Critical art reviews of Detroit galleries and museums weekly

Category: Assemblage / Collage Page 1 of 9

Sharon Que @ MATE’RIA Gallery

Sharon Que, Installation image. All images courtesy of DAR

Born Sharon Querciograssa, Sharon Que opened a new exhibition at the MATE’RIA Gallery on June 8, 2024, with constructed reliefs that rest on the wall, keeping the viewer engaged through exotic material, illustrated line drawings, and intriguing compositions.  Que refreshingly sets her oeuvre apart from mainstream American sculpture.  Her eclectic collection of disparate objects first confronts the viewer with an aesthetic experience, followed by a precise, calculated, measured, and intellectually investigated, sometimes having scientific connotations.

Sharon Que, Pollination, Mahogany, Plywood, Pine, Gold Leaf 20x31x3.75″

In Pollination, the wooden grid pieces are divided into two fields; squares of solid stained mahogany are juxtaposed against laminated squares of like-sized pine, punctuated with a spill of protruding star-like objects painted and covered with gold leaf. We are left be-dazzled in wonder, in awe of the precision with which the squares are made and arranged.

In an essay by Mary Ann Wilkinson, the former curator at the Detroit Institute of Arts, she says, “Que has been making objects for more than thirty years.  She credits her awakening as an artist as a consequence of her eye-opening travels to Italy, Greece, and Turkey in the mid-1980s.  Que’s deft combinations of physical elements often lead viewers to overlook the subtle emotional undercurrent of her work.  Often, the mood seems to be melancholy, evoked by dark coloration, a sense of being anchored or bound, or a suggestion of emotional ambivalence.”

Sharon Que, Roller Coaster, Steel, Wood, Gold Leaf, Paint 29x36x15″ 2024

In Roller Coaster, Que finds a used wooden frame, creates an imaginary metal circular structure, and places it in the upper half of the composition, where it rests and comes forward.  The simple line drawing acts as a side view, which we might perceive as an elevation view.

In her statement, she says, “There is a scaffolding system that exists for each of my sculpture exhibitions made up of the interactions with people, nature, music, and art that I have come across accidentally or made great efforts to experience.  My imagery can take the form of data visualization algorithms.  Algorithmic operations describe motion and growth; data visualization aims to reduce the clutter to make complex data more accessible.”

Sharon Que, I’ll Watch Over You, Wood, Birch Bark, Paint, Gold Leaf, 2024

Those familiar with Sharon Que’s work will notice motifs that often reoccur.  In “I’ll Watch Over You,”  the squares of wood appear with a drawing of a previous oval sculpture on the left (Dear Mr. Fantasy), and the repetition of a line matrix forms a field on the right side.  In addition, she is repeatedly drawn to using the same tree bark as a background (Birch) while finding comfort in a band of colored strips next to her geometric field of circular shapes.

Sharon Que, That Long Lonely Highway, 9.5×16.5X2.25″ Wood, Birch Bark, Paint, Gold Leaf, 2024

In an interview with Sharon in 2014, I asked her about influences in her work, and she responded by talking about walks in the woods and at the beach; she said, “I was working simultaneously with magnetic sand from Lake Michigan and a two-dimensional image of the field of force around a magnet.  In retrospect, it seems obvious to put the two together, but the obvious sometimes evades me.”  In response to a question about her family, she says, “Some of my ancestry goes back to Emilia Romagna in Italy, where Ferrari, Maserati, and Lamborghini all originated.  Before that, in ancient times, this region was inhabited by Etruscans, the undisputed masters of bronze casting.”

Simone DeSousa, the gallery owner, says that Sharon Que approaches her work from a triad of content, material, and technique, looking for synergy among the three.  She uses recurring images from nature and geometry to reveal her own “coded inner life.

My personal experience with Sharon started when she was a middle school student at Shelby Jr. High School.  She was taking my art class, and there was a brief introduction to ceramics.  It was her turn after I did a rather crude demonstration of using the electric potter’s wheel.  She dropped a large clump of stoneware down, centered the clay without effort, and pulled a beautiful, perfect cylinder with ease.  At that moment, it was clear the teacher became the student.

