Critical art reviews of Detroit galleries and museums weekly

Author: Michael Hodges Page 2 of 3

Karinna Sanchez Klocko : “Memories” @ Image Works

The exhibition space at Image Works is small but highly visible – the display windows on Michigan Avenue, which stay lit all night long.

It may be one of the smallest gallery spaces in the Detroit area. It’s virtually a pop-up. But the art by Karinna Sanchez Klocko hanging in the display windows at Image Works, a fine-art photo-printing shop in Dearborn, is both punchy and well worth a look. With “Memories,” the artist – a young graphic designer living in Commerce – takes a nostalgic look back at her childhood in Monterrey, Mexico, creating digital vignettes that, in the words of the artist’s statement, “capture the memories and dreams of the moment.”  “Memories” will be up through May 27.

Karinna Sanches Klocko creates her vividly colored, untitled canvases on the computer.

What you find at Image Works is a handful of sunny, color-drenched interiors, all accented with sprays of tropical flowers. The mood is cheerfully nostalgic, not syrupy. The domestic subjects – among others, a hallway leading to a front door, a bureau partly covered by a floral tablecloth, and a kitchen corner with fruit hanging in baskets next to an old “Trimline” wall phone – are unremarkable in themselves, but radiate light and comfort and “home.” The point of view is highly personal, as if the artist were, indeed, trying to reassemble scenes once commonplace, but now far in the past and scattered.

The artist’s digital creations take an affectionate look back at her Mexican childhood.

 There’s a specificity to the images that’s engaging. The kitchen counter is guarded by a tiny, metal turtle. Flower pots on the bureau have highly particular designs that feel rooted in reality. So too with the blue, patterned-tile floor leading to the front door. These are digitally created designs, of course, not photographs. But there’s a distinct Kodachrome quality to Klocko’s color palette – a radiant spectrum that if not unique to Latin America, certainly typifies much of the art that’s blossomed in warmer and sunnier lands south of the Rio Grande.

Image Works owner Chris Bennett, who moved to Detroit from Portland, Oregon, five years ago, says he first got to know Klocko when she came in as a customer. A lot of artists, he says, bring work to him for digital reproduction. In Klocko’s case, Bennett liked what he saw, and invited the Michigan State graduate to do a show.

It may seem counterintuitive, but maintaining a gallery in a photo shop has long been Bennett’s habit and ambition. “I love exhibiting artists’ work,” he said, “and it’s a great way to build community as well. It adds another element.”

Bennett moved to the present Michigan Avenue location last July from his old shop in Dearborn. While he doesn’t have as much gallery space here as before, he’s got dynamite display windows fronting a major thoroughfare that seem design-made for his intentions: “I wanted to do large-scale pieces that could easily be seen from the road,” he said, “that would attract people’s attention without causing accidents.”

In another civic-minded gesture, Bennett leaves the window lights on all night long – offering a bright dash of color that’s bound to surprise west-bound drivers in the wee hours.

 Albert Kahn: Innovation & Influence @ Detroit Historical Museum

An installation shot of the Albert Kahn exhibition at the Detroit Historical Museum. (Michael G. Smith)

An outstanding new exhibition on Detroit’s most-famous architect, “Albert Kahn: Innovation & Influence on 20thCentury Architecture,” is up at the Detroit Historical Museum through July 3. Organized by the new nonprofit Albert Kahn Legacy Foundation, with a mission to “honor, educate and preserve,” the show aims to broaden knowledge and capitalize on the recent uptick in the industrial architect’s reputation nationwide.

This is a handsome exhibition with a number of salient virtues — not too big, not too small, enlivened by smart, concise text, cool graphic design, and striking Lego replicas of some of the architect’s most famous buildings.

What’s not to like?

