Detroit Collects @ Detroit Institute of Arts

Salvador Salort-Pons, Director of the Detroit Institute of Art, at the media preview introducing Detroit Collects.

Detroit Collects: Selections of African-American Art from Private Collections

I knew the DIA was working on an exhibition of African American Art that was scheduled to open in mid-November, 2019. Still, I did not know anything about the curation process. This exhibition of sixty works of art with a range of media is on loan and is comprised of nineteen local Detroit collectors. In all my experience, just the concept was interesting, intriguing and unique.

At the media preview, from the moment DIA Director Salvador Salort-Pons took the podium to introduce the exhibition, it was clear this project was personal.  He said,” When I became the director of the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), it was immediately clear to me that the museum needed to acknowledge an extraordinary effort to connect with these communities of art lovers, tell their stories and show in our galleries the fruit of their long-standing passion.”

Not since I bought my first DIA poster in 1972 of a traveling Matisse Exhibition had I ever seen or heard of a museum taking this approach to curating from local collectors. That morning, Director Salort-Pons talked about how he and his wife Alex, after many years of living outside the city, quickly recognized the need to connect and acknowledge the art by recognizing artists living in a  city community that was 80% African American. He mentioned a memory he had of the gatherings of artists and writers called “tertulias” which used to take place in the local cafes of Spain in the late 19th and early 20th century that were the cultural  engines of the time. Over the past three years, along with his curator, Valerie J. Mercer, the General Motors curator for African American art since 2000, they began to support and execute a new vision, drawn from the many dinners, breakfast meetings and lunches to identify artists and collectors of African American art in Detroit.

“The DIA’s General Motors Center for African American Art is the first curatorial department dedicated to African American art in the U.S.,” said Salort-Pons. “This exhibition builds on our history of collecting and displaying African American art and creates a new opportunity for our visitors to see themselves reflected in the museum’s galleries.”

Robert S. Duncanson, Flight of the Eagle, Oil on Canvas, 1856

The artist Robert S. Duncanson was prevented from any kind of formal art training because of the institutional racism that existed in the 19th century. Yet, this forested landscape, Flight of the Eagle, completed in 1856, could be compared to the work of William Mason Brown or Frederic Edwin Church. At the center a soaring eagle, the U.S. National bird, has flown from its mate on the branch of a dead tree. Duncanson was born in Seneca County, New York, in 1821 to an African-American mother and Scottish-Canadian father, who sent his son to Canadian schools during his youth. In 1841 Duncanson and his mother moved to Mt. Healthy, Ohio, near Cincinnati. His biography says that in 1849, Duncanson established a studio in Detroit where he had been active as early as 1846. His artistic activities were favorably noted in both Cincinnati and Detroit, where he worked throughout his career supported by abolitionists who commissioned his work. For the Detroit Collects exhibition, this work is on loan from the collection of Walter O. and Linda Evans.

Beauford Delaney, Greenwich Village, Oil on Canvas, 1945

Beauford Delaney was born December 30, 1901, in Knoxville, Tennessee where his parents were prominent and respected members of Knoxville’s African-American community. His father Samuel was both a barber and a Methodist minister, but he is remembered for his work with the Harlem Renaissance in the 1930s. In his work, Greenwich Village, Delaney depicts the illuminated streets of New York City’s Greenwich Village where the artist settled in the mid-1930s. Having a studio in Greenwich Village, he became part of a gay bohemian circle of friends. He established himself as part of the NYC art scene, which included artists such as Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe, and the young writer James Baldwin. For the Detroit Collects exhibition, this work is on loan from the collection of Mary Anne and Eugene A. Gargaro Jr.

Walter J. Williams Jr., Children at Play, Oil on Canvas, 1975

Children at Play, by Walter J. Williams Jr., is a touching figure painting that conveys the innocence of childhood while boys play without a worry in the world. The composition contrasts six figures with soft and translucent oil paint colors while they explore the simplest of abstract shapes. The idyllic and peaceful setting draws the viewer into a place where everyone would want their child to live and learn. Williams enrolled at the Brooklyn Museum Art School in 1951, where he was scholarly and was said to have paid close attention to his lessons. In the summer of 1953, he studied at the Skowhegan School of Art in Maine and participated in his first major group show, the Whitney’s 1953 Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting. For the Detroit Collects exhibition, this work is on loan from the collection of Darnell and Shirley A. Kaigler.

Alvin Loving, untitled Triptych, Oil and Collage on Canvas, 1981

Al Loving was born in Detroit in 1935 and is one of the best known national artist whose work grew from his interest in the work of Josef Albers. Loving earned a BFA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1963 and an MFA from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.  In 1969, Loving famously became the first African-American to have a one-person show at the Whitney Museum of American Art. In the work Untitled Triptych, Loving’s abstraction knocks the viewer off their feet with this vast array of shape, line, color, and depth of space. I was familiar with much of Al Loving’s work, but not this magical triptych that keeps the viewer spellbound. For the Detroit Collects exhibition, this work is on loan from the collection of Roy and Maureen Roberts.

