Michael Luchs @ Simone DeSousa Gallery

Simone DeSousa opens Michael Luchs work On The Fly Online

Installation of Michael Luchs On the Fly, new paintings, All images Courtesy of Simone DeSousa Gallery

We live in interesting times. The corona virus pandemic not only dictates whether we go out to eat or meet friends, it also dictates when we will again be able to see artworks in person. On the Fly, a solo show of new paintings by Michael Luchs, will be at Simone DeSousa Gallery until July 30, but the gallery is temporarily closed. One hopes that the space will re-open before that date. Once the world is up and running again, this exhibit should be on everyone’s list of Detroit’s must-see art events. In the meantime, here’s a brief overview of the work, with images, and some thoughts about viewing–and reviewing–online shows during the current stay-at-home regime.

Michael Luchs, art shaman, painter of signs and symbols and prominent member of the Cass Corridor Movement from the 1960’s and 70’s, remains relevant to Detroit’s contemporary art scene into his 80’s, with a new collection of 19 archetypal paintings  that repeat, amplify and refine his preoccupation with mapping the relationship between the material and the spiritual.

Michael Luchs, Installation, Three Rabbits, 2019, acrylic , mixed paint on paper, each 26” x 40”

The artist’s famous reluctance to talk about his work appears to extend to attaching titles to his images. Every piece in the show is listed as Untitled, with bald sub-headings in parentheses referencing the totemic creatures in each of the paintings–squirrels and guns, rabbit, bird head and fish.  Dates are given (most of the work is recent, from 2019-2020) but the order in which the paintings were produced is not. He might be proclaiming the status of these artworks as platonic forms that exist in the now, outside of time, enduring and immutable.  Or maybe he just resents the prosaic art world requirement that words must be attached to images, interfering with their metaphysical aura.

The paintings in On the Fly are relatively moderate in size, yet manage to convey monumentality with their oversize renderings of the prey animals that populate Luchs’s symbolic world. The artist’s relationship with the ground that he paints on is fraught–he seems determined to aggressively interact with the paper, canvas or panel, stretching, folding, piercing, scratching. With his extensive visual vocabulary of marks and brush strokes, he builds up a tremulous matrix that expresses the essence of the singular totemic animal in each painting.

Michael Luchs, Untitled (Rabbit), 2019, acrylic mixed paints on paper, 26” x 40”

The rabbit appears most often in Luchs’s paintings–there are nine in On the Fly. Lyrical isn’t a term usually applied to his work, but the three sphinx -like acrylic rabbit paintings on paper, stacked one over the other on the gallery’s wall, qualify.  Joyful and exuberant, the red, aqua and yellow palette oscillates satisfyingly with the white of the paper. Bold black brush strokes and jittery marks punctuate and leaven the sweetness of the colors. This is intuitive painting at its best.

Michael Luchs, Untitled (Bird Head), 1999, acrylic, mixed paints, marker on panel, 43” x 29”

Five other rabbit paintings evoke a more ominous mood. Most are aggressively punctured, and their predominantly red color is less vibrant than anxious. Rays of energy or light or some other mysterious life force extend from some of the images, and in a couple of them, a faint intimation of the fish from another set of paintings seems to have slipped into the composition.  From anxiety we progress to full foreboding in the series of three confrontational birds’ heads. These perforated shapes want very badly to be icons, their round skulls reminiscent of halos. They awkwardly inhabit the picture plane with troubling voids in the lower right and left corners of the compositions.

Luchs’s paintings of fish, (and his two older paintings of squirrels and guns) depend less on single fetishistic signs, and more on the subtle interaction of competing symbols.  In the case of the fish paintings, the circular marks referencing rudimentary clocks or wheels vie for dominance with the barely recognizable fish that swims, literally, around. The linear rings, sometimes accompanied by cryptic letters and numbers, propel energies suggesting the cyclical nature of time.

Michael Luchs, Untitled (Fish), 2020, acrylic, mixed paints on canvas, 24” x 36”

It’s very, very hard to make a good painting, and many artists never find their way forward.  One of the cherished rewards of long experience for a  favored few  is their ever-increasing ability to get it right most of the time.  Michael Luchs is one of that lucky and dedicated number. It’s a particularly cruel irony that the paintings in On the Fly, which depend upon visceral physicality for their psychic charge, can only be seen right now at one remove, in cyberspace.

