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

 

Dual Vision @ MOCAD

Install image, Dual Vision, MOCAD, 202, All images courtesy of K.A. Letts

It’s March 2021, and we’re beginning to sense the coming of spring and an end to our seemingly endless COVID winter.  If crowded bars and restaurants are still out of the question, we can at least look forward to pants with waistbands and the occasional coffee at Starbucks.  The curators of Dual Vision at MOCAD appear to be sensing it too. Curator Jova Lynne, assisted by Maceo Keeling and advised by Kathryn Brackett Luchs, Ed Fraga and Robert Sestok, have assembled 40 Detroit artists, working in pairs, to showcase the personal interactions we have all been missing.  Some of Detroit’s best known and most accomplished creatives–along with a few newcomers– are celebrating at least the prospect of a return to normal.

Betty Brownlee + Cristin Richard, A Critique of Jean-Luc Goddard, 2021, mixed media detail.

Dual Vision, on view at MOCAD until August 8, 2021, is an all-of-the-above kind of exhibition that allows plenty of scope for artists working in a variety of media–video, painting, sculpture, sound, photography, fiber, printmaking. In the spirit of re-connecting, I met my friend and fellow arts writer Mariwyn Curtin at the gallery. Our visit provided us with an opportunity to practice the cultural interaction that will soon be part of our lives again. We hope.

Mariwyn and I noticed immediately the preponderance of installation among the entries.   This makes sense; the installation form allows maximum individual expression for each artist, while demonstrating–as if we didn’t know it already–that a collaborative artwork can be more than the sum of its parts.

Tony Rave + Tylonn J. Sawyer, Family Matter Episode 3 x Black and Blue: Field Notes, 2021, mixed media installation detail

A number of ofrenda-adjacent collections of objects and images included strong spiritual themes, while others featured ripped-from-the-headlines immediacy.   Tony Rave and Tylonn J. Sawyer’s installation, Family Matter Episode 3 x Black & Blue: Field Notes managed to combine both elements.  The altar-like installation presented a profusion of Rave’s saccharine white, ready-made ceramic figurines, mostly devotional in nature, their faces obscured by painted-on blackface.  They seemed–to me–to illustrate the artist’s bleak observation that Blackness is itself a social construct perpetrated by White culture. The theme was amplified by Sawyer’s companion pieces, family portrait-sized composite pictures of the 4 officers implicated in the death of George Floyd that provided a bitter corollary comment on the provisional nature of racial identity.

Rashaun Rucker + Mario Moore, Big Ma’s Porch (A Black Sanctuary) 2021, mixed media installation

Some much-needed psychological relief from the rawness of the Rave/Sawyer installation was provided by the nearby collaboration of Mario Moore and Rashaun Rucker. Big Ma’s Porch (A Black Sanctuary) conjures the artist’s wistful childhood recollections of his great grandparents’ front porch, a place of love and safety and tall tales, the mood of warm memory reinforced by Moore’s lovely silverpoint drawing.

My gallery companion brought her own distinctive sensibility to Dual Vision; Mariwyn responded to a couple of collaborations that I perhaps lacked the background to appreciate.  She particularly enjoyed A Critique of Jean-Luc Goddard by Betty Brownlee and Cristin Richard. She observed, “The skin-like translucent paper banners with French words on them was intriguing. Getting to the wall of images behind the banners was a little like passing through a section of forest with tall white trees. When I saw the wall of paintings, I thought immediately of Cindy Sherman’s Film Stills series. Once I made it through to read the label on the wall, it was rewarding to realize that [the collaboration] did indeed feature painted stills from films by Goddard.”

Mariwyn Curtin standing next to In Front of My Backyard by Julia Callis + Josh Kochis, 2021, acrylic, graphite, string on panel, mixed media installation.

The collection of smallish paintings by Nancy Mitchnick and John Corbin on the subject of the periodic table seemed a bit scattershot to me, but Mariwyn found something to like in the looseness of their improvisatory approach. She commented, “I thought it was interesting that the collaboration … was called Untitled when there is such a heavily researched background to the work…The treatment of each element captures the wave state of atoms more so than the Bohr diagrams seen in chemistry textbooks that look like mini solar systems. Each painting or cardboard mosaic seemed like a portrait of the doorway between particle and wave state.”

