Useful and Beautiful @ Flint Institute of Art

Installation image, Two bowls, and silver setting

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful,” urged the great designer and social reformer William Morris to an audience in 1880.  Hardly just making a quip about interior design, Morris was being a counter-cultural thorn in the side of the Victorian capitalist and industrial establishment, whose factories churned out mass-produced artless products, and whose workers were accorded little more status than that of the machine.  Morris argued that there was a better way, and even established a workshop that taught people skilled trades in the applied arts, in which workers could harness their creative agencies while earning living wages and producing objects of quality and beauty.  This launched the Arts and Crafts Movement, the reverberations of which were felt on both sides of the Atlantic.

Paul de Lamerie, English, 1688–1751. “George II Oval Cake Basket,” 1742. Silver. 14 7/8 x 11 7/8 x 11 7/8 inches. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. William L. Richards through the Viola E. Bray Charitable Trust, 1984.23

Not all the works that comprise the show Useful and Beautiful on view at the Flint Institute of Art are the products of the Arts and Crafts Movement (though some, like those produced by Liberty & Co. or  the architectural studio of Frank Lloyd Wright, absolutely were), but they all stand in the tradition of skilled artisan craft that seamlessly integrated functionality with exquisite design.  Collectively, this diverse ensemble of work voice a triumphant rebuttal to Oscar Wilde’s quip that “all art is quite useless.”

The chronological and geographical scope of this smallish exhibition is impressively broad.  Spanning a 500-year breadth, the show presents examples of decorative arts ranging from a lavishly decorated 17th century wheellock pistol to stained glass by Frank Lloyd Wright.  A sizeable number of these works hail from non-western cultures (Asian and American Indian, specifically) which never drew a line between the fine and applied arts, as did the Western/European world.  Everything on view comes from the FIA’s permanent collection, and the FIA really is the perfect venue for this exhibit: in addition to a muscular collection of traditional “fine art,” the museum now boasts a newly opened wing that displays a world-class collection of ceramic and glass art, much of which fudges the boundary between the beautiful and the functional.

Artist Unknown, German. Fullstock High Art Wheelock Pistol, ca. 1680. Wood, steel, ivory, and mother of pearl. 16 7/16 x 4 13/16 x 1 7/8 inches. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. George H. Greidinger, 1976.

These artifacts are diverse and sometimes surprising.  A pair of engraved golden cigarette cases from Japan possesses the lavish attention to detail that we might expect instead from devotional artifacts belonging to a Constantinian-era emperor, or perhaps something unearthed from a Viking burial.  The same could certainly be said of a Celtic-inspired bowl designed by Alfred Knox for Liberty & Co. Usually the largeness of a work of art seems to grab people’s attention, but in the case of six finely-crafted tiny salt and pepper dispensers (imagine a set of tiny witch’s cauldrons, but made of silver and about the size of a thimble, replete with a tiny serving spoons), it’s precisely the smallness of this set that makes it such a tour-de-force of applied design.  A tiny pair of Sioux children’s moccasins, adorned with meticulous beadwork, is similarly arresting for their petite size.  Perhaps the most unexpected objects in the show are the set of streamline 1930s-era Art-Deco silver cutlery, custom-made exclusively for American Airlines, and intended to stress the point that travelling by airplane was the fabulous and luxurious modern way to travel (contemplate this as you attempt to pry apart your next airline meal with a semi-functional plastic spork).

Liberty & Co., British, founded London, 1875. Bowl, ca. 1900. 3 1/2 x 7 1/8 x 7 1/8 inches. Gift of Janis and William Wetsman, 2016.

Many works on view, beautiful as they are, were produced by anonymous artisans who likely never imagined their craft would one day appear in an art museum—decorative Pueblo pottery, for example, or a pewter flagon from Germany.  Nevertheless, this show does boast a selection of art-world heavyweights.  There’s a decorative ceramic bowl created in collaboration with the famed American painter Andrew Wyeth.  Viewers will also see one of the stained-glass windows designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for a home at Midway Gardens in Chicago; heavily inspired by the Arts and Crafts Movement, Wright famously custom-designed every component of a building, including light fixtures, furniture, silverware, and windows.

