Critical art reviews of Detroit galleries and museums weekly

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Northwest Michigan Regional Juried Exhibition @ The Dennos

Installation image. All photos courtesy of the Dennos Museum Center

Visiting the Dennos Museum Center in Traverse City is an experience unique to Northern Michigan. Situated at the base of Old Mission Peninsula, since 1991 the Dennos served as a multipurpose art and science museum, and it houses one of the finest collections of Inuit art you’ll ever see. In 2018 it underwent a major expansion, and an impressively large suite of chic gallery spaces now allows the Dennos to show off much more of its permanent collection, and it really does have some good holdings. The museum has even just been awarded status as a Smithsonian affiliate. But while the focus of the museum is on the art within, the floor-to-ceiling windows of many of its exterior galleries offer visitors a commanding view of the pleasantly forested campus of Northwestern Michigan College.  Through May 29, this emphatically northern space is the appropriate home to the annual Northwest Michigan Regional Juried Exhibition.

The show amply fills the museum’s spacious temporary exhibition space. It presents multimedia work by artists from 37 Michigan counties, including the entirety of the Upper Peninsula and much of the Lower Peninsula’s Northwest.  Submissions were open to anyone, providing that the work was created during 2021.  Juried by Vera Ingrid Grant, a curator and writer based in Ann Arbor and whose accomplishments include fellowships at Harvard and Columbia universities, the 90 works on view represent highlights from the show’s nearly 400 submissions.

Dennos Museum Center in Traverse City Installation image.

Any juried show is destined to be varied in scope and media, and these works are certainly diverse– there are 83 artists represented, after all. Painting, sculpture, photography, and illustration join forces with quilting, fabric art, wood art, and pottery, blurring boundaries between fine art, folk art, and handcraft. Nevertheless, some themes do emerge, such as our shared experience of Covid-19, here directly addressed in about half a dozen works. Several works offer social commentary on timely subjects like media saturation and information overload.

Many of these works take the landscapes, waterscapes, and textures of Northern Michigan itself as their subject. Ample views of Grand Traverse Bay and Lake Michigan’s sand-dunes firmly locate this show in Northern Michigan. Thomas Guback’s Northport Sailboat Race is a photograph that beautifully transposes the lucid diamond-tipped ripples of Lake Michigan’s waters into black and white, applying some of Ansel Adams’ magic to demonstrate that color isn’t necessary to give the viewer an arresting image. And Lynn Stephenson’s tightly rendered pencil drawing of a row of weathered, neglected dock pilings captures a sight common at any marina on Lake Michigan’s shoreline; Stephenson renders the texture of the mostly rotted wood and the ripples of the water with impressively photographic, illustrative detail.

Lynn Stephenson, Still Standing [detail]. 2021, Colored pencil on Paper.

Other artists engaged Northern Michigan’s geography in more playfully abstract terms.  Susan Yamasaki’s Hieroglyphs applies perpendicular, geometric sections of birch bark and mixed media to create what could pass as Northern Michigan’s answer to Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie. And the Best of Show award went to Kevin Summers, a multimedia artist whose Michigan Shoreline is a conceptual installation comprising driftwood, electronic fans, and sound.

Susan Yamasaki, Hieroglyphs. 2021, Birchbark and mixed media on birch panel.

 

Kevin Summers, Michigan Shoreline. 2021, Driftwood, fans, and electronics.

Certain to be a highlight among visitors is the mural-sized bead tapestry by Marie Wohadlo, 10:23. Gently backlit, this work comprises nearly a million individual luminous glass beads. It’s a work that invites viewers to play the same game as one might play with a pointillist work by Seurat. Step up close, and the individual beads create a pixelated, abstract void. Step back, and they materialize into a photographic rendering of two distant faces. The planning and execution of a work on this scale is impressive, even allowing for photographic and technological assistance.

Marie Wohadlo, 10:23 [detail]. 2021, Glass bead tapestry.

Marie Wohadlo, 10:23 [detail]. 2021, Glass bead tapestry.

