Gallery Project – Re:Formation Toledo

Gallery Project drops a politically-loaded art-bomb for their fourth annual exhibition

Gallery Project, one of the most ambitious annual art exhibitions in the region, returned with a roar this month, opening its fourth installment on Monday, August 1st with Re:Formation – which will remain on display in the former department store at 600 Jefferson Ave in downtown Toledo, Oh through Wednesday, August 31, before moving to its second location at the Ann Arbor Art Center (117 W. Liberty) on Friday, September 9, and remain on display there through Sunday, October 16. As in previous years, the exhibition draws some 50+ local, regional, and national artists together around a theme, however, the tone of this year’s theme – Re:Formation – strikes a markedly different note than last year’s theme, Wish List. Co-curators Rocco DePietro and Gloria Pritschet were compelled to pursue a more pointedly political theme this year, and the resulting submissions demonstrate the success of that aim.

GP1 Organizers

Gallery Project organizers and co-curators Rocco DePietro and Gloria Pritschet All Images Courtesy of Sarah Rose Sharp

“Last time there was a focus on hope,” said Pritschet, in an interview with Detroit Art Review, “but something shifted, right around November of last year, where people who had never spoken out began standing up, and we knew we needed to re-form around that concept.”

DePietro can pinpoint the moment more exactly: “Everyone had a different tipping point,” he said. “For me it was the shooting of Tamir Rice.” The ever-mounting documentation of increasingly visible human rights abuses has left both DePietro and Pritschet moved to consider what power art has to affect human issues, and sought to create this year’s Gallery Project as an effort to “express the new form that’s taking shape within art.”

GP4 Desiree Duell install

Desiree Duell, Bodies of Water (2016), collaborative installation

The output varies – as one might imagine, given the vast cross-section of artists included in the show – but a few thematic elements emerged strongly. The Flint water crisis was central to the show, both literally and figuratively. One of the front window displays recreates a collaborative installation originally done in Flint by Desiree Duell (Flint, MI). The piece, which jumps the bank of the window bay and spills out onto the main gallery floor, is comprised of dozens of disposable plastic water bottles – the woefully insufficient temporary measure provided en masse to Flint residents in lieu of a potable water system – outlining the form of a fallen child. The bottles on the floor inside, activated by LED lights, spell out “THIRST.” A series of photographs by Darryl Baird (Flint, MI) capture elements of the Flint water system: Eroded Manhole, Underground Sewer Line, Runoff Control Sewer, and others, each vignetted with a dreamy circular-crop more usually applied to glamor photos.

GP2 Mark B installation

Mark Bleshenski, Plumbum (2016), installation view

The largest piece in the show is a sprawling installation by Mark Bleshenski (Bay City, MI), Plumbum, located in the middle of the showroom floor. The installation, which draws its name from the Latin word for lead (because lead was used in plumbing in ancient times), collects 100 water samples from Flint faucets into various receptacles, and arranges them into clusters atop two groups of meticulously crafted wooden stools of various heights. The craftsmanship and object repetition is aesthetically engaging – it is a carefully assembled collection, with many forms and colors present – and even playful, as some of the vessels are warped into unexpected shapes and some of the liquids contained within are bright Kool-Aid colors. It is only as one draws near enough to see the data tracked on each vessel that the scene shifts from madcap collection to mad science.

GP5 Julianne Lindsey

Julianne Lindsey and Elton Monroy Duran, DELRAY Project, multi-media installation/archive

Indeed, data visualization is a recurring theme throughout the show, and increasingly a mainstay of activist art. It seems that artists posses a unique power to process information that might otherwise remain comfortably abstract into aesthetic terms that hit closer to home. Some use a kind of visual synecdoche, as did Pritschet (Ann Arbor, MI) with her In Memorium installation, that neatly layers tiers of children’s shoes, painted black, into a morbid little mound strewn with bullet casings. Others take a documental approach, as did Julianne Lindsey (Detroit, MI) and Elton Monroy Duran (Detroit, MI), whose front-window installation, DELRAY Project, represents an ongoing effort to collect materials, photographs, and audio recordings from the Delray neighborhood, which is slated to be the future site of the Gordie Howe International Bridge in Southwest Detroit.

GP6 Andrew Thompson

Andrew Thompson, Representing Congress: Detroit’s Belle Isle 1893-2013 (2016), masking tape, book

Artists may also be dealing with literal data, as did Andrew Thompson (Detroit, MI) with Representing Congress: Detroit’s Belle Isle 1893-2013, which overlays each successive congressional redistricting of Belle Isle over 120 years in a different color of masking tape. This deceptively simple piece not only underscores the mutability of ostensibly fixed systems upon which our society is built, but additionally nods to the ages-old practice of gerrymandering, which seeks to rearrange or otherwise manipulate a given electoral constituency, so as to favor one party or class.