Start with the Lego structures. The eight-foot-tall model of the Fisher Building at the center of the gallery is a total scene-stealer. Made up of 120,000 pieces, the 300-pound behemoth is the work of local Lego-master James Garrett, who specializes in models of Detroit’s pre-war architecture. Other replicas on display include the Russell Industrial Center (originally the Murray Body Corporation) and Capitol Park’s Griswold Building, long empty but now renovated into luxury apartments and rechristened “The Albert” in honor of its designer.

The show does a superb job laying out Kahn’s early life, and his arrival in Detroit as an impoverished Jewish immigrant when he was about 12. From there on, of course – once he lands his apprenticeship with Mason & Rice, a highly significant downtown firm – the youngster scaled the professional ladder quickly and with astonishing ease. Among other things, Kahn from an early age was a remarkably gifted freehand sketch artist (credit his teacher – Detroit artist Julius Melchers), and the show contains several of his drawings from European travels.

Albert Kahn, seated at left, in the offices of Mason & Rice when he was about 19. (Albert Kahn Associates)

 For those who don’t know Kahn’s work well, there are also some marvelous surprises here — not least the fact that the Fisher Building, as we know it, is only one-third of a massive complex with a central tower that got scotched once the stock market crashed in 1929.

 The exhibition also lays out the Kahn firm’s astonishing work in the late 1920s and early 30s building over 500 plants and factories across the Soviet Union, an effort that industrialized what had been a backward, agrarian economy. Want to know why the USSR didn’t collapse when the Nazis invaded in 1941-42? The answer has a lot to do with the armaments that rolled off the production lines of Kahn-built factories like the vast Stalingrad Tractor Plant.

 The exhibition also explores the architect’s relationship with Henry Ford, Kahn’s most-important client from 1908 on, when he began to design the Highland Park Model-T plant. It also discusses his relationship with the automaker once the latter’s Dearborn Independent newspaper launched a weekly series of anti-Semitic screeds in 1920, “The International Jew: The World’s Problem.” (Despite this, Ford clearly liked and admired Kahn, calling him “one of the best men I ever knew” on the architect’s death in 1942.)

Kahn’s revolutionary, reinforced concrete factories for Ford, with their lack of ornamentation, huge windows, and geometric-grid facades, established the standard for modern industry worldwide in the early 20th century. They also, as the section titled “Kahn’s Influence on Modernism” details, had a seismic impact on young architectural rebels in Europe desperate for a new, “pure” architecture, which they found in Kahn’s stripped-down Ford plants. Both Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier cited the Highland Park complex in writings that laid out the tenets of early architectural modernism.

All in all, this is a show anyone proud of Detroit’s architectural heritage will not want to miss. Indeed, Albert himself would be proud.

One of Kahn’s crowning achievements – the Fisher Building arcade and lobby. (Michael G. Smith)

 Karinna Sanchez Klocko: “Memories” at Image Works in Dearborn will be up through May 27.

Albert Kahn: Innovation & Influence on 20th Century Architecture will be at the Detroit Historical Museum until July 3.

Castagnacci: Quarry Echoes & Wanderings @ BBAC

Vincent Castagnacci: Quarry Echoes & Wanderings at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center

An installation view of Vincent Castagnacci: Quarry Echoes & Wanderings, which will be at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center until April 21.

 Vincent Castagnacci: Quarry Echoes & Wanderings (1984-2021) is an intriguing tour through abstraction with a distinctly geometric cast, and will be up at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center through April 21. Castagnacci, the University of Michigan’s Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Fine Art Emeritus, takes rationalism’s standard forms – squares, semi-circles, triangles and parallel lines – and twists them to his liking, confounding conventional expectations.

Take, for example, the large, black and white VII.06 – 19.VIII.06. This series of interconnected squares, some scored in dull red, has an undeniable momentum, and appears to be in the process of levitating from left to right. The piece is spare, and looks like it was sketched rather quickly — doubtless an illusion. In some respects, you could say it resembles a series of matchbooks or, more intriguingly, the sort of early renderings architects jot down to see how different building volumes will interact with one another.

Vincent Castagnacci, VII.06 – 19.VIII.06, Charcoal pencil, Dry pigment, Gesso, 2007.