In the center of the gallery, images in Tyanna Buie and Chelsea A. Flowers’s video collage Call and Response prompted a visceral reaction. Adjacent television monitors engage in cacophonous conversation with each other and deftly capture the drinking-from-a-firehose quality of current events.  The fragmented clips, in which Buie and Flowers use off-the-shelf photographic apps to superimpose their faces onto pop culture and political figures to pointed comic effect, illustrate the extent to which our experience of events is colored by our racial identity in these polarized times.

Gisela McDaniel + Martha Mysko, Self Portraits In: Self portraiture in surrounding, in landscape, in DNA, in objects, in material, in eyes, in stories, in images, in the present, in the past, in plastic, in the familiar, 2021, Mixed media installation

Gisela McDaniel and Martha Mysko‘s mixed media installation wins the prize for best title:  Self Portraits In: Self portraiture in surrounding, in landscape, in DNA, in objects, in material, in eyes, in stories, in images, in the present, in the past, in plastic, in the familiar. This maximalist collection of fuschia and turquoise figurative and abstract paintings next to a bedraggled palm tree, near a pina colada perched  on a wrecked car hood, manages to suggest both a tropical getaway and a post-apocalyptic scene of environmental destruction.  I felt a wave of nostalgia for the beach vacation none of us took this year, along with a distinct urge to get my towel and lie down on the radioactive sand.

Robert Sestok + Kurt Novak, Forgotten Networks, 2020, Welded steel

In the center of the gallery, Robert Sestok and Kurt Novak contributed visual ballast to Dual Vision with their terrific steel assemblage Forgotten Networks. The monumental sculpture, which combines Novak’s humorous accessibility with Sestok’s formal elegance, provides a strong focal point for the exhibit around which the other artists’ work seems to revolve.

Michael Luchs, Moth (Jade), 2020, Woodcut, collagraph, sumi ink on glassine paper on canvas

Kathryn Brackett Luchs, Moth (Pink), 2020-21, Woodcut, sumi ink, on glassine paper on canva

Both Mariwyn and I enjoyed In Front of my Back Yard by Julia Callis and Josh Kochis, though her observations were better articulated than mine. She: “The installation of the distressed wood fence really gave the sense of peeking into a window from the outside yard and made me feel a bit like a voyeur.” Me: “Wow. I love those flat sea green, black and silvery gray colors.” The hues and textures of the wooden and found objects in Callis and Kochis’s environment accord well with the handsome pair of matching kimono-like wall hangings by Kathryn Brackett Luchs and Michael Luchs, installed on an adjacent gallery wall. The tissue-like glassine paper and the jittery marks of the sumi ink of Moth (Jade) and Moth (Pink) bring to mind the silence of moths’ wings as they pursue their life cycle through day and night and space and time.

My visit to Dual Vision with Mariwyn reminded me of how much I’ve missed social interaction and good conversation about art during the pandemic. There was a lot to look at and respond to–more than anyone could see and comment on in only one visit.  Other viewers will respond to some of the work that we haven’t mentioned, and I suppose that on another trip to MOCAD my friend and I might see things we missed on our first pass. Dual Vision has presented us with an invitation to celebrate our resilient and diverse Detroit art community, to reconnect, re-engage and restart our cultural conversation. I suggest you schedule a visit to form your own opinion.  Bring a friend.

Dual Vision Participating Artists:

Robert Sestok & Kurt Novak, Jim Chatelain & Steve Foust, Kathryn Brackett Luchs & Michael Luchs, Joyce Brienza & Deborah Sukenic, Simone DeSousa & Tim Van Laar, Nancy Mitchnick & John Corbin, Carlo Vitale & Ed Fraga, Nicole Macdonald & Carl Wilson, Betty Brownlee & Cristin Richard,  John Egner & Amelia Currier,  Gisela McDaniel & Martha Mysko, Tony Rave & Tylonn Sawyer, Rashaun Rucker & Mario Moore, Tyanna Buie & Cheris Morris,  Nour Ballout & Cyrah Dardas, Bree Gant & Cherise Morris, Sabrina Nelson & Levon Kafafian, Sterling Toles & Nate Mullen, Adam Lee Miller & Nicola Nuperus.