Michael Lukes, Untitled (Squirrels and Guns) 1989, acrylic , mixed paints on paper, mounted on canvas 49” x 33″

Although the gallery is currently closed because of the pandemic, it’s possible that the restrictions on social interaction will be lifted before the closing date on July 30. In the meantime, I am finding that all online exhibitions are not created equal; fortunately, the images on Artsy for On the Fly are quite high resolution, and about as good as any available on the internet. You can view excellent images of the paintings in the exhibit here.

Michael Luchs   On the Fly   April 11 – July 30, 2020   Simone DeSousa Gallery

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 

 

 

 

Winter @ Cranbrook Art Museum: Craft Takes a Bow

Untitled II (for Ashgebat) by Christy Matson, 2016-2019, hand-woven cotton, linen, wool, indigo dye and acrylic on stretched canvas.

Contemporary craft is having a moment. The Museum of Modern Art in New York City recently placed ceramics by George Ohr next to Van Gogh’s Starry Night in their re-installed galleries. Taking a Thread for a Walk, an exhibit that celebrates weaving and fiber art in all its forms, both ancient and modern, will be on view there until April, 2020. Meanwhile, over at the Whitney, there’s a comprehensive survey of modern and contemporary American craft from 1950-2019, called Making/Knowing: Craft in Art.

Members of the Cranbrook arts community might be forgiven for asking what took so long; since its founding in 1922, Cranbrook has been a champion for American craft traditions. The museum seems to be taking a victory lap for its prescience right now:  4 exhibits on view through March carry the vision of craft as art forward while also looking back at important moments of its history, in Detroit and beyond.

Wireworks by Ruth Adler Schnee, 1950, ink on white dreamspun batiste

Ruth Adler Schnee: Modern Designs for Living

A major retrospective (her first) of eminent Detroit textile and interior designer Ruth Adler Schnee occupies the museum’s front gallery. Adler Schnee’s family fled Nazi German in 1939, settling in Detroit, where she attended Cass Technical High School. After earning a degree in design at the Rhode Island School of Design, Adler Schnee returned to Detroit to study architecture with Eliel Saarinen at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, graduating in 1946. She faced obstacles as a woman to a career in the male-dominated field of architecture, but immediately found success in textile design. Her memorable modernist cotton prints are on display and will be immediately familiar to anyone who feels an affinity for the recently resurgent interest in midcentury modern design.

Ruth Adler Schnee made it her mission to democratize good design for the post-war mass American market. “We are living in a democracy. Our designs for living must have social implications,” she states in her Cranbrook master’s thesis.    She worked extensively as an interior designer and textile designer with architects like Minoru Yamasaki, Frank Lloyd Wright and Eero Saarinen, as well as operating (for 30 years with her husband Eddie) Adler Schnee Associates, a retail design business in Detroit. She also worked with American car companies; for an amusing look at their symbiotic relationship and a historic overview of the importance of Detroit as a driver of design in the 50’s and 60’s you can view American Look, a 1958 promotional film sponsored by Chevrolet.

At 96, Adler Schnee continues to be a relevant force in textile design today through adaptation of her classic printed textile designs into woven fabrics and carpet design. Examples of both are on display in the gallery.

Designs Worth Repeating, Woven Textiles by Ruth Adler Schnee. Woven fabrics based on Adler Schnee’s mid-century modern prints, re-introduced for the 21st century.

Christy Matson: Crossings

Contemporary L.A. fiber artist Christy Matson is a multi-disciplinary shape shifter whose work occupies an esthetic space at the intersection of painting, weaving and collage.  Employing digital technology and a jacquard loom, Matson expands the formal parameters of weaving. She creates tapestries that incorporate organic curving lines and shapes unavailable via more traditional techniques and employs novel fibers and pigments added to traditional yarns and threads. The results are fiber artworks that have been aptly described as “painterly.”