Artist Unknown, German. Flagon, n.d. Pewter. 12 9/16 x 4 5/16 x 6 ¼ inches. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Keith Davis, 1972.

This exhibition rhetorically asks if there really is a meaningful distinction between the fine and decorative arts, and playfully blurs the boundary between these two categories.  It’s a question perhaps best posed by a bronze doorknocker crafted by Renaissance sculptor Tiziano Aspetti, which features a Greco-Roman inspired Venus standing in elegant contrapposto, directly quoting the famed Aphrodite of Knidos, one the most copied sculpture of classical antiquity.  At this level, distinctions between the fine and applied arts become, in the final analysis, a bit petty.

Collectively, these works serve to break down some unnecessary distinctions we’ve created to categorize the arts, but there’s an understated social element to this exhibit as well.  This show wistfully looks backward to a time before the Walmartification of culture, which invariably takes material culture down toward the absolute lowest threshold of quality and craft that people will settle for.  In its quiet way, this show suggests that technological advancement is not necessarily always progress forward, and that perhaps we shouldn’t always be so quick to sacrifice beauty for the sake of efficiency.

Useful and Beautiful exhibition at the  Flint Institute of Art through July 26, 2020

 

New Work, NYC @ MET, Whitney Biennial, The Shed

Installation image, Say It Loud, Image courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC, 2019

 

When I experienced the Say It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City it reminded me of the Art of the Motorcycle exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in 1998 and more  recently at the Detroit Institute of Arts with the Star Wars and the Power of Costume exhibition 2018.  These exhibitions speak to a broad interpretation of what belongs in an institutional art museum and I think the broader, the better. The ever expanding role of our art museums provides the viewers with opportunities never before possible. The Say it Loud exhibition was literally packed on a hot weekday afternoon, with young people of all ages (notably young men) and included families of all sizes.

This exhibition was the first dedicated to the iconic instruments of rock and roll that opened April 8, 2019. Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll is co-organized by Jayson Kerr Dobney, Frederick P. Rose, Curator in Charge of the Department of Musical Instruments at The Met, and Craig J. Inciardi, Curator and Director of Acquisitions of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

General atmosphere at the opening reception for “Play It Loud: Instruments Of Rock & Roll” exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on April 01, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images)

Through more than 130 instruments dating from 1939 to 2017—played by artists such as Chuck Berry, Eric Clapton, Sheryl Crow, Bob Dylan, Don Felder, Lady Gaga, Kim Gordon, George Harrison, Jimi Hendrix, James Hetfield, Wanda Jackson, Joan Jett, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Steve Miller, Joni Mitchell, Jimmy Page, Kate Pierson, Elvis Presley, Prince, Keith Richards, Patti Smith, Bruce Springsteen, Ringo Starr, Eddie Van Halen, St. Vincent, Tina Weymouth, Nancy Wilson, and others—Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll explores one of the most influential artistic movements of the 20th century and the objects that made the music possible.

Chuck Berry, Musician, B&W Image, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

The exhibition includes an array of videos where famous artists talk to the audience and perform popular sections of hit songs from the 60s, 70s, and 90s where Chuck Berry’s electric guitar ES-35OT (1957) his primary guitar from 1957 was used to record “Johnny B. Goode.”  Jayson Kerr Dobney and Frederick P. Rose, Curators in Charge of the Department of Musical Instruments, commented: “Instruments are some of the most personal objects connected to musicians, but as audience members we are primarily used to seeing them from far away, up on a stage in performance. This exhibition will provide a rare opportunity to examine some of rock and roll’s most iconic objects up close.”

Up close is Lady Gaga’s custom-designed piano, which she used in her performance of “ARTPOP” on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon in 2014; Steve Miller’s electric guitar that was painted with psychedelic designs by artist Bob Cantrell by 1973; Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Number One” composite Stratocaster, which was his main instrument throughout his career;

Keith Richards’s  guitar known to have been used when the Rolling Stones appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1966 and later hand-painted by Richards; and Jimmy Page’s dragon-embroidered costume (Los Angeles, 1975)—the elaborately hand-embroidered suit took over a year to complete and Page wore it during Led Zeppelin’s live performances from 1975 to 1977.

