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Work from Mexico @ Flint Institute of Arts

Installation image of FIA exterior

The Flint Institute of Arts is not an enormous museum, but it delivers a big experience. One of the wonders of the FIA is how they manage to do so much in a relatively small space. The museum boasts a dozen galleries featuring a spectrum of objects from across the ages and around the world; notable contemporary glass and ceramics galleries; a showcase-lined corridor devoted to decorative arts; a theater and a sculpture court; and a small gallery between the obligatory gift shop and cafe that sells work made by students from the adjacent art school. At the very back of the building is the Sheppy Dog Library (named for philanthropist Dr. Alan Klein’s golden retriever), a warm, welcoming reading room stocked with reference books and comfy chairs in which to peruse them.

Installation, From Earth To Sky: Ancient Art of the Americas

Of course, there’s generous space given over to large headliner exhibitions, but there’s also a tiny media arts gallery — a “black box” theater designed to show video works. And just in front of the library is the FIA’s graphics gallery, a dark-walled room with subdued lighting, just big enough to comfortably showcase a dozen or so prints or drawings. All three of these spaces are currently hosting art created by Mexican artists, featuring work that spans two millennia. In the main galleries is the exhibit From Earth To Sky: Ancient Art of the Americas, showcasing ceramic figures and objects from the collection of a Texas oil magnate. The graphics room offers Mexicanidad, a portfolio of twelve prints created by El Taller de Gráfica Popular, a progressive-minded, Mexico City-based printmaking collective founded in 1937. And in the Security Credit Union Media Arts Gallery, they’re showing Pocha Dream, an eleven-and-a-half minute excerpt from the Dream Machine Archive, a “psychodynamic audio and video tool” designed by artist Natalia Rocafuerte to help immigrant women interpret their dreams. (Rocafuerte grew up around the Mexico/Texas border, and became a naturalized US citizen in 2019.)

Ted Weiner was a second-generation oil man who threw himself and a chunk of his fortune into art collecting in the 1950s. He acquired an impressive array of modernist works, as well as a large collection of indigenous Mexican sculptures, which were experiencing a vogue at the time. He was noted for his “catholicity of taste” — which could be taken as a backhanded compliment. But Weiner’s collection of pre-Hispanic ceramics was of such quality that when his daughter offered the complete set to the FIA after his death, the museum (after doing due diligence) gladly accepted it.

Jalisco, Ancestor Pair, ca. 200 BCE – 200 CE Ceramic

Many of the pieces on display here are smallish terracotta figures or vessels from the Nayarit, Jalisco, and Colima regions of western Mexico, created to be buried along with deceased members of elite families, in underground tombs beneath a family’s home. The tombs were accessible by shafts, and often contained the remains of several of a family’s ancestors. To modern eyes, the figures depicted by the sculptures might seem enviably relaxed and relatable: seated on stools, sitting arm-in-arm, smoking, or leaning back with legs spread as if lounging on the beach. But the elaborate jewelry, scarifications, tattoos, headwear, and other features on these figures indicate prestige and authority handed down through ancestral bloodlines. Male-and-female couples sitting side by side are thought to represent the ancestral progenitors from whom a family’s elite status flowed. Some figures have abstracted features to emphasize rank over individual likenesses. Elsewhere in the exhibit, other walks of life are represented; most dramatic are the shaman warriors, dressed in cylindrical armor and outsized helmets, and brandishing clubs. Everyday activities such as playing ball, preparing food and medicines, and giving birth are depicted as well.

Colima,  Dog, ca. 200 BCE – 200 CE Ceramic

Dogs were a favorite subject of these sculptures, and ceramic canines were common in the tombs. They’re undeniably cute; one small dog on display here is flopped with its legs splayed out, and another boasts a rotund belly, toothy grin, and even an anatomically correct backside that will charm any dog person. For ancient Mexicans, these dogs held spiritual significance as well; they may have acted as guides for the deceased into the underworld, valued companions in death as they were in life. The chubby “Colima Dog” has since become iconic of the region, and its image has been adopted by contemporary Mexican artists such as Guillermo Ríos Alcalá, whose monumental version of a pair of the dogs dances over a traffic circle in Colima, part of an ongoing process of re-establishing connections to pre-Hispanic culture.