It is hard to place Que’s work in a historical context.  Still, in some ways, her work reminds me of the work of Joseph Cornell, a collector of objects with ambiguous meanings and mysterious connections.  In both Que and Cornell, their work becomes a metaphor for their lives.

Transcending a simple literal reading, Que’s work explores the mysterious link between the known and the unknown.  In each piece, she dips into her trove of life experience and formulates an expression that is exclusively hers, a very personal sensibility, and original.




Sharon Que earned a BFA from the University of Michigan in 1986. Her works are part of the permanent collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts and the public sculpture on the campus of Oakland University. She has also exhibited in Venice, Italy, San Francisco, and Chicago and extensively in the metro Detroit area.

Sharon Que’s Ice Cream Castle exhibition will be on view at the MATE’RIA Gallery through August 10, 2024.

David Barr @ Collected Detroit Gallery

David Barr: Structural Relief, at Collected Detroit through April 13, 2024

An installation view of David Barr: Structural Relief, which is at Collected Detroit through April 13.  Images courtesy of Detroit Art Review. 

Novi artist David Barr, who died in 2015, was a creative polymath whose work ranged across media, including giant metal sculptures, wooden-relief wall hangings of great precision, and lithographs documenting a preposterous geometric intervention in the earth’s crust.

David Barr: Structural Relief at Collected Detroit gallery through April 13 focuses mainly on the artist’s multiple “structurist reliefs,” large, 3-D wooden wall hangings with layered straight lines and curves of varied colors that achieve an almost immediate architectural presence.

The exhibition was curated by Leslie Ann Pilling of the Metropolitan Museum of Design Detroit.

Also on the walls are the four rather elegant lithographs that “document” Barr’s Four Corners Project, which the Archives of American Art spotlit in a 1985 film for the Smithsonian Institution. In the early eighties, Barr enlisted the University of Michigan’s Institute of Mathematical Geography to figure out how to embed an imaginary tetrahedron – a pyramid – in the earth, with its four corners just poking through the soil in South Africa, Easter Island, Indonesia and Greenland. Barr traveled to each site to mark it with a small marble pyramid.

David Barr, Four Corners Project, Lithograph, 1981.  Image courtesy of Collected Detroit. 

But it’s the structurist reliefs that occupied most of Barr’s attention for several decades, and the geometric works on display here in Collected Detroit’s airy, fourth-floor digs are defined by crisp, sharp-edged lines, whether straight or curved. As noted, at times, these multi-layered compositions seem to leap out of an architect’s sketchbook. Structurist Relief No. 104 leans particularly hard in this direction, with its floating planes and cubes – see the detail below – looking a bit like something that might have emerged from Walter Gropius’ Bauhaus Studio, circa 1928.

David Barr, – Structurist Relief No. 104; Mixed Media 44.5 by 48 inches, 1974. 

David Barr, Detail, Structurist Relief No. 104; Mixed Media 44.5 by 48 inches, 1974.

Barr, who grew up in Grosse Pointe, was going to follow in the footsteps of his father, a Chrysler engineer. However, once enrolled at Wayne State, the young man found himself unexpectedly seduced by the fine arts. Barr ended up focusing on sculpture and industrial design, borrowing materials and concepts from the engineering trades that he deployed in installations and reliefs. After graduating in 1965 with a Master’s in Fine Arts, the artist began a lifelong career as a professor teaching at Macomb Community College.

Exactly thirty years later, Barr founded what in many respects might be his greatest contribution to the arts — Benzie County’s remarkable Michigan Legacy Art Park near Crystal Mountain, with 40 sculptural installations along 1.6 miles of forest paths that wind through 30 acres of deep woodlands. Installations include his lumber-industry Sawpath series, as well as other remarkable pieces of great size by Lois Teicher, Sergio DeGiusti, David Greenwood, Leslie Laskey and Joe Zajak, among others.