Keith Richards’s  guitar known to have been used when the Rolling Stones appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1966 and later hand-painted

 

In case you did not know, the Gibson Guitar Corporation has its home in Kalamazoo, Michigan and shown here, painted by Keith Richards. Les Paul Custom electric guitar, 1957; painted 1968.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is home to one of the world’s most diverse and important collections of musical instruments. With over 5,000 examples from six continents, it is unsurpassed in its scope and includes instruments from nearly all cultures and eras. This exhibition will travel to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in November, 2019.

The exhibition is made possible by the John Pritzker Family Fund, the Estate of Ralph L. Riehle, the William Randolph Hearst Foundation, Diane Carol Brandt, the Paul L. Wattis Foundation, Kenneth and Anna Zankel, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

 

The Whitney Biennial 2019

Installation image, Eric Mack, Proposition for Wet Gee’s Bend & Quilts fo replace the American Flag. Whitney Biennal 2019

 

Time flies, as it was just two years ago I wrote about four Detroit artists in the 2017 Whitney Biennial, and here we are two years later with Sam Green and his live documentary who now lives in NYC, and Matthew Angelo Harrison and his grouping of spear-like objects made of resin, who currently lives and has a studio in Detroit. One can’t help notice the differences. This year the content reflects an undeniably intense and polarized time in the country, as demonstrated in Eric Mack’s version of a replacement of the American Flag in this installation image.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wCxSwDWJ8_Y

Matthew Angelo Harrison and his grouping of spear-like objects made of resin, Whitney Biennal 2019

 

The Whitney Biennial is an unmissable event for anyone interested in finding out what’s happening in art today. Curators Jane Panetta and Rujeko Hockley have been visiting artists over the past year in search of the most important and relevant work. Featuring seventy-five artists and collectives working in painting, sculpture, installation, film and video, photography, performance, and sound, the 2019 Biennial takes the pulse of the contemporary artistic moment. Introduced by the Museum’s founder Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney in 1932, the Biennial is the longest-running exhibition in the country to chart the latest developments in American art. Here are a few picks from the show comprised of 75 artists.

Jennifer Packer, Untitled, Oil on Canvas, 2019 Whitney Biennal 2019

 

Jennifer Packer creates expressionist portraits, interior scenes, and still lifes that suggest a casual intimacy. Packer views her works as the result of an authentic encounter and exchange. The models for her portraits—commonly friends or family members—are relaxed and seemingly unaware of the artist’s or viewer’s gaze.

Packer’s paintings are rendered in loose line and brush stroke using a limited color palette, often to the extent that her subject merges with or retreats into the background. Suggesting an emotional and psychological depth, her work is enigmatic, avoiding a straightforward reading. “I think about images that resist, that attempt to retain their secrets or maintain their composure, that put you to work,” she explains. “I hope to make works that suggest how dynamic and complex our lives and relationships really are.”

Born in 1984 in Philadelphia, Jennifer Packer earned her BFA from the Tyler University School of Art at Temple University in 2007, and her MFA from Yale University School of Art in 2012. She was the 2012-2013 Artist-in-Residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem, and a Visual Arts Fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA. Packer currently lives and works in New York and is an assistant professor in the painting department at Rhode Island School of Design..

Robert Bittenbender, Sister Carrie, Steel, wire, glass, wood, miscellaneous hardware, 2017

 

Robert Bittenbender constructs dense reliefs using traditional art materials such as paint and graphite, but also includes cheap found objects. Each individual element has been meticulously incorporated into the whole.  The overall effect is one of improvisation. Bittenbender treats everything as a potential source of inspiration, so that a wire hanger carries as much potential as paint. His assemblage aesthetic suggests the influence of an artist who came to prominence in the 1960s, including Bruce Conner and Lee Bontecou, both of whom used refuse and rubbish in three-dimensional works that hang on the wall and protrude; not so different from the Detroit Artist, Gordon Newton in 1971. Bittenbender earned his BFA from Cooper Union.