Mexicanidad, Installation view

The concept of Mexicanidad (essentially, “Mexican-ness”) links the ancient works in the main gallery with modern ones in the FIA’s print gallery via the post-revolutionary nationalist movement by that name. Most often associated with the mural projects of “Los Tres Grandes” — Orozco, Siqueiros, and Rivera — the Mexicanidad movement had an important printmaking aspect as well, rooted in the social commentary of predecessors such as José Guadalupe Posada. While the “Big Three” educated the people on progressive issues with large-scale public wall paintings, the printmaking collective El Taller de Gráfica Popular (TGP) took the opposite tack: creating small, accessible, and affordable artworks, though still with powerful leftist political messaging. The portfolio displayed here, simply titled “Mexican People,” comprises a dozen lithographs produced in 1946 by TGP for the purpose of promoting Mexican products in the United States. 

Alberto Beltrán, The Sugar Mill, 1946 Lithograph


Alfredo Zalce, Lumber Workers, ca. 1945 Lithograph

American ex-pat artist Pablo O’Higgins (FKA Paul Higgins before becoming an assistant to Diego Rivera) contributes two prints, one of a man and child stacking bricks, and another of an older woman selling her wares at market. O’Higgins employs heavy, sinuous lines that lend his subjects both muscularity and grace. Alberto Beltrán’s image of a man feeding sugar cane into a donkey-driven mill is as elegant as it is diagrammatic, concisely describing the process in a masterfully composed image. Alfredo Zalce’s litho of a lumber operation is similarly beautiful, the arc of a precariously balanced worker’s saw echoing that of reddish logs, splayed like fingers and bobbing in blue-green water. Francisco Mora depicts a silver miner, hunched and approaching the viewer in a claustrophobic tunnel, but not alone — his companions are visible laboring in the background. Though the prints in the “Mexican People” portfolio were intended for a US audience, they nevertheless evince the TGP’s populist concerns; for a campaign promoting export products, the images here pointedly privilege the laborers, their tools and their environments over the products themselves (in much the way Rivera emphasizes the auto manufacturing process over actual cars in his Detroit Industry murals).

Natalia Rocafuerte Pocha Dream, 2021 Lithograph

Inspired by Jungian analysis, which posits that dreams are the way the unconscious communicates with the conscious mind, artist Natalia Rocafuerte set up a hotline, complete with ads featuring cheesy late-night infomercial style graphics, encouraging immigrant women from Detroit and South Texas to call in and answer a survey about their dreams. From these reports, Rocafuerte created short films interpreting the dreams, done in a chaotic, disjointed video collage technique that echoes dream logic: overlapping images, snippets of random advertisements and social media videos, computer games, songs and other pop ephemera.

Natalia Rocafuerte Dream of Emma and Tony, 2021 Lithograph

The eleven-and-a-half minute clip featured at FIA is entitled Pocha Dream, a reference to a (somewhat joking) slang term for Mexicans who’ve lost their Spanish, and perhaps their culture — who have “changed color,” like a rotting fruit (so explains the robotic voiceover that opens the video). The clip includes Dream of Emma and Tony, a short that got Rocafuerte named Best Michigan Filmmaker at 2021’s Ann Arbor Film Festival. In Emma and Tony, Rocafuerte recounts a dream encounter with her normally reclusive (and deaf and blind) grandmother. As she talks, home movies of the older woman are intercut with a face-constructing computer program from the Sims game, as if Rocafuerte’s mind was casting about trying to build a memory of her Abuela. Nostalgic TV ad jingles and graphics from news programs occasionally interrupt the story. The scene somehow segues to an elevated train, traveling first through a Chicago-esque cityscape, then into the desert of west Texas. Along for the ride are an annoying white tourist, and SnapChat denizen and self-described “ladies man” Tony Johns, who hoots and drops inane life advice. Obnoxious as Johns seems, Rocafuerte finds herself admiring his self-confidence. The desert gives way to a meadow just before the dream abruptly ends.

Aside from noting their common origins from Mexican artists, it might be a bit fraught to suggest there are common threads running between 2,000-year-old clay figurines, 78-year-old lithographs, and a Covid-era short film. Suffice to say that the artworks in each exhibit address, and dignify, the quotidian concerns of the artists and their subjects. Those concerns may be personal or political, practical or spiritual, and sometimes all of the above.