But Castagnacci, who maintains a studio locally in Pinckney and one in Gloucester, Massachusetts, attributes the genesis of his work to the geometry of natural landscapes, not man-made forms. In his artist’s statement Castagnacci cites the “coastal topography of Cape Ann” around Gloucester, with its boulder-tossed beaches and craggy granite bluffs, as both inspiration and defining aesthetic undergirding his point of view. So perhaps VII.06 – 19.VIII.06 is less architectural and more a tectonic rendering of rock and hillside.

Castagnacci, who arrived at the University of Michigan in 1973, studied at the Boston Museum School at Tufts University, then followed that with both a B.F.A. and M.F.A. from Yale. He was most recently a Mellon Fellow at Kalamazoo College, and has also been a visiting artist at the American Academy in Rome. His artistic interests range widely. Encouraged by the dean of the U-M School of Art & Design to reach across academic boundaries, Castagnacci collaborated with percussionist and composer Michael Gould in a five-year project that in 2005 yielded Into the Quarry, an installation celebrating the convergence of art and music in space and time.

Annie VanGelderen, BBAC president and CEO, praised Castagnacci’s “incredible body of work, one that demonstrates both restraint and a thread connecting through the years.” The pieces on display, she added, “unfold in geometric presentation, whether with painting, drawing or printmaking.”

Vincent Castagnacci, Rome: III.25.80-20.VII.12, Oil and chalk, 2012

The contrast between Castagnacci’s spare black-and-white drawings and his colorful, texture-rich paintings, which pop like exclamation points, is part of what gives this exhibition its juice. The oil-and-chalk Rome: III.25.80-20.VII.12 offers a pleasing contrast to the “simpler” works, an essay in repetitive verticals that progress in color from dull, mottled shades of powder blue to nightingale brown. It’s a remarkably textured exercise. The effect, one viewer suggested, reminded her of the raw material for blue jeans, though for this visitor, it read more like a satisfyingly weathered, corrugated metal wall in tones of grayish-blue.

There are a number of absorbing essays in squares and rectangles here, including the austere, geometric 23.II-5.III.11#1, comprised of three or four superimposed frames. Two are squarish, while a third contained within the others tilts and lists into its fellows, like an unsteady parallelogram. Rendered in surprisingly rich tones of charcoal and ash, 23.II-5 almost amounts to a monochromatic color study, animated by a densely textured black rectangle that anchors the work and gives it its mesmerizing depth.

Vincent Castagnacci, 23.II-5.III.11#1, Oil, 1997

23.II-5.III.11#1, is a warm, color-saturated canvas in distressed shades of barn red, scored here and there with verticals and horizontals that almost suggest inset panels in a door. In some ways this lush, resonant piece feels thousands of miles from the Massachusetts coast and Cape Ann. In its warmth and seemingly ancient appearance, it calls up the Mediterranean more readily than the North Atlantic.

Finally, 7-11.X.19, one of the handsomest pieces on display, is a highly formalistic, acrylic-and-ash color study in green, periwinkle, lavender and shades of gray edging into black. Part of the charm of this composition is that while the strong colors all seem to occupy the same plane, the dark gray they frame looks downright three-dimensional, as if that quadrant of the canvas were receding several inches from the rest of the work. It’s an absorbing design that tiptoes to the edge of trompe l’oeil.

Vincent Castagnacci, 7-11.X.19, Acrylic, Ash, 2019.

Get ready for something completely different when you pass from Castagnacci to the adjacent gallery housing Christine Welch’s Nature of Things, also up through April 21. The first work that greets you is a “wasp comb,” very much like a honeycomb, framed in a box atop a bed of greenish-yellow leaves. Wasp nests figure large in this unusual exhibition. Indeed, perhaps the most-striking elements are the several large paper-wasp nests hanging from the ceiling like so many cocoons of prodigious size.