The current political climate may be a reasonable corollary to this shift in tone for Gallery Project. Last year’s show came in the midst of the Obama presidency, a time of triumph and great hope for progress. With this year’s presidential election shaping up around fear politics on both sides of aisle, it seems fitting – if somewhat demoralizing – that we’ve gone from a mindset of making a wish to speaking out in protest. But, as Prtischet says, “These are the reactions. People can’t be quiet anymore.”

Gallery Project is speaking loudly, and the message is clear – problems abound, direct action is required, and art can no longer satisfy itself with raising awareness. Reformation is coming.

 

Sandwich Project @ Art Gallery of Windsor

Installation Image, Sandwich Project, image courtesy Cynthia Greig 2017

“The Sandwich Project” at the Art Gallery of Windsor centers around famed American artist Martha Rosler’s 1974 video, “Semiotics of the Kitchen,” a visionary send-up of the entrapment of women in the machinery of the kitchen. It features a very young Rosler parodying more famed cooking show host Julia Childs.

After more than forty years, and our global digital brain transplant, the six-minute B&W video remains mesmerizing both intellectually and as a performance. With deadpan facial and bodily gestures, Rosler punctuates an alphabet of the accouterments of cooking — Apron, Bowl, Chopper, Dish, Egg Beater — objects that traditionally have signified women’s domestic identity, but become as sinister as the crippling machinery of the factory.

As Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp had been pushed over-the-edge by the machine of the factory in his 1936 film Modern Times, thus defining the generation of pre-union, factory workers, Rosler’s Julia Childs dramatizes the enslavement of women in the signifying machinery of the kitchen.

Rosler’s video, however, is only a set-up for the rest of the engaging Sandwich Project, which was the brainchild of Windsor’s renowned Iain Baxter&, an early conceptual artist, painter and photographer, and was curated by Art Gallery of Windsor’s Jaclyn Meloche, also an artist, performance artist and writer. Baxter& conceived the Sandwich project as a play on “all things Sandwich,” to quote Katherine Mastin, AGW’s Director,

Sandwich, one of the earliest neighborhoods in Windsor, namesake of England’s once important port, was the origin of the name for the portable lunch, which (after the Fourth Earl of Sandwich) like this exhibition, composes layers of ingredients (often between two slices of bread). The word dredges up all kinds of history both in England and in Windsor, in the underbelly of which lies the War of 1812, a conflict that to some locals seems as though it was between Detroit and Windsor. In fact, Sandwich, Ontario was the site of important 1812 battles.

Iain Baxter&, “Iain Baxter as an open-faced sandwich” 1978

Iain Baxter&, born in England, his own art fraught with visual hi-jinks, was obviously quite cognizant of this back story in conceiving the project, which is ripe with delicious visual puns and ironies.

Likewise it’s the relationship of food to social and political history, popular culture and feminism, that Meloche ran with to create six independent exhibitions, each of which is self-contained, with moments of delightful humor and brilliant art, while at the same time executing an engaging critical perspective on food and culture. A video entitled “Food as Metaphor,” moderated by Meloche, which includes statements and discussion by the artists, punctuates the exhibitions.

Baxter&’s own contribution, entitled “Baxter&Food,” is a collection of more or less still-life photos of nourishment.  “Iain Baxter as an open face sandwich,” c.1978, is typical of his dadaistic play with art history in which he humorously features himself as both the maker and material of art. Equally the dada irony looms huge in “Still Life with Winter Vista,” 1996, which features a glass patio table laden with a cornucopia of tropical fruit and vegetables, with a classic Lake St. Clair winter landscape in the background. Baxter&’s energetic art prompts thinking about big issues like ecology, food and identity, rather than simply art stuff, yet at the same time his work has a subtle aesthetic valence that is hard to categorize. His “The Primaries,” composed of bottles of ketchup, mustard and blue Gatorade that he classifies as “found objects,” is not only a great commentary on our food culture and its ironic spectacality, but a rather wonderful conceptual sculpture.

Iain Baxter&, “The Primaries,” Found Objects, 2017

Of the six exhibits in The Sandwich Project, the one most provocative to the central issue of our food culture is “Food, Feminism and Kitchen Culture.” Introduced by Rosler’s video, the exhibition sets up a discourse on the landscape of the kitchen as an imprisoning construction of which women are the principle inhabitants.