David Barr, Structurist Relief No. 310; Mixed media, 41 by 47.5 inches, 1991.

But Barr never abandoned his trademark reliefs. And over time, the compositions seemed to stretch and assert themselves in new ways. A budding sensuousness crept into what initially had been a mostly rectilinear universe. Starting in the 1980s, curvaceous forms began to compete with narrow verticals in charged juxtaposition, as in the rather breathtaking Structurist Relief No. 310, above.

Surfaces began buckling and cracking, spurning the strict geometry of Barr’s early years, as with Structurist Relief No. 271 from 1986. But even here, while the edges may be curved or slightly irregular, each element, as with the pink pieces below, still occupies a single plane. No waves or undulations are to be found.

David Barr, Detail – Structurist Relief No. 271; Mixed media, 50 by 66 inches, 1986.

Curator Pilling says she was immediately mesmerized by the shadows that the elements in the reliefs cast. She adds that the works’ unusual magnetism can be read in the way visitors progress through the gallery. “People spend time with each relief,” she said. “A lot of times people going through exhibitions are, like: Walk, walk, stop, walk, walk. But this is more: Walk, walk, STOP. They really take them in.”

If you haven’t been to Collected Detroit since the pandemic, be aware that the gallery has moved from its first-floor location on Fourth Street just around the corner. It’s now on Henry Street, on the top floor of an adjacent building.

Also well worth a look if you visit the gallery are freestanding works here and there by Harry Bertoia, Joseph E. Senungetuk, Detroit’s legendary Charles McGee and, most astonishing, the Hollywood actor Anthony Quinn. The sinuous “Nude” that this Renaissance man sculpted out of marble sits on a ledge right by a window, one ankle resting delicately on the other, cool as a cucumber.

David Barr: Structural Relief will be at Collected Detroit through April 13.

Larry Zdeb @ Color / Ink Studio

Larry Zdeb: Dream Journals – Mixed Media Assemblages at the Color|Ink Studio

“Dream Journals,” a solo show of mixed media assemblages by Troy artist Larry Zdeb, installation and reception at Color|Ink Studio, Dec. 10, 2023.

Larry Zdeb is a connoisseur of other people’s memories and a gifted poet of the found object.  He collects anonymous vintage photographs, broken bits of machinery and unidentifiable detritus, fashioning them into cryptic but emotionally resonant assemblages that puzzle and intrigue. Culled from rich troves of innumerable estate sales, musty basements and obscure garages in Detroit and environs over the last 20 years, 40 of his three-dimensional constructs, entitled “Dream Journals,” will populate the walls of Color|Ink Studio in Hazel Park until December 20, 2023.

Assemblage, the 3-d cousin of 2-d collage, has been a dominant genre in artists’ practice since the early 20th century. The constructivists, followed by cubists and surrealists–and thousands of artists from then to now–have found the idiosyncratic combination of industrially produced images and objects, handmade tchotchkes and cryptic images into compelling artworks an ideal mode for expressing the dislocations and absurdities of modern life.   Picasso and Braque, Marcel Duchamp, Jean Dubuffet, and Robert Rauschenberg have all had their say, but Zdeb finds he is most influenced by the surrealist boxes of Joseph Cornell as well as the work of a lesser-known near-contemporary Janice Lowry (1946-2009).

Elsinore, Larry Zdeb, 2015, wood box with photograph in a steel frame, automotive identification number, adding machine button and copper tube.

Zdeb was born in Highland Park, Michigan, and discovered his vocation for art as a draftee during the Vietnam War era. He was trained and served as an Air Force cartographer, and upon his discharge studied art at Oakland Community College. He began creating his signature assemblages in 2003 and has since participated in over a hundred exhibitions from California to New York City.