From Earth To Sky: Ancient Art of the Americas –   On view now through August 25

Mexicanidad  – On view now through September 8

Dream Machine Archive: Pocha Dream  –On view now through July 31

Kinship: The Legacy of Gallery 7 and From Scratch: Seeding Adornment @ MOCAD

Kinship: The Legacy of Gallery 7  and  From Scratch: Seeding Adornment, New Work by Lakela Brown @ Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit

Visitors to MOCAD this summer will have four new shows to enjoy, each adding a facet to the kaleidoscopic multicultural Detroit art scene.  At the entrance to the museum, we find “Kinship: The Legacy of Gallery 7.”   It’s a collection of significant objects and images providing a window into the art world of the late 1960’s, post-rebellion, when African American artists in Detroit achieved a collective sense of themselves and their purpose. Next, Lakela Brown’s first solo museum show “From Scratch: Seeding Adornment,” looks to a future that explores Black experience through racially specific foodways and styles of personal adornment. Drawing our attention out to the broader landscape, Meleko Mokgosi , a Botswanan artist and academic now living in the U.S., provides a scholarly examination of Black artists as they have seen themselves and are seen by others through the lens of colonialism and diasporic history. Lastly, in Mike Kelly’s Mobile Homestead, museum visitors will find a more informal conversation among the city’s artists, curators, and administrators on the collaborative nature of art presentation.

With apologies to the creatives responsible for “Zones of Non-Being” and “Word of Mouth,” and meaning no disrespect, l will concentrate here upon the artists represented in “Kinship” and “From Scratch. “

Kinship: The Legacy of Gallery 7

 Those with a particular interest in the art history of Detroit and of the African American artists working in abstraction in particular,  will have the pleasure of seeing a selection of work by some of the city’s most significant practitioners, many represented by the iconic Gallery 7, which showed outstanding work by Black (male) artists from 1969-1979. (In a spirit of retrospective reparation for past gender discrimination, Abel Gonzalez Fernandez, the curator of the exhibition, has also tactfully included work by several contemporaneous female artists, Elizabeth Youngblood, Gilda Snowden, and Naomi Dickerson.)

Fernandez has done an admirable job of telling the story of this seminal period in the city’s art history by employing a small, but choice, selection of artworks begged and borrowed from collectors, the artists themselves or their estates.  A welcome bonus is a newspaper-style publication accompanying the exhibition, which includes a well-researched and written short history of the gallery by the curator. The compilation of contemporary press coverage that accompanies his essay goes a long way toward explaining the excitement that accompanied the art that was shown there during the gallery’s ten-year existence. It is also a melancholy reminder of how much the art audience lost when intelligent art journalism in Detroit’s mainstream newspapers ceased with the advent of the Internet.

Lester Johnson (b. 1937) The Sorceress and the Dreamtime Spirits, 1974, installation: wood, fabric, vegetal fiber, feathers, bells.   All images courtesy of K.A. Letts

Several of the artists in “Kinship” take inspiration from African artifacts. One of the show’s highlights is The Sorceress and The Dreamtime Spirits (1974) 9 wall-mounted sculptures by Lester Johnson that mimic the form of West African ceremonial objects. The long rods made of found branches and poles are fabricated and decorated with industrial and post-industrial materials, a process Johnson describes as “creating a hybrid product between ancestors and urban present.”

Elizabeth Youngblood (b. 1952) Loop 8, 2015, porcelain and wire.

 Loop 8, by Elizabeth Youngblood, subtly references Black personal adornment, a recurring theme in the art of female African Americans, as we see in Lakela Brown’s nearby solo show. (But more on that later.)  Using the simplest means of expression, wire, and barely modeled porcelain clay, Youngblood teases out tremulous but insistent meaning from humble materials.