Shows like this have a leveling, democratizing effect on art. There’s nothing to differentiate the skilled amateurs from the seasoned professionals.  And in the absence of any descriptive didactic panels, viewers are left to interpret these works entirely on their own. Perhaps this is a good thing; too often I find myself relying on an exhibition’s expository text to do much of the thinking for me.  But here, viewers are given the opportunity to approach the work on their own terms, and the works on view are given the chance to speak for themselves.

The 2022 Northwest Michigan Regional Juried Exhibition runs through May 29, 2022. Views of the evergreens on the NMC campus are available all year round.

 

 

 

Allie McGhee @ Cranbrook

Detroit Artist Allie McGhee exhibits a Retrospective, Banana Moon Horn, at Cranbrook Art Museum

Installation image, Allie McGhee, Retrospective, Banana Moon Horn, at Cranbrook Art Museum, all images courtesy CAM

Cranbrook Art Museum (CAM) opened a retrospective exhibition of artwork by artist Allie McGhee on October 30, 2021, which spans five decades of work produced at McGhee’s Jefferson Avenue studio in Detroit.

Laura Mott, the chief curator of contemporary art and design at Cranbrook Art Museum, curated the exhibition. She says, “My interest in Allie McGhee’s work came from seeing his paintings at local galleries in Detroit, but when I did my first studio visit with him, it was a revelation.  In his studio, I saw decades of work and an incredible arc of his artistic practice since the 1960s.  There is also a richness of ideas in his methods of production and research into history and science. When one encounters an incredible mind like Allie’s, it becomes a necessity to tell his story.  Furthermore, his work needed to be contextualized in art history, which is why it was important to have both an exhibition and publication.”

The exhibition brings together artwork that demonstrates the evolution of McGhee’s work back to the 1960’s, beginning with early representational work that quickly evolved to abstraction. McGhee’s work was heavily influenced by trends in the abstract expression movement and influenced by jazz musicians in the Black community.

Andrew Blauvelt, director of Cranbrook Art Museum, said of some of McGhee’s work, “Learning of McGhee’s interest in astronomy, their crumpled and twisted forms have taken on a new resonance, one that recalls the spatial complexities of Catastrophe theory and, in particular, the relative notion of the fold.”

This exhibition takes on more than forty years of paintings and drawings and documents the growth of one of Detroit’s most important artists. The museum produced this short 6-minute video as an introduction to Allie McGhee and his work.

From his recent talk at Cranbrook, the story goes that McGhee came upon an object in the street that reminded him of a KKK hood.  The object was an icing cone used in a bakery.  This occurred in a time period just a year or so after the 1967 Detroit Rebellion and caused McGhee to harness that energy and create an object that hung on the wall alongside a petrified banana, foreshadowing what would repeat itself for years to come.

Allie McGhee, The Ku Klux Klown, Mixed Media on found object, petrified banana, 1961.  All images courtesy of CAM

Ku Klux Klown coincided with his association with a black artist cooperative founded by Charles McGee. Charles organized the landmark 1969 exhibition Seven Black Artists at the Detroit Artists Market and founded Gallery 7. Along with Allie McGhee, members included Lester Johnson, Robert Murray, James Lee, Harold Neal, and Robert J. Stull.  For years, Allie McGhee pursued abstract expressionism using a variety of sizes, shapes, and materials on a flat canvas that hung on the wall. The object and the banana became the center of what was to be called Banana Moon Horn, the title of this exhibition and the Cranbrook publication.

Allie McGhee, TWA Light on Washburn, Mixed Media on canvas, 1989

One of the strongest compositions in the exhibition was from 1989. TWA Light on Washburn, repeats the reoccurring banana symbol that follows him over time. One of the trademarks of McGhee’s work is that he leaves behind the use of traditional brushes for flat sticks of varying sizes to move paint across the surface. In addition, he has a variety of tools to remove paint from a given area, be it cloth, wood or plastic.  This could easily have been when he preferred placing the canvas on the floor instead of using an easel to hold the stretched canvas on a frame. Gravity is his friend on the floor, not an obstacle, where mixing paint worked to his advantage.  In TWA Light on Washburn, we see the primary colors dominating the composition while using the spacing of thirds on the grid, both vertical and horizontal.  There is no evidence of brushwork on the canvas, only the stroke of a long stick he used to create geometric lines, shapes, and sometimes texture. Various values of red, blue, and yellow assist in holding everything together.

