted water series,” she said. “A lot of people recognize him for portraiture and figurative work, but he has a whole other part of his practice that deals with water, water justice and water rights.” Indeed, anyone who caught last winter’s Skilled Labor: Black Realism in Detroit at the Cranbrook Art Museum might note the resemblance — in line, at least — between Decision at Sundown and the swimming pool in the artist’s large, cheerful Make Way for Tomorrow, that was one of the focal points of that exhibition.

Zach Thompson, Everything Returns to Dirt (detail), Oil pigment stick, spray paint, acrylic, 48 x 36 inches, 2024.

General Rules Do Not Apply will be up at Ferndale’s M Contemporary through June 15.

“Seven Mile and Livernois” @ the Detroit Institute of Art

Detroit Artist Tiff Massey Mounts an Exhibition: “Seven Mile and Livernoisat the Detroit Institute of Art

Tiff Massey, Installation image, Courtesy of DAR, 2024

Museums are often risk-averse institutions, choosing their curatorial offerings with an eye to what is safe and canonical. The Detroit Institute of Art has made a provocative and unexpected choice with its just-opened exhibition of Detroit-based sculptor and community activist Tiff Massey.  “Seven Mile and Livernois,” as this year-long exhibition is called, places the artist’s practice squarely in the neighborhood where she grew up while also acknowledging her ties to art history, and in particular to artists whose works in the DIA’s collection shaped her childhood experience.

Massey is the youngest artist to be chosen for a museum exhibition at the DIA, as well as the first Black woman to earn an MFA in metalsmithing from the Cranbrook Academy of Art.  The artworks, 11 in all, range from a piece, Facet, that she created in 2010 when she was still a student at Cranbrook, to 4 recent artworks commissioned by the DIA. (The museum provided funds for fabrication, though the artist retains ownership.)

Tiff Massey, Whatupdoe (part 1), 2024, stainless steel, photo K.A. Letts

As we enter the exhibition, a delicate swag of metal chain is draped high across a deep blue wall.  Through the door into the next gallery, however, we see that this chain is connected to a much longer one that, as it grows in size, goes from ornament to architecture. At its midpoint, individual components reach beyond head-high and we simultaneously shrink from adult to child size and perhaps smaller as we measure our bodies against these monumental links. It is a through-the-looking-glass experience.

The chain, entitled WhatupDoe, is intended by the artist as a love letter to her spiritual community in Detroit and beyond. She celebrates her affection for the city, for its hair salons, fashion boutiques, and coffee shops, its hip hop artists and hair weaves, in the sculptures that extend throughout the exhibition. In a nearby wall title for an older piece, I Got Bricks (2014), Massey directly addresses her audience, “Detroit, I’m designing for us, so we can see ourselves …This represents us building something together.”

Tiff Massey, I Remember Way Back When, 2023, stained wood, photo K.A. Letts

Massey’s intense emotional involvement with her social connections, friends and family is balanced by her acknowledgement of her early art education.  As the artist developed plans for the exhibition with Juana Williams and Katie Pfohl, Associate Curators of Contemporary Art, she chose a couple of artworks from the DIA’s collection that hold special resonance for her: they are now displayed in the galleries along with her own work.  She draws a particularly interesting comparison between her art practice and Stack, a minimalist sculpture by Donald Judd.  In a recent interview in Detroit Cultural she says, “I chose Donald Judd because I remember this piece specifically from when I was a kid and my mom would take me to all of these institutions.” Stack, narrow and tall, climbs militantly up the wall of the gallery, a lacquered green tower of rectangles. In response, Massey has created Baby Bling, an adjacent, long row of objects that reference the hair ties she wore as a child. Made of enormous red metal beads, woven rope and brass, their horizontal orientation implies movement outward, toward caring and community.