The artworks in “Dream Journals” are drawn from unlovely constituent parts, often technical or industrial in nature—a funnel, a cloudy lens, obscure bits of obsolete technical equipment. He traffics only in the broken and discarded, never breaking an intact object, always intent upon reclaiming the discarded.  His color palette runs to shades of gray, olive drab and khaki reminiscent of his military experience.  These aggregations of neglected and lost mementos, while carefully crafted, maintain an air of the contingent. They are formally simple but emotionally complex, nostalgic but unsentimental.

Harris, Larry Zdeb, 2012, 8” x 9″ wood drawer, photograph under engineering acetate, clock spring, brass stencil, fasteners & telescope part.

His assemblage Harris illustrates Zdeb at his most enigmatic. A photo of a formally dressed young man is mounted inside a small wooden box. He gazes out at the viewer seriously, but his expression is obscured by the shadow of a sheet metal label placed above, and a thin curl of steel in front of his face emphasizes his anonymity.  Outside the box, an attached, cloudy lens implies that perhaps some memories can’t be retrieved.

Wednesday, Larry Zdeb, 2010, 14” x 24″ wood frame, 1943 license plate tab, cardboard box with the pictures, newspaper engraver mat, painted tin, feed sack, wire, adding machine part, sand toy, steel part with switch for battery-powered illumination.

In the work Wednesday, the image of a comely young woman in an improbable pose raises more questions than it answers. Next to her, a headline promises: “Spectacle Opens at Auditorium Tonight.” Is she the spectacle? Once again, shadow plays an important part in the composition, the ultramarine funnel casting a heart-shaped penumbra on the forms below. The specificity of the day and date underline–but don’t explain–the mystery of the artwork’s meaning.

Les Preludes, Larry Zdeb, 2023, 12” x 19″ wood, violin part with license plate number, brass mesh, fasteners, hinge, photograph under painted orange plastic, leather glove cut fingers, player piano part with wires, changeable alarm clock numbers, newspaper engraver mat, paper & cloth.

Zdeb offers a small collection of performance-related imagery in Les Preludes: a photograph of a dancer–her prettiness marred by a grubby translucent orange overlay–part of a violin, embossed advertisements, numbers (seat numbers?) The constituent parts are arranged in a row like a sentence or a line from a poem.  In one of his more recent assemblages, the artist breaks out of his usual preferred box format into a line of connected images.

Parasol, 2022, Larry Zdeb, 12” x 18”, painted toy parasol, architectural wood parts, piano part with cloth, antique photograph, wood, copper, buttons, adding machine button.

Parasol, similarly, offers a kind of triptych: a modified cross on the left connects to the center image of a young woman in a hat, surrounded by an elaborate, improvised wooden frame and followed on the right by an open canvas sunshade. The rough textures and faded, abraded colors of the combined elements undermine their intrinsic sweetness.

Zdeb’s artworks might all be said to be about memory and its elusive nature. He returns again and again to photographic images of unidentified subjects, often in costume or in uniform, as if they are reaching out from the past to present themselves to a modern audience. His components form implied narratives that hint at, but then withhold their meanings.

The Clown, Larry Zdeb, 2022, 13” x 14, wood box with steel chambers, each chamber has rolled engineering acetate pieces with rolling wood balls inside, player piano parts with wires, cast iron vent and photograph under refrigerator door plastic.

Each composition in “Dream Journals” is its own conundrum. Zeb is careful not to reveal too much—that would be telling. Instead, his basketball players and ballerinas, his musicians and mannequins, suggest half-remembered visions and barely recalled reminiscences of past friends, past events, and past lives.   These imperfectly recalled scenarios illuminate a larger theme—that no matter how hard we try to retain our memories, they are constantly in the process of slipping away.

Dream Journals: Mixed Media Assemblages by Larry Zdeb at the Color|Ink Studio through December 20, 2023.


Shouldn’t You Be Working? @ MSU Broad Museum

Shouldn’t You Be Working? 100 Years of Working from Home installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2023. Photo: Vincent Morse/MSU Broad Art Museum.