Allie McGhee, Apartheid, Mixed Media on Masonite, 48 x 120″, 1984

Most recently viewed in 2017 at the Detroit Institute of Arts as part of a large exhibition, McGhee’s Apartheid was on display in the Art of the Rebellion and Say It Loud, commemorating 50 years since July 23, 1967, when African Americans took to the streets of Detroit to express their anger and frustration with the injustice of law enforcement. It would come to be called the Detroit Rebellion.  McGhee’s work was then being shown by the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art. This painting highlights his use of angular shapes and splatters of paint to evoke and represent the tension of the time. The title Apartheid refers to the oppressive political system that existed in South Africa. The Civil Rights and Black Power movements inspired many African American artists to internalize the fight for civil rights in Detroit.

Allie McGhee, Fall Rush, Acrylic on enamel paper, 2013

Throughout his talk at Cranbrook Art Museum, McGhee continued to stress and talk about his approach. “ The process is more important than the subject.” Thanks to his diligent years of daily work, we see the artwork on the floor begin to evolve and ultimately create something very new. The work Fall Rush (2013) is acrylic and enamel on paper where McGhee has applied his sensibility to both sides of this heavy-duty paper and then worked on producing a crushed and folded object that would present itself on the wall. When I first viewed the work, my only context was the artwork by sculptor John Chamberlain who did something similar with scrap metal, usually mounted on a base as in Homer, 1960.  Chamberlain didn’t paint the metal, instead, he would find parts from scrap car lots where he discovered his colors in the parts of fenders and related shapes of metal. Here, McGhee, the painter, created his own material by painting both sides of the paper, canvas or vinyl, and inventing his shape using his well-developed sensibility. He puts his trust in the process.

Allie McGhee, Flip Side, Acrylic on enameled vinyl, 2015

In the piece Flip Side (2015), we see the evolution of this work where he adds elements after the object is created and on the wall. During the artist talk, he mentioned his interest in science and the various visual aspects of the universe, either through a telescope or a microscope.  McGhee mentioned participating in an Art & Science program that paired artists with scientists from the University of Michigan. The artists then made an artwork that was auctioned off to support scientific research. McGhee was seeking information based on scientific discovery where he sought truth and imagery in the cosmos.

And Allie McGhee talked briefly about the role of music in creating art with an emphasis on the Black jazz musicians John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, and Charles Mingus. They all co-mingled with his process.

Russian abstract artist Wassily Kandinsky has said he was deeply inspired by music. He played the violin from an early age and even gave his works of art musical titles: ‘Improvisations’, Compositions’ and ‘Fugue.

I know I carefully select what I play in my studio. I always select instrumental-only by a variety of musicians like Dave Brubeck, Mozart, or Arvo Part.

Richard Dorment, the art historian, said of Paul Klee, “He started every picture with an abstract mark—a square, a triangle, a circle, a line or a dot—and then allowed that motif to evolve or grow, almost like a living organism.” Whether it is from subconscious dreams or Eric Dolphy on the Saxophone, Allie McGhee worked daily to the sound of jazz. The improvisational riffs provided support for the creation of rich abstraction in the studio, experimenting with materials, making the same mistakes over and over until something emerges and falls into place or rises to the top. What resonates in my thoughts is McGhee’s emphatic statement, “It’s the process, not the subject.”

In the Cranbrook publication, McGhee says, “A really good picture looks as if it’s happened at once. It is an immediate image. For my own work, when a picture looks labored and overworked, and you can’t read in it…there is something in there that has not got to do with beautiful art.  And I usually throw these out, though I think very often it takes ten of those over labored efforts to produce one really beautiful wrist motion that is synchronized with your head and heart, and you have it and therefore it looks as if it were born in a minute.”

Allie McGhee, Bloom, Acrylic, and enamel on fiberglass, 2019

In the acrylic and enamel on fiberglass Bloom, McGhee gives the viewer some insight with the title and adds details to the piece after its painted and folded creation. Who knows? The inspiration may have come from a memory of sitting at his mother’s kitchen table where some flowers were blooming in a vase. We see the surface where the artist draped and dragged the stick over the fiberglass on the floor, then the folding produced fluidity and pattern.