Cynthia Greig, “Representation no. 29 (toaster), chromogenic print, 20 x 24”

If Rosler’s video sees the objects of the kitchen as an almost violent lexicon of possibilities for the construction of women’s identity —Apron/Women, Bowl/Women, Chopper/Women, Dish/Women — Cynthia Greig’s (Detroit’s best kept secret) manipulated photographs become escapes from the reality of the haptic world into a realm of diagrammatic ghosts, from realism to shadows of the real. In reducing photographs of common objects of the kitchen — toaster, milk cartons, coffee cups, French fry carton — to elemental outlines, they become ideas that hold us captive. These graceful, elegant shapes become enigmatic containers that define and thus limit ­— limitations to being, to exuberance, and diagrams that ultimately beckon language to elucidate and emancipate them.

Each of Greig’s diagrammatic images includes a referent to reality. A diagrammed toaster has images of freshly “toasted” bread popping out of it. The outlined milk carton has “spilled milk” next to it. A French fry carton has French “fried potatoes” sticking out of it. Each photograph posits the philosophical dilemma of what contains and what is contained. Pushed to their logical end, these images become a sort of dictatorial grammar of the kitchen.

Anna Frlan, “Kitchen as Factory [Mixing machine, blending machine,toasting machine]”, Steel, 2017

Complementing Greig’s skeletal works are Anna Frlan’s welded steel replicas of kitchen appliances. Actually, as if taking a hint from Greig’s diagrammatic images, Frlan’s are even more cage-like machines — a toaster oven, a blender, a mixer, a stove, a dishwasher. These drawings made of steel, at the same time as they resemble medieval torture devices, might suggest Piranesi’s images of Roman prisons. They are stunning, sinister signifiers of the role of kitchens in defining identity.

Each of the artists in this section of The Sandwich Project makes a stunning contribution to the discourse on Food, Feminism and Kitchen Culture. Marilyn Minter’s painting from her “Food Porn” series and Carly Erber’s crocheted “Salisbury Steak” make wonderfully opposite statements about women and representation of food. Christiane Pflug’s painting “Kitchen Door with Ursula,” 1966, and Annie Pootoogook’s “Tea Drinkers,” 2001, both reflect subtle personal takes on the complex psychology of kitchen life.

Sandy Skoglund, “Body Limits,” 1992

A related, borrowed exhibition, originating at the Akron Art Museum and curated by Theresa Bembnister, “Snack” is a tour de force of a generous selection of diverse representations of food, featuring Pop artists Andy Warhol, James Rosenquist, Claes Oldenburg and other contemporary artists’ takes on the western recreational activity of food and eating. Sandy Skoglund’s “Body Limits” documents a surreal tableau she created parodying a fashion shoot of two figures dressed in bacon.  French photographer Robert Doisneau’s “L’Innocent,” 1949, captures a typical Parisian gentleman’s existential encounter with his dinner in the window of a restaurant.

Robert Doisneau, “L’Innocent,” B& W Photograph, 1949

The Sandwich Project is no less than a blockbuster of an exhibition, a realization that surpasses expectation.  The fourth part, “Lunch,” collects a wonderful assortment of artifacts and images of the great pastime of noonday culture, including a wall full of school kids’ lunch boxes that in themselves are a history of midcentury pop culture, and a selection of early twentieth-century images from The Henry Ford Museum archives of Detroit cafeterias, diners, and hot dog stands.

Frederick Arthur Verner, “Untitled (River Scene, Sunset”), 1891, watercolour over graphite on paper

Two other exhibitions that bookend The Sandwich Project are AGW’s collection of nineteenth-century watercolors of the Sandwich area by artist Frederick Arthur Verner, and “Food and Film,” which features four short films on the production and distribution of food as a go-between in signifying Canadian identity. One of Verner’s watercolors features the Detroit River-front with typically English village-like architecture of early Windsor (Sandwich) in the foreground, replete with fishing boats, and a nascent Detroit industrial landscape on the far shore. During the nineteenth century, the Detroit River was famous for its astonishing fishing, supplying First Nation people and eventually Windsorites and Detroiters with bounteous whitefish and walleye. Verner’s watercolor thus becomes an ironic commentary on the devolution of food production in the area.

The Sandwich Project is a perfect summertime day trip or even two-day trip, and yields an abundance of food-for-thought about the business, culture, and representation of our relationship with food.  For lunch, Sir Cedric’s Fish and Chips is right around the corner from the Art Gallery of Windsor, reminding us of the Canadian predilection for things British. If, however your tastes are more inclined to American fare, there’s Lafayette Coney Island just across the border.