Welch says she’s dazzled by our connection to nature, and in particular with the structural similarities beneath the surface of any number of natural forms, the human body included. With Nature’s Seamstress, she constructs a mannequin out of a clothing designer’s dress form, in a skirt made from large sheets of wasp paper, and a round wasp comb for a head. Completing the ensemble are two strands of large, brown seed pods strung together into a necklace.

The combination of oddball elements at first sounds like it might be amusing, a bit of a visual joke, but the actual assemblage is far more sobering than humorous, with suggestions of a totemic form constructed by a people far more intimate with the natural sphere than those of us in the “civilized” world.

An installation view of Nature of Things: Christine Welch, at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center through April 21.

Christine Welch, Hive, at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center

Both Vincent Castagnacci: Quarry Echoes & Wanderings (1984-2021) and Nature of Things: Christine Welch will be up at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center through April 21.

 

Romare Bearden: Abstractions @ UMMA

An installation view of “Romare Bearden: Abstractions,” at the University of Michigan Museum of Art through May 15.

“Romare Bearden: Abstractions” at the University of Michigan Museum of Art through May 15 tackles work the African-American artist produced between 1952 and 1964, what some scholars call Bearden’s “forgotten decade.” That characterization is intriguing since he exhibited and won commissions during those years. But the pieces he was showing at the time – abstract oils and watercolors, as well as highly stylized figurative works — have since been elbowed aside by the blistering originality of Bearden’s Cubist-inflected collages and photomontages depicting everyday Black life.

For contrast and context, a number of those are also on display in this exhibition. But there’s no disputing the collages are what won the Charlotte, North Carolina native his place in art history. Indeed, in its 1988 obituary, the New York Times called Bearden “the nation’s foremost collagist.”

“Abstractions,” organized by the American Federation of Arts and SUNY’s Neuberger Museum of Art at Purchase College, considers the artist’s formative period in Paris and New York, one that ultimately led to an epiphany about what his art was supposed to do. Bottom line? In an era defined by the Civil Rights struggle, Bearden and many other Black artists felt abstraction was too pure, too apolitical, too far-removed from the demands of the age. So he put it down and turned his energy elsewhere.

“I felt,” Bearden said, “that the Negro was becoming too much of an abstraction, rather than the reality that art can give a subject.” He realized he had to “establish a world through art in which the validity of my Negro experience could live and make its own logic.” That led to the collages – and co-founding Harlem’s Spiral arts collective, whose members tried to work out the responsibility of the Black artist in an era of political and racial upheaval.

Romare Bearden, The Blues Has Got Me, 1944; Watercolor and ink on paper 29 x 35 ½ inches, SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah, GA, Permanent Collection, Gift of Dr. Walter O. Evans and Mrs. Linda J. Evans©, Romare Bearden Foundation / VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY Courtesy American Federation of Arts

American culture is the richer for Bearden’s shift into collages, but there’s no denying much of his earlier work is gorgeous. Particularly striking are four or five small, stylized water colors, all painted in exquisite tones, that straddle the line between the literal and the abstract. “The Blues Has Got Me” from 1944, for example, is a portrait of two musicians jamming, though only one instrument, a fiddle or violin, is recognizable. The painting is a pleasing mash-up of competing colors and colliding triangles that form legs, chairs and a table. It’s bursting with energy, and frankly fun to examine.

In tone and feel, however, it could hardly be more different from 1962’s “River Mist,” one of Bearden’s later oil abstracts that’s a dreamy, almost geologic study in blue water tones and soft terra cotta. Long versed in watercolor, Bearden had struggled through much of the 1950s with oils. But when he and his wife Nanette moved from Harlem to a downtown loft on Canal Street, where Bearden spent the rest of his life, the artist began experimenting with much larger-scale works and developed his signature approach to abstract art.