Laura Mott quoted McGhee in her writing about him as saying, “I can tell stories in my paintings about these significant contributions made through our history. To me, that’s a lot more exciting scientifically, spiritually, and visually to feed off of. It’s never-ending. The only limitation is the entire cosmos…I don’t think I will be able to use that up in my lifetime.”

Allie McGhee, Long Look, Acrylic and enamel on vinyl on wood. 2021

Right when you think these folded and crushed colorful objects art are the beneficiaries of a life’s work and might be his last body of new work, he comes back with new flatwork on the wall, like the painting, Long Look, an acrylic and enamel paint on vinyl attached to wood. Is he looking through a microscope or a telescope? Or is he reading The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene about how artists look to science for inspiration?  From the Cranbrook publication, McGhee writes, “I will see the Science section of The New York Times where there will be a photograph that is almost identical to something I painted years ago, like a picture from the Hubble telescope.”

There is something to be said about McGhee’s longevity with respect to being able to continue his process and reap the success of this later work. He is still exploring his evolutionary process, a painter of extraordinary ability who continues to contribute to the art record of Western civilization.

Allie McGhee exhibits a Retrospective, Banana Moon Horn, at Cranbrook Art Museum, through February 13, 2022.

 

 

 

Harold Neal @ Wayne State University

Harold Neal and Detroit African American Artists: 1945 Through the Black Arts Movement at the Elaine L. Jacob Gallery, Wayne State University

Installation view of Harold Neal and Detroit African American Artists: 1945 Through the Black Arts Movement, Image courtesy of DAR

“Harold Neal is a people painter,” so goes the artist’s succinct, self-identifying description of his art, life, and career on the first page of the exhibition catalogue. But this is not a solo exhibition. While Neal deservedly headlines the show, the title adds clarifying information plus a timeline subtitle, finally weighing in as: “Harold Neal and Detroit African American Artists: 1945 Through the Black Arts Movement.” The other artists number ten, and the years actually extend from 1945 – 1980. It is, in fact, an extraordinarily ambitious overview of thirty-five years of African American art in Detroit, and presents both an exhibition and a probing, in depth catalogue, the result of a ten year project, initiated and produced by Julia R. Myers, Professor Emerita of Art History at Eastern Michigan University, who now resides in New Mexico.

Harold Neal, [Still Life], Oil on board, 12 ¼ x 15 ¾” 1950

Born in Detroit in 1924 (d. 1996), Neal completed his BFA at College for Creative Studies (1953) at the age of 29 after a decade of on and off enrollment. An early still life of bottles, Still Life, establishes stylistic hallmarks of his oeuvre: translucent layering of thinly pigmented hues, flattened and indeterminate space, and figural representation, a mode influenced by CCS teachers Sarkis Sarkisian and Guy Palazzola. Another early work post-graduation, its Title unknown, portrays a field worker sprawled in the midst of a parched, barren landscape. His striking yellow shirt and blue jeans, foreshortened pose, enlarged hands and feet, and sad expression convey the arid shortcomings of his condition. Notably, his head is farthest from the viewer, emphasizing his deliberate distancing and studied remove from those nearby. Intimations of Rodin’s The Thinker perhaps?

Harold Neal, Title unknown, Oil on board, 32 ½ x 24 ½” before 1958

As the feisty, contentious 1960s dawned in Detroit and across the nation, Neal’s subjects and point of view shifted. The Brown vs. Board of Education civil rights bill had passed in 1954 and Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat in 1955; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X were promoting their campaigns for social justice for African Americans; the Black Arts Movement(BAM) (1965), Black Power (1966), Black Panthers (1966) and the “Black Madonna” (1967) at Central Congregational Church in Detroit hove into view; while the Detroit revolution of 1967 prompted the 1969 exhibition of Seven Black Artists at the Detroit Artists Market (a first for the Market) and the subsequent founding of Charles McGee’s Gallery Seven (1969-1978) in the same year.