Martin Puryear, Reliqary, Gessoed Pine, 1980

Martin Puryear was born in 1941 in Washington, D.C., and began exploring traditional craft methods in his youth, making tools, boats, musical instruments and furniture. After receiving a B.A. in Fine Art from the Catholic University of America in 1963, Puryear spent two years as a Peace volunteer in Sierra Leone, where he learned local woodworking techniques. In the work Reliquary, one could see something spiritual as in a tombstone-like object made of pine planks with dovetail joints, but the field of holes covered in a translucent gesso coating suggests otherwise. Over his lifetime, this work has remained visibly complex, both organic and geometric, where he falls into both areas of Minimalism and Formalistic sculpture. Puryear earned his MFA from Yale and began teaching at Fisk University in Nashville and at the University of Maryland in College Park. In 1977, following a devastating fire in his Brooklyn studio, Puryear had a solo show at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. For the Detroit Collects exhibition, this work is on loan from the collection of Gayle and Andrew Camden.

Aaron F. Henderson, Stomp It Down, Gouache, 2015

Aaron F. Henderson, a native of Birmingham, Alabama, has been an artist all his life. The self-proclaimed narrative artist has always loved to draw and paint. He works mainly in oils and gouache on canvas, linen and 100% cotton paper using bold, vibrant colors in his artwork that is showcased in exhibits, museums and corporations and private homes around the world. Henderson’s style has been influenced by such legendary artists as Elizabeth Catlett, William H. Johnson, Charles White and Jacob Lawrence. The woman in Stomp It Down is so beautifully and realistically rendered that she seems to emerge from the paper. The work is part of a series that visualizes the spirituals sung by enslaved people of African descent as an act of defiance and self-expression. The song called “Stomp It Down” refers to the injustices that will be eradicated once freedom is achieved. For the Detroit Collects exhibition, this work is on loan from the collection of David and Linda Whitaker.

Hughie Lee-Smith, Girl Fleeing, Oil on Canvas, 1959

Hughie Lee-Smith was an African American artist and teacher whose surreal paintings often featured distant figures under vast skies and desolate urban settings. In 1958 Lee-Smith moved to New York City and taught at the Art Students League for 15 years.  Holland Cotter of the New York Times wrote, “Mr. Lee-Smith’s paintings usually have spare settings suggestive of theater stages or bleak urban or seaside landscapes. Walls stretch out under gray skies. Men and women, as lithe as dancers, seem frozen in place. Most are dressed in street clothes; some wear exotic masks. Children frequently appear, as do props reminiscent of circuses. The work has an air of mystery associated with the paintings of Giorgio and Edward Hopper.” In the painting Girl Fleeing, the young girl is escaping from the factory without explanation, reminiscent of the woman in Andrew Wyeth’s “Christina’s World.” For the Detroit Collects exhibition, this work is on loan from the collection of Jerome Watson and Deborah Ford.

Sam Gilliam, Wave Composition, Acrylic, 1979

Sam Gilliam was raised in Louisville, Kentucky, where he received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Louisville in 1955, served in the Army from 1956-58, returned to Louisville, and completed his MFA in 1961. Gilliam has dramatically influenced the direction of American Art. He is particularly known for his innovation in draping the canvas stained with a large variety of colors providing a multidimensional and sculptural quality to the work. The work Wave Composition was created in 1979 as a study for a large drape painting commissioned for the Detroit Receiving Hospital, where it has been on display since 1980. In 1972 Sam Gillian became the first African American artist to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale, and in 2017, his work was included in its prestigious Central Pavilion. Sam Gillian lives and works in Washington D.C. For the Detroit Collects exhibition, this work is on loan from the collection of Jerome Watson and Deborah Ford.

Richard Mayhew, Transition II, Acrylic on Canvas, 2013

Richard Mayhew, born April 3, 1924, is an Afro-Native American landscape painter and arts educator. His abstract, brightly colored landscapes are informed by his experiences as an African American/Native American musician. He studied at the Art Students League of New York and later attended the Brooklyn Museum Art School. In his work,Transition, his fluorescent depictions of the American countryside tackle ideas surrounding African-American identity, jazz music and Abstract Expressionism. “Landscape has no space, no identity,” he once said. His body of work is based on his extensive travels throughout the United States, and he was notably a member of the black painters’ collective “Spiral,” which included other members such as Romare Bearden and Hale Woodruff.  For the Detroit Collects exhibition, this work is on loan from the collection of Lorna Thomas, M.D.

