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Critical Voices @ Oakland University Art Gallery

Critical Voices: Selections from the Hall Collection at OUAG

Install Image Critical Voices: Selections from the Hall Collection 2022

The Oakland University Art Gallery opened the fall season with Critical Voices: Selections from the Hall Collection on September 9, 2022,  curated by Leo Barnes, the new OUAG Gallery Manager.  This is Barnes’ curatorial debut, but he’s leveraging five years of prior experience working with the Hall Foundation and its highly respected collection of both American and German contemporary art.  He says, “The artworks, collected by Andrew and Christine Hall, present a unique index of the best contemporary art of the late 20th and 21stcenturies. It provides a window onto the complementary social conditions prevailing in two distinct continental spheres: Germany and the United States.

Tony Matelli, Fuck’d, Mixed Media Sculpture, the Hall Collection

Tony Matelli is an American sculptor perhaps best known for his work Sleepwalker. He was born in Chicago and received his MFA from the Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1995. He now lives and works in New York City. He incorporates figurative, botanical, and abstract forms in his sculpture, creating uncanny objects that are both unsettling and comical.  Fuck’d up is a good example of these characteristics as it takes center stage in the OUAG gallery. Mr. Matelli has employed his formula of high-quality craftsmanship and lewd provocation, like the chimp being crucified using garden and household implements. Whatever the message, the artist leaves the viewer to interpret and make sense of the experience based on their own experience.

David Shrigley, Horror, Acrylic on Canvas, 40 x 40″, the Hall Collection

Horror is a kind of pop art with drips.  When you scroll through David Shrigley’s Instagram page, there is a continuous stream of simple, single images of objects, all using bright colors. A maverick and an artist working in multiple disciplines, David Shrigley is now considered one of the most significant figures in contemporary British art.  Making sense seems like nonsense is one way to describe his faux-naif work, which combines sweet childlike renderings with a sour, sardonic tone.   In January 2020, the artist was awarded the decoration of Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE). The British visual artist was born in 1968 and is now living in England after living in Scotland for 27 years.

Al Weiwei, Oil Spills, 10 pieces, Porcelain, The Hall Collection

Oil Spills is an early piece by the renowned Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, a visual artist, dissident, and documentarian who is often referred to as the most influential artist of our time. Ai Weiwei was born in 1957 in Beijing. His father, the poet Ai Qing, was labeled a “rightist” in 1958, and Ai and his family were exiled, first to Heilongjiang in northeastern China and then soon after to the deserts of Xinjiang in northwestern China. Mr. Weiwei moved to the United States in 1981, living in New York between 1983 and 1999, where he briefly studied at the Parsons School of Design. His output over the past thirty years explores his ambivalent rapport with Western culture and with the culture of his own country.  Oil Spills is an example of his conceptual art that explores the social issue and the aesthetics of an oil spill. This short video documents his exhibition in New York City in 2017.   https://www.nytimes.com/video/arts/100000005490574/ai-weiwei-puts-up-fences-to-promote-freedom.html

Robert Longo, Icarus Rising, Single Channel video projection, 9 minutes & 44 seconds. The Hall Collection

The video Icarus Rising from the title of the exhibition, Amerika, is the German spelling of America, where Robert Longo references the Franz Kafka novel that traces an immigrant’s journey from Germany to New York.  The nine-minute black and white video splices together images of torn paper and appears to be the artist’s first video work since the 1990s. The film features slowed footage of layers of printed photographic images, tweets, and headlines from news media being torn apart. The recorded incidental sounds of the tearing slowed in synchronization with the visuals, creating a soundtrack of groaning scrapes. The combined effect unsettlingly underscores the force, and often violence, of the actions captured in the images as well as the role the images play in shaping our world.  Sculptor, painter, and draftsman Robert Longo is well known for his bold drawings and sculptural works fusing pop culture and Fine Art. Longo attended the University of North Texas before deciding to study sculpture in New York; he later received a BFA from SUNY Buffalo.

Katherine Bradford, Beautiful Lake, Oil on Canvas, 57×48″, 2009, the Hall Collection

The figurative painter, Katherine Bradford, provides this lush, color-saturated, and metaphorical lake to the Hall Collection. She combines a theatrical sense of light with an oblique narrative. The work here in Beautiful Lake is a kind of romantic realism, whimsical and spacious.  Best known for her irregular grids and rows of dots spread out and around the figures, her representational work is meditative, laconic, and poetic.  Born in 1942 in New York City, she attended Bryn Mawr College and later received her MFA from SUNY Purchase. The artist currently divides her time between Brooklyn, NY, and Brunswick, ME.

Joseph Beuys, The Dictatorship of the Parties Can be Overcome, Printed on a polyethylene shopping bag, 29.6 x 20, the Hall Collection.