Stack by Donald Judd (r.) 1969, plexiglass and stainless steel on the right.   Tiff Massey,  Baby Bling (detail, l.) installation on the left), photo K.A. Letts

Themes of adornment run through the exhibition, rituals involving hair being especially prominent. Across the gallery from Baby Bling we find I Remember Way Back When. Eleven outsize scarlet replicas of Snap-Tight Kiddie Barrettes recall the 1980s when little girls’ hair was carefully dressed by grandmas, mothers, and aunties. And at the end of the gallery, there is an enormous, wall-size homage to the elegant and exuberant hair weave, in ombre shades of green and seemingly endless in its shapes and patterns.

Tiff Massey, Quilt Code 6, Assmbledge, Detroit Institute of Arts, 2024

The other artwork with which Massey has chosen to pair her work is Louise Nevelson’s Homage to the World. The correspondences between this wall relief and Massey’s Quilt Code 6 are straightforward. As the artist developed plans for the exhibition with Juana Williams and Katie Pfohl, Associate Curators of Contemporary Art, she chose a couple of artworks from the DIA’s collection that hold special resonance for her; they are now displayed in the galleries along with her own work. ”Nevelson’s relief derives its power from the accretion of randomly found scraps into a massive wall of chunky wood pieces in sooty black; Quilt Code 6, by contrast, is finer and more literary, composed of carefully curated symbols and signs. As the name suggests, this piece shares characteristics with the American story quilt, a folk art fiber genre used to great effect by Faith Ringgold.

Tiff Massey, 39 Reasons I am not Playing, 2018, brass, photo K.A. Letts

In this exhibition, Massey both speaks for and to her community; she is fluent in the language of the hood and of the academy as she advocates for her city:  “We’re a UNESCO city of design, and I’ve been talking about this in every interview but I don’t think we’re taking that designation seriously enough, and so to me it’s like how can I bring these elements and make sure that we have highly curated, beautiful spaces in the hood too.”

Massey demonstrates her commitment to her city and her people in “Seven Mile and Livernois.” It seems only fair, at least to this writer, that the DIA should take this opportunity to reciprocate by acquiring one of her public artworks for their permanent collection.

Tiff Massey, Whatupdoe, Stainless Steel, 2014, image courtesy DIA.

Tiff Massey’s exhibition, “Seven Mile and Livernois“, at the Detroit Institute of Art, is on display through May 11, 2025. 

 

 

 

 

Michael E. Smith @ What Pipeline

Michael E. Smith, Installation view:  What Pipeline, 2024. Courtesy of the artist, Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York, and What Pipeline, Detroit. – Photos: Alivia Zivich

Entering the dimly lit, modestly scaled, rectangular space that features the Michael E. Smith exhibition at What Pipeline gallery, shy of a single object festooning the walls, a visitor might wonder where they have landed. Sparsely furnished with six red velvet armchairs (c. 1950s?) pushed flat against the walls and arranged asymmetrically around the space, they are conspicuously worn, discolored, and stained.

Michael E. Smith, Untitled, 2024, tape, plastic, LEDs, 4 x 4 x 29.5 in.

Providing dusky illumination via LEDs are three thin, tapered pedestals fabricated of stacked rolls of packing tape that also simulate ashtrays. Such accoutrement suggest an empty, forlorn gathering space or institutional waiting room, perhaps of a hospital, dormitory, sleazy hotel lobby, bus station, or brothel.

Michael E. Smith, Untitled, 2024, basketball, tape, metal rods, 9 x 9 x 16 in.

Soon, one notices an oddity, just 16 inches tall, positioned on the floor: a black orb supported on four slim metal rods that reads as a “character” (as described by Smith) with black taped head, metal arms and legs dwarfed by the furnishings surrounding its mute, frozen presence. Marooned in a world of Big Furniture, the diminutive character appears overwhelmed as it sizes up its location, situation, and intentions, perhaps the avatar of an artist evolving a project.

Sculptor and installationist Smith, born in Detroit in 1977, studied at College for Creative Studies and Yale University, exhibits nationally and internationally, as well as at Susanne Hilberry (since closed) and What Pipeline galleries in Detroit, and now lives and works in Providence, Rhode Island. A collector of objects (especially chairs), he transports a selection of found materials to exhibition venues and arranges and edits his miscellaneous trove on site preparatory to opening day.