The Sandwich Project Continues through October 1, 2017

 Art Gallery of Windsor,  401 Riverside Drive West, Windsor, Ontario N9A7J1     519-977-0013

Marie Herwald Hermann @ Reyes/Finn Gallery

Quite like the majority of us, ceramicist Marie Herwald Hermann has been confined to work from home since March last year, and she found inspiration in this unfamiliar circumstance. As the country begins to mend  And the Walls Became the World All Around Us reminds us of the power of art to not only create beauty, but to build community through a greater understanding of humanity.

Taking over the entire single-room space at Reyes / Finn, a fairly new, professional contemporary art gallery in Corktown led by Terese Reyes and Bridget Finn, the markedly colorful installation crafted from clay, wood, silicone, and pigment, comprises over twenty works either in the form of a single object or a combination of several into an arrangement. Having worked with Simone de Sousa Gallery in 2015 and Reyes Projects in 2017 and 2018, among other venues, Copenhagen-born Hermann is no stranger to Detroit as she moved here after graduating from the Royal College of Art in London with an M.A. in Fine Arts in 2009, only to settle into an academic teaching position in ceramics at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2018.

Installation detail of Marie Herwald Hermann, And the Walls Became the World All Around Us, 2021. Photo by Clare Gatto. Courtesy of the artist and Reyes | Finn, Detroit.

The title of Hermann’s vibrant and vivid show, And the Walls Became the World All Around Us, alludes to a 1963 American children’s picture book classic Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak that functions as a meditation on how dreams and the imagination are tied to experiences of confinement, restriction, and trauma. The main character Max, a young boy who is sent crying to his bedroom by his mother after playing recklessly in the house while wearing a wolf suit, envisions a magical journey to an island where he reigns over and dances with terrifying in appearance but playful and sensitive half-reptilian, half-mammilian wild things before returning home. Philosophers in the empiricist tradition believe that we can only imagine things using the materials that we have previously perceived. Since many features of the wild things’ world resemble Max’s actual world, including Max himself, this book, not unlike this exhibition, provides an opportunity to think about whether this empiricist claim is true.

Exceedingly well executed and in pursuit of an overall aesthetic of cohesion, And the Walls Became the World All Around Us features in the very center of the space a long, green display table that cuts diagonally across the rectangular room. The display is reminiscent of the painted still lives of early modern Italian artist Giorgio Morandi known to depict apparently simple domestic objects such as vases, bottles, and bowls with great tonal subtleties, an art historical point of reference acknowledged by the artist.

Installation detail of Marie Herwald Hermann, And the Walls Became the World All Around Us, 2021. Photo by Clare Gatto. Courtesy of the artist and Reyes | Finn, Detroit.

While the green table perfectly matches the color of the tall, vertical wall right behind it, the entire arrangement stands out in shape, color, and process from the surrounding objects, albeit ever so subtly. The table and twenty-three ceramic vases and bowls set atop are, interestingly enough, not listed in the work inventory for the exhibition—a fact this author will return to presently.

Hermann’s installations in general, and this one in particular, deliver a delightful impression of unity between sculptural objects, surrounding walls, and the floor that many visual artists in the twentieth century have been after, including the passion of Minimalist and Postminimalist sculptors in the 1960s for placing objects directly on the floor. In a free-standing tub-shape of sorts, Untitled (Blue and Yellow), floor, wall, and object enter into a pleasing aesthetic unity with sutle variations in hue, texture, and material make-up.

Marie Herwald Hermann, Untitled (Blue and Yellow), 2021 Stoneware and maple wood, 9.5 x 40.5 x 11.5 in. Photo by Clare Gatto. Courtesy of the artist and Reyes | Finn, Detroit.

As the human eye moves through the space from one field of vision to another, changing permutational differences in shape, color, and texture create a dynamic experience while preserving cohesion. As such Hermann operates with the logic of a visual artist who conceives of ceramic objects as entities that cannot be unbound from the coordinates of space-time perception. The many references that occur in her work to the history and practice of visual artists build a fruitful bridge between ceramics, sculpture, and painting. Color conceived of as a field, and this is something abstract painters explore, promotes sculptural integration between wall and objects. An exploration of the impact of color on human perception introduces a new avenue of pursuit for the artist.

Marie Herwald Hermann, and the silence returned, 2021 Porcelain and stoneware, 15.5 x 16.5 x 7.5 in Photo by Clare Gatto. Courtesy of the artist and Reyes | Finn, Detroit.