Keegan Monaghan,  Outside, Oil on Canvas, 2019  Image courtesy of DAR

 

With his tactile, heavily worked surfaces and emphasis on subjective points of view, this painting by Monaghan delivers an aspect of Impressionist painting. Monaghan employs visual tricks to make small items appear disproportionately large, skewing the perspective. Keegan Monaghan is a young artist who was born in 1986. His work plays on a sense of inclusion and exclusion, positioning the viewer as a voyeur peering at a scene through a peephole.  It is not always clear in Monaghan’s work whether the viewer is looking out or looking in, excluded or implicated. The work was featured in several exhibitions at key galleries and museums, including the Whitney Museum of American Art and the James Fuentes.

Tomashi Jackson, Hometown Buffet – Two Blues, 2019

 

Tomashi Jackson’s deeply layered abstractions feature found materials, paper bags, food wrappers, vinyl insulation strips, and storefront awnings – many of them with specific autobiographical references.  Jackson’ wide-raging sources also intersect with art-historical, legal and social histories, often using color materially to encourage meditations on painful subjects.  Her three paintings on view focus on housing displacement in New York City by exploring parallels between the history of Seneca Village – which was founded in Manhattan in 1825 by free Black laborers and razed in 1857 to make way for Central Park.  The city’s current government program designed to seize paid-for properties in rapidly gentrifying communities across the city, regardless of mortgage status. Jackson creates dynamic passages of clashing complementary hues and lights her surfaces to resemble stained glass. Tomashi Jackson was born in Houston, TX, and lives and works in New York City.  She earned her MFA from Yale School of Art in 2016 and is an adjunct professor at The Cooper Union. http://tomashijackson.com/

There was an unusual event that occurred at the Whitney Biennal this year when  eight artists asked the Whitney Museum of American Art to remove their works from this year’s Biennial, citing what they describe as the museum’s lack of response to calls for the resignation of a board member with ties to the sale of military supplies, including tear gas.  Warren B. Kanders, the vice chair of the Whitney Museum in New York, said that he will resign from his position after more than half a year of protests against his ownership of Safariland, a company that produces tear-gas canisters and other supplies used by the military and law enforcement. The news was first reported by the New York Times.

A protest at the Whitney in May over a trustee, Warren B. Kanders, the owner of a company that produces military supplies, including tear gas. Credit: Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

There is an old saying; “There is no such thing as bad publicity.”

The 2019 Whitney Biennial is organized by Jane Panetta, associate curator, and Rujeko Hockley, assistant curator, with Ramsay Kolber, curatorial project assistant.

 

NYC, The Shed @ Brooklyn Yards

Installation, The Shed, Open Call 2 signage, 2019

 

In New York City, Hudson Yards’ the new museum, The Shed,  has dedicated a portion of its space and energy to supporting emerging artists in NYC through its Open Call program. More than 900 artists submitted proposals to be included, and 52 from various disciplines have been selected for the Open Call inaugural season. The artists represented receive funding, resources and support to exhibit their works in one of The Shed’s spaces. The Shed convened six different panels of outside experts to find the talent for “Open Call.” According to Tamara McCaw, the chief civic program officer, “We’re always thinking about what it means to be a civic institution, and located on city-owned land”—in other words, The Shed has taken on the responsibility of representing all of New York.

Early concept illustration of The Shed at Brooklyn Yards, 2018

 

Construction on The Shed started in 2015, using a design from lead architect Diller Scofidio + Renfro and collaborating architect Rockwell Group. The Shed features several architectural features, including a retractable shell that creates a space, named The McCourt, for large-scale performances, installations and events. Senior curator Emma Enderby points out that the exhibition will be a noteworthy complement to the concurrent Biennial, with its more established artists. “Our approach is completely grassroots,” she says, noting that they did everything from post on LinkedIn to contacting the Asian American Arts Alliance to tap into unheralded talent.

Hugh Hayden,  Hedges, 2019. Sculpted wood, lumber, hardware, mirror, carpet. Photo: Stan Narten.

 

Hayden’s sculptural installation Hedges is situated inside three mirrored walls to create the illusion of an infinite row of houses.  Hayden says in his statement, “I conflate an idyllic suburban house with a bird’s nest and challenges the illusion of social and economic inclusivity in the context of the American Dream.” Hayden lives in Harlem and works in the Bronx. He creates sculptures primarily in wood in addition to hosting culinary installations. His work explores ideas of belonging to a social landscape through a lens of camouflage and natural materials.