Romare Bearden, River Mist, ca. 1962; Oil on unprimed linen, and oil, casein, and colored pencil on canvas, cut, torn, and mounted on painted board 54 ¼ x 40 7/8 inches, Romare Bearden Foundation, Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York© Romare Bearden Foundation / VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY, Courtesy American Federation of Arts

During this period, he also started studying with a Chinese master, identified only as a Mr. Wu on Bayard Street, in the techniques of Chinese calligraphy and ink-wash painting. That influence is especially visible in “Eastern Gate” from 1961, a diaphanous exercise in shades of pinkish beige crisscrossed by what appear to be fragments of calligraphy.

Romare Bearden, Eastern Gate, ca. 1961; Oil on canvas 55 7/8 x 44 inches, Romare Bearden Foundation, Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York©, Romare Bearden Foundation / VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY, Courtesy American Federation of Arts

Romare Howard Bearden was born in 1911 in Charlotte, North Carolina, but his parents moved to Harlem when he was very small. His father was a pianist, while his mother was a political activist, and the two created a rich, intellectually vibrant household for a young person to grow up in. The Bearden apartment became a favorite stopping-off point for poet Langston Hughes and other members of the Harlem Renaissance.

The teenaged Bearden ended up finishing high school in Pittsburgh while living with his grandparents, but after a stint at Boston University, he transferred to New York University, where he studied with the great satiric German artist George Grosz. After enlisting in the army during World War II, Bearden took advantage of the GI Bill and spent 1950 at the Sorbonne reading philosophy. While in the City of Lights he met writer Richard Wright as well Pablo Picasso, George Braque, and Constantin Brancusi – becoming good friends with the latter.

“Abstractions” is organized more or less chronologically, so you pass through galleries hung with large abstracts, and then round a corner and suddenly find yourself surrounded by the later collages. It’s a bracing, delightful shift in dynamism and excitement. Simply put, the collages – which often mix the beautiful and the bizarre – bristle with energy and veiled meaning.

Romare Bearden, Melon Season, 1967; Mixed media on canvas 56 ½ x 44 ½ inches, Collection Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, State University New York, Gift of Roy R. Neuberger, 1976.26.45 ©, Romare Bearden Foundation / VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY, Courtesy American Federation of Arts

One of the most striking is the 1967 “Melon Season,” a startling collage of two African-American women, in which the Cubist influence is undeniable. The woman at left is austere and rather beautiful, her profile comprised of contrasting black squares. For her part, the woman on the right has a deformed face patched together with three or four different graphic elements, one eye a good inch above the other, giving her a slightly daft look. It’s a little shocking, frankly, yet it’s precisely that tension between composure and disturbance that gives this grave work its magnetism

You’ll find “Abstractions” on UMMA’s second floor, in the A. Alfred Taubman Gallery 1. But before ascending the grand curved staircase, consider wandering the small exhibition, “You Are Here,” hung in the apse on the first floor of the original, neoclassical building. This show features pieces from the museum’s own collection that vault across centuries and genres. The superstar here is Kehinde Wiley’s 2008 “Saint Francis of Assisi,” based on Giovanni Bellini’s “St. Francis in the Desert” from 1480. But all the works selected by Jennifer M. Friess, UMMA associate curator of photography, are compelling. And as she encourages us, by all means, do play with Harry Bertoia’s small, elegant sound sculpture. You won’t regret it.

An installation view of “You Are Here” at the University of Michigan Museum of Art through May 7.

“Romare Bearden: Abstractions” is at the University of Michigan Museum of Art through May 15. “You Are Here” will be up through May 7.

 

Salon Redux @ David Klein Gallery

An installation view of “Salon Redux” at Detroit’s David Klein Gallery.

 “Salon Redux” at Detroit’s David Klein Gallery is a handsomely staged 28-person group show that includes almost any medium you can hang on a wall (and a couple that sit on the floor), and manages to be a refreshing antidote to lousy weather and other contemporary ills. But you’ll have to move quickly; “Salon Redux” is up only till Feb. 26.

The exhibition was inspired in part, says Christine Schefman, Klein director of contemporary art, by the strong positive reaction to an earlier “Salon” in 2019.  “That show had such great energy,” Schefman said, “so we decided to do it again — or ‘redux.’” She adds that it’s a spirited way to kick off the new year, and there’s no denying that.