Mario Moore, Mom Says I’m Her Sun, Oil on Copper, 2015

The youngest artist in the Detroit Collects exhibition is Mario Moore with his painting Mom Says. Moore is a source of pride for the Detroit art community and is represented by the David Klein Gallery. His mother is Sabrina Nelson, a long-time studio teacher at the Detroit Institute of Arts, where Moore has been surrounded by the Detroit African American art community for most of his life. He earned his BFA from CCS and his MFA from Yale University and for a figurative artist there is an extraordinary quality about not only his technical ability but his choice of subjects. Recently Moore has spent his time as a Hodder Fellow at Princeton University, depicting large-scale paintings of black men and women who work around the campus in blue-collar jobs. When I think about the work of Mario Moore, there is a message of social justice that reminds me of Kehinde Wiley, who addresses the issue of inequality in the selection of the figurative subjects in paintings of the past.  For the Detroit Collects exhibition, this work is on loan from the collection of David and Linda Whitaker.

The are many other institutions that have contributed to the development and exhibitions of artists with African American roots. The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History was founded in 1965 to explore and celebrate African American Art, History, and Culture. The N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, under the ownership of George N’Namdi who has furthered the careers of prominent and emerging African American artists since 1981. The Detroit Fine Arts Breakfast Club co-founded by Harold Braggs and Henry Harper has been meeting since 2009, attracting artists, collectors, and art enthusiasts who discuss, sell, and purchase African American Art. The Detroit Artist Market played a pioneering role in curating exhibitions that furthered the work and careers of many African American Detroit artists.

Collectors in the exhibition include long-time supporters of the DIA, such as Maureen and Roy Roberts — a contemporary African American gallery bears their names in recognition of a generous contribution to the museum. Other collectors include Nettie Seabrooks, the first African American woman executive at General Motors and deputy mayor, chief of staff and COO of the City of Detroit during the administration of Mayor Dennis Archer; and Rhonda D. Welburn, practicing attorney and former board member of the DIA who serves on the board of many nonprofit and charitable organizations such as the DMC Foundation and the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation.  Published in conjunction with Detroit Collects: Selections of African American Art from Private Collections is a 136 color catalog by Valerie J. Mercer.

Detroit Collects: Selections of African-American Art from Private Collections is free to all residents living in Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties through March 15, 2020.

 

Landscapes @ Henry Ford College Sisson Art Gallery

Landscapes Through Michigan Eyes Hosts Local Artists

Installation Panoram image, All images courtesy of Henry Ford College Art Gallery, 2019

When we survey the majority of classic art imagery that has evolved over the last few hundred years, it could be divided easily into three categories:  Still life, figurative and landscape. Who dominates landscape painting historically would-be artists? El Greco, Vincent Van Gogh, J.M. Turner, John Constable, Claude Monet, Paul Gauguin, Paul Cezanne, and the Americans Andrew Wyeth, Edward Hopper and Georgia O’Keefe, to select only a few of many.

The Henry Ford College exhibition Landscapes Through Michigan Eyes hosts local Michigan artists. The exhibition’s co-curators Donald Cronkhite and Steve Glazer selected contemporary artists who work in a variety of styles and visually demonstrate how their work has been inspired by this time-tested genre. As artists continue to expand the direction images and experience take them, the landscape remains a strong contender for subject matter. I would suggest that by using scenes of nature as a way to tell a story, illustrate an idea, or conceptualize a metaphor, the genre continues to provide an outlet for artistic inventiveness.

Jim Nawara, “Buena Visa,” Oil on Linen, 40 x 54 inches, 2013

In Jim Nawara’s 40 x 54-inch oil painting titled Buena Vista, the viewer looks through a wide horizontal window of a red brick wall at a vast and arid terrain with mountains on the horizon.  What strikes me first is the concept, followed by the composition, convincing depiction of light and the subtle use of the three primary colors. It seems like an abstraction played out in the single point perspective painting that delves into magical realism when it creates this ambiguity between nature and a man-made structure. Better understood by non-Western cultures, when the viewer settles in their own experience, Nawara paints a realistic view in an unrealistic setting.

He has stated that he often prefers depopulated, nondescript or non-picturesque sources. “The subject does not need to be obviously beautiful, grand, or pristine.”

While his compositions involve the creation of illusions and allusions concerning particular places and things in the world, Nawara has said,  “I am interested in natural and unnatural visual events in landscape.  These events may be grand, unimportant, profound, or quirky.  While an image usually evolves from an actual place, the paintings are essentially abstract configurations of shape, space, color, and light that I perceive or imagine within a subject from the beginning.  Ultimately the work is about interpretation, invention, and memory, as well as the physical process of painting.  I consider subject matter a vehicle to express something ineffable, yet guided by acute observation, history, and by the inspirational works of a wide variety of fine artists, past and present.”