Hugh Hayden was born in Dallas, Texas in 1983 and lives and works in New York City. He earned an MFA from Columbia University and a Bachelor of Architecture from Cornell University.  https://hughhayden.com/

Gabriela Corretjer-Contreras, Llevatelo To’ No Me Deje Na, 2019. Mixed media: textiles, fabric, fiber, found objects. Photo: Courtesy of DAR

 

Llevatelo To’ No Me Deje Na is an interactive installation set in the bedroom of Nena Corretjer-Contreras’s alter ego. In her statement the artist says, “By juxtaposing the various personal experiences of performing to colonial expectations of Puerto Rican identity while living in the diaspora, the installation explores the history of invasion and exploitation of Puerto Rico. Participants can perform the role of both colonized and colonizer by trying on clothes and masks. In wearing Nena’s clothes and occupying Nena’s space, participants invade both Nena’s bedroom and identity. Through the use of clothing in the installation, memories are used to reconstruct an absent history and identity.”

Gabriela María Corretjer-Contreras is an artist living in Washington Heights, Manhattan, who works in clothing, textiles, installation and performance. Gabriela María Corretjer-Contreras was born 1995 in Puerto Rico and now is a New York-based artist who utilizes textiles and performance as a way of imagining a future for a society with an “identity crisis.” She recently earned her BFA at Parsons The New School for Design, and has begun a comprehensive body of work that encompasses different aspects of the same imaginary universe through bold colors and vibrant clashing prints. INSTAGRAM:GABBAHABBLABABBA

Analisa Bien Teachworth, The Tribute Pallet, shack-like scaffolding construction made of metal, wood, plastic and glass. 2019

 

Analisa Bien Teachworth (full disclosure, my daughter) is a digital media and installation artist from Detroit Metro,  living and working in New York City whose practice encompasses a wide range of digital and physical mediums. In her statement the artist says, “The Tribute Pallet is a multimedia installation that invites the audience into a shack-like scaffolding construction made of metal, wood, plastic and glass. At the center of the space on a table, glass jars hold candy for the audience’s consumption. This free offering of candy evokes sugar’s history as one of the most valuable commodities over past centuries, as well as its connections to the transatlantic slave trade which supported its cultivation. Three animated figures representing the ancestors are projected in the space on the interior walls and recite a hymn over a musical score. The multisensory installation explores histories and possible futures of work and labor.”

Teachworth earned her BFA from School of the Art Institute of Chicago, is part owner of 4Real, http://4real.io and works out of her studio in The Clemente, http://www.theclementecenter.org   on the lower east side of Manhattan. http://analisateachworth.net

Open Call is The Shed’s large-scale commissioning program dedicated to developing and presenting new works from artists based in New York City who have not yet received major institutional support. Panels of leaders in a wide range of disciplines—from the visual arts to digital media to theater and dance—reviewed more than 900 proposals for Open Call. They selected 52 emerging artists and collectives to receive support, space, and resources to develop their trailblazing projects at The Shed.

Organized by Tamara McCaw, Chief Civic Program Officer, Emma Enderby, Senior Curator, and Solana Chehtman, Director of Civic Programs, with Jesse Firestone, Open Call Assistant, and Alessandra Gomez, Curatorial and Program Assistant.  Audiences can view these works free of charge throughout the program through August 25, 2019.

If you are traveling to New York City this summer, these exhibitions would be good to see at these museums. The MET has other exhibitions, the Whitney Biennial 2019 has 75 artists from all parts of the United States, and The Shed is a new museum that is innovative in its design and multidisciplinary mission.

Katherine Gray: (Being) in a Hotshop @ Toledo Museum of Art

Katherine Gray, Installation image, Toledo Museum of Art, 2019, all images courtesy of TMA

There’s more than meets the eye in the exhibition Katherine Gray: (Being) in a Hot Shop, hosted by the Toledo Museum of Art.  This intimate exhibition of glass art and glass-inspired art by Canadian-born artist Katherine Gray is a conceptual and immersive show that aspires to give visitors a sense of what it’s like to be in a glass studio, and it does this through touch, sight, sound, and smell.  It’s a multimedia show, but most of the works are glass, and for this exhibition the medium is the message.