Twenty-eight artists are represented in the salon-style group show.

Hanging works salon-style, of course, means creating a sort of wall collage, with pieces hung above and below one another in large groupings, rather than the standard approach with everything at eye level and in a single row. (The excellent wall arrangements in “Redux,” by the way, were done by preparator Craig Hejka.)

Three walls are taken up with these narrative groupings, and while they feature very different smallish works, there are a few commonalities linking them. In particular, each wall includes an irregularly-shaped color collage by Cranbrook grad Sylvain Malfroy-Camine, which in a couple cases almost resemble an artist’s old-fashioned wooden paint palette, with irregular splotches of color on a roughly circular background.

The most interesting of the three is “Diving Bell.” With its background of deep-sea blue, the work immediately calls up notions of water, while the spray of dark-blue, green, and yellow ovals covering it – all vertical — resemble nothing so much as bubbles rising to the surface. If you need a tranquil spot to rest your eyes for a minute, this would be a good choice.

Sylvain Malfroy-Camine, Diving Bell – 2021, Oil and acrylic on canvas, 23 1/2 x 26 1/2 inches.

Similarly balming in its way is Detroiter James Benjamin Franklin’s “Roam,” a gorgeous geometric color study of various shapes, with one large, off-balance dot – painted cerulean blue — that looks like it’s tiptoeing across the canvas toward escape. It’s a delightfully unstable element that defines the entire painting. Franklin’s use of colors is instructive as well. The tans, greens, and darker blues absorb light, while a silver streak and a semi-circle of lustrous black pop it right back at the viewer, compounding the visual texture.

Franklin, another Cranbrook MFA, is having a moment – in addition to “Salon Redux,” he’s got a solo show at Reyes Finn in Detroit with nine of his large-scale, abstract works, also up through Feb. 26, 2022.

As it happens, Cranbrook enjoys pride of place in this exhibition, claiming 11 of the 28 artists. In addition to Malfroy-Camine and Franklin, there’s Emmy Bright with her “NO, 4/4” – two black ceramic letters spelling out “NO” that hang from a hand-made brass chain. Bright, who co-heads the graduate school’s print media department, often plays with cryptic messaging that at its best toggles between the puckish and the almost-profound. Also well worth a look is Brooklyn artist Rosalind Tallmadge’s copper-hued “Cross Section X,” one of her remarkable layered constructions made of gold leaf and mica that read a bit like aerial views of scarred, metallic moonscapes.

Emmy Bright, NO, 4/4 – 2017, Ceramic, handmade brass chain, Letters 6 x 4 1/2 inches.

Among figurative paintings on display, Bakpak Durden’s “The Refrigerator” is a bit of an intriguing puzzler. Durden, whose website ID’s him as a “multi-disciplinary, queer, hyperrealistic artist based in Detroit,” has painted a fellow who’s facing away from us. He’s got long dreadlocks and is leaning on a refrigerator’s wide-open door, seemingly looking within for something good to eat. But there are possible clues to a more distressing narrative. Is the subject searching for last night’s leftover steak, or is his face, hidden from us, actually buried in the crook of his elbow that’s propped on the refrigerator door? Is he grabbing his dreads with one hand in an idle gesture, or is it a signal of despair? Adding mystery as well is the outline of a triangle, color orange and completely out of context, albeit fascinating, that’s got the young man within its snare. Meaning — who knows? The can of Café Bustelo coffee on the shelf to the right isn’t saying.

Bakpak Durden, The Refrigerator – 2020, Oil on wood panel, 24 x 24 inches.