Concurrently, against the turbulent backdrop of the decade, the Black Arts Movement (BAM), founded in 1965, “established” more or less clearcut guidelines that sought to enhance the potency, validity, and accessibility of Black visual art. The directives emphasized imagery that portrayed the experience of African Americans in order to engage Black audiences, and to reject abstract art that dominated the white art world at the time. Or, phrased more colorfully and pertinently, Neal asserted that “Artists must stop being specialists and must be like any other Black man fighting for his freedom [rather than] going along with tired white boys who introduce a series of dots one year and are hailed by critics.” On the other hand, a number of Black artists felt just the opposite, one of whom, Al Loving, queried: “Is art supposed to be propaganda for Civil Rights? That seemed to be the attitude at the time.”

Harold Neal, Status Seekers, Oil on board, 30 ½ x 47 ½” 1963

Resolutely, Neal soldiered on, producing in 1963 Status Seekers, one of the largest and most riveting compositions in the show. It’s a streetscape peopled with two vignettes, a group of adolescents on the left and a pregnant mother and child on the right. Two of the boys stretch upward toward balloons bobbing above them while another status seeker struts along on stilts, his head cut off at the top of the frame. Two others have donned white masks, as they too aspire towards success in the white world. Meanwhile, the woman in red strolls by defiantly ignoring the foolish boys from whose bogus goals she seeks to shield her young child.

Harold Neal, Man Span, Oil on board, 23 ½ x 47 ½” 1963

Another stunning and rather unexpected image from the same year, 1963, Man Span, represents a bridge raised high above the chasm it fords. Its tall, elegant red/orange columns support a roadway absent any sign of vehicular traffic. As Neal explained, laborers who built the structure are whom Man Span” celebrates: “Sometimes in seeking respite [from anger about the treatment of African Americans] I try to show through the paining of bridges, houses, and still life what the human hand is capable of in the brief period between its destructive endeavors.”

Harold Neal, Title unknown Oil or acrylic on board, 37 x 30” 1968

A disheartening but compassionate trio of images from the late 60s continue to broach the inequities of racial strife, beginning with Title unknown, Neal’s stoical portrait of a semi-shadowed woman displaying in her arms for all to see her dead, bloodied child slain by a National Guardsman during the Detroit rebellion of 1967. The mother and child, centralized in the composition, are redolent of both a classical madonna and child or Pieta composition. The date of the child’s death, 7-25, is incorporated into the light filled, graffitied urban setting that Neal often employs to contextualize his dramas.

Harold Neal, Title unknown, Riot Series?, Oil on board, 24 x 39” 1960s

In another Title unknown work, Neal advances his subjects so close to the surface that upper and lower parts of their figures are cut off by the picture frame, so observers all but merge with the pictorial space of the image. Here, a seated mother and child on the left are paired with a male figure on the right, his back turned to the spectator and his hands tied. Suspended in time and place, they wait for the inevitable. The savory pink, lavender, and red hues of their attire, plus a gray, overcast atmosphere, adds poignancy to the taut, anything-could-happen deadlock which fences them in and ties their hands.

Harold Neal, Rag Doll, Lamp black on paper, 28 x 47” c. 1967-1969

The third of these late 60s depictions is the most searing of the lot. Titled Rag Doll, it is chromatically limited to black and white and to a single figure, but is sizable in scale (28 x 47”) for maximum impact. Viewers witness an incensed Black boy who, with his bare hands, deliberately and furiously rips and tears apart a white rag doll, peeling off its arm and severing its torso. Kinship with Goya’s visceral “Disasters of War” echos here. Exhibited in the 1969 Seven Black Artists exhibit at the Detroit Artists Market, a breakthrough show curated by Charles McGee, its present day aura registers as fiercely and as hauntingly now as then.

Harold Neal, Checkers, Oil on board, 51 x 48” c. 1972-1973

By the mid to late 70s, Neal, along with many of his BAM cohorts, had ”cooled his fire”: “I don’t have time to be angry anymore….I can’t carry the burdens of oppression on my shoulders my whole life.” Checkers, from 1972-73, is suffused with light and transparency as onlookers and players mingle and merge around a floating checkerboard, one of the last of Neal’s paintings to appear in the show. Among subjects that continued to appeal to him were jazz and blues, which he referred to as “African American Classical Music.” Participation in outreach social programs, conferences, art councils, and teaching for many years at Wayne County Community College also provided an outlet for his socially progressive urgings: “I have awakened a lot of young people to their potential and I encouraged them to pursue alternative means of expression.”