In 1896, Michigan State University opened the doors to its School of Home Economics, one of the first in the nation. The school even contained a fully functional practice home where the students cooked, cleaned, and hosted events. The home was demolished in 2008, and the Broad Art Museum was erected in its place. Taking its former school of home economics as its reference point, through December 27, the Broad presents Shouldn’t You Be Working? 100 Years of Working From Home. Curated by Teresa Fankhänel, the exhibit features photography, digital media, and installation, and it explores the intersection of work and home life, focusing on how technology and artificial intelligence are shaping the future of both.

This exhibition pairs ten contemporary artists and architects with a selection of photography and ephemera, including archival photographs from the university’s former School of Home Economics. These are paired alongside iconic photographs of workers in their homes, taken by the likes of Walker Evans and Marion Post Wolcott, who, on behalf of the Farm Security Administration, famously documented the lives of the rural workers and sharecroppers who struggled to maintain their livelihoods during the Great Depression.

Records of the MSU School of Home Economics. Courtesy Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections.

Marion Post Wolcott, A member of the Fred Wilkins family making biscuits for dinner on cornhusking day, Tallyho, near Stem, N.C., 1939. Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, Michigan State University, purchase, funded by the Emma Grace Holmes Endowment, 2006.33.1

The visual epicenter of the exhibition space is a partial recreation (at a 1 to 1 ratio) of the Paolucci Building, the former home economics practice house that once occupied this site. This interactive structure serves to frame a selection of photography, digital art, and an installation, which explore contemporary intersections of work and home life. Inside, there’s a mock-up of a home office replete with all the trappings of a television studio; a sight which will resonate with any of us who have been on a Zoom call. It also recalls the home studios of the social media “influencers” who ironically manage to create lucrative public careers from the privacy of their homes.  This office installation, Cream Screen, by Marisa Olson, also serves to confront and dismantle the assumption that the technology to work or study remotely is accessible to everyone.

Shouldn’t You Be Working? 100 Years of Working from Home installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2023. Photo: Vincent Morse/MSU Broad Art Museum.

Shouldn’t You Be Working? 100 Years of Working from Home installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2023. Photo: Vincent Morse/MSU Broad Art Museum.

Also inside this recreation of the Paolucci Building is a selection of photography by Korean artist Won Kim. His series Living Small shows the cramped living quarters of Tokyo’s pod hotels. Unlike the city’s chic capsule hotels (more refined, but still not for the claustrophobic), these pods are little more than plywood boxes; there’s not even a door or windows. These spaces offer very low-income housing for individuals in between jobs, and are the ultimate expression of minimalist living. These images call to mind the famous photograph Five Cents a Spot taken by Jacob Riis, which shows the crammed tenement housing of some of New York City’s poorest residents.   

Won Kim, Enclosed: Living Small, 2014. Photo print © Won Kim

Several monitors screen short video works that specifically address how technology shapes our work/home balance. Theo Triantafyllidis’ Ork Haus applies a sort of dark, absurdist humor in his digital portrayal of a dysfunctional family of orks (yes, orks) at home during lockdown. All are hopelessly addicted to their screens (VR headsets, TVs, and phones). The papa ork dabbles in cryptocurrency, and his little orkling learns to code; meanwhile, the family is oblivious to real-world catastrophes that surround them, such as the out-of-control fire in their kitchen.

Theo Triantafyllidis, Ork House, 2022. Live simulation video © Theo Triantafyllidis

Merger, a video by Keiichi Matsuda, presents us with a dystopian future in which artificial intelligence has taken over all corporations. The film’s unnamed protagonist has resigned to this digital takeover, acknowledging her status as a human is obsolete, and ultimately makes the decision to transition into a digital entity.

Keiichi Matsuda, Merger, 2018. Video © Keiichi Matsuda

For better or for worse, the boundaries between work and home are shifting. And COVID certainly accelerated the process, turning our homes into workspaces, at least for those of us who were fortunate to have the means to work remotely. This exhibition doesn’t necessarily criticize the advent of new technologies in the home, though it does invite us to pause for a moment and consider what this brave new world will look like.