Glassblowing is a multisensory experience for both artists and spectators alike, so this exhibition incorporates nearly all the senses.  Upon entering the space, viewers are welcome to touch the various glassblowing tools used by Joseph Rosenberger, a longtime veteran of Toledo’s iconic Libby Glass Company back in the 19thcentury when it was in its first iteration as New England Glass.

Nancy Callan, Paper, Sleeve, Wax, Block. Blown glass, diffusers, motion sensors, 2015. Courtesy of the Heller Gallery.

Nearby, a sculptural ensemble of four monumental glass vessels playfully subvert the nature of the bottle as a vessel of containment, and they disperse the distinct hotshop smells of steaming wood, beeswax, wet newspaper, and Kevlar, each material of which plays a small but essential role in the glassblowing process—for example, Kevlar gloves are used to transfer the completed work from the blowpipe to a special oven, which safely allows the glass to gradually cool to room temperature over the course of many days (or, depending on the size of the form, sometimes weeks and even months).  For this work, Gray collaborated with master-perfumer Kendra Hart.

Katherine Gray (Canadian, born 1965), Irridescent Aura Diptych. Iridized blown glass, 2017. Courtesy of the Heller Gallery.

Central to the glassblowing process of course is the furnace, which Gray represents in several minimalist sculptures mounted on the wall. Her Iridescent Aura Diptych comprises two squares of iridized blown glass in which viewers see a radiating sunburst of color.  The colors subtly change and pulsate as we move around the diptych, and in this work Gray abstractly visualizes the tactile sensation of working so close to blinding heat.  Similarly, the two works which comprise the ensemble This Makes Me Think of That also subtly change color when we approach.  Here, Gray takes the furnace and the glory hole (from which glassblowers collect molten glass onto their blowpipes) and reduces them into the elemental shapes of the circle and the square.

Katherine Gray, This Makes Me Think of That. Iridized blown glass, steel, 2015. Courtesy of the Heller Gallery.

This exhibition’s pièce de résistance is Gray’s glass and light installation A Rainbow Like You.  Here, Gray illuminates a glass table from below, upon which rest a veritable rainbow of glass goblets, cups, and saucers.  Their luminous reflections are cast onto the wall, where the colors merge and mingle in surprising ways, creating a brilliant and immensely satisfying symphony of color.  The glass vessels themselves are created in various historical styles, so the work is a kind of introduction to the history of glassmaking.  The magic of the installation is in Gray’s ability to take common, domestic glass forms and with them create a work of arresting beauty which even evokes the shafts of light and color we might expect to see in grand spaces like Chartres Cathedral.

Kathrine Grey, Installation image, 2019, image courtesy of TMA

After viewing this exhibit, viewers should complete the experience by wandering over to the TMA’s Glass Pavilion to actually watch glassblowers at work.  (Being) in a Hotshop can ultimately only go so far to convey the sights and smells of the real thing, after all. But Gray’s intention was certainly not to replicate hotshop in the first place, and we should be glad—the  glass furnaces blaze at about 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, after all.  In this exhibition, Gray celebrates glassmaking itself with palpable affection, and it’s abundantly clear that for her the glassmaking process is a labor of love.

Katherine Gray: (Being) in a Hotshop is on view at the Toledo Art Museum through May 12

 

 

 

Tom Phardel @ Simone DeSousa Gallery

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Tom Phardel, Install image, Photographs by Tim Thayer and Robert Hensleigh, courtesy of Simone DeSousa Gallery

Tom Phardel’s exhibition, Inner Core, opened at Simone DeSousa Gallery, October 15, 2016. The work continues in a direction that I first viewed when I wrote a review of Phardel’s exhibition at Popp’s Packing in May of 2015. Normally I would not write something this close to that period of work. However, this new work demands attention, exploration and, quite honestly, tribute.  The strengths in Phardel’s work are originality and a preponderance of skillful execution of materials that is not limited to clay, stone, glass or metal, but rather touches on all of these and more. He says in a statement, “It’s here, in the inner unseen spaces, that my interest lies, where the wisdom, power, and soul resides.”