In the bright yellow and pink arrangement and the silence returned, it becomes especially apparent that color holds power over feelings. The base color yellow has a strong orange tint that heightens its chromatic intensity. While the wall and shelf are painted in the same color, the cup and bulb-like object with its pointy tip appear in a somewhat lighter tone. Both hues enter into a pleasing resonance of barely perceptible difference with the light pink of the long rod and roundish saucer-like plate. Fashioning her signature wall shelves, and not just the objects supported by it, out of clay and in matching colors speaks to an artistic desire for integration as an aesthetic concern often accompanied by an intellectual desire for a more wholistic approach to life in general. In an unpublished artist talk in 2020, she states that objects “on their own they are un-significant,” only in a group will the object achieve “significance.”

Returning to the green table arrangement, Hermann acts yet again more directly like a painter when color pigments are brushed onto the vessels and protected by a transparent seal that acts like a varnish. By extension, the surrounding works appear in different colors and feature different shapes in porcelain and stoneware, two harder variants of clay fired at high temperatures. We cannot talk about ceramic objects without talking about texture and tactility. Despite the artist’s programmatic refusal to leave expressive finger marks on her ceramic objects, process is paramount to her work.

Throwing clay onto a wheel, the artist confesses to this author, is a purely automatic routine at this stage of her career, just like riding a bicycle, and there is an innate beauty to it. The “thinking body,” Hermann notes, can do “things” during the process of throwing. What we commonly but somewhat misleadingly might refer to as muscle memory (muscles cannot have memory only the brain does), scientists have termed a form of procedural memory that allows us to do certain tasks without thinking about them. In this sense, the ceramic vessels on the green table function as props for human experience. They stand for the thoughts and feelings that occurred during the physical task of throwing. A byproduct of the working process, rather than an end product, they are not for sale.

Memories play an important role in the work of Hermann in general. There is much that researchers do not understand about human memory and how it operates. Some suggest that instead of different, distinct types of memory, it operates in successive stages anchored in sensory memory, short-term and long-term memory occur. Sensory memories committed to explicit or episodic long-term storage in the form of autobiographical events repeatedly surface in her installations. The vibrant wall colors in And the Walls Became the World All Around Us are inspired by childhood memories of visiting the classical art collection of the Thorvaldson Museum in Copenhagen with her architect-parents. The clash between three-dimensional Greek and Roman marble sculptures offset against bright yellow, blue, or red backdrops gives way here to an aesthetic of integration and fluidity instead of contrast.

In addition to yellow and green, blue is the third dominant color in this installation.

Installation detail of Marie Herwald Hermann, And the Walls Became the World All Around Us, 2021. Photo by Clare Gatto. Courtesy of the artist and Reyes | Finn, Detroit.

Interestingly, as memory studies emphasizes, yellow and blue are colors in our semantic memory that represent nature in language. We note that the “sun is yellow” or that the “sky is blue,” even though, in scientific terms, this is not accurate. The sky only appears to be blue as light and air contain the full spectrum of color and the sun is not a yellow planet nor is the light that it emits yellow.

Many types of shapes occur in the show: circles, rings, elongated ovals, needles, cups without handles, bowls etc. Some of the objects cary strong associations with kitchen utensils or plumbing fixtures such as towel rings evoking ideas of cleanliness, beautification, and the labor of washing, while others remain entirely abstract. At any rate, tentative links with elements of the domestic realm attributed to women emerge. This holds especially true for Double.

Marie Herwald Hermann, Double, 2021 Oakwood and silicone, 47 x 9 x 1 in. Photo by Clare Gatto. Courtesy of the artist and Reyes | Finn, Detroit.

Fashioned in oakwood, the irregular oval frame is reminiscent of a mirror in form and name. Double reminds us that a mirror image is a reflected duplication by means of light that only appears to be identical. Setting malleable materials such as latex, resin, or now silicone, alongside hard and durable stoneware and porcelain, allows for time and process to enter the work as silicone changes when it ages. That silicone is a material employed in kitchens and bathrooms, as well as in breast implants, as the artist reminded this author, expands on the larger theme of the work as a poetic meditation on everyday life.

“I like titles with hints at something romantic and beautiful, but also titles that withdraw in the end, and have a tone of sadness and melancholia,” Hermann revealed in a public interview with Glenn Adamson at Simone de Sousa Gallery in 2015. Reading the exhibition title And the Walls Became the World All Around Us in conjunction with the work titles reads like a nature poem: “whispers in passing, us, double, in passing me, in passing, you, three clouds, green as the woods I miss, and we watched, and the silence returned.” Like in a poem, meaning emerges by allusive references that are more or less present one moment, only to evaporate in the next.