Joseph Heinrich Beuys was a German artist, teacher, performance artist, and art theorist whose work reflected concepts of humanism, sociology, and anthroposophy.   He was a founder of a provocative art movement known as Fluxus and was a key figure in the development of Happenings.  The chart How the Dictatorship of the Parties Can Be Overcome was printed on a polyethylene shopping bag. It was produced by the Organization of Non-Voters Free Collective Referendum as a means by which to publicize their policies. The first diagram, which was originally hand drawn by Beuys, urges the replacement of political parties with a process of a direct referendum in German society.   Do you get the idea?  The complexity of his work is too large and long to mention here, but he says, “Only a conception of art revolutionized to this degree can turn into a politically productive force, coursing through each person and shaping history.” Joseph Beuys was born in 1921 in Krefeld, Germany, and died in 1986. After military service and time as a prisoner of war, Beuys studied sculpture at the Kunstacademie in Dusseldorf and served as Professor there from 1961 until 1972.

Derrick Adams, Figure in Urban Landscape, Acrylic paint and mixed media, 25 x 25″ the Hall Collection

In Figure in the Urban Landscape 40, Brooklyn-based Derrick Adams employs the tradition of portraiture to navigate and reimagine life in an urban society. On matte and painterly backgrounds of teal, silver, emerald, and integrated earth tones, two miniature model cars traverse the open, perpendicular blacktop roads that cut the ends of the composition. Adams draws inspiration from pop culture, personal memory, and neighbors; he says, “I pay attention to everything, from store windows to people in cafes talking, to people on the corner communicating. I like to think about surroundings as source materials.” Adams received his MFA from Columbia University and BFA from Pratt Institute.

Critical Voices: Selections from the Hall Collection includes artists:  Derrick Adams, Joseph Beuys, Katherine Bradford, Edward Burtynsky, Naoya Hatakeyama, Georg Herold, Barbara Kruger, Robert Longo, David Maisel, Tony Matelli, Carlos Motta, Robin Rhode, Wilhelm Sasnal, David Shrigley, Ai Weiwei.

For more than 40 years, the Oakland University Art Gallery (OUAG) has delivered diverse, museum-quality art to metro Detroit audiences. From September to May, the OUAG presents four different exhibitions – from cutting-edge contemporary art to projects exploring historical and global themes. The gallery also presents lectures, performances, tours, special events, and more.

The exhibition at OUAG  is open through November 20, 2022.

 

 

 

Dog Days of August @ Detroit Art Review

MOCAD-Installation, Nep Sidhu, Paradox of Harmonics, photo: Charles E. Letts

An atmosphere of renewal marks the summer of 2022 in the Detroit arts community as the city’s creatives have returned to action after two years of COVID isolation, Mighty Real/Queer Detroit started the season off during Pride Month in June with a comprehensive and inclusive exhibition of work by 150 LGBTQ+ artists in 17 galleries throughout the city.  This wide-ranging series of exhibits, performances and events was the first–but will not be the last–celebration of gender diversity in Detroit. The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCAD) had an especially impressive roster of summer shows: remarkable paintings, sculpture, tapestries, performance and video  by multi-media Toronto artist Nep Sidhu, along with dream hampton’s Freshwater, an elegiac video of flooding in Detroit, artworks from the James Dozier collection of Black Detroit abstract artists and Sterling Toles’s S(h)elves? a community-based project at the Mark Kelly Mobile Homestead.

During this relatively quiet month of August, a couple of group shows have opened–one at Belle Isle Viewing Room and the other at David Klein Gallery–that hint at what we can anticipate for Detroit art this fall.

Allie McGhee, 2008, Self Portrait, enamel and acrylic on paint sticks, photo: Belle Isle Viewing Room

 

Carlo Vitale, 1979-1988, The Embrace, acrylic on canvas, 51.5 x 72.25 photo: Belle Isle Viewing Room

Belle Isle Viewing Room is a relative newcomer to the Detroit gallery scene.  Nik Pence, the gallerist behind the enterprise, opened a small one-room space on East Jefferson eighteen months ago, and in the short time he has been in operation, has attracted a formidable collection of talent. The group show that opened on August 13 includes nine of the artists whose work Pence has shown since the gallery opened.  Allie McGhee, fresh from his recent solo exhibition Banana Moon Horn at the Cranbrook Museum of Art, has contributed two artworks that reprise elements of his retrospective.  A large painting entitled The Embrace by Carlo Vitale–whose work was new to me–occupies a lively corner of the space with fizzy, dotty abstraction.  Martha Mysko’s monumental, wall-size piece Forecasting incorporates elements of home décor from the final edition of the Sears catalog and touches on themes of class and consumerism. The current show coincides with a doubling in size of the previously modest gallery space.

Martha Mysko, 2022, Forecasting, digital prints on vinyl on wood, house paint, spray paint, sublimation dye prints on aluminum, chrome display grids and hardware, wood shelves, cast plastic, ice cube trays, ceramic mugs, plastic margarita cups, ceramic vases, plastic bowls, plastic drinking cups, and wire-mesh cup holder, measuring cups, necktie, wooden box, shoes, fabric, plastic colander, hand weights, hand juicer. 192” x 12” x 96”, photo: Belle Isle Viewing Room.

