Reflecting Pool @ Wasserman Projects

Installation, Reflecting Pool, Wasserman Projects, 2020 Installation image courtesy of DAR, All other images courtesy of Wasserman Projects. Photo credit PD Rearcik.

There’s a lot to look at and to like in Reflecting Pool, on view until February 22 at Wasserman Projects.  A roster of seven artists, some well-known in Detroit–and some not-so-much–offer up objects and pictures featuring the gallery’s typical conceptual rigor leavened with some welcome visual pleasures.

Esther Shalev-Gerz occupies the far end of the gallery and seems like an old friend returning to the site of her ambitious 2016 installation Space Between Time.  The three archival pigment prints from that show are part of her series The Open Page, a project she executed in collaboration with the Toronto Public Library. They show the disembodied hands and forearms of librarians holding their favorite rare books, and stand up quite well as individual artworks independent of the elaborate intellectual super-structure of her larger works.

The Viviparous Quadripeds of North America by Esther Shalev-Gerz, 2009, archival pigment print, 20.5” x 27.25”

Adjacent to the photographs by Shalev-Gertz, Graem Whyte’s eccentric objects feature his characteristic up cycling and transformation of the substance to the city in the service of his own unconventional vision. In Reflecting Pool, he recycles not only found objects but elements of art history. His Expansion looks like the offspring of a loving relationship between Brancusi and Giacometti, and as part of the same ad hoc installation, a cast aluminum mirror-with-eyeholes entitled The Other Side channels a surrealist-derived object of no known origin. In the same grouping, a cast bronze rubber chicken holds within itself a geode, both a visual joke and a beautiful absurdity.

Oddly Familiar installation by Graem Whyte, featuring Of Natural Forces – 2020, bronze, tourmaline, urethane, 22” x 7” x 3”; The Other Side – 2020, cast aluminum, flocking, found frame, 30” x 24” x 2”; Expansion – 2018, walnut, 96” x 3” x 3”; Matter of Scale – 2020, cast bronze, plants, soil, 14” x 23” x 13.5

Painter Jacob Feige’s work takes up a lot of space, literally and figuratively in Reflecting Pool. Two small paintings, five free-standing, two-sided pictures and a large diptych reveal him to be an agnostic who wants to believe in painting. He makes his clearest argument in Iconostasis I and II. (The iconostasis is a screen of icons separating the nave from the sanctuary in a church, the common from the transcendent, the everyday from the extraordinary.)  Feige paints and repeats a variety of images on these two large panels –byzantine draperies, ovoid onion-like forms–and onions–traditional icon-style hands and eyes. There is even what looks like a re-cycled painting of a modern mother and child, cut up and applied piecemeal. Thick slabs of paint, split and attached to the surface of the multi-paneled artwork, allow a glimpse of the illusive space behind the picture plane, where miracles are possible.

Iconostasis I and II by Jacob Feige, 2019, oil and acrylic on canvas, 40” x 54” each

Matthew Hansel’s technically accomplished compositions mine varying historical styles of painting in a kind of pastiche that sometimes tries too hard to impress and not hard enough to connect (though it might appeal to a viewer with a puzzle-solving mind and an interest in the history of art.) However,  Let There Not Be a Heart as Mine and Show me the Way to Go Home  reveal what can happen when the artist gets out of the way of his own virtuosity.  The latter, in particular, is a revelation, and well worth a trip to Wasserman Projects on its own merits.  Multiple renderings of diminutive china reproductions of Jacques-Louis David’s grandiose Napoleon Crossing the Alps fly across the canvas, propelled by unseen gales. The contrast between the trivial porcelain figures against the sinister grandeur of the stormy seascape aptly puts humanity in its place.

Show Me the Way to Go Home by Matthew Hansel, 2019, oil on flashe on linen, 44” x 76”

Jason DeMarte knows that we are conditioned to accept photographs as “real” and he has engaged in an elaborate ruse to use our unwary acceptance to subvert those expectations in the service of a larger vision. He painstakingly collages together individual images–birds, flowers, vegetation–into plausible idyllic natural scenes; we only gradually become aware of interpolated human-made elements. Each  landscape hides a narrative of man-made intervention in plain sight. They are deep fakes in the service of deep truth: that the untouched natural world is irrevocably lost.  In this Anthropocene age the only question remaining  is how we will manage the interaction of nature with human technology.

After the Deluge by Jason DeMarte, 2018, photo assemblage, pigmented ink print, 48” x 72” (ed. 1 / 2)

Twenty-six ceramic masks by Efe Bes, an artist best known for his performance on African drums, and four found object collages cast in resin by Virginia Rose Torrence round out the installation.