Harold Neal, a major figure in the Black Arts Movement of the 1970’s, is represented in “Kinship” by Brotherhood, a medium-sized, text-heavy artwork that wears its racial advocacy on its sleeve.  The artist’s work, through the 1960’s and 1970s when Gallery 7 was in operation, was figurative and militantly political. As a movement leader, he led a faction of Black creatives whose radical work was in tension, if not in opposition, to the more cerebral concerns of his fellow gallery artists. (A recently published history of this group, “Harold Neal and Detroit African American Artists: 1945 through the Black Arts Movement” by Julia R. Myers, is available from Amazon.)

Harold Neal (1924-1996) Brotherhood, n.d., oil on board.

The art practice of the Gallery 7 artists focused primarily on their own personal experience as African Americans, or as gallery founder Charles McGee explained, “My roots are in America, and the ideas I deal with as an artist come out of this time and place.”  McGee occupies a special position in Detroit’s art history. In addition to his importance as the force behind Gallery 7, he was an influential arts educator and a leader in the African American art community. Many of his public artworks can be seen throughout the city, and his importance was recently acknowledged by a posthumous survey of his work in the newly opened Shepherd in Detroit’s Little Village. Ring Around the Rosy, an early McGee work from the 1960s, is a tantalizing glimpse of the artist’s figurative work before he moved in a less conventional direction.

Charles McGee (1924-2021) Ring Around the Rosy, ca 1950’s, oil on board.

Allie McGhee, a significant Detroit artist honored by a major retrospective in 2022 at Cranbrook Art Museum, is represented here by a couple of lively abstract paintings. The Artist in his Studio (1973) is chromatically subdued, allowing the gestural line to take center stage.  His recurring use of a personal icon, the banana moon horn, was first seen during his tenure at Gallery 7 and continues in his current work, a personal, idiosyncratic emblem of ancestral energy brought from the past into the present.  Coco Blue (1984), a more colorful cousin to The Artist in His Studio, is typical of McGhee’s later work and exhibits the exuberant presence typical of his paintings.

Allie McGhee (b. 1941) Artist in the Studio, 1973, mixed media on Masonite.


Allie McGhee, Coco Blue, 1984, mixed media on Masonite.

Album, a self-portrait by Gilda Snowden, is a psychological and physical evocation of the artist, an embodiment of her tempestuous and elusive power. Her unexpected and premature death in 2014 cut short a promising career, but this painting preserves her positive presence. It is an enduring influence she shares with the eminent artists represented in “Kinship.”

Gilda Snowden (1954-2014) Album, 1989, oil on canvas.

Artists represented in “Kinship: The Legacy of Gallery 7”   Namoi Dickerson, Lester Johnson, Charles McGee, Allie McGhee, Harold Neal, Gilda Snowden, Robert J. Stull, Elizabeth Youngblood.   June 28-September 8, 2024

From Scratch: Seeding Adornment

LaKela Brown describes her first solo museum show, “From Scratch: Seeding Adornment,” as a love letter to her community. “I want to center culturally significant objects that challenge and hopefully correct historic […] notions of value and taste while loving the brilliance and ingenuity of my community,” she explains. Brown practices a kind of archeology in reverse—preserving present cultural artifacts for future appreciation rather than searching for ancient objects to excavate and exploit. She is looking forward rather than back.

Lakela Brown, Parts and Labor (Eight Collard Green Leaves, Five Hands) 2024, urethane resin.

Brown, who grew up in West Detroit, has filled two large galleries at MOCAD with resin and plaster casts of foods specifically related to the culture of the Black diaspora and objects of personal adornment, particularly doorknocker earrings. The materials she uses to create these artworks are well-known to artists and lend an air of elegance and permanence by their association with classical museum casts.

Lakela Brown, Doorway to Adornment, 2024, site-specific installation, urethane resin.