Michael E. Smith, Installation view: Michael E. Smith, What Pipeline, 2024.

After traversing the spartan introductory gallery and proceeding into the adjacent gallery/office, enticing “treats” by Smith greet the exploratory visitor. Delectable objects on wall, table, and floor include: a pair of cherry dotted cakes (bongo drums wrapped in tinfoil) project from the wall; a sheet cake in a take-away box and a gold foil wrapped present topped by a starfish rest on a table; and a heavenly blue, creature-comfort circular rug both suggests an ideal angle from which to view the artist’s trio of offerings, as well as softening the cement floor of the gallery. Not to mention the luminous daylight that floods through the window of the room.

Michael E. Smith, . Untitled, 2024, cake box, foam, 19 x 15 x 4.5 in.

Michael E. Smith, Untitled, 2024, present, starfish, steel rod, 21 x 15 x 19 in.

Quickly enough, one realizes that not all the goodies are especially appetizing, for the cherries are in fact beads and the butter pecan hued frosting of both cakes is formed from repellant, inedible foam. Moreover, the starfish (instead of a florid bow) that decorates the shiny present, is impaled on a steel rod.

Overall, Smith proffers intriguing dichotomies between front gallery and back room spaces in this newly minted manifestation of his installation and object-oriented practice: spare, minimalist waiting room and bona fide artworks stocking the adjacent room; dusky versus light-filled ambiences; empty lobby and rear room coziness; real furniture and faux edibles. Smith’s mastery of both genres, fore and aft, in tandem with the striking, touching introduction of the “character,” whets an appetite for more such artful alloys anon.

Michael E. Smith remains on view through June 15, 2024. The gallery, located at 3525 W. Vernor Highway, is housed in a small, gable roofed building set back from Vernor Hwy with parking directly in front. Learn more about the gallery at [email protected].

Doomscrolling @ Broad Art Museum

Kayla Mattes – Doomscrolling Exhibition at the  Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, MSU, Lansing

Installation view, All works by Kayla Mattes. All images courtesy of Sean Bieri  2024

“Doomscrolling” is internet-speak for the online equivalent of a death spiral: the act of compulsively flicking at the screen of a smartphone and trolling for bad news, absorbing the steady stream of tragedy, atrocity, injustice, and outrage that the algorithm floats past our eyeballs until we’ve lost track of time, and possibly our grip on reality. (The corollary habit of compulsively seeking out tidbits of lightweight entertainment to counteract such horrors is an issue in its own right.) “Doomscrolling” isn’t just a buzzword; googling the term brings up pages on the National Institutes of Health’s website that associate the phenomenon with anxiety, depression, and other disorders. Textile artist Kayla Mattes’ exhibition Doomscrolling (open now through August 18 at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, Lansing) is an engaging and often humorous attempt to pull the viewer out of this virtual tailspin by transposing the web’s cacophony of video clips, headlines, memes, and emojis into the more tangible medium of woven tapestries, allowing us to examine them at a remove, the better to reflect on how the internet is rewiring our brains.

Born in 1989, Mattes is a “digital native,” a child of the information age who can scarcely recall a time before the internet. Some of the individual memes she works into her tapestries have become classics of the medium; a few are golden oldies that may be as nostalgia-inducing for younger viewers as Saturday morning cartoons are for a Gen Xer. Many visitors will smile with recognition when they spot the “Awkward Look Monkey Puppet,” a synthetic simian who nervously shifts its gaze in response to some uncomfortable situation; the “This Is Fine” dog, a cartoon canine who smiles contentedly while the room burns down around him; and of course the iconic “Keyboard Cat,” a tabby pawing at an electric piano who “plays off,” Vaudeville style, the victim of some catastrophic personal failure in a series of memes that dates back to the primeval year of 2009.