On a lighter note, Ohioan Anthony Mastromatteo’s oil-on-gesso-board painting, “My & My & My & My & My & My & My Fight, Too” stars seven identical images of Wonder Woman, a repetition of the exact same cut-out cartoon panel “taped” in each case, one after the other, to a blank blue background. The DC comics super-heroine is sprinting towards us, her thoughts on Artemis, goddess of wild animals and the hunt. Given the me-too moment we’re living in, there seems little doubt some male abuser’s about to get his comeuppance, big-time and bruising. In any case, as a work of art, it’s an oddball, charming concept. (Mastromatteo has a nice touch for unsentimental whimsy. His online resume features a fly at the upper-left corner, casting a little shadow on the CV.)

Also lightening the mood are three stainless-steel, fanciful line sculptures by Los Angeles artist Brad Howe, each mounted five inches off the wall. Looking a bit like happy graphics or electronic circuitry, they’re painted in unlikely hues that, magically, all work splendidly together. In particular, “Bingo by the Sea”is a fizzy essay enlivened, like all three compositions in the show, by shadows on the wall beneath that echo the sculpture’s lines.

Brad Howe, Bingo by the Sea – 2021, Stainless steel and acrylic, 24 x 18 x 5 inches.

Worth seeking out as well are New Jersey artist Jessica Rohrer’s two photorealist aerial portraits of tidy, well-kept neighborhoods that look like they could be in Chicago or Detroit – engaging drone’s-eye portrayals of the American Dream that, along with an astringent color palette, feel remarkably fresh. There are also intriguing, minimalist sculptures with light by Detroiter Patrick Ethen and Toronto’s Matthew Hawtin, and in a show that otherwise eschews politics, Brooklynite Mary-Ann Monforton has crafted a sly put-down with “Mar-a-Lago.” It features a clunky dinner place-setting with concrete “silverware,” each piece plastered within an inch of its life in gold leaf — a puckish conceit with bite.

“Salon Redux” will be at the David Klein Gallery in Detroit through Feb. 26.

 

 

 

King Tutankhamun @ Charles Wright

“King Tutankhamun: ‘Wonderful Things’ from the Pharaoh’s Tomb” at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History” through August 22, 2022.

Installation image of “King Tutankhamun: ‘Wonderful Things’ from the Pharaoh’s Tomb” at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. All images courtesy of DAR, unless noted.

Detroiters asked for it, so 100 years after British archeologist Howard Carter discovered his tomb, King Tut and his fabulous furniture are back at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History with “King Tutankhamun: ‘Wonderful Things’ from the Pharaoh’s Tomb.”  It’s a glittering show it’d be silly to miss.

Comprised of 130 meticulously recreated artifacts that took over 10 years to make (the real deals from the Cairo Museum only toured in 1976), “Wonderful Things” was a big hit for the Wright in 2008, and museum officials admit there’s been sustained clamor ever since to bring it back. (The quote in the title, by the way, was Carter’s gasping response when asked what he saw when he first peered through a drilled hole into the tomb.)

One conclusion you won’t be able to escape — those ancient Egyptians, and here we’re talking the 18thDynasty when Tut ruled, sure were nuts about their gold. It’s hard to find an artifact here that isn’t gilded, and each and every one pops against the Wright’s color-saturated walls.

“Golden Funeary Mask of Tutankhamun,” 18th Dynasty, Cairo Museum, courtesy of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.

So it’s easy to understand Carter’s astonishment when he got that first glimpse: “As my eyes grew accustomed to the light,” he would write, “details of the room within emerged slowly from the mist, strange animals, statues, and gold—everywhere the glint of gold.” Among items on display that he discovered, you’ll find Tut’s iconic gold mummy case, his throne, child’s chair, a statuette of Tut throwing a harpoon, an embalming couch, bed, jewelry, the dazzling royal mummy itself and the astonishing, and super-famous, funeary mask — probably the one image that almost everyone around the world remembers.

Tut is called the boy-king for good reason – he ascended to the throne when he was just 9, and died about a decade later, probably of malaria and complications from the inbreeding typical of Egyptian royals. (His wife was his half-sister, daughter of Nefertiti.)