A video interview from 1971 embedded in the show introduces visitors to Neal’s calm, composed demeanor even when asserting controversial and passionately felt points of view. He argues, for instance, that abstract artists “immunize” themselves in their studios, selfishly thinking they own their talent and style without acknowledging the societal responsibility for human intercourse. He asserts as well that the 60s expression, “Black is Beautiful,” is of manifestly lesser social and political importance than “Black is powerless, Black is hungry, Black is jobless, and etc.”

Lastly, writing in 1974, critic Charlotte Robinson observed that Black “social statement is almost never hanging on the walls [of] large art institutes or museums and rarely even in white galleries.” Well, in fact, here it hangs, on the walls of the Jacob Gallery at Wayne State University in Detroit for two more months. Do plan a visit.

Harold Neal and Detroit African American Artists remains on view through –  Jan. 20, 2022, at the WSU Elaine L. Jacob Gallery.  Contact the gallery in advance at tpyrzewski@wayne.edu to schedule your visit.

“Notes from the Quarantimes” @ Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum

Five-hundred-year floods, particularly in the midst of a pandemic, don’t ordinarily generate intriguing art shows, but that’s precisely the origin story of “Notes from the Quarantimes” at the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum in Saginaw through Jan. 15, 2022.

Following a seven-inch deluge in May 2020, the Edenville Dam north of Midland crumbled, disgorging, according to the “Quarantimes’” program with the artist statements, 22.5 billion gallons of Wixom Lake that gushed downstream, in minutes scooping out the original route of the Tittabawassee River, uprooting houses and fully grown trees alike. One of the homes near the dam, damaged but not destroyed, has been owned by artist Andrew Krieger’s family since 1955.

“Notes from the Quarantimes” is up at the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum on the Saginaw Valley State University campus through Jan. 15, 2022

“It was nutty,” Krieger said of the day the waters rose. “A Consumer’s Power guy who was nearby said our house was going to float away any minute” — but perhaps miraculously, it did not.  That said, things were nip and tuck for a while, but the Kriegers essentially lucked out. Their basement was submerged and ended up with a foot of muck at the bottom, but the waters stopped eight inches short of their first floor. The wooded area around the house, however, was turned into a veritable moonscape in a matter of hours, with craters where entire root systems of giant trees had been wrenched free. Krieger figures they lost about 100 trees, many planted by his father; his brother says 200. In any case, the clean-up task was herculean. The day after the flood, an exhausted Krieger texted five of his best art buddies: “I need help. Overwhelmed and sad.”’

They all rallied. In short order, Mitch Cope, Scott Hocking, Michael McGillis, Clinton Snider and Graem Whyte were all at the house, and each of them would continue to return on a regular basis over the next year, a nice testament to the quality of the friendships involved.

Krieger says the group had already been talking pre-flood about doing an exhibition together but hadn’t yet hit on a concept. “I think,” he added, “it was Graem Whyte who said, ‘This is the show. It’s about us coming up and helping you, and Edenville, and this pandemic.’” The result is a good-looking, spirited exhibition of considerable artistic diversity that reflects both the Sturm und Drang involved in simultaneously coping with a vicious virus and the cataclysmic consequences of climate change.

Clinton Snider “After the Flood,” Oil on panel, 2021

Clinton Snider’s “After the Flood” tackles the catastrophe head-on, with a melancholy portrait of the six friends surveying a ravaged landscape, with Krieger himself at center standing on a rock surrounded by the newly trenched stream. Like so many of Snider’s paintings, the light is muted and sepulchral – the artist says he favors early dawn light. In tone and feel, “After the Flood” evokes much the same mournful vibe as Snider’s 2005 portrait, “Studebaker Razed,” which captured the abandoned Detroit factory the morning after its catastrophic fire.