August Selections, which opened at David Klein Gallery Detroit gallery on August 13 and continues through September 2, is an eclectic assortment of work by many of the gallery’s artists. Kelly Reemstra’s murderous debutantes share a wall with a painting by Marianna Olague, Blond Grass. The portrait, which features the artist’s sister, shows the subject’s face in shadow and adds an element of emotional resonance to Olague’s characteristic flat southwestern light.  Silvain Malfroy-Camine’s confetti-infused pink-and-blue party of a painting, Riviere, is an exercise in spirit-lifting alchemy. Kim McCarty’s giant, diaphanous watercolor butterflies combine art and entymology. Selections features four pieces by Scott Hocking, a preview of sorts for his upcoming solo show at the Cranbrook Museum of Art in November. Celestial Ship of the North (Emergency Ark) aka The Barnboat and Detroit Nights, Boblo Boat , Rouge Reflection are photographic  documentation of the fugitive artifacts for which the artist has become well-known, while two small copper wire sculptures occupy the windows of the gallery and hint at what’s coming to Cranbrook this fall.

Silvain Malfroy-Camine, Riviere, 2022, oil and colored pencils on six canvas panels, 23” x 67” Image  courtesy of the artist and David Klein Gallery

 

Kim McCarty, Blue Butterfly, 2021, watercolor on arches paper, 30” x 22” Image  courtesy of the artist and David Klein Gallery

 

Marianna Olague, Blond Grass, 2021, oil on canvas, 40” x 30” Image courtesy of the artist and David Klein Gallery

 

Scott Hocking, 2015, Detroit Nights, Boblo Boat, Rouge Reflection, archival inkjet print, 33” x 49.5”, edition 2 of 11 images courtesy of the artist and David Klein Gallery

Anyone curious about the plans of Simone DeSousa, whose Edition gallery space was closed for renovation during the summer, will be interested to know that the gallery has been reconfigured to provide a more classic display setting for the artists she represents and will re-open this September 16 with a solo show featuring work by the reliably brilliant textile artist Carole Harris. The opening is planned as a celebration of renewal, with music on the patio from jazz musicians selected by Harris. The gallery is now a pristine white box–with improved lighting–and includes an adjoining private viewing room for clients. Many of the prominent artists DeSousa represents–Michael Luchs, Robert Sestok, Brenda Goodman and Kathryn Brackett Luchs—are slated for exhibitions in the 2022-2023 season.

DeSousa has not given up on the Editions concept, which she describes as “a space focused on accessible and collectible art and design.”  It will be part of a re-imagined cultural campus the gallerist is developing in cooperation with real estate entrepreneur Philip Kafka in Detroit’s Core City neighborhood, with April 2023 as the date of a planned launch. The complex will include a café and a bookstore along with the Edition space, as well as a gallery for experimental work by young, emerging artists and a pocket park for outdoor installations.

Carole Harris, Motor City Blues, 2021, Commercially printed cottons, raw silk and thread, cotton batting, 455” x 45”, photo courtesy of Simone DeSousa Gallery and the artist.Carole Harris, Other People’s Memories, 2016, commercially printed cottons, raw silk and thread, cotton batting, 57” x 39,” photo courtesy of Simone DeSousa and the artist.

Carole Harris, Motor City Blues, 2021, Commercially printed cottons, raw silk and thread, cotton batting, 455” x 45”, photo courtesy of Simone DeSousa Gallery and the artist.

In this moment of stasis, when the summer shows have ended and the fall art season has not yet begun, we sense that beneath the quiet of this moment that there is plenty of activity in preparation for upcoming events. The one constant in Detroit is change, and these exhibitions foretell what we can anticipate in the art season to come.

The Detroit Art Review looks forward to reviewing visual art exhibitions in the Detroit Metro area and beyond.

Nick Doyle: Farmers and Reapers @ Reyes/Finn Gallery

Nick Doyle, Please Let me Go, 2022, collaged denim on panel, 90” x 125” (belt), 11” x 36” (lighter), 72” x 15” (spoon) All photos: Adam Reich

The perils and attractions of consumption driven by the dynamics of corporate greed—when what we are conditioned to want might just kill us–forms the theme of Nick Doyle’s current exhibition Farmers and Reapers at Reyes Finn, on view in the gallery from June 4 – July 16. Doyle has chosen deceptively beautiful images to lure us toward the revelation that we may be the unsuspecting victims of our own desires.

In his previous show with Reyes Finn, Paved Paradise, the artist examined and seemed to celebrate—or at least feel nostalgia for–the assumptions inherent in the American Dream of limitless expansion and endless possibility. But with Farmers and Reapers, his vision has sharpened and darkened to tell a cautionary tale about the perils of falling