The first gallery features resin casts of vegetables– collard greens, corn, okra–artfully arranged on the gallery walls in square formats.  In a surreal touch, and in tribute to her matriarchal connections, the artist tucks barely visible casts of the delicate hands of her grandmother, Evelyn Helen Brown, in among the vegetables. Though the usual designation for artworks featuring food is still life, these pieces, in the formality of their presentation and their low-relief arrangement on a rectilinear base, seem to be more architectural in nature. In particular, the ruffled edges of the collard greens call to mind decorative rococo details one might see in an 18th-century European drawing room. Brown makes the comparison explicit with the site-specific row of cast collard greens installed over the doorway to the second gallery, Gateway to Adornment (2024). With her casts of ethnically specific doorknocker earrings, chain necklaces, and other ornaments to the body—including casts of crowned teeth—Brown taps into a rich vein of visual associations she shares with many of her contemporaries. A case in point is the work of Tiff Massey, now on view at the DIA, which features hair ornaments—oversized ponytail ties and enormous replicas of Snaptite Kiddie Barrettes, as well as an entire wall of hair weaves. The exhibition’s curator, Jova Lynne, who also shares many of Brown’s creative interests in her own work, says, “Lakela’s practice is a mirror to Black legacies that encourage people across the diaspora, including myself, to take pride in reflections of home…In her work, I see the cultivation of land, the preservation of adornment, and the production of artworks acting as ledgers of Black life.”

Lakela Brown,  Coverall Composition with Doorknocker Earrings.  , Gold (2023) plaster

The exhibitions on view now at MOCAD emphatically demonstrate the interrelated nature of the art community in Detroit, a true commonwealth of creatives who share philosophies, exchange materials and cross-pollinate cultures.  Born of common experience, each collection of artworks forms part of a contrapuntal melody–or maybe a jazz improvisation–of mutually reinforcing themes which flow from one gallery to the next and out into the city.

Kinship: The Legacy of Gallery 7 and From Scratch: Seeding Adornment @ MOCAD


Elevation: Kaneko & Contemporary Ceramics @ Elaine Jacobs Gallery

Wayne State University Art Exhibition – Elevation: Kaneko & Contemporary Ceramics at Elaine Jacobs Gallery

Installation: Elevation: Kaneko & Contemporary Ceramics, 2023, All images: Ashley Cook

The history of sculptural ceramics dates back to as early as the Paleolithic period with its small ritualistic animal and human figures modeled out of clay. Serving to represent and understand their environment, the people of that era exercised the practice of assigning meaning to an object that would otherwise be considered non-functional. With ceramic having such an instrumental role in the evolution of craft and technology throughout time, the conversation around it as a fine art medium is not necessarily new, but less usual. Elevation at Elaine Jacobs Gallery seeks to draw attention to fine artists working in ceramic, with a particular focus on Japanese artist Jun Kaneko, whose practice has been influential since the 1980s.

Untitled, 1984, Jun Kaneko, ceramic.

The exhibition statement provides accessibility to the curatorial objective of the thirty-three works on display. Following a brief background into the life of Kaneko, readers learn of the mentorships that shaped his early work and fostered his development into an artist with a unique conceptual approach to the use of ceramic. Curators Jessica Edgar, the Assistant Professor and Area Coordinator of Ceramics at Wayne State University, worked in collaboration with Kat Goffnett, the Assistant Curator of Collections at Cranbrook Art Museum, to assemble 11 artists, including Jun Kaneko, whose work carries on this lineage of exploration into contemporary times. In addition to the consistency of their applied medium, each of the selected artists have been observed to use metaphor to connect with their cultural heritage and examine the effects of diaspora on their relationship to material tradition. A purposefully wide array of backgrounds are successfully represented here to underline the expansive presence of clay as a strictly sculptural medium.

Vejigante: Viiejo, 2023, Joey Quiñones, ceramic, terracotta, wood, terra sigillata, gilding.

A majority of the artists selected to participate in this exhibition are part of their own cultural diaspora, traveling from places like Mexico City or Southern India to live and work as artists in the US. The organic and imperfect hand-built forms reference sculptures of ancient civilizations while the more precise patterning reminds us of modern ceramic techniques. Visitors have the opportunity to enjoy eclecticism of glaze use, subject and presentation as they navigate from rock-shaped floor and wall works by Jun Kaneko to Joey Quiñones’ Afro-Latinex inspired mask pieces. Patrice Renee Washington’s stoneware is accompanied by Renta Cassiano Alvarez’ mantel of ceramic, obsidian, gold, tile and wood, a digital print by Khalil Robert Irving, a ceramic-human hair hybrid sculpture by Adebunmi Gbadebo and a mixed media sculpture by Magdolene Dykstra. Up the stairs, the visitors approach a projected film by Ashwini Bhat presented in tandem with three of Bhat’s sculptures alongside three of Michiko Murakami’s experimental collage-like ceramic amalgamations, a wall work by Shaarbani Das Gupta and two iterations of a vase-like ceramic form by Ebitenyefa Baralaye. Jun Kaneko’s work is scattered evenly throughout both the first and second floor of the gallery, almost as a mirroring technique that allows for analysis of his influence in those who he has inspired.