To make ceramic sculpture speak to us in the manner of poetry, and with the intense visual satisfaction of radiant colors, interesting shapes and vivid textures, certainly feels like a tremendous artistic accomplishment. Anchored in the personal but speaking to the universal, Hermann’s walls advocate an integration of nature and culture, of work life and domestic life, of the visual and the textual, the sculptural and the pictorial.

Marie Herwald Hermann’s exhibition: And the Walls Became the World All Around Us at the Reyes/Finn Gallery through June 26, 2021.

 

 

Carrie Moyer and Anke Weyer @ David Klein Gallery

Installation image, Carrie Moyer and Anke Weyer, David Klein Gallery image courtesy of Samantha Bankle Schefman.

We live in an age of attention deficit disorder. Recent studies have shown the average amount of time that the art museum visitor looks at an artwork ranges from 15 to thirty seconds, long enough for a selfie to document that we are in the same room, if not in the same headspace. And by perverse incentive, much of what is produced and shown in contemporary art galleries seems calculated to fit within that narrow band of time and attention.

The two contemporary abstract painters, Carrie Moyer and Anke Weyer, now showing their work at David Klein Gallery until June 26, defy our ever-shortening attention span. Their smart, dense, idiosyncratic paintings ask–or require–that we pay attention.

Carrie Moyer

Spider Song, Carrie Moyer, 2018, acrylic and glitter on canvas, 72” x 84” photo courtesy of D.C. Moore Gallery and David Klein Gallery

 In a 2016 interview for Hyperallergic, Carrie Moyer recalls her midwestern childhood: “I was born in Detroit, where my family has longstanding roots. My grandfather was a policeman during the Detroit riots in the 1960s.” Moyer remembers visiting the Detroit institute of Arts with her mother, where she saw Diego Rivera’s murals. After a serious car accident during her first year of college in Bennington, Vermont, she moved to New York where she studied painting at Pratt Institute. After art school, Moyer found work as a freelance graphic artist, and in 1991 used her graphic expertise to create, in partnership with photographer Sue Schaffner, one of the earliest feminist public art projects, Dyke Action Machine! After graduate school at Bard, she turned to abstract painting, though her graphic art experience continued to influence her work.

Conflagration with Bangs, Carrie Moyer, 2015, acrylic and glitter on canvas, 72” x 84” photo courtesy of D.C. Moore Gallery and David Klein Gallery

Moyers’ picture-making incorporates methods employed by earlier abstract artists: the wonky referentiality of Elizabeth Murray, the diaphanous chromatic veils of Helen Frankenthaler, the cosmic frontality of Kenneth Noland. From these disparate–and one might say contradictory–elements, she synthesizes a formal vocabulary appropriate to the internet age. Her paintings refer to methods particular to traditions of abstract expressionism, while addressing the contemporary culture of the internet, the ubiquity of screens and video games.

For Moyer, the conceptual and formal originality in a work of art is its most important quality. Each painting is grounded in art history but adds to it the images and qualities that make us see and think about the world now in new ways. Of her work she says:  ”I like to have illusionistic space and flatness in the same painting. Somehow this goes back to working as a designer in the advent of the desktop computer… I’m not so interested in a virtuosic brush mark, I’m more interested in setting up this relationship between atmospheric color and these hard-edge flat shapes.”

The Green Lantern, Carrie Moyer, 2015, acrylic and glitter on canvas, 72” x 60” photo courtesy of D.C. Moore Gallery and David Klein Gallery

Moyer’s canvases tend to the monumental and suggest mysterious, fugitive spaces between the real and the virtual.  The three large paintings installed now in the gallery invite the viewer to fall into an alien world. Spider Swag nicely illustrates the artist’s strategy, which juxtaposes sharp-edged green and black icons painted with matte Flashe floating on the surface of the picture plane, in front of hazy, translucent washes of acrylic color–and occasional glitter–deeper within the pictorial space. The just-barely-referential eight-legged figure on the right skitters up the side of the painting, defying the implied gravity of the magenta-skied world.

The light comic edge of Spider Swag is characteristic of Conflagration with Bangs as well. A curvy red shape undulates behind a chartreuse proscenium–if a painting can dance, that’s what this one does. And in The Green Lantern, Moyer once again sets up a portal through which we can see a mysterious, incandescent figure.

In a 2016 Interview, Moyer describes the improvisational nature of her creative process:

 I feel like if I am too formulaic about it, then I lose interest. If I can imagine the painting before I paint it, it’s not going to be an interesting painting. I need to figure it out as I am making it and be surprised by it. It would become too illustrative to me, because I am making these material discoveries every time I am making a painting. Things I didn’t know the paint can do. That requires having a lot of room for surprises and moments where I am not sure what is going to happen.