Another compelling visual statement directly tied to the dam disaster is Whyte’s amusingly titled “Batten Down the Hatches.” This large installation, lying prone on the gallery floor, stars a debris pile bound together with yellow ratchet straps. Among its disparate elements are a toppled ornamental lamp post – its five globes still lit, in a nice touch – and a tree-length log with long, carved toes, as if Treebeard, the walking, talking, tree-like “ent” in “Lord of the Rings,” had lost a limb.

Graem Whyte, “Batten Down the Hatches,” Maple, found lamp post, cast aluminum, wheel, paint on wood, ratchet straps, 2021

And don’t miss – well, really you can’t miss – Whyte’s “Vortex of Janus” smack in the center of the gallery. This mechanical construction on wheels is very big, maybe five feet tall, or so – a tapering, octagonal, open-ended kaleidoscope. The interior metal sides appear to be swirling, a nice optical illusion created by a pattern of clean, sharp-edged parallelograms and the occasional through-line in vivid hues. Besides creating an intriguingly kinetic visual – you immediately see how water forced through the vortex would rush out the smaller end with multiplied force – this is an elegant, absorbing color study dominated by shades of green, black, and surprising bursts of orange and lavender.

Funny and tragic both is Michael McGillis’ “Poseidon’s Throne” that blends a reference to cottage life with ugly reality. In his artist’s statement, McGillis says he’s always been interested in landscape and human scale, and with “Throne” he’s sculpted a convincing diorama of a bend in a new stream that’s clearly raked its way through a now-barren landscape. At one end, as if to underline the absurdity of it all, a cheerful, orange Adirondack chair sits mostly submerged, already acquiring a green, river-scum patina below the waterline.

Michael McGillis, “Poseidon’s Throne” (detail), Mixed media, 2021

Dominating the far wall as you walk in is Scott Hocking’s sizable installation, “Woodsmun of the Forest,” as well as one of two videos the artist made while kayaking around both the Edenville disaster and waterways in the Detroit area. Sparingly narrated by Hocking, the videos — in particular “Kayaking through the Quarantimes” — are mesmerizing, pretty gorgeous and, on occasion downright funny.

HOCKING VIDEO: “Kayaking through the Quarantimes” 19 Minutes

For its part, “Woodsmun” is a triptych comprised of large tree parts that were either submerged almost 100 years ago when the Edenville Dam was erected or else fell or washed in sometime over recent decades. The central element is a huge, distressed trunk partly suspended from the ceiling, framed by smaller, sculptural wood forms. In a puckish touch mostly on the backside of the installation, Hocking’s integrated man-made artifacts – some would say trash – that he retrieved from the drained lake, including a rope, rusted beer cans, and a large ornamental daisy that’s got “1970s perky bad taste” written all over it.

For his part, Krieger has mounted a number of color photographs of what remains of the dam, as well as landscapes including “Tittabawassee Sunset #1.” That image fills up a clear, cylindrical container rather like a scientific specimen, or last year’s preserved tomatoes. But the artist’s biggest crowd-pleaser is likely to be “Last Day on Earth,” an off-white ceramic sculpture of a hopeless fellow maybe two feet tall with a sign wrapped around his midriff that proclaims “DOOM,” and adds, just to make sure passers-by get the point, “Our last day on earth and the end of human existence.”

Andrew Krieger, “Last Day on Earth,” Ceramic, 2021

But apocalypse or no, this being America, as you read down you realize the sign’s actually an ad urging you to “enjoy” your last meal at Howie’s Soda Bar with its celebrated “good food” and “reasonable prices.” Because even in the midst of apocalypse, you want value for your money, right?

Finally, standing somewhat apart in tone and size are Mitch Cope’s three colored-pencil water lily studies. Each of these large, square canvases also invokes one of three planets in a somewhat cryptic fashion – specifically the moon, Saturn and Jupiter. They’re handsome, restful works. In a show devoted to destruction, Cope’s vividly colored drawings radiate hopeful calm and underline the healing power of looking closely at nature. The three are a lovely balance to the sharper narratives on display all around them.

Mitch Cope, “Water Lili #1 Jupiter,” Colored pencil on paper, 2021

Clinton Snider, Tree of Eden, 2021, 53 sec.

“Notes from the Quarantimes” is on display at  Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum through January 15, 2022.