Jim Nawara earned a BFA degree from the Art Institute of Chicago and his MFA degree in painting at the University of Illinois, Champaign.  Nawara is a Professor Emeritus of Painting & Drawing in the James Pearson Duffy Department of Art and Art History at Wayne State University in Detroit, where he taught for forty-six years.  His paintings, drawings and prints have been exhibited in more than 250 international, national and regional group exhibitions as well as nine solo exhibitions.

Bill Jackson, “Tolstoy’s War and Peace” , 37” x 50″

When I think about the late Bill Jackson’s work, it’s the reflections of aquatic reeds and rushes in a still pond that stays with me.  Jackson was a Detroit photographer of abstraction who contributed to the community of photography immensely, most recently at the Marshall Fredericks Sculpture Museum in Saginaw, MI, with his exhibition Stillness at Dawn. Jackson’s 30 x 50-inch landscape  Tolstoy’s War and Peace takes on a daguerreotype feel of an elevated perspective of an abstract field image, but as the title suggests, he may have seen it as a metaphor for a field of war.

Jackson said, “My photography is sparse. Some images are dramatic encounters.  Others invite exploration and contemplation.  But they say no more than necessary.  I got there by going everywhere else first”.  Bill Jackson earned his Ph.D, at Monteith College, Wayne State University, and passed away last November 2018.

Tommy Wilson, "Stillness", 19 x 19", Oil on Linen, Mixed Media

Tommy Wilson, “Stillness”, 19 x 19″, Mixed Media

Tommy Wilson’s work has been consumed by landscape for many years as he found subject matter in rural settings and the urban environment. In each situation, he sought out strong compositions in empty houses amongst fallen dwellings, dominated by the negative space in dilapidated doors and windows. I was fortunate to see his work evolve while he completed his MFA at Wayne State University in 2017. Here in the work Stillness, he presents a watercolor of trees set on a wooden shelf with a companion scroll that pulls on the viewer’s imagination.

He says in his statement,  “As a studio artist, I work primarily with oil paint and various surfaces to capture the stories that land and urban-scapes tell. I find that these environments  share visual narratives which resonate both personal and collective truths.”

Lucille Nawara, Platte River, 24 x 43, Oil on Linen, 2000

In  Lucille Nawara’s oil painting  Platte River  she brings her experience and knowledge of chiaroscuro, along with her direct observation on site.  Her composition  draws the viewer into her composition of light, color, texture, and space. The southern sunlight from the left provides strong cast shadows of the dense trees  onto the grasses on this promontory.  These energetic shadows and grasses  contrast  the  more peaceful brilliant  background dunes  and meandering river that flows into Lake Michigan on the horizon.  She says in her statement, “I sketched  directly on the canvas with blue oil paint diluted with mineral spirits, then painted this landscape  for four consecutive long days in chilly mid-October. The composition and colors were established  in situ, then later finished in the home studio with photos as reference for details.”

Lucille Procter Nawara is a Detroit-based landscape painter and printmaker. She graduated from Smith College earning a BA, spent 1 ½ years studying painting, life drawing and printmaking at Boston University, then earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Illinois, in Champaign-Urbana. She has been an assistant professor and instructor, for over 20 years, teaching drawing, painting, and design at Wayne State University, Cranbrook Academy of Art, and the College for Creative Studies in Detroit.

Rick Vian, “Trout Fishing in Armenia”, 60 x 72″, Oil on Linen, 2015

The Detroit artist Rick Vian brings his love of landscape to this lively abstract expressionistic composition, Trout Fishing in Armenia, revealed to this viewer by a knowledge of his entire body of work. Although Vian’s work over thirty years is dominated by abstraction, he has a large group of work that is derived from his time spent in the woods of the upper peninsula, an extensive collection of both drawing and large oil paintings of trees. It would seem very possible to this writer that Vian’s landscape work would surely inform the abstract work. This fiery new painting, Trout Fishing in Armenia, introduces contrasting motifs of grid lines that make the art feel fresh and exciting. Common to earlier work, Vian draws the viewer into his composition with a light source that lingers near the center, surrounded by the action of shape and complex color.

He says in his statement, “I am mostly interested in visual perception and the underlying patterns that make sense of it. I am also interested in how the visual information of this world is filtered through the mechanisms of perception, affected by thought, and emotion, resulting in expression. I start with an idea, and the painting happens in the process, I don’t really know where it’s going to go. I’m following what’s happening on the canvas, and that way, the painting will take me someplace I haven’t been before.”