6. Untitled 1-26 by Efe Bes, 2020, acrylic on stoneware, 7.5” x 3” (approx.)

Reflecting Pool, in its totality, contemplates nature and art history, the power of images, the pleasures and perils of technology. The classical and traditional techniques and themes employed by the artists are reflected through a contemporary lens, literally and metaphorically mirroring aspects of the past while serving as a window to the future.

Untitled (Y) by Virginia Rose Torrence, 2019, found objects in resin, 39” x 38”

 

Reflecting Pool at Wasserman Projects through February 22, 2020 

 

 

 

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

 

Copying and Invention in East Asia @ UMMA 

Imperial winter dragon robe, China, early 19th century, embroidered silk. University of Michigan Museum of Art, Gift of Elizabeth Henshaw Gasper Brown in memory of Horace, William and Helen Lou, 1989/1.34

In Western visual culture, copying is sometimes freighted with duplicitous or subversive undertones.  Marcel Duchamp’s notorious LHOOQ, a defaced poster of the Mona Lisa, is hardly flattering to the original, after all.  But drawing mostly from the University of Michigan Museum of Art’s permanent collection, the exhibition Copies and Invention in East Asia showcases the many ways the artists of China, Korea, and Japan actively copied and referenced pre-existing visual motifs across borders and across time.

There are over a hundred works on view which snugly fill the UMMA’s spacious Taubman Gallery, mostly gleaned from the past (the oldest artifacts coming from Han Dynasty China, about two millennia ago), though there are a smattering of 20th century and contemporary works on view.  The chronological and geographical scope of this exhibit is ambitiously large, so the show is compartmentalized thematically; there’s a section on literati painting, for example, and another on the auspicious animal symbols that recur.

Seifû Yohei III, White teapot and sencha pitcher with stamped dragonfly designs, circa 1893-1914, porcelain with clear glaze. University of Michigan Museum of Art, Bequest of Margaret Watson Parker, 1954/1.512 and 503

A set of ceramic bowls by the celebrated artist Seifu Yohi III are a case-study for how Japanese art imitated and synthesized the visual cultures of the territories conquered by imperial Japan.  Yohi intently studied pottery from China’s Ming and Song Dynasties (of which there are some examples on view), and his artistic output is one of respectful mimicry.   Employed by the imperial household, his work, characterized by its fine, milky-white glaze, reflected the interest Japanese patrons had in Chinese art.

Yamamoto Baiitsu, Blossoming Prunus Branch, after Wang Mien, 1847, hanging scroll, ink on paper. University of Michigan Museum of Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. C.D. Carter, 1970/2.156

Copying at its most literal is demonstrated by the Japanese landscape painters who replicated their original Chinese models, right down to the signatures of the original artists, though their intentions were never deceptive.  An elegant ink painting of a wispy tree branch by 19th century Japanese artist Yamamoto Baiitsu is an example, its architype being a 14th century work by Chinese artist Wang Mian.  And an impressively large hanging scroll demonstrates how even within China itself, artists would directly copy preexisting Chinese paintings.  Wu Wei’s Travelers on a Mountain Pass (painted, incidentally, at exactly the same time Leonardo was dabbing away on the Mona Lisa) is a tribute to a painting by the 10th century artist Li Cheng, though Wu’s painting is more abstract, retaining a definitive personal style.  This is also a painting that advances the case for seeing art in person; cinematic in scale, this work practically engulfs the viewer, an effect that would get lost in translation if reproduced in a book.

XU ZHEN ® Eternity-Aphrodite of Knidos, Tang Dynasty Sitting Buddha, 2014, glass fiber-reinforced concrete, marble grains, sandstone grains, mineral pigments, steel. Courtesy of James Cohan Gallery, New York ©Xu Zhen

For me, the most visually compelling works are the several contemporary sculptures on view.  South Korean artist Chul Hyun Ahn’s deceptively simple light sculpture Two Circles, placed right at the show’s entrance for maximum impact, comprises two colored circular florescent lights positioned concentrically between two mirrors, framed and mounted on the wall; stand directly in front of Two Circles, and the illusion is that you’re staring into an infinity of circles eternally receding into the distance.  Chul Hyun Ahn’s sculptures are abstract references to Zen Buddhist ink paintings, characterized by a reductive though elegant simplicity.  Approaching copying with a wry sense of humor, sculptor Zu Zhen created a literal mash-up of two iconic images in Eastern and Western visual culture: a seated Tang Dynasty statue of Buddha seems to sprout (where its head should be) an upside-down reproduction of the Aphrodite of Knossos.