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Tom Phardel, Red-Bi-Lobe “Listening” 2016 Fabricated steel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In R-Bi-Lobe “Listening”, which is similar to but refined from an earlier work, Phardel uses fabricated steel to create a perfect form, two ovals intersecting, and an interior oval with two valve-like openings. On a technical level, the work makes the viewer wonder how it was created or fabricated. Then there is a lustrous paint finish and a sanded edge that reveals the metal in a precise way. The object feels like a cross-section, but of what? These are all the qualities that make the sculpture so strong that it leaves the viewer with a longing for an explanation. This quality is what artists seek to find: The Mona Lisa smile quality that brings the viewer back for a closer look, seeking an explanation or understanding.

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Tom Phardel, “Inner Mountain” 2016 Ceramic

Here, with Inner Mountain, we are presented with a clay object thrown on a wheel with a clay object inside. Within this interior mound, there is an indentation of two circles, what this viewer might consider an infinity symbol. This object presents questions: Is it stoneware with a crackle glaze or raku, as the darkened edge suggests, and how many artists are making sculpture that incorporates wheel-thrown forms? There are ceramic artists that have used wheel thrown forms, but Phardel goes beyond that. We know Mr. Phardel has been the Chairperson of Ceramics at the Center for Creative Studies since 1988 and oversees the philosophy of clay-made forms, and now we know why. He demonstrates that we are not limited by the material and its conventional use.

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Tom Phardel, “Union of Two Points” 2016, Ceramic, granite, glass

In The Union of Two Points, Phardel gives us an object that feels spiritual, as it rests on these two pieces of steel (looks like wood) that act as a base. It seems to this viewer that he is using a router to indent the granite in a precise and uniform way. The clay object in a circular indentation creates the illusion that it is levitating. Again, a meditative and spiritual piece of three-dimensional artwork so new in its form, we are left to contemplate the careful selection of material and execution.

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Tom Phardel, Tea Wisk & Bolder – “Whispers from the Rock” 2016 Steel, glass & gold leaf

Above is the large and overwhelming sculpture, Tea Wisk & Boulder – “Whispers from the Rock,” in which the combination of materials and how they are used is unbelievably inspiring. Mr. Phardel must have spent some time in Far East countries where a small Tea Wisk is commonplace, and he internalized the form and made it his own, not from bamboo, but many times larger and fabricated in stainless steel. What we experience is a face-off between the Tea Wisk and the large stone boulder, only to be moderated by a small vertical opening in the large inch-thick square of plate glass.

In this exhibition of three -dimensional art, Mr. Phardel distills form to its core essence and presents a hidden interior that gives way to the love of making original objects. All great literature, music, dance and visual art appeal to people when they bring their experience to the art form, and this is where Phardel succeeds. Phardel’s focus on meditative and contemplative form separates his work from many artists who work in three-dimension, not just in the Detroit metro area, but also in the world at large. If there is a time when an artist arrives at a place where his or her work demands greater attention, I would say that time has come for Tom Phardel.

If the Detroit Institute of Arts had a contemporary curator, they would, or should be all over this exhibition.

Simone DeSousa Gallery

 

Sensuous Memento @ the River House Arts

Mori Megan Biddle, Amber Cowan, Jessica Jane Julius, & Sharyn O’Mara – Hush.ex Exhibition at River House Arts, Toledo, Ohio

There are exciting things happening at the Toledo Art Museum, the University of Toledo, and the gestating organization that will soon be on everyone’s radar, Contemporary Art Toledo, this September. Contemporary Art Toledo, the brainchild of Brian Carpenter (lecturer and gallery director at the University of Toledo) and Paula Baldoni (director of River House Arts Space) is currently based in the gorgeous River House Arts Gallery in downtown Toledo. Hush.ex features the work of four artists whose common thread begins with the historically and regionally loaded medium of glass.