Rick Vian earned a BFA from College for Creative Studies and his MFA from Wayne State University. Rick Vian has been included in over 45 group exhibitions, 5 two-person exhibitions, and 12 one-person exhibitions in the Detroit metro area. Most recently, Vian retired from his work as an Associate Professor of Drawing and Landscape Painting at the College for Creative Studies, Detroit, MI.

An exhibition of contemporary landscape painting, drawing, and photography by Michigan Artists include the work of Donald Cronkhite, Edward Duff, Bill Jackson, Meighen Jackson, Matt Lewis, Jim Nawara, Lucille Nawara, Rick Vian, Emily Vastbinder, Tommy Wilson and Emily Jane Wood.

Landscape Through Michigan Eyes at Henry Ford College Gallery through November 27,

 

Your Very Own Paradise @ OUAG

Oakland University Art Gallery presents Thirteen Artists Work

Your Very Own Paradise, Installation 2019, All Images Courtesy of DAR

Oakland University Art Gallery opened its fall exhibition schedule with Your Very Own Paradise, artwork from far and wide with oil paintings, photographs, and sculptures on September 7, 2019.  Based on a curatorial premise that perception is reality, Director of the OUAG Gallery, Dick Goody, brings together thirteen artists whose ‘very own paradise’ differs significantly in expansive motifs and varying types of personal identity.

Melanie Daniel, Goat Love In a Digital Age, Oil on Canvas, 54 x 48″, 2018

In the painting Goat Love in a Digital Age, artist Melanie Daniel creates this crowded narrative where people are trying to reconnect on a surrealistic globe of isolation. This expressionistic portrayal of figures of all nationalities seems to find themselves in a desolate environment, using these goats as a means to reconnect with nature.

Melanie Daniel lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and earned her MFA from Bezalel Academy, Israel, and is currently the Padnos Distinguished Artist-in-Residence at Grant Valley State University.

Marc Yankus, Tinsmith, Archival pigment print, 38 x 27″, 2015

For a city dweller, buildings are his paradise, both in structure and composition.  Marc Yankus is a photographer, and from his series, The Secret Lives of Buildings: Tinsmith, he captures an incredible pallet of light, shape, and color. His architectural detail of these facades, always formally placed, without the presence of people, is quiet and an ethereal slice of New York City that takes on a personality.  He says in his statement, “ I have walked by these buildings every day for the last 20 years.”

Marc Yankus’ fine artwork and publishing experience span more than forty years. His work has been included in exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum and the South Street Seaport Museum, New York, the George Eastman House, Rochester, New York, and the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

Amer Kobaslija, Northern Light III, Oil on panel, 86 x 72″, 2011

In the work Northern Light III, this large oil on panel presents the viewer with an interior aerial belonging to the famous painter Balthus. Amer says in his statement, “I get to understand the paintings through the act of making them, each piece individually and as a series – one work in relation to the other. Making is thinking.  These paintings are a reflection of my surroundings, the place where I live, and the people I encounter along the way.  As a painter, my aim is to engage with society – not to judge or impose answers but reflect on the place that I love and think of it has home.”

Born in Bosnia in 1975, Amer Kobaslija fled the war-torn country in 1993 for Germany, where he attended the Art Academy in Dusseldorf. Amer Kobaslija is a painter who was offered asylum by the United States and immigrated to Florida, where he completed his BFA in Printmaking at the Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, FL. He then went on to earn his MFA in Painting at Montclair State University in New Jersey. He currently lives and works in Orlando, Florida

Rebecca Morgan, Self Portrait Post MFA Wearing the Smock of a Former Employer II, 2017 graphite and oil on panel 20 x 16 inches Courtesy of the artist and Aysa Geisberg Gallery.

The painting, After Work Sunset, oil, and graphite on panel, is an example of where the artist Rebecca Morgan uses herself as the subject for what could be described as a self-portrait, but she is playing with her audience, a kind of cathartic moment where she manipulates the image as though she is laughing at herself.  She seems to be looking to illustrate emotional discomfort. Much of her work devotes itself to embracing the discomfort, the flaws, and oddity as a way to turn it into lightness.

In her statement, she says, “The face jugs, cartoons, and paintings represent a kind of blissful ignorance: they’re totally fine with looking so hideous and awful; it’s of no consequence to them. Though covered in acne, wrinkles, and blemishes, their confidence and contentment is the ultimate acceptance of self-love. They’re blissfully unaware, unruly, wild and untamed.”

Rebecca Morgan received a BA from the Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and her MFA from Pratt Institute, NY.

In mounting this kind of exhibition,  it presents the question, what is the role of the university gallery?  Much like other educational institutions, like the Wayne State University’s Elaine Jacob Gallery where the sole mission is to bring in work from outside Metro Detroit, the OUAG Gallery has over the years provided a mix of both Detroit Metro art work and then at times, Goody imports artists from all parts of the world. Both exist in an environment not depended on sales for its existence, providing a venue that contrasts with the average contemporary gallery.