Alive 1, Alive 2, Alive 3, 2023, Ashwini Bhat, glazed ceramic sculpture.

Elevation: Kaneko & Contemporary Ceramics at Elaine Jacobs Gallery opened on September 15, 2023 and is on view until December 9, 2023.

Spumoni, 2023, ceramic and Cloud Grid, 2023, graphite, sumi ink, Michiko Murakami.

Elaine Jacobs Gallery is located at 480 W Hancock St, Detroit, MI 48201.  Gallery Hours are Tuesday and Thursday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday from 12 p.m.-7 p.m

Iris Eichenberg @ David Klein Gallery

Iris Eichenberg: Topoanalysis / Wer Bin Ich? will be at the David Klein Gallery in Detroit though Nov. 4, 2023.

An installation shot of Iris Eichenberg: Topoanalysis / Wer Bin Ich? will be at the David Klein Gallery in Detroit through Nov. 4, 2023.  (All images courtesy of David Klein Gallery.)

With Topoanalysis / Wer Bin Ich?, Iris Eichenberg — the German-born, Dutch-educated head of metalsmithing at Cranbrook Academy of Art — continues her probing search for roots and meaning, particularly as found in material objects and places in memory. The solo exhibition will be up at Detroit’s David Klein Gallery until Nov. 4, 2023.

“Topoanalysis” is a term coined by the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard and refers to the psychological study of key sites in our intimate lives. And as the question in the title — “Who am I?” — underlines, this exhibition explores identity and personal history through allegorical representations of people and houses that still echo in Eichenberg’s life.


Iris Eichenberg, Academy Way, Wood, bark; 16 ½ by 24 ½ by 10 ½ inches, 2023.

The show comes in three parts, employing very different materials: wood, fabric, and pottery. But this won’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s followed the artist’s career since she first landed in America, at Cranbrook in 2006. Creative tools in Eichenberg’s hands have included materials as disparate as her grandmother’s silk stockings and silver spoons, colorful birds crammed in painful cages, knitted mittens, glistening ceramic vessels, or, in the case of her 2020 show The Center Piece / The Blank, white and dark-gray discs hung from elegant, wide strips of black fabric. From a distance, the wallscape read almost like modernist architecture.

What Eichenberg said in this writer’s first conversation with her 14 years ago is clearly still as apt as it was then, and amounts to a sort of design philosophy: “I always try to encounter and fight with new material.” Indeed she does.

In Topoanalysis, Eichenberg’s constructed simplified “houses” up to a couple feet tall that look a bit like giant versions of children’s blocks. Each structure, rendered in warm, contrasting wood tones, is a stand-in for someplace the artist lived, where memories and emotions are deeply lodged. Some of these houses are attached to poles with a cross-piece or handle at the far end, suggesting, perhaps, that even a house constitutes a tool.


Iris Eichenberg, J.P. Lennepkade 287/289 (Table), Wood, French linen, 30 by 76 ½ by 44 ½ inches, 2023.

It’s worth noting that for all their simplicity, the workmanship on these wooden sculptures is gorgeous, as are their compositional arrangements. An absolute knock-out, even if a total mystery, is J.P. Lennepkade 287/289 (Table), where a house resembling a Monopoly token you’d put on Park Place hangs several inches above the floor, suspended by a wooden dowel and cross-piece hanging from a tidy slot in the middle of a handsomely constructed table.

Interestingly, Eichenberg – an artist of multitudinous talents – milled all the wood that went into Topoanalysis from an old walnut tree that had to be taken down in a friend’s garden.

The artist’s current residence at Cranbrook, designed by Eliel Saarinen, is represented by a squat, gabled affair titled Academy Way that rests on a large, curvaceous piece of bark. (Other houses often sit on a cushion of beige French linen.) As it happens, the bark is not flush with the floor, but has a low “arch” in the center, right where you expect a solid foundation line. Stand back a ways, and you can see light peeking through from the far side.


Iris Eichenberg, Wer Bin Eich, French linen, brass weights, charcoal, 100 by 98 by 52 inches, 2023.

Compared to the wood houses, something entirely different is going on with Wer Bin Eich, an eight-foot-tall house built of draped French linen hung from hooks, a little like a quickly erected tent. Of all the works in the show, this is perhaps the most enigmatic, not least because of the rough charcoal sketch facing it on the wall a couple of feet away that echoes its outline in quick, slapdash strokes. If the wooden houses suggest permanence and solidity, Wer Bin Eich trumpets instability and the fragile nature of human constructions.

Peering down at these artifacts are three muted, abstract portraits of friends of Eichenberg’s – Ilse, Ida, and Frida. Their faces are rendered in dribs and drabs of meticulously stitched fabrics, ranging from cheesecloth to horse hair to damask.


Iris Eichenberg, Ida, French linen, gold linen, cheesecloth, mopcloth, rabbit fur, produce bag, Chinese silk, 72 by 48 inches, 2023.

Finally, the show is capped by a series of nine dark-gray earthenware vessels, some resting on wooden shelves that almost act as frames, and one cozying up to one of her wood houses.

These are not the fine, glossy ceramics Eichenberg’s made in the past. In their slumping and swelling, these primitive, near-black earthenware vessels feel almost organic – like zaftig body parts — with mouths that yearn to talk or pour. It’s hard not to see them as animate little… somethings.

All in all, Topoanalysis is an intriguing, sometimes dizzying mix. As Wayne State art historian Dora Apel wrote in “Essay’d” in 2019, in a comment that applies equally well to this domestic installation, Eichenberg’s work “evokes alienation and dislocation, combined with a sense of yearning for comfort, warmth, and attachment.”

Iris Eichenberg, Black Earthenware Pot, Wood, black earthenware, various dimensions, 2023.

The solo show Iris Eichenberg: Topoanalysis / Wer Bin Ich? will be up at Detroit’s David Klein Gallery through Nov. 4, 2023.

Concerning Landscape @ Detroit Artists Market

An installation shot of Concerning Landscape at Detroit Artists Market, up through Feb. 18. Image courtesy of Michael Hodges.

Over the centuries, the venerable landscape painting has evolved far from the Dutch masters who first perfected the genre — a fact underlined by the heterogeneous work in Concerning Landscape, up through Feb. 18 at both the Detroit Artists Market and the new Brigitte Harris Cancer Pavilion at the Henry Ford Cancer Institute in Detroit.

Curator Megan Winkel has adopted a refreshingly ecumenical point of view in pulling this together. Works range from Ann Smith’s intriguingly peculiar sculptures with their bunched reeds and dangling root systems to Carla Anderson’s photographic prints of geologic forms, including lyrically striated rocks in a spring in Yellowstone County, Wyoming.

A fan of the grand view? Not to worry. Concerning Landscape also embraces figurative vistas, like Helen Gotlib’s meticulous intaglio print, West Lake Preserve II, or Bill Schahfer’s lush photo study, Lagoon Life.

Helen Gotlib, West Lake Preserve II, Intaglio print, carved birch panel, palladium leaf; 2021.  All Images courtesy of DAM

 “West Lake Preserve” places the viewer right in the tall weeds, looking up a small valley to a pond and woods, a highly satisfying view. The large print’s divided into eight separate panels, and with the exception of a little dull orange at the top, it’s mostly a duotone essay in sepia and black. The photographic print, Lagoon Life, by contrast, stars a white ibis posing beneath a jungle crush of palm trees that all loom, menacingly, over the elegant bird’s head.

Winkel comes at all this curation from an interesting vantage point. She’s the manager and curator for the Healing Arts Program at Henry Ford Health Systems in Detroit, tasked with buying art for the sprawling medical empire. “Curatorial projects for me are mostly big buildings now,” she said, “and thinking about all the ways people can experience art when they’re not seeking it out.” The landscape, she adds, has understandably long found a home in medical centers given its generally soothing visions of a natural world far beyond the reach of the artificial light of the hospital ward.

Landscape as an art subject, of course, has a long, respectable history. Both the ancient Greeks and Romans enjoyed the genre, and the walls in upper-class homes were sometimes painted with pastoral views. But the status of the landscape plummeted in the Middle Ages, when religion elbowed every other art subject aside. Indeed, the natural world was reduced to a mere afterthought, and one with generally lousy perspective, to boot.

Things began to turn around in the Renaissance, particularly during Holland’s “Golden Age” in the late 16th and 17thcenturies, when an exquisite sensitivity to landscape and weather welled up in many studios, yielding in the best cases – van Ruisdael comes to mind — breathtakingly believable clouds and storm-tossed skies. Indeed, an online essay by the National Gallery of Art notes that “with their emphasis on atmosphere, Dutch landscapes might better be called ‘sky-scapes.’” (The Detroit Institute of Arts, by the way, has an outstanding collection of Golden Age Dutch paintings, well worth seeking out on your next visit.)

Catherine Peet, Looking Up from the Deep, Mixed media, 10” diameter.

The one piece in Concerning Landscape that gives van Ruisdael a run for his money is the vertiginous, gorgeous, Looking Up from the Deep by Catherine Peet, which you’ll find at the Henry Ford Cancer Pavilion gallery. This delicate sunrise or sunset-tinged cloudscape feels like it should be peering down at you from the dome of some state capitol, an impression strengthened by its circular frame.

Sharing some of the same warm tones but at the far abstract end of the spectrum is Carole Harris’ mixed-media Desert Flower. The 2015 Kresge Artist Fellow has constructed an overlapping stack of hand-made fiber sheets that read like thick, highly textured paper, in colors ranging from cocoa to an alarming red peeking out beneath all the others.

The simplicity of this particular conceit is striking, as is Harris’ ability to make real drama out of colors that only emerge as narrow strips visible beneath the warm brown sheet on top. That Desert Flower pushes the boundary of “landscape” goes without question – so, too, the fact that it kind of knocks the wind out of you.

Carole Harris, Desert Flower, Fiber, 2023

Russian transplant Olya Salimova, currently on a one-year BOLT Residency with the Chicago Artists Coalition, gives us something entirely different with her Body into Dill, one of the most original and daffy conceptions in the entire show. The centerpiece of this photograph is a rectangular garden space – disturbingly, about the size of a grave – that’s dug into the patchy lawn of some unpretentious backyard. Metal garden edging sunk in the turned-up dirt sketches a simple human shape, rather like police outlines of dead bodies on the sidewalk. Within that human-like enclosure, someone – Salimova? — has planted dill weed.

Its obvious imperfections are part of what makes this image so compelling. The yard clearly needs work, and the plantings in the “body” are scattered, newly dug and unsubstantial — apart from some vigorous leaf action filling up the head.

Olya Salimova, Body into Dill, Photography, 2021.

For those who enjoy a little disorientation in their photography – And when well done, who doesn’t? – Jon Setter’s collection of a half-dozen large prints, all up-close shots of building details, is a delight to behold. Each reads as an abstract design in 1920s Russian Constructivist mode. But in one case you’re looking at parallel diagonals on the late, lamented Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, and in another, the Detroit Free Press building downtown on West Lafayette.  As a group, these deliberately confusing framings are both mischievous and fun to examine.

Jon Setter, Purple and Gold with Shadow (Detroit Free Press), Archival pigment print, 2021.

 Finally, Scenic Overlook 2 by Sharon Que, an Ann Arbor sculptor who also does high-end violin restoration, might remind you of a minimalist diorama minus the glass case. On a simple wooden shelf, Que’s sacked two smaller pieces of wood topped by a chalky white boulder or peak – part of the fun is the uncertainty — next to which sits a big, black, bushy… something.

Let’s stipulate that the white form is, indeed, a mountaintop. Call the spiky black, roundish thing next to it a plant, and you’ve got a surprisingly convincing perspective study of a bush and a white peak far, far in the distance – never mind its actual proximity in the assemblage.

Is it weird? Is it oddly compelling? Yes and yes.

Sharon Que, Scenic Overlook 2, Wood, magnetite, paint; 2016.

Concerning Landscape at Detroit Artists Market, up through Feb. 18.

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