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River House Arts, Hush-ex, Installation, All Images Courtesy of Clara DeGalan

Once upon a time, glass production was a massive industry in Toledo. Its status as a serious craft has passed out of our cultural consciousness, much as other craft-oriented industries that once anchored Midwestern economies have shifted locus or become altogether obsolete. Toledo, however, has preserved its status as “The Glass City” through a symbiotic relationship between industry, education, and fine art that has guided glass craft through industrial decline, out of factories and into studios, ultimately accumulating an incredible collection of glass art (initially through the patronage of Edward Drummond and Florence Scott Libbey, founders of both Owens Corning Glass Manufacturing and the Toledo Museum).

The artists of Hush.ex (all of whom teach in the Glass Program at Tyler School of Art, Temple University) engage with the historicity and mundanity of this medium that permeates our lives at almost every moment without making its presence felt. The work illuminates that very mundanity, and uses it to begin a dialog about the things we touch, use, and interact with daily, and how quietly loaded with history, both emotional and indexical, this slippery, medium-bridging material is.

Glass is a substance that we live with and touch frequently as part of our daily life. We open windows, handle drinking glasses and plates, navigate touchscreens. We know what glass feels like. And, if you’ve ever been a child surreptitiously handling a weighty, faceted objet de art or a precious piece of porcelain, you know that glass feels good. It’s a crafted substance that invites direct interaction in every way. It’s almost an extension of our bodies, and it’s certainly played a major role, historically, in preserving our experiences in sensuous, precious, yet powerful cartouches. The artists featured in Hush.ex tap directly into that sensuous, indexical role glass possesses (to a maddening degree- I’ve never felt a stronger desire to touch works of art in an exhibition).

Amber Cowan’s turgid glass sculptures channel both mid-century gewgaws and the horror vacui principle of nature to craft strangely familiar, subversively scaled vessels and wall pieces that burst with an uncanny appropriation of organic growth and mind-numbing decorative beauty. Her works bear such titles as “Wedding Compote with Thorny Vine,” and “Candle Stick.”

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Amber Cowan, Rosette Milk & Ivory flame worked pressed & sheet glass, mixed-media

The works of Jessica Jane Julius dialog with mundane objects of a very different order- the ephemeral static and digital flickerings that glass bears into our environment via television and smartphone screens. The buzzy surfaces and odd static/dynamic quality of her installations speak to the mercurial loyalties of glass, as an almost magical medium between our reality and pure, abstracted information.

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Jessica Jane Julius, Extruded hot pulled & kiln cast glass, metal – 2016

The theme of glass as a vessel for memory brought uncannily into real space is most directly engaged by Sharyn O’Mara, whose pressed glass burnout drawings most directly reference Nineteenth Century memento mori keepsakes. Such objects were meant to preserve a physical trace of a deceased loved one available for viewing through impenetrable glass. Through an intense process of compressing objects between panes of glass and firing them into carbonized fossils, O’Amara has preserved, among other keepsakes, tufts of hair from beloved dogs that caramelize in their pressed glass coffins into delicate, snowflake-like strata of tangled tendrils that reference lovely, closely observed charcoal drawings.

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Sharyn Omara, Botanical 4-carbon burnout drawing on glass, 2016

Megan Biddle’s sculptures also invoke drawing, taken off the wall into three dimensional collisions of line and material. Again, there is a reference to preservation and enclosure here- her home appliance scaled sculpture “Converge” occupies a corner of the gallery like an old-timey television set, transmitting a quiet meditation on converging, geometric lines rather than moving bites of information.

The overarching theme of preservation of historical, beloved objects and memories within this medium that feels simultaneously earthy and ephemeral, tactile and fragile, inviting and forbidding to touch.

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Jessica Jane Julius, Static puddle hot pulled & kiln fused glass, 2016

Hush.ex coalesces into an incredible synesthesia of memory, digital ephemera, and physical preservation all encompassed, like Snow White, in a sensual and impenetrable glass coffin. There’s much potential for touchstones of communication in this medium that feels simultaneously earthy and ephemeral, tactile and fragile, inviting and forbidding to touch.

It’s the rare medium that straddles craft, fine art, and daily life on such equal footing. Hush.ex both awakens the viewer to sensual beauty, and stands as a reminder that such beauty is all around, within grasp, at all times.

Hush.ex is on view at River House Arts in Toledo, Ohio, September 15 through October 31, 2016

River House Arts