Your Very Own Paradise has been created to explore the notion that requires the artist to rise above convention, play with reality, and deliver an exhibition by the works of Nick Archer, Enrique Chagoya, Melanie Daniel, Maira Kalman, Amer Kobaslija, Andrew Lenaghan, Tayna Marcuse, Rebecca Morgan, Lamar Peterson, Orit Raff, Simon Roberts, Thomas Trosch, and Marc Yankus.

Your Very Own Paradise, Oakland University Art Gallery, through November 24, 2019

 

BBAC opens Fall Exhibitions with Fanfare

The Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center has three new exhibitions that are complementary

Iris Eichenberg, Alberte Tranberg, Shelly McMahon, Emergence Property, Installation courtesy of DAR

Having just returned from New York City and viewed the OPEN CALL exhibition at the new museum in Hudson Yards, The Shed, where it afforded me the opportunity to experience 22 art installations that were juried and funded for a group of New York Artists. Now back in Detroit, it has given me some context to view and experience the new art installation at the BBAC, Emergence Property, largely conceived by the artist Iris Eichenberg.  This nearly all steel structure takes up the entire floor space in the Robinson Gallery, leaving only a 30″– 46″- 26″ path around the perimeter only to stop before it meets the first leg of the rectangle.

The installation is a collaboration of three artists, Iris Eichenberg, Shelly McMahon, and Alberte Tranberg whose work consumes the floor of the gallery, with one end of the space housing a pool of light, while the other end gradually ascends to a platform with delicate charcoal sculptures reaching upward, accompanied by a variety of flat rectangular screens of smoked glass varying in size.  In addition, and not to be understated, the regular 2 x 4 ceiling tiles have been removed so as to reflect a grid that conforms to the layout of these steel weathered steel plates on the floor.  There are several light bulbs hanging down from the ceiling in what appears to be random locations.

Iris Eichenberg, Alberte Tranberg, Shelly McMahon, Emergence Property, Installation image courtesy of DAR

This is not a group show, but a collaboration and they say in their statement that Emergence Property represents “the phenomena of collective behaviors by bodies larger than oneself. It is most commonly associated with flocks of birds whose movements in unison are executed unrehearsed and close proximity. Often these are evasive maneuvers which are transferred among the flock.  This collective property begins with one, whose slight adjustment results in a rippling effect, shifting behavior on a large scale.”

I assume the artists refer to what is called murmuration, (large groups of birds flying in exact formation) and because that analogy was not clear to me, I asked Eichenberg to elaborate on the art installation.

Ron Scott   What was your inspiration for the art installation and is it your first?

Iris Eichenberg    It’s not my first. I would not call it inspiration but a shared interest in space , process and materiality to start with. We took on the grid of the ceiling as an external architectural and physical obstacle and rather than ignore it, we embraced it.  We took the grid as a given as you can see on the floor. The patina of the floor might be a sky or the sea. As our conversation about emergence properties included the murmer of birds ….a simplification of what you see is the collapsing murmur of birds in the sky. But then again there is so much more going on which emerged through the interdependent process. I find space in limitations. That ceiling was restrictive, dominant and limiting. We turned the room upside down and then moved in.

RS   Is this art installation a collaboration of ideas by three artists or were the other two artists on board for their expertise?

IE   It is a collaboration of kindred minds who found their voice together. I cannot answer for them, but to me they were on board for the different sounds we make, for the mind which is not my own and foreign to me but getting sometimes closer to my intent than I might be able to by myself. The working process was one of trust and ego management. An ongoing unfolding of adding, deleting and change of course. The work for sure is the result of a collaboration on various levels, taking each other’s material to a different place, opening space for each other but also ending each other’s sentences.

RS   Could you explain the idea of limited space around the perimeter for the viewer to walk or stand?

IE  Exclusion is an effective tool to raise attention to those who assume to be included. The space is dark yet beautiful. The push and pull of seduction and exclusion complicates the relationship. Being pushed to the margins of the work, reduced to voyeurism, the viewer is not part of but outside and alone. That loneliness of the observer plays into the worldview of the piece. The awkwardness made people stay rather than leave.

RS  In your statement, you refer to the phenomena of collective behaviors by bodies larger than oneself, so how does that relate to these metal plates and structures on the floor?

IE  The work  or the material is not an illustration of that thought but the process of picking up on one’s energy, enabling each other. Appropriating the potential of the other allowed for decisions none of us would have made. That is the phenomena we are talking about in the text. The metal plates are the vernacular of one of us. What they become in combination with the other elements is a dynamic energy and ultimately a force beyond the individual participation.