MOCAD Dual Vision through August 8, 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)

Shapeshifters @ Cranbrook Museum of Art

Frank Stella, Takt-i-Sulayman Variation I (Protractor Series) 1969, acrylic and fluorescent acrylic on canvas

It has always seemed to me that the most magical thing about art objects in a gallery is that they exist at the same time and place, in the same now, no matter when they were created. An archaic vase, a classical Greek sculpture and a minimalist painting can rest side by side, in a kind of eternal conversation that illuminates how humans think and perceive, and what they value over time.  This thought re-occurred to me with some force as I walked into the main gallery of the Cranbrook Art Museum last week, to see Shapeshifters, an eclectic exhibit that draws from the museum’s collection of over 6000 artworks. It covers a broad range of modern and contemporary artists and esthetic philosophies, all in lively conversation with each other and with us. Much of the work on display is by international artists with big reputations, but voices and visions of many younger, less established, artists have also found their way into Shapeshifters. Often these artists are from the Detroit area, many of them graduates of Cranbrook Art Academy’s M.F.A program; to my mind they provide the most interesting pieces in a wide-ranging survey of artists’ methods and mindsets.

The entry gallery of the museum announces the ambitious nature of the exhibit with a forceful collection of minimalist and post-minimalist artists. Paintings and sculptures by art historical heavyweights like Donald Judd and Frank Stella ring the gallery.  These self-referential abstract objects and images  hark back to a brief moment in art history, 1960’s and 1970’s, when  the methods and formal objectives of contemporary art seemed clear. These confident–and also mostly white, male–artists seemed to say they had found the endpoint of modernism, after which no further progress was possible–or necessary. Even Agnes Martin, whose (usually) much smaller pieces seem more interior and meditative, is represented in Shapeshifters by a large canvas, Untitled (1974) that shows her to be a member in good standing of the minimalist club.

Ato Ribeiro, Home Away From Home 2, 2017, repurposed wood, glue

Ato Ribeiro, Detail

But even as these monumental, even grandiose, pieces stake their claim to dominance in this room and  in art history, the show’s curator Laura Mott, slyly introduces an artist who says, quietly, “yes, but…”

Ato Ribeiro, a 2017 graduate of Cranbrook’s print program, has created a wood assemblage that superficially resembles many of the pieces in the main gallery, but suggests alternative cultural references that speak to more private, idiosyncratic aims. Home Away from Home 2 is a pieced quilt of a sort, made of discarded wood, re-cycled and re-assembled into an elaborate composition that references hieroglyphs, Kente cloth, traditional African symbols, and signals a turning away from minimalist generalities and toward more particularized personal references.

Ebitenyefa Baralaye, Dupp Dup, 2016, plaster, burlap, sisal rope wood

This insistence by young artists on private processes and meanings continues in the next gallery, with the awkward yet elegant and slightly comic Dupp Dup by Ebitenyefa Baralaye. A 2016 M.F.A.  graduate of the ceramics program at Cranbrook, Baralaye has re-purposed the process of ceramic casting in a literally heartfelt way. The shape of the plaster cast is reminiscent of a human heart, signifying both a physical state of being and an emotional state of desiring. Its implied weightiness is animated and supported by a spindly wooden tripod.   In the adjoining gallery, Sonya Clark’s scratchy ziggurat of a headpiece, assembled from hair curlers, is both humble and regal. Clark re-imagines these everyday materials using processes familiar to her from her background in fiber art; the result is both surprising and satisfying.

Sonya Clark, Curled, 1998, metal hair curlers, thread, wire

Two of Detroit’s art eminences occupy the middle gallery and are hung in proximity with two other artists who reinnforce and illuminate their importance as masters of their craft and figures of note in Detroit’s contemporary art scene. Allie McGhee’s folded and draped Window (2019) easily holds its own next to the much larger–and very lovely–Preface for Chris by Joan Mitchell, with which it is paired. McGhee is scheduled for an upcoming solo exhibition in the fall of 2021, and Windows provides a tantalizing foretaste of what we can expect and hope for. Carole Harris, whose work impresses me more each time I see it, is represented by In a Silent Way (2017).  Harris is a textile virtuoso. Her work occupies the surprisingly capacious space between expressive quilting and painterly abstraction, and somehow manages to be more than the sum of the two mediums.   The way in which she exercises complete control of flat or felted or lacy textures, of staccato stitched lines, of carefully dyed and rusted colors, adds a tactile element to her work against which the nearby untitled painting by Jose Joya struggles to compete.

Allie McGhee, Window, 2019, acrylic, enamel, vinyl

Carole Harris, In a Silent Way, 2017, quilt with rusted textiles

In the next gallery, photography –and related technologies–has its day as a means to revelation. The prosaic, descriptive reality of everyday photography gives way to the deeper truth of artists’ personal and subjective experience. A particularly beautiful example of this is Kottie Gaydos’s Unfixed, Fold #3, a dreamy, undulating field of deep blue in which a minimalist strategy yields a deeply romantic and poetic image. Matthew Angelo Harrison’s low-resolution replicas of African artifacts by way of his homemade 3-d printers are familiar to most of the Detroit art public by now, but they remain impressive, resonant in their expression of the African American diaspora’s sense of cultural loss from the trauma of enslavement.