Copies and Invention in East Asia, to its immense credit, takes a comparatively niche topic and makes it interesting, accessible, and visually punchy.  It’s a diverse show, ranging in scope from 2000+ year old Chinese burial objects to a set of countertop Buddhist stupas fresh off the 3D printer.  It’s a show that playfully gives tangible expression to the Japanese literary critic Hideo Kobayashi’s assertion that “Copying is the mother of creation.”

 

Textures of Detroit @ Kreft Center Gallery

Installation Kreft Gallery, Textures of Detroit, 2019

Installation , Textures of Detroit, Kreft Gallery, 2019

Textures of Detroit is an exhibition of work that revolves around the theme of visual and tactile textures of Detroit.  It’s an intimate, multimedia show of six seasoned and accomplished contemporary Detroit artists (Peter Bernal, Matt Corbin, Roy Feldman, Carol Harris, Carl Wilson, and Ann Smith), whose sometimes rugged and gritty work is almost a foil to the chic polish of Concordia University’s Kreft Center Gallery.

The exhibition opens with a fine salvo of woodblock prints and linocuts by Kresge fellow Carl Wilson, who last year enjoyed a show at the Grand Rapids Art Museum. It’s not hard at all to imagine these as still frames from noir film; they seem like storyboarded images or concept art for black-and-white cinema, evocative of soulful and morose saxophone riffs.  In one graphic-novel style image, we see a line of beleaguered workers trundling toward the beginning of their shifts at some industrial job.    In another an elderly woman sits alone in a dark room illuminated by a solitary hanging bulb, and nurses a glass of indeterminate substance.

There are several textile works on view by textile artist Carole Harris, who creates fiber art that seems almost painterly, and, at times, even sculptural.  Her color palate is rusty and industrial; it’s no surprise to learn she draws inspiration from aging architectural structures.  Move in close, and her arrangements of patchwork abstractions reveal a dizzying network of swirling stitch-work that recalls the pirouetting clouds of Van Gogh’s Starry Night.  Her works subtly reference the time-worn textures of urban Detroit, and they exude an undeniable beauty.

Roy Feldman, “Untitled,” Silver Halide print on Kodak Endura paper. Image courtesy of the artist.

A quintet of photographs by Roy Feldman, a Detroit-based photographer and Emmy-Award winning filmmaker, presents a set of images of multi-layered urban interiors, each characterized by disorienting reflections which lend the set an air of magic-realism, an effect the photographer here achieves by capturing images of people taken ether reflected in mirrors or viewed through windows, a device which misleadingly lends the images the initial appearance of being double-exposed. In one instance, we see the side of a cropped face of a woman applying eyeliner; she holds out a small, circular mirror which reflects her eye as it seems to gaze back directly at us, though seemingly disembodied like a hovering object from a painting by Rene Magritte.

Roy Feldman, “Untitled,” Silver Halide print on Kodak Endura paper. Image courtesy of the artist.

Ann Smith and Mark Corbin both create sculptures from found objects and detritus, though their respective styles are certainly distinct, Corbin’s works rhyming more with the unrefined assemblage-style works of Detroit’s Tyre Guyton (of the Heidelberg Project), and Ann Smith’s works clearly more fussily worked and refined; the curvaceous metallic wisps of her Squash Blossom are a sort of cursive in 3D.   Together, along with the fiber works of Carole Harris, this ensemble presents Detroit texture in the most literal sense.

Carol Harris, In the Spirit, 69 x 71″ textile, 1992

Like the Copies and Invention show on view at the UMMA, Textures of Detroit takes a relatively niche point of departure and delivers an immensely satisfying result. It’s eclectic, for sure, but these multimedia works seem to come together not just through their application of tactile and visual texture, but also through the understated affection they seem to exhibit for the Motor City, its textures, and its people.

 

Inspired @ Pewabic Pottery

Inspired, Installation image, Pewabic Pottery, 2019 Photo: PD Rearick

Climbing the narrow, delayed-gratification-stairway to Pewabic Pottery’s second floor galleries, even for the umpteenth time, anticipation mounts until, at the top of the stairs, sightlines to left and right reveal the shiny artifacts of a new exhibition. The current show, confidently entitled “Inspired,” does indeed proffer an eclectic array of ceramic art created by four artists working in diverse, distinctive ways. The display, conceived and installed by Pewabic curator Darlene Carroll, features makers who lead ceramic programs that Pewabic’s co-founder, Mary Chase Stratton, played a role in establishing.