 

Anke Weyer

Still I’m Blue, Anke Weyer, 2021, oil and acrylic on canvas, 58.5” x 74.25” photo courtesy of Canada New York and David Klein Gallery

Although Anke Weyer makes use of some of the same art historical antecedents and improvisational techniques as Carrie Moyer, her paintings project a distinctly different mood–energetic, inventive, a little angsty.  The New York-based, German painter has describedpainting as a form of “constant crisis management.” In a recent interview she adds “I can’t stand it when a painting looks as if it’s just a pastime. It is serious work and comes loaded with so much history and responsibility, which is what makes it so interesting.”

She considers her paintings to be a record of the creative process within the artwork:  an intuitive series of marks and shapes that describe the visual and emotional content of her conversation with the painting.  Each artwork is the record of a dialog that the painter engages with on the canvas. It is an inherently hermetic process. “Of course I cannot explain all my choices; most of them are made while painting, and there is no explanation for them other than the painting itself.”

Invocation, Anke Weyer, 2021, oil and acrylic on canvas, 81.5” x 60.25” photo courtesy of Canada New York and David Klein Gallery

Her painting Still I’m Blue, illustrates some of the hallmarks of her art practice.  The substance of the paint applied to the canvas leaves little room for illusionistic space.  Exuberant strokes and shapes in vibrant colors circle the canvas in a vortex of chromatic energy. Weyer acts upon the painting as if it is a body upon which she adds layer upon layer of mark and gesture. In Invocation, the painter’s brush moves restlessly around the perimeter of the canvas leaving dark blue dots; an ominous, snaky red line slithers up the right side of the painting and the anxious yellow center is punctuated by restless white streaks. Each of Weyer’s paintings documents her perilous creative travels. She is a painterly Icarus occupying the risky space between falling and flying.

While Weyer does not claim to be continuing the tradition of Abstract Expressionism, she is cognizant of the historical underpinnings of her work.  She describes her art-making practice as one of constant, highly instinctive editing, a slow process requiring time and contemplation.  Like personal notes, all thoughts or traces of thoughts are allowed to play out on the canvas.

What is fascinating about both these painters, and what gives them a kind of constantly regenerative liveliness is the reflective mental consideration they require from the viewer. We must parse, meditate–marvel–at the infinite number of decisions they continuously make on the road to a finished work. We want, and get, from these painters a kind of freshness built upon the foundations of modern art history, but speaking specifically and genuinely to our moment.

Carrie Moyer and Anke Weyer,  artists work at David Klein Gallery until June 26, 2021

 

Story Word Sound Sway @ Stamps Gallery

Wes Taylor (BFA ’04), Ann Arbor Undercommons, 2020, Installation detail. Lead Archivist Jamall Bufford with assistance from Athletic Mic League. Photo: Nick Beardslee

The MFA’s and BFA’s produced each year by the nation’s academic art programs far exceed the ability of the art establishment–fine art galleries, museums, collectors and the like–to absorb them. What happens to all those aspiring and hopeful young creatives upon graduation?  How do contemporary artists pay rent and continue to work in a world that doesn’t reliably support them financially?  The exhibit Story Word Sound Sway, at the Stamps Gallery from now until February 28, provides a provocative answer of sorts.

Their creative paths as artists are as varied as the individuals–all graduates of the Penny Stamps School of Art and Design–now showing their work in the gallery. Contributions range from highly personal performance-based videos to political activism to graphics to object/image making. Many of the artworks in the gallery represent ongoing projects intended to engage multiple audiences at varying levels of sophistication and in diverse settings, all the while answering in real time the question of how contemporary artists continue to exist and even thrive.

The show, co-curated by Jennifer Junkermeier-Khan and Moteniola Ogundipe, allocates an outsize role to performance-related materials. I counted nearly a dozen time-based artworks, which collectively run to more than 90 minutes, throughout the show. This abundance of content made it challenging–okay, impossible–to experience all of them during the limited time of 25 minutes it was recommended that viewers be in the gallery during the pandemic. (To be fair, some–though not all–of the videos can be viewed online )

One of the most viscerally compelling entries in Story Word Sound Sway is Survivors Among Us, by Elshafei Dafalla (MFA ’08), an ongoing sound installation. It’s a disturbingly evocative description of physical and psychological torture that succeeds by moving the audience one step back from the experience. The first-person, anonymized interviews are both matter-of fact and chilling; the subjects baldly recount their experience without histrionics. They are unnamed, the locales also unknown.  What remains is the sense that capricious yet systematic, politically motivated cruelty can occur anywhere, to anyone.   It seems almost obscene to describe the formal qualities of the piece given the horrific nature of the subject.  Appropriately, Survivors Among Us can be experienced only in the gallery and is not available for online listening.