Kottie Gaydos, Unfixed, Fold #3, 2016, archival pigment print, artist frame with unfixed cyanotype

The wan ironies of Andy Warhol’s Polaroids and Rosenquist’s lithographs are interesting as historical artifacts, but pale beside Kara Thompson’s polemical silhouettes and the robust immediacy of Maya Stovall’s dancers, doing their thing in the parking lot of a Detroit convenience store. Her video, Liquor Store Theatre, Vol. 4, No. 7, records the bemused reaction of bystanders along with the precise and angular movements of the black-clad performers.

Maya Stoval, Liquor Store Theatre, Vo. 4, #7, 2017, video still

The back gallery of Shapeshifters is devoted, appropriately for an exhibit about transformation and adaptation, to a short feature film entitled Upright: Detroit.  Set in the ruins of the historic Michigan Theater, the film records a kind of initiation. Performers arrive, one by one, dressed in ordinary street clothes.  Here, they are ritually transformed, with assistance from members of the Ruth Ellis Center for LGBTQ+ youth, into other-worldly beings by way of Nick Cave’s iconic Soundsuits. In the subsequent procession, initiates are accompanied by a choir of singers from Detroit’s Mosaic Youth Theater. With this performance, Shapeshifters brings us full circle, from the exuberant hubris of the minimalists to the joyous communality of the performers in Upright: Detroit, a thought-provoking journey from the general to the personal in search of our universal humanity.

Artist in Shapeshifters: Richard Anuszkiewicz, Jo Baer, Ebitenyefa Baralaye, Romare Bearden, McArthur Binion, Susan Goethel Campbell, Anthony Caro, Nick Cave, Nicole Cherubini, Sonya Clark, Liz Cohen, Conrad Egyir, Beverly Fishman, Kottie Gaydos, Sam Gilliam, Kara Güt, Carole Harris, Matthew Angelo Harrison, José Joya, Donald Judd, Agnes Martin, Allie McGhee, Marilyn Minter, Brittany Nelson, Kenneth Noland, Marianna Olague, Robert Rauschenberg, Ato Ribeiro, James Rosenquist, Beau Sinchai, Julian Stanczak, Frank Stella, Maya Stovall, Toshiko Takaezu, Carl Toth, Kara Walker, Andy Warhol, and Richard Yarde, among others.

The museum is open with some restrictions.  For more information, go to: https://cranbrookartmuseum.org/plan-your-visit/

Jaume Plensa Sculpture @ UMMA

Jaume Plensa, 2018, polyester resin and marble dust, 24.5’ h x 9’ x 10’. Gift of J.Ira and Nicki Harris. Photo: Patrick Young, Image Works

 

We knew this would happen.

After a certain amount of hand-wringing and wheel-spinning at the beginning of the pandemic, museums and galleries have begun to come up with increasingly creative ways to engage the public’s interest in art,  both in person and digitally.

The University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) has just installed a major new sculpture by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa on the museum grounds, where it can be seen all day and all night. (Plensa may be best known to the region’s art-loving  public as the creator of the Crown Fountain, the interactive video sculpture in Chicago’s Millennium Park.)

Behind the Walls  was on view for the Frieze Sculpture Festival in May 2019 at Rockefeller Center in New York City, but since its purchase and recent installation in November 2020, will be permanently on display outside UMMA. The pure whiteness of the young girl’s head, with her disembodied hands shielding her face, references classical marble sculpture, but its colossal size and slightly distorted perspective bring it into the twenty-first century.

Curriculum/Collection @ UMMA

Hemlock Canyons, Mike Irolla, 2001, hemlock, 25” x 16” x 16” photo: UMMA

Wormwood Vase, David Nish, 1997, wormy ash, 4 1/2” x 4” x 4” photo: UMMA

And if you are lucky enough to have a university i.d. (UMMA is currently closed to the general public during the pandemic) and can get inside the museum, an inventive new and ongoing program called Curriculum/Collection has recently launched. The project integrates art objects from the museum’s collection into the study of university subjects as diverse as philosophy, design and architecture, and as seemingly improbable as health care, data science and social work.  For this project, which will run from October 2020 through June 2021, Andrew W. Mellon Curator David Choberka has enlisted 7 classes from throughout the university to integrate artworks into their course of study to–as he says–“explore the infinite value of art in shaping our understanding of …well, everything.” In addition to the art objects on display in the A. Alfred Taubman Gallery I, the Curriculum/Collection has a robust and constantly changing online presence, with plentiful video and textual content to amplify and clarify the explorations of the subject matter through art. Online material will be updated and expanded throughout the year as the classes progress.