Shouldn’t You Be Working? is on view at the MSU Broad Art Museum through December 17, 2023.

Susan Yamasaki @ Center Gallery

A Collection of Birch Assemblages at the Center Gallery in Glen Arbor, Michigan.

Installation image, work by Susan Yamasaki at Center Gallery, Glen Arbor, 2023  Image courtesy of Susan Tusa

It has been nineteen years since Susan and Taro move from Birmingham, Michigan, to the glacial moraine in Leelanau County, where their property rises upward to look out over Lake Michigan and the Sleeping Bear Dunes.  The forest comprises thick oaks, pines, black ash, beech/maple, and birch.  A devastating storm in 2015 snapped birch trees in half, and Susan foraged her land to discover this bark from birch trees with a wide diversity of color and texture.

The following birch assemblages are a sample of what is now on display at Center Gallery, opening August 4 -10th, 2023, in Glen Arbor, Michigan.

She says in her statement, “My heart would break as I would step over the wreckage of trees whose lives had ended.  But upon taking a closer look, I could see that the bark of the birch beautifully reveals the experience of the tree.  I chose to use the bark of the fallen birch to make my art.  The panels become sacred objects, honoring the link between earth and sky.  They pay homage to the struggle and adaptability of each tree.”

Susan Yamasaki, Shift, 26 x 31″, Assemblage, 2023  Image courtesy of Taro Yamasaki.

The assemblage is composed formally on a grid and is abstract.  Shift has chevrons on the top and bottom of the center staged rectangle, and the overall pieces are squares with bits and pieces of gold leaf as a border and a punctuated black frame.

Assemblage is the art of creating a three-dimensional sculptural composition from found objects.  One of the best-known assemblage artists of the 20th century was the Russian-born American sculptor Louise Nevelson. She transformed these found objects into large wall-mounted and free-standing reliefs, which often take the form of stacked boxes and compartments.  Once assembled, the sculpture was spray-painted with a single color – usually black, white, or gold – to unify the complex sculptural elements and bring symbolic meaning.

Susan Yamasaki, Hieroglyphs, 35 x 35″, Assemblage, 2021. Image courtesy of Taro Yamasaki.

It is easy to say squares and rectangles dominate the motifs in a background of white in Hieroglyphs, as the square abstraction surrounds a cluster of gold leaf objects.  Found in ancient Egyptian art, the stylized shapes represent a word, syllable, or sound, where gold is designed to elevate the symbol’s value.

Susan Yamasaki, Burnt, 34 x 34″, Assemblage, 2020.    Image courtesy of Taro Yamasaki.

In the work, Burnt, although its background is a field of squares, an overlapping darkened color represents the birch that was touched by fire.  The effect contrasts the composition and moves the action of larger pieces of bark from left to right, repeating the small horizontal lines in many of the squares.

Susan Yamasaki, Underbark, 35 x 30″ Assemblage, 2023, Image courtesy of Taro Yamasaki.

The image Underbark, illustrates how the artist handles color (red and orange), which opens the door to expanding the option to future compositions.  It is noticeable that Susan Yamasaki has a comfort level using a grid-based composition of squares and working overtime on variations of well-established designs of gold leaf borders and black frames until she gets to a point where there are options that present themselves.

Until now, she has created a very personal oeuvre: abstract assemblages based on her relationship with material that is part of her natural environment, but raises the question, where will the work go from here?

Susan Yamasaki, Installation, Assemblages, 2023.  Image courtesy to Taro Yamasaki.

Susan Yamasaki studied art at Michigan State University and then finished at Wayne State University, ultimately with a degree in Art History.  She earned a teaching certificate and taught science at Roeper School in Suburban Detroit.  After moving to northern Michigan, she taught at a public Montessori school in Traverse City.

Susan Yamasaki, Birch Assemblages, Center Gallery in Glen Arbor, Michigan, August 4 – 10, 2023.

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