Elizabeth Youngblood (BFA ’73), Cone + Chartreuse, 2020, graphite on paper, 20” x 22” photo: K.A. Letts

In the case of Elizabeth Youngblood (BFA ‘73), the process of art-making takes on the character of ritual, a theme that runs just under the surface in the work of several artists in Story Word Sound Sway. Youngblood employs humble materials–aluminum paint from the hardware store, simple pen and paper, in her incremental journey toward transcendence.  Through her use of chance processes and repetition, the artist weaves a statement that is both private and universal.

Yvette Rock, Community Conversations, Kahtara and Dwan, 2016-2020, mixed media fiber, 18” x 12” x 2.5” Photo: Nick Beardslee.

Yvette (MFA ’99) Rock’s re-patched fiber pieces are visual metaphors for the spiritual process of healing–her carefully constructed fabric bands in Community Conversations illustrate the laborious one-on-one process of piecing back together the torn social fabric of Detroit.  In addition, Rock contributes a video of an accompanying performance set in the Brightmoor neighborhood of Detroit demonstrating her ongoing commitment to the restoration of her community.

Two videos, What the Tide Brought In by Carisa Bledsoe (BFA Interarts ’14) and Sift Shift Swoosh Bods by Levester Williams (BFA ‘13) continue the inward-directed spiritual strands of Story Word Sound Sway in narrative form. Both are hermetic performances that cast the spectator as bemused observer of  enigmatic private mysteries.

Perhaps the most clearly community-facing work in Story Word Sound Sway is Schroeder (BFA ‘76) Cherry’s installation employing rod puppets the artist uses to reach out to a broad audience with public service messages both humorous and colloquial. His puppets have performed in museums, libraries, and cultural centers for adults and children across the U.S. in productions such as The Civil Rights Children’s CrusadeCan You Spell Harlem?, and Underground Railroad, Not A Subway. The main character in this particular installation is Khordell, whose casual instructions to and from his fellow puppets include reminders to wear a mask, to not drink disinfectant and to register to vote–all good advice.

Schroeder Cherry, Dallas Dan, 1992, digital print, 11” x 17” photo: Schroeder Cherry

A room-sized display of ephemera from the Ann Arbor Undercommons, collected by Wes Taylor (BFA ’04), provides extensive documentation of a performance-based collective of Ann Arbor students of color from Huron High School. Dated from 1993 to the present, the materials record the underground hip-hop scene in Ann Arbor, particularly the ongoing activities of the Athletic Mic League. The artists hope that this exhibition will serve as a catalyst to get the process started toward a final documentary product that remains to be defined.

Other event-related installations, like The Collab by Caleb Moss (BFA ’13) speak specifically to the artist’s ongoing involvement in his Detroit community. As community activist and graphic designer, Moss’s entries consist of video documenting community cultural events intended to raise funds for scholarships, and a display of way-finding graphics for The Detroit Department of Transportation. Moss explains,  “My work with The Collab has allowed my friends and me to give back to Detroit Public School students while utilizing our varying skills. “The Connection” (our staple event) is a night of art, music, and fellowship that highlights the many talents of local Detroit artists.” The diversity of his work illustrates the multiple routes by which art–and artists–can find a way into the cultural ecosystem of a city.

Caleb Moss, The Collab, 2020, Installation detail, poster. Photo: K.A. Letts

The curators describe Story Word Sound Sway as “research-driven and collaborative… a document and documentation… an analysis, a celebration, a critique.” Co-Curator Jennifer Junkmeier-Khan goes on, “The artists tell stories, use words, create and transmit sounds; physically sway in their work and sway “us” with their ideas.”   In the process they have also illustrated a more private and often unseen struggle by artists to contribute to their environment while managing to live a creative life in the arts. They are part of a cultural community that, like dark matter, is invisible but essential.

Artists in Story Word Sound Sway: Carisa Bledsoe (BFA Interarts ’14), Schroeder Cherry (BFA ’76), Elshafei Dafalla (MFA ’08), Masimba Hwati (MFA ’19), Caleb Moss (BFA ’13), Senghor Reid (BFA ’99), Valencia Robin (MFA ’08), Yvette Rock (MFA ’99), Wes Taylor (BFA ’04), Levester Williams (BFA ’13), and Elizabeth Youngblood (BFA ’73)

Penny Stamps Gallery is open during limited hours to holders of the MCard. For more information go here.

This review is re-printed with permission from the Ann Arbor District Library’s online culture magazine Pulp. (Editor: Christopher Porter)