Crossings, a solo exhibit of her work currently on view at the museum, consists of two large tapestries realized as a commission for the U.S. Embassy in Ashgebat, Turkmenistan, as well as several smaller, more intimate pieces that allow a welcome closer look at Matson’s technical means.

Matson has an expressed interest in the symbolism and the technical realization of traditional Turkmen textiles, as well as a kinship with the women who make them. The traditional costumes of Turkmenistan are deeply symbolic and incorporate imagery specific to the gender, social position and age of the wearer. Varieties of technical decoration in local costume, such as patchwork and embroidery, make a richly colorful and tactile pastiche that relates formally to Matson’s work.  The rugs for which the region is justly famous are woven by women from a variety of fibers dyed with a combination of synthetic and natural dyes, another point of correspondence with the artist.

Untitled I (for Ashgebat) by Christy Matson, 2016-2019, hand-woven cotton, linen, wool, indigo dye and arcylic on stretched canvas.

The two colossal tapestries that anchor the exhibition incorporate abstract pattern and stylized images of plants using long narrow woven panels joined two by two.  Untitled 1 (for Ashgebat) consists of stripes and floral motifs that are repeated and occasionally reversed and tilted to yield a roughly symmetrical counterpoint. A central stylized blossom anchors the composition.  Untitled II (for Ashgebat) flirts with the illusion of pictorial space.  The hazy vertical stripes on the left suggest grasslands, while the same lines reversed and repeated on the right suggest the fringe of a rug.  The stylized seed heads and blossoms on each panel create a satisfying rhythm without precisely repeating themselves.

The smaller pieces in Crossings allow a closer look at Matson’s art practice. Particularly illuminating is her Overshot Variation 1 which incorporates bands of painted paper using the overshot technique often employed in Jacquard weaving.

Overshot Variation I by Christy Matson, 2018, deadstock overseen linen, acrylic and spray paint on paper, Einband Icelandic wood

In the Vanguard: Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, 1950-1969

For artists who dream of an idyllic creative space where collaboration, mutual support and disciplinary cross-pollination are the rule, the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts represents a dream come true. The 90 pieces that fill, and threaten to overflow, the museum’s middle galleries recount the history of this important creative community from 1950-1969 for the first time.  The objects in the exhibit range from textiles to printmaking, ceramics, metalwork and painting, and even to jewelry making and glass art. By discarding ideas regarding the primacy of fine art versus craft, the members of Haystack approached a non-hierarchical egalitarian ideal. Many of the artists represented in the exhibit also had ties to the Cranbrook arts community during a particularly fertile period for craftspeople who lived and worked and created in this uniquely supportive creative environment.

Video still, from Dance of the Looney Spoons, by Stan VanDerBeek with Johanna VanDerBeek, 1959-1965, 16 mm black and white film transferred to video with sound, 5:20 minutes (Haystack)

Silver Road Runner by Stan VanDerBeek, 1954, assorted metal silverware (Haysta

 

Ancient People by Hodaka Yoshida, 1956, relief print on paper (Haystack)

For the Record: Artists on Vinyl

In the lower level gallery, you can experience the unexpected pleasure of 50 designs for vinyl records–some vintage, some recent– by a who’s who of artists comfortable working at the intersection of design and fine art:  Jean-Michel Basquiat, Yoko Ono, Andy Warhol, Banksy, Shephard Fairey and Keith Haring, Robert Rauschenberg and Robert Motherwell, to name only a few. The square parameters of the vinyl record cover seem to have offered the perfect creative space for artists to create bite-size versions of their more ambitious works. It’s worth a trip down the stairs just to see Jean Dubuffet’s painting Promenade a deux from the museum’s collection, installed next to his lithograph Musical Experiences.

Promenade a deux by Jean Dubuffet, 1974, vinyl on canvas, matt Cryla varnish

The exhibits at Cranbrook right now, particularly the Ruth Adler Schnee retrospective, demonstrate some of the diverse ways in which craft and design have historically influenced America’s aspirational culture. The built environment of the country, though, has changed–is changing.  As the past gives way to the future, the times will require creatives that bring the same level of creativity seen here to new challenges like technological innovation and environmental change.

Winter at Cranbrook Art Museum: Craft Takes a Bow  through March 15, 2020