But we’re lucky any of this treasure was ever found. Back in 1922, Carter had been searching for Tut’s underground tomb in the Valley of the Kings for years, with nothing to show for his pains. Just as the British earl funding the research was about to pull the plug, the archeologist decided to excavate the ground between the tombs of Ramesses II and Ramesses VI. Carter wasn’t holding his breath. The vacant plot showed some evidence of workers’ huts that might have been erected during the construction of one of the nearby crypts, and it seemed unlikely they’d be allowed to camp out on top of a pharaoh.

“Relief of a Noble Couple at a Banquet,” 18th Dynasty, Louvre Museum

All the same, Carter’s men began digging and eventually discovered a stairway, gateway to the extravagant tomb. As Steve Martin put it on “Saturday Night Live,” King Tut’s “condo made o’ stone-a” consisted of four rooms – an antechamber, which had been ransacked, and the untouched annex, burial chamber and treasury, where some of the most remarkable finds were located, beyond.

Interestingly, at the start of the excavation – after workers dug down to where the stairway ended at a door marked with symbols of a royal necropolis – Carter had them fill the entire thing back in and posted guards. He wanted to get his patron, the fifth earl of Carnarvon, to Egypt before he pushed into the tomb itself that November, and wasn’t going to take any chances that vandals might discover the tomb before then.

For its part, “Wonderful Things” is loosely divided into five sections covering ancient Egypt, the archeological discovery, the “private” pharaoh, the “public” pharaoh, and the royal burial. Dominating the center of the first gallery is the “Golden Canopic Shrine and Tutelary Goddesses,” a tall, lavishly gilded chest mounted on a sledge that held the embalmed viscera of the young king. Surrounding it are four gilt goddesses, each responsible for safeguarding a different internal organ – the liver, lungs, stomach and intestines.

The “Shrine” didn’t make the trip from Egypt to the U.S. in 1976 (amusingly, all artifacts were transported by the U.S. Navy). So if you’re at all chagrined about looking at replicas rather than the original, bear in mind that you wouldn’t have found the “Shrine” or the casket with its embalmed Tut in the original 1976 show.

“Golden Canopic Shrine and Tutelary Goddesses,” 18th Dynasty, Cairo Museum

There’s no denying the shrine is a striking monument, but it gets a lot of competition from the reconstruction of Tut’s “Golden State Chariot,” which would make any kid tooling around town look cool, as well as the gilt, open casket containing a recreation of Tut’s withered, embalmed, and very black body. (Note to parents – little boys will love this one.) All the artifacts in the show, by the way, were created by artisans using the same techniques as the ancients as far as they could. Intriguingly, the coffin – which in real life was solid gold — was first sculpted in foam, then covered with polyurethane and painted.

As it happens, the Egyptian embalming process blackened the skin. But it still raises the old question as to whether Tut resembled contemporary Egyptians or south-of-the-Sahara Africans. One of the reasons the Wright was interested in a Tut exhibit 13 years ago, said Patrina Chatman, curator of collections and exhibitions, is because emerging research suggests the boy-king did not have the light skin we associate with the Arab world.

Noting that some statues, like “The Guardian,” are ebony black, Chatman said, “The point is that ancient Egyptians were not the ones we see in the movies, but members of a dark race,” adding that Tut and his family had Nubian blood mixed with the Egyptian.

“Royal Mummy of Pharaoh Tutankhamun,” 18th Dynasty, Valley of the Kings Tomb 62.

Truth be told, King Tut – who ruled from 1333 BCE to 1323 BCE – was not a particularly important pharaoh as these things go, no matter what the boy-king himself might have thought. That said, he had no way of knowing that his would be the most-famous tomb ever discovered — one in which vandals only made it into the first chamber, and not to the greatest treasures beyond. A bit like Imelda Marcos and her shoes, King Tut would become a worldwide symbol and legend based almost entirely on his accessories. Lucky boy.

The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History will host “King Tutankhamun: ‘Wonderful Things’ from the Pharaoh’s Tomb” through Aug. 22, 2022.

 

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