RS  What was your thinking about the need to remove ceiling tiles?

IE  We did not remove them. We found the voided ceiling, the void is what we embraced in shape, material and matter. It was the restriction we took on the unavoidable we accepted as a basic condition and, rather than ignoring it, we allowed it to define the mirrored ground space. In more than the grid we reversed ceiling and floor. The mirrors even fuse/confuse the identical grid.

Iris Eichenberg, Alberte Tranberg, Shelly McMahon, Emergence Property, Installation detail. Image courtesy of BBAC

I did learn more about this installation of art from this interview with Eichenberg and, as a result, I perceive it more deeply. Let’s step back and realize that art installation is a relatively new genre of contemporary art and is temporary by nature. The ideas presented tend to be more important than the quality of its medium and largely are site specific, designed to transform the perception of space.  By using the metaphor of a murmur of birds, I was not sure she was referring to the art or the relationship of the artists. Perhaps both. It has not been my own personal experience to be limited, even one might say captive, while viewing art, so with regard to the small and restrictive pathway around the work, this juror is still out.

When I think back to Étant donnés by Marcel Duchamp, or I Like America and America Likes Me by Joseph Beuys, I can easily support the concept of art installation as an important genre, and in the case of Emergence Property, it will likely transform the Metro Detroit area by surprising audiences and engaging viewers in new ways.

Iris Eichenberg earned her university credentials from Gerrit Rietveld Academy, Amsterdam, NL and is the recipient of numerous awards and grants. Alberte Tranbert earned his MFA from Cranbrook Academy in 2018, and Shelly McMahon earned her BFA from the University of Oregon, and her MFA from Cranbrook Academy in 2018.

Gregory Thielker: The Wall

Gregory Thielker, installation, color photographs & objects

It should not surprise anyone that artists are drawn to issues of social justice.  Just look at the headlines from the Whitney Biennial 2019 culminating in the forced resignation of board member Warren B. Kanders, or the uproar over Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family. In the current center gallery at the BBAC is a visual portrait of the border territory between the U.S. and Mexico where the visual artist Gregory Thielker has an exhibition of both black & white, and  color watercolors (and color photos) that depict various views of the border wall, from tall steel barricades to sheet metal fences without containing humans, just the landscape.

He says in his statement, “This is a visual portrait of the border territory between the U.S. and Mexico.  I traveled to different sections of the border region, crisscrossing back and forth, interviewing local community members and documenting the diverse terrain.  The result is a series of black and white watercolor paintings ranging from small, intimate views to a large mural.”

Gregory Thielker, The Wall, watercolor on paper, 96 x 225″

At first glance, you might think you are experiencing photo images, but on closer examination, some of these photo-based paintings are watercolors.  Just the scale of this painting is impressive, divided into five sections and measuring 96 x 225”, the photo realistic watercolor dominates the gallery space. There is a feeling of border patrol presence, just from the number 12 and the structure in the upper right-hand corner. This exhibition evokes the headlines in our daily news where images of people from the southern part of North America are fleeing violence and oppression to seek asylum in the United States.  The collective of these paintings rings in our heads the sonnet by Emma Lazarus, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Gregory Thielker earned his BFA from Williams College, and his MFA from Washington University in St. Louis Missouri, in painting.

Animal Pleasures – Small Etchings by Alan Larkin

Alan Larkin, A Marionette, Etching & Aquatint

I have seen Alan Larkin’s work in the BBAC Fine Art Competition exhibition and was delighted to see more of his printmaking in his small, intimate show in the Ramp Gallery. These etchings bring to mind a neoclassical feel, both in subject and execution.  Larkin, an associate professor at Indiana University for thirty years, taught drawing and printmaking.  In this Etching and Aquatint, “The Marionette,” Larkin provides the viewer with a lush and coherent three dimensional image grounded in composition , subtle  primary colors and engaging design elements.

Larkin says in his statement, “Art should engage people’s interest both immediately and over time. When we stand in front of something it is often because it calls to us from across the room, but when we return to it we should discover something new. Objects that can have this power are not accidents. They are made by thinking people who learn how to connect their intellect with their emotions.”

Alan Larkin, Oberon, Etching

The etchings are small and are executed with 000 needles, often under a microscope, drawn on copper plates and submerged in a Ferric Chloride bath and often go through multiple baths. I submit there is room for this oeuvre in our collecting, much like classical music, literature and photography.  “It can be discussed and understood in a number of different ways: as a design in terms of its color, balance and movement, as a craft, in terms of its mastery, or even as a story, in terms of its emotional impact or its capacity to give us insight.”  Larkin earned his BA in art from Carleton College in Northfield Minnesota in 1975 and his MFA in printmaking from Pennsylvania State University in 1977.