Kayla Mattes, Fun Fact, 2023, Handwoven cotton, wool, and acrylic

It’s fun spotting these familiar characters within Mattes’ tapestries, though it’s a bit like being a soup enthusiast at a Warhol show — focusing only on such details misses the larger point. Mattes collages all this digital detritus carefully to give each tapestry a theme. For instance, Keyboard Cat appears in a piece called “Fun Fact,” surrounded by warning icons, error messages, and a rewind button. The phrase “The internet was once a fun place for watching cat videos instead of monitoring the real-time collapse of late-stage capitalism” appears over the musical feline’s head so that he seems to be “playing off” the failed promise of the World Wide Web and the remains of our collective innocence.

Kayla Mattes, Better Help, 2022, Handwoven cotton, wool, and polyester

“Better Help” borrows its title from an online mental health service and features various images suggesting tension and anxiety: a finger poised over two red buttons labeled “hope” and “nope” (aka, the “Daily Struggle” meme); an hourglass icon; a smiley face hovering over a black hole. The “This Is Fine” dog — originally from a comic strip by KC Green illustrating our masochistic ability to acclimate to any “new normal,” no matter how calamitous — appears in a tapestry called “5%.” Surrounding the dog are images of flames, a rising thermometer, and the exploding head of the “mind blown” emoji, along with a “low battery” warning, suggesting that even as the global situation becomes increasingly heated, our ability to respond is dwindling. Another piece called “‘the apps’ (iykyk)” is strewn with the iconography of various dating apps, along with an image of Sesame Street’s Elmo engulfed in flames, and a map of the freeways of Los Angeles (Mattes’ hometown), both of which provide analogies for the frustrating hellscape that is the online dating scene. Other works in the show address climate change, commerce, and astrology.

Kayla Mattes, 5%, 2023 Handwoven cotton, wool, mohair, and acrylic

The juxtaposition of all this info-ephemera with the centuries-old handicraft of weaving may seem like an odd pairing at first (not as jarring as seeing attack helicopters and rocket launchers woven into an Afghan war rug, maybe, but the disconnect feels similar). It isn’t really as strange as it seems. After all, as Mattes points out, both computers and looms utilize a binary logic of sorts: the intersection points of warp and weft in a tapestry correspond to the on-or-off state of pixels on a screen. Plus, it was an early attempt at automating the weaving process, by one Joseph Marie Jacquard, that produced the punch card technology that made the first proto-computers — or “analytical engines” — possible.

Mattes worked with a modern Jacquard loom to create the centerpieces of the show, three vertical banners that hang down one wall and scroll out onto the floor. Each banner features a list of automated Google search suggestions prompted by the questions “What is…?,” “When is…?,” and “Why is…?” Not entirely random, the suggestions were based on searches trending on the internet at the time; they were then curated and arranged by Mattes. The resulting questions range from the existential (“what is wrong with the world today?”; “when is it time to move on?”) to the trivial (“why is comic sans hated?”; “when is an avocado ripe?”). Taken together, they paint a collective portrait of the internet community that’s reassuringly “relatable” — both humorous and endearing for the humanity that shows through the cold logic of the algorithm.

On either side of the gallery entrance, vertical strings have been hung so visitors can write their own “searches” onto strips of paper, then weave them — and themselves — into the fabric of the show. There’s also a demonstration video showing Mattes at her loom; at one point the artist’s cat appears, batting at balls of thread while Mattes tries to work, because how would an exhibition like this be complete without its very own funny cat video?

Kayla Mattes – Doomscrolling Exhibition at the  Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum through August 18, 2024.

Jefferson Pinder – Weapons and White Music, @ WSU

Jefferson Pinder – Weapons and White Music, at the Wayne State University’s Elaine Jacob Gallery

Jefferson Pinder, Installation image, Colored Entrance, 2017

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 audio-visual 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.

Jefferson Pinder, Bent Spear (after John Brown), 2024

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 the 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 prior to 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 material. The presentation itself 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.”

Jefferson Pinder, Greatest Hits, 2024 – HD Video (running time:23 Min.

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 that of a scene from the Civil War drama Glorymashed 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, at the Wayne State University’s Elaine Jacob Gallery on view through April 27, 2024.

Page 1 of 76

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén