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

Dorota & Steve Coy, and Adrian Wong @ Wasserman Projects

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alternative Testimony @ David Klein Gallery

Install Image, Alternative Testimony, Image Courtesy of David Klein Gallery

Alternative Testimony, a group show at David Klein Gallery that is part chemistry experiment, part art historical tour of photographic processes, features the work of four artists who have slipped the tether  binding conventional photography  to representation. They proceed to spin the medium off into new and unexplored territory where the resulting abstract images challenge established notions about the function and purpose of photography.

Untitled: 3/23/2016, 8:15 a.m., by Cyrus Karimipour, archival pigment print, 44” x 44” (ed.1/5, 2 ap) All photos are courtesy of David Klein Gallery

Cyrus Karimipour’s hazy pastel vistas are barely-there evocations of images recorded by trail cameras. He placed them on his remote Michigan property, where they documented trespassers over the course of several years.  At first, he viewed the hikers as unwelcome interlopers, but Karimipour came to accept them as a part of the natural wildlife on his land and as a resource for his work.   “I used to dread finding people on the cameras, but now I rely on their presence,“ he says.

Karimipour combines contact printing, a photographic technique popular in the 1890’s, with contemporary inkjet materials to create a kind of process art. His method depends on the serendipitous interaction of built-up pigment on low adhesion film, which is then applied to a more absorptive surface. The pigment immediately dries and bonds the films to each other. The effect, which is evident in Untitled, 03/23/2016, 8:15 a.m.  is somewhat map-adjacent, like traditional Asian charts that render the view in forced perspective from a high, almost aerial, angle.  Much of the visual incident in each picture  comes from the bubble-like spherical puddles distributed throughout the composition.  The ghostly result is a little reminiscent of video static, through which, occasionally, one can detect trees, humans and the like, purely coincidental remnants of the artist’s time-based exploration of the landscape.

On the opposite gallery wall from Karimipour, dimensional collages by Aspen Mays document her long and complicated relationship with the weather–specifically, her recollections of Hurricane Hugo. The category 4 storm devastated her hometown of Charleston SC in 1989 and provided the inspiration for her Hugo Series.  Many of the elements in these assemblages recall her youthful memories of the storm, although the artist freely admits they may be genuine recollections or merely media images that have infiltrated her reminiscence. She recalls with particular interest the ritualistic taping of windows in preparation for the storm, an activity that she describes as more shamanistic than practical.

Hugo 23, by Aspen Mays, 2019, gelatin silverprint, photo gram, blue sintra, 26.5” x 22.5”, unique

Hugo 20, by Aspen Mays, 2019, gelatin silverprint, photogram, grey sintra, 26.5” x 22.5”, unique

In the artworks themselves, grids and x-es of masking tape, starburst shapes and free-form fragments generate exuberant architectonic compositions.  The layered gelatin prints of photograms on rag paper, cut up and reassembled on colorful sintra backing, are curiously cheerful and appealingly tactile. Mays describes the colors as derived from the alert codes used on weather maps to indicate violent weather patterns, but her palette projects a child-like optimism at odds with apprehensions of disaster.

With her cyanotype prints, west coast-based photographer Meghann Riepenhoff engages directly with the natural environment and, in particular, with the dynamic temporal features of her watery surroundings– rain, snow and ice, wind and waves. Cyanotype, a photographic process that will be familiar to many from childhood craft projects, is the fairly primitive technique that the artist employs to brilliant effect in her program to directly record fugitive natural phenomena.  She says, “Each cyanotype is like a fingerprint of a place, a hyper-literal, sometimes three-dimensional photographic record of specific cumulative circumstances.” Her cyanotype Ecotone #163 exemplifies the specificity of her vision: it is a physical record of snow, rain and melting ice on a draped construction barrier in front of a New York City gallery. The rich shades of blue in these visual records of natural phenomena develop over 48 hours and continue to respond over time to local conditions.

Ecotone #163 (parking space in front of Yossi Milo Gallery, New York City, 3/14/17, snow rain, melting ice draped on construction barrier), by Meghann Riepenhoff, dynamic cyanotype, 19” x 24”, unique

Ecotone #287 (Pier 4 beach, Brooklyn, New York, 12/17/17, melting snow under shelf ice), by Meghann Riepenhoff, dynamic cyanotype, 19” x 24”, unique

Of the four artists in Alternative Testimony,  Brittany Nelson seems to be the most militantly committed to discarding  photography’s traditional preoccupation with the surface appearance of things and places. Instead, she engages in an experimental exploration of the medium’s chemical essence.

The two (very large) works by Nelson in Alternative Testimony depend for their visual charge on arcane and caustic 19th  century processes. Mordencage 5 employs a hybrid procedure that starts with the eponymous mordencage, a translucent veiling, draping effect caused by the chemical reaction of acid with the silver content of gelatin paper.  The resulting (very small) print has been digitally enlarged to highlight the diaphanous striations.

Mordencage 5 – 2020, by Brittany Nelson, c-print, 72” x 72”, (ed.1, 2 ap)

It is a little ironic that the only image in Alternative Testimony that can be described as a standard landscape has been produced by Nelson, who most categorically denies the relevance of the pictorial in contemporary photography.  The scene, though, is hardly mundane–in fact it is other-worldly in the most literal sense–a 4 ft. x 6 ft. bromoil print of a Martian landscape from the NASA archives, the largest of its kind ever produced. (bromoil, popular in the early 20th century, is created when a silver gelatin print is bleached and then soaked in water and coated with oil-based ink.)

Tracks 2 – 2019, by Brittany Nelson, bromoil print, 48” x 72”, unique

Each of the four artists in Alternative Testimony can claim a unique art practice, but what they share is unfettered curiosity and a willingness to experiment with alternative photographic processes in unique ways—in combination with contemporary tools— to achieve their formal goals. By avoiding the merely representational, they have found a new and deeper reality at the intersection of science and art, observation and expression.

The Alternative Testimony at the Midtown  David Klein Gallery will be up through March 28, 2020

Reflecting Pool @ Wasserman Projects

Installation, Reflecting Pool, Wasserman Projects, 2020 Installation image courtesy of DAR, All other images courtesy of Wasserman Projects. Photo credit PD Rearcik.

There’s a lot to look at and to like in Reflecting Pool, on view until February 22 at Wasserman Projects.  A roster of seven artists, some well-known in Detroit–and some not-so-much–offer up objects and pictures featuring the gallery’s typical conceptual rigor leavened with some welcome visual pleasures.

Esther Shalev-Gerz occupies the far end of the gallery and seems like an old friend returning to the site of her ambitious 2016 installation Space Between Time.  The three archival pigment prints from that show are part of her series The Open Page, a project she executed in collaboration with the Toronto Public Library. They show the disembodied hands and forearms of librarians holding their favorite rare books, and stand up quite well as individual artworks independent of the elaborate intellectual super-structure of her larger works.

The Viviparous Quadripeds of North America by Esther Shalev-Gerz, 2009, archival pigment print, 20.5” x 27.25”

Adjacent to the photographs by Shalev-Gertz, Graem Whyte’s eccentric objects feature his characteristic up cycling and transformation of the substance to the city in the service of his own unconventional vision. In Reflecting Pool, he recycles not only found objects but elements of art history. His Expansion looks like the offspring of a loving relationship between Brancusi and Giacometti, and as part of the same ad hoc installation, a cast aluminum mirror-with-eyeholes entitled The Other Side channels a surrealist-derived object of no known origin. In the same grouping, a cast bronze rubber chicken holds within itself a geode, both a visual joke and a beautiful absurdity.

Oddly Familiar installation by Graem Whyte, featuring Of Natural Forces – 2020, bronze, tourmaline, urethane, 22” x 7” x 3”; The Other Side – 2020, cast aluminum, flocking, found frame, 30” x 24” x 2”; Expansion – 2018, walnut, 96” x 3” x 3”; Matter of Scale – 2020, cast bronze, plants, soil, 14” x 23” x 13.5

Painter Jacob Feige’s work takes up a lot of space, literally and figuratively in Reflecting Pool. Two small paintings, five free-standing, two-sided pictures and a large diptych reveal him to be an agnostic who wants to believe in painting. He makes his clearest argument in Iconostasis I and II. (The iconostasis is a screen of icons separating the nave from the sanctuary in a church, the common from the transcendent, the everyday from the extraordinary.)  Feige paints and repeats a variety of images on these two large panels –byzantine draperies, ovoid onion-like forms–and onions–traditional icon-style hands and eyes. There is even what looks like a re-cycled painting of a modern mother and child, cut up and applied piecemeal. Thick slabs of paint, split and attached to the surface of the multi-paneled artwork, allow a glimpse of the illusive space behind the picture plane, where miracles are possible.

Iconostasis I and II by Jacob Feige, 2019, oil and acrylic on canvas, 40” x 54” each

Matthew Hansel’s technically accomplished compositions mine varying historical styles of painting in a kind of pastiche that sometimes tries too hard to impress and not hard enough to connect (though it might appeal to a viewer with a puzzle-solving mind and an interest in the history of art.) However,  Let There Not Be a Heart as Mine and Show me the Way to Go Home  reveal what can happen when the artist gets out of the way of his own virtuosity.  The latter, in particular, is a revelation, and well worth a trip to Wasserman Projects on its own merits.  Multiple renderings of diminutive china reproductions of Jacques-Louis David’s grandiose Napoleon Crossing the Alps fly across the canvas, propelled by unseen gales. The contrast between the trivial porcelain figures against the sinister grandeur of the stormy seascape aptly puts humanity in its place.

Show Me the Way to Go Home by Matthew Hansel, 2019, oil on flashe on linen, 44” x 76”

Jason DeMarte knows that we are conditioned to accept photographs as “real” and he has engaged in an elaborate ruse to use our unwary acceptance to subvert those expectations in the service of a larger vision. He painstakingly collages together individual images–birds, flowers, vegetation–into plausible idyllic natural scenes; we only gradually become aware of interpolated human-made elements. Each  landscape hides a narrative of man-made intervention in plain sight. They are deep fakes in the service of deep truth: that the untouched natural world is irrevocably lost.  In this Anthropocene age the only question remaining  is how we will manage the interaction of nature with human technology.

After the Deluge by Jason DeMarte, 2018, photo assemblage, pigmented ink print, 48” x 72” (ed. 1 / 2)

Twenty-six ceramic masks by Efe Bes, an artist best known for his performance on African drums, and four found object collages cast in resin by Virginia Rose Torrence round out the installation.

6. Untitled 1-26 by Efe Bes, 2020, acrylic on stoneware, 7.5” x 3” (approx.)

Reflecting Pool, in its totality, contemplates nature and art history, the power of images, the pleasures and perils of technology. The classical and traditional techniques and themes employed by the artists are reflected through a contemporary lens, literally and metaphorically mirroring aspects of the past while serving as a window to the future.

Untitled (Y) by Virginia Rose Torrence, 2019, found objects in resin, 39” x 38”

 

Reflecting Pool at Wasserman Projects through February 22, 2020