Field Notes II, Larry Cressman, 2009, raspberry twigs, polymer, pins, 32 5/8 x 32 ½ “ photo: UMMA

 

Some areas of study are more obviously related to the visual arts than others. For her undergraduate art and design class, Florilegium: Creating a Plant Compendium,  Penny Stamps School of Art and Design lecturer Cathy Barry has chosen a variety of works by artists who engage in the forms, life processes and cultural meaning of plants. Three of the pieces Barry has selected show how artists can enlist natural systems in creating artworks that meaningfully connect human and natural forces.  For his elegant turned-wood vase Hemlock Canyons, Michigan artist Mike Irolla leaves residual bark on the surface to suggest natural rock formations referenced in the title, and employs fire as the finishing element, adding texture and color the surface. Nearby, Wormwood Vase by David Nish, can be described as a work of art collaboratively created by an insect and a human. In contrast, a delicate assemblage by Larry Cressman implies the careful labor of a natural historian, collecting and cataloging slender twigs in a serene post-minimalist composition that hums with nature’s quiet buzz.   There is clearly a lot of material for the students to work with here, in addition to their field work and their own studio practice.  The final product of all this thought and reflection will be a book-form summation of their studies based on the florilegium, a compendium of plant illustrations popular among the British landed gentry in the 18th century.

Untitled (Paint Cans), Tyree Guyton, 1989, paint cans, wooden crate, American flag, rearview mirror, ceramic figure. Photo: K.A. Letts

Hopeless Gifts to Material Culture, Ryan McGinness, ca. 2000-2008, silkscreen on skateboard. Photo: K.A. Letts

Another particularly interesting collection of objects and images by artists with ties to southeast Michigan will support Introduction to Community Organization, Management and Policy/Evaluation  Practice. Course leader Larry M. Gant, who holds professorships in both the School of Social Work and at the Penny  Stamps School of Art and Design, premises the idea for this course on his view that conventional social work focuses too narrowly on quantifiable socio-economic assets and deficits, while neglecting intangible social capital, such as community based art. Selected artworks include an assemblage by Tyree Guyton, whose Heidelberg Project has famously waxed and waned in Detroit for over 30 years. In a nearby case, a hipster skateboard by Ryan McGinness features cryptic hieroglyphics of urban signage and graffiti. A mask-like assemblage entitled Michigan Worker, by George Garcia, succinctly expresses both drudgery and endurance, and is typical of Detroit artists that use the found detritus of the city as raw material for their art practice.  These artworks make the case for a more nuanced appreciation of visual culture within the context of urban communities, and it will be interesting to watch this class progress and what  conclusions can be teased from the materials provided.

Michigan Worker, George Vargas, 1985,welding goggles, metal, hanging belts, rusty bottle cap, pulleys, chains, padlock mounted on plywood, 20 7/8” x 10 3/8” x 2 9/16” Photo K.A. Letts.

Nociceptor-Heart Sutra, Susan Crowell, 2009, white stoneware, industrial ceramic pigment, 9” x 18” x 9” Photo: UMMA. Class: Perspectives on Health and Health Care.

The direction that the other five classes will take in their exploration of their selected artworks remains to be discovered, as Curriculum/Collection is in its early stages. The museum will provide supporting information on the progress of each class on the museum website, updated throughout the academic year. I, for one, am interested in finding out how art and philosophy, architecture and neural networks, data science, political protest and health science will cross-pollinate and enrich each other. An occasional virtual visit  to Curriculum/Collection to see how the U of M students are doing might be just the thing to get us through this dark pandemic winter.

 

Winter in Ann Arbor, Khaled al-Saa’i, 2002, natural ink, tempera and gouache on paper, 14 1/16” x 8 5/16” Photo: UMMA. Class: Data Science and Predictive Analytics

A Taste of the Desert, A.R. Penck, 1983, drypoint on Arches vellum paper, 29” 5/8” x 41 7/8” Photo: UMMA. Class: Art and Resistance: Global Response to Oppression.