This collection of three exhibitions are complementary and demonstrate how the curation at the BBAC is not about sales, but more about providing the public with thought-provoking aesthetic experiences.

Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center –  The Four Exhibitions will run through October, 10, 2019.

 

 

Art Week Exhibition @ N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art

I, Too, Am Detroit, Exhibition at the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, Installation image, Courtesy of DAR

During these dog days of summer, and in coordination with the celebration of Detroit Art Week, the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art has on exhibition I, Too, Am Detroit,  in its main Gallery, featuring over twenty local Detroit Artists. Inspired by Langston Hughes poem I, Too, Am, America the exhibition seeks to spotlight the artists in Detroit and their influence building the creative community throughout the world. I, too, am, Detroit is an exhibition that focuses on diversity and inclusion within the culture of Detroit and beyond.

“We have to be very conscious and purposeful in making a holistic and diverse community. And, that’s why I think our three exhibitions are so important because it allows for our local artist and the diversity of the City to be highlighted during Detroit Art Week,” said Dr. George R. N’Namdi.

Shirley Woodson-Reid, Sisters 2, Acrylic on Canvas, 51 x 57″ 1991

Detroit artist Shirley Woodson Reid portrays one of her many acrylics on canvas to produce an expressionistic figurative landscape Sisters Two, a style she perfected over the many years making of art in Detroit.

Shirley Woodson Reid was born in 1936, from a small town in Tennessee. An Artist and educator Shirley Woodson studied painting and art education at Wayne State University, receiving a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and her graduate studies were begun at The Art Institute of Chicago with a concentration in painting and art history. As a part of her independent studies she traveled to nine countries in Europe, visiting galleries, museums and historical sites. Woodson completed her graduate work at Wayne State University and received a Masters of Arts degree in painting.

Gary Kulak, Untitled, Welded Steel, 72 x 10 x 10, 2005

Known for his ever-evolving chair work, this untitled welded steel sculpture painted with a high gloss enamel yellow reminds us of a serialist approach to an idea grounded in an ordinary object.  The variations on a chair theme has been seen in a large variety of galleries in and around Detroit dating back to early 1980’s.  Kulak earned his MFA from Hunter College, NYC and continues to work with metals and industrial materials.

Diana Alva, Super Mercado, Tempura & Encaustic on Canvas, 72 x 48″

These tempura and encaustic crowded people portraits on a flat picture plane of the artist Diana Alva, feel like abstraction with a heavy emphasis on a black outline. The artist describes her paintings, largely done in acrylics, as “toothy.” She uses a “push-pull” technique, applying paint with brushes, cardboard or sticks, to create a “structural thicket” with textured lines reminiscent of calligraphy.  A native Detroiter, Alva attended Henry Ford Community College and Wayne State University.

Charles McGee, Patches of Time V, Mixed Media Collage on Masonite, 32 x 20″, 1990

One of the most revered artists in Detroit is Charles McGee and to see a collage, Patches of Time V, Mixed media collage on Masonite from 1990 is both interesting and reflectively refreshing. The design elements imbedded are clearly indicators of work to come, from the painting in the Detroit Institute of Arts, Noah’s Ark: Genesis, to his recent sculpture at the Charles Wright Museum, United We Stand, his work has left his sense of design like a branding process.  Born in 1924, from a family of sharecroppers, McGee did not start his schooling until he moved to Detroit at the age of 10 years old.

He says in his statement, “I’m delighted that nature gave me this propensity to share the little information it has given me. And that is the motor that drives me into tomorrow, thinking about what I can do to help humanity if indeed I can contribute.”

His works are on permanent display at Museum of African American History in Washington, DC, and  has shown at the Brooklyn Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Hampton Art Lovers Presents: “Ebony Broadsides, Celebration of the Masters”, a poster art exhibition featuring original signed exhibition posters

In addition in the Black Box at NCCA, Hampton Art Lovers Presents: “Ebony Broadsides, Celebration of the Masters”, a poster art exhibition featuring original signed exhibition posters of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jacob Lawrence, Faith Ringgold, Betye Saar, John Biggers, Lois Malou Jones, Gordon Parks, Roy DeCarava, Oliver Johnson, Bob Thompson and Ed Clark. The show also includes original signed poster art of Elizabeth Catlett, Romare Bearden, Samella Lewis, James Denmark and Basil Watson. With special artist proof and studies of poster art by Ernie Barnes and A.C. Hollingsworth.

The N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art opened with the sole purpose of introducing the community to art and its ability to inspire, edify and delight. George R. N’Namdi, believed in Detroit long before the resurgence post-bankruptcy and the new millennial demographic that has taken to our great city. NCCA has paved the way to bring art, education and opportunity for artists to exhibit and sell their work.