 

 

 

 

Nanette Carter & Contemporaries @ N’Namdi

The work of Nanette Carter is joined by Al Loving, Sam Gilliam, and Gregory Coates at N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art

A Survey, Thirty Years of work by Nanette Carter, Install Image courtesy of DAR

The new exhibition at N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art centers on the artwork of Nanette Carter and three of her contemporaries. All the work is based on various ways to approach the depth and variety of abstraction. The exhibition surveys thirty years of work going back to 1983 when N’Namdi first exhibited the work of Nanette Carter. The video below gives the reader an in-depth explanation of her artwork where she talks about using oil paint on mylar and then cutting up and arranging forms, shapes, color, and line to express a unique composition.  Here, she takes the viewer through her process that begins with a small drawing.

Nanette Carter, Bouquet for Loving #17, Oils on Mylar, 57 x 50″ 2011

Carter has developed a painting style that consists of abstract designs and effects superimposed on top of each other in ways that emphasize chance but often reflect a theme as in the artwork Bouquet For Loving #17.  Carter does not precisely follow a particular tradition, and that’s evident in each of her works, which are stand-alone concepts to which she brings materials such as fabric into her oil paint on mylar world.

Nanette Carter, Aqueous #49, Oil Collage on Mylar, 46 x 53″ 2008

An example is a work Aqueous #49 where Carter elegantly composes a circular composition using her mylar collage on an expansive surface of textures based on an organic color palette. The random placement of patterned designs within the paintings, along with their slightly free-form outlines, establishes Carter’s desire to work both inside and outside the conventions of her genre.

Nanette Carter earned her B.A. at Oberlin College where she majored in Art and Art History.

Al Loving, Red Hook #1, Mixed Media on Board, 38 x 28″

Born in Detroit in 1935, Al Loving studied painting at the University of Michigan–Ann Arbor. After graduation, he relocated to New York where he found himself among a social group that included artists Robert Duran and Sam Gillian. In 1969, Loving famously became the first Black artist to have a one-person show at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

In the work Red Hook, Loving showcases his traditional spiral shapes creating a more organic abstraction.  A kind of shaped canvas relief on the wall, the mixed media piece draws primary colors together in a collage-type construction. His work became known for using geometric shapes and shaped canvases where he was drawn to corrugated cardboard and rag paper.

 

Sam Gilliam, In The Fog, Relief, hand-sewn, acrylic on hand-made paper, 36 x 48″, 2010

The color field painter is recognized for representing the United States at the Venice Biennale in 2017.  Gilliam was born in 1933 in Tupelo, Mississippi, and grew up in Louisville, Kentucky. The Black painter and lyrical abstractionist artist are associated with the Washington Color School, a group of Washington, D.C.-area artists who developed abstract art from color field painting in the 1950s and 1960s.

His works have also been described as belonging to abstract expressionism and often a more lyrical abstraction. He works on stretched, draped, and wrapped canvas and adds sculptural 3D elements. He is recognized as the first artist to introduce the idea of a draped, painted canvas hanging without stretcher bars around 1965, and this was a major contribution to the Color Field School.

Gilliam has worked with polypropylene, computer-generated imaging, metallic and iridescent acrylics, handmade paper, aluminum, steel, plywood, and plastic in his more recent work.  Sam Gilliam earned a B.A. and his M.A. at the University of Louisville.

 

Gregory Coates, I Made It, Mixed Media on Wood, 48 x 45″

Gregory Coates was born in Washington D.C. in 1961 and grew up in the northeast part of the district. He is a Black artist known for working in the realm of social abstraction. In this exhibition, the work I Made It is a composition of concentric circles of various sizes on an orange-red background.

Gregory Coates attended the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C., from 1980-1982 and later the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in 1990.

George N’Namdi founded G. R. N’Namdi Galleries in 1982 in Detroit, Michigan. It is one of the oldest commercial galleries in the United States and features works of contemporary abstract artists. The gallery has established its reputation as the leader in educating and inspiring new and seasoned collectors.  They have worked hard at building art collections around Metro Detroit and beyond. Works from the gallery are featured in some of the most prominent public and private collections worldwide.

Nanette Carter & Contemporaries @ N’Namdi is on display through December 31, 2021

 

 

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