Inspired, Installation image, Pewabic Pottery, 2019 Photo: PD Rearick

First up, Susan Crowell’s Huckleberry (Vaccinium myrtillus), a single, gigantic, four lobed sculpture of a grain of huckleberry pollen (as seen under a microscope) measuring 12 ½ inches in diameter, is indeed “voluptuous,” as she declares. Its purply-blue glaze and plump, spherical forms embody the lush, caress-me allure and inkling of a tasty, delectable huckleberry. Other of Crowell’s jumbo flora include a lemon yellow cluster of Hazelnut Pollen (Corylus avellane), each pod about the size of a softball, and a nectar-from-the gods spill from wall to pedestal of fourteen, luscious pink Rose-Bay Willow Herb (Onagraceae) triangular pollen forms. Crowell has taught ceramics at the University of Michigan’s Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design since 2005, and at the Residential College since 1972.

Susan Crowell, “Huckleberry (Vaccinium myrtillus),” Stoneware with vitreous engobes, stains, glazes, 12.5 x 12.5 x 12 in., 2019

No less alluring is Jessika Edgar’s I want to touch you to be happy inside. A two foot tall ice cream treat—chocolate topping layered over an exotic coppery colored flavor-of-the-week—slumps atop an animate, tri-legged stool, itself ensconced on a glitzy, solid gold pedestal. This popular icon, centralized, pedestaled, and overblown suggests desire incarnate, as does the title, albeit meltingly short-lived in the end. Another suggestive Edgarian title—Get it while you can—coupled with an organic, roly-poly torso festooned with acrylic pearls resting on a mid-century biomorphic end table with canted legs, its top covered with faux fur, embodies as well the contemporary appeal of faux, formless, and real.  Edgar is an assistant professor and coordinator of Ceramics at Wayne State University.

Jessika Edgar, “I want to touch you to be happy inside,” Ceramic, glaze, copper leaf, variegated metal leaf, osb board, 50 x 30.5 x 30.5 in., 2019

Ian McDonald, artist-in-residence and head of ceramics at Cranbrook Academy of Art, presents, among other examples of his ceramic practice, a trio of Shade Vessels, ranging in height from 12 to 16 inches. Severe and minimalist, with precise horizontal ribbing, two are glazed in hushed lavender hues, while the third sports a smoky greenish hue, soft palettes somewhat unexpected on such stark shafts. Hollow and formally composed of cylinder and bowl-like forms, they are however unitary, integral vessels, reminiscent perhaps of trees, umbrellas, or even observation towers that provide protection and shelter. Also on view is a suite of broad, darkly hued, table-hugging bowls (five to six inches in height and up to 17 inches in diameter) that McDonald dubs Low Works.

Ian McDonald, “Shade Vessels,” Stoneware with glaze, left to right: 16 x 10.5 x 10.5 in.; 12 x 7.25 x 7.25 in.; 15 x 11 x 11 in., 2017-18 Photo: PD Rearick

 

Assistant professor and head of Ceramics at College for Creative Studies, Ebitenyefa Baralaye weighs in as conceptualist and relief sculptor of this collegial foursome. Working in “raw,” unglazed terra cotta, Baralaye’s plaques of mazes, furrowed fields, and enigmatic phrases highlight transitional issues of “feeling, engagement, and displacement.” Real Feels reads a rectangle of raised text, 15 x 20 ½ inches in size. The vertically stretched out letters suggest an emotional tension or anxiety, a state corroborated by the inversion of the identical terms to “Feels Real” on a second plaque (not in the show). Another of Baralaye’s panels on exhibit (glazed white, as it happens) quietly and poignantly asks What Now. His words and low-key art serve as discreet prompts to action for both academe and audiences alike as a new semester and year loom ahead.

Ebitenyefa Baralaye, “Real Feels,” Terracotta, 15 x 20.5 in., 2019 (courtesy David Klein Gallery) Photo: PD Rearick


Inspired
remains on view at Pewabic Pottery through October 21.

 

Dissident Art Under Repressive Regimes @ the Broad

The Edge of Things: Dissident Art under Repressive Regimes, installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2019. Photo: Eat Pomegranate Photography

Between 1964 and 1985, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil were variously ruled under dictatorships and military juntas, all of which received tacit support from the United States.  Truth is murky under repressive regimes, as evidenced by the difficulty in pinpointing the actual number of people that were killed or “disappeared” (a sinister verb that acquired notoriety under Argentina’s General Jorge Videla who famously applied the word to describe dissidents “neither dead or alive”), though estimates are that in Argentina alone, approximately 30,000 people were killed in state-sponsored violence.  In South America, the Cold War was always raging hot. Until January, the Broad Art Museum highlights the experimental art produced by South American dissident artists who, at great personal risk, harnessed the visual arts to speak truth to power.

The Edge of Things: Dissident Art Under Repressive Regimes comprises a diverse array of multimedia work by sixteen South American artists (and two artist collectives) who “lived on the margins,” all united in their use of art as self-assertion and resistance.  Given the censorious nature of the regimes in which these artists lived and worked, most of the art on view necessarily approaches the subject matter metaphorically and indirectly, though the human body, intact or broken, recurs both as subject and, in some wince-inducing instances, the medium.

Much of this art is performance documented through photography or video, the transient nature of performance being perhaps a suitably discrete way to make a resonant statement in a climate of censorship.  A triptych of photographs documents Chilean performance artist Lotty Rosenfeld’s artistic intervention for which she altered the partition lines on a mile of road with white tape, transforming each straight line into a cross, or, alternatively, each “minus” into a “plus.”  For Rosenfeld, disrupting traffic law was a metaphorical act intended to subtly undermine law in a more general sense under Augusto Pinochet.

Another series of photographs documents performance artist Elias Adasme, who posed in various urban settings alongside a map of Chile (in some instances, a map is painted or projected directly onto his body).  In one performance, the artist’s seemingly lifeless body suspends upside-down from a road sign, Adasme’s pose bringing to mind a battered body in a torture cell. As a sort of coda to his performances, Adasme installed photographs of his performances in public spaces and documented the length of time they remained on view before police confiscated them.  Depending on where they were placed, this could range from as little as 30 minutes or as long as a month.

The Edge of Things: Dissident Art under Repressive Regimes, installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2019. Photo: Eat Pomegranate Photography

Silhouettes often recur in the show as a symbol for the “disappeared,” and a confrontationally large photograph by Edwardo Gil fills an entire gallery wall, showing Argentinian police arriving on the scene of a public artistic intervention for which artists collaborated with the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo (the “Mothers of the Disappeared”) and pasted silhouettes on the exteriors of government buildings throughout in Buenos Aires.  The featureless figures stand as surrogates memorializing just a few of the 30,000 people who disappeared under the Videla regime.  Similarly, Argentine artist Fernando Bedoya also applies the silhouette in his drawings, for which he builds human-like figures using letters which spell out the names of various individuals who were abducted or imprisoned.

The Edge of Things: Dissident Art under Repressive Regimes, installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2019. Photo: Eat Pomegranate Photography

A commanding series of seven expressionistic paintings by Brazilian artist Victor Gerhard portrays specific incidents of violence that occurred in Brazil under the country’s veritable litany of Military dictators; Gerhard’s combination of paint with newspaper collage and text recalls some of the politically-charged works of Robert Rauschenberg, who also mined newspapers for content.  A second work by Gerhard also addresses news (specifically, state-sponsored propaganda); a one-channel video in stop-motion animation shows a picture of a woman being force-fed images culled from various newspapers.  The work was the artist’s response to a series of laws which authorized the censorship of the press, and serves as a metaphor for the public’s involuntary consumption of state media with which the Brazilian government force-fed the population.

The Edge of Things: Dissident Art under Repressive Regimes, installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2019. Photo: Eat Pomegranate Photography

Any discussion about the Cold War in South America must invariably include the United States, and one gallery wall is filled with a timeline briefly summarizing the rise of each respective dictatorship and the political entanglements which led the United States (largely through the actions of the Central Intelligence Agency) to support these regimes, which, as violent as they were, nonetheless were viewed by Washington as preferable to their leftist and Communist opposition counterparts.  The wall-text also explains Operation Condor, the sordid American-backed alliance between a half-dozen South American regimes which collaborated across borders and shared information and recources to eliminate any opposition.  Actions under Operation Condor included the notorious Argentine “Death Flights” and the assassination of exiled Chilean opposition leader Orlando Letelier by a car bomb on American soil in Washington D.C., very possibly with the approval of the CIA.

The Edge of Things: Dissident Art under Repressive Regimes, installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2019. Photo: Eat Pomegranate Photography

Given the weighty subject matter of The Edge of Things: Dissident Art Under Repressive Regimes, one might think that this exhibition would be drearily depressing. But the tone of the show, to me at least, seemed ultimately optimistic, showcasing the inventive ways artists continued to create art despite the censorious and restrictive conditions in which they worked, and demonstrating that dictators and death squads ultimately couldn’t crush the triumphant spirit of resistance.

THE EDGE OF THINGS: DISSIDENT ART UNDER REPRESSIVE REGIMES   THE BROAD  JUNE 1, 2019 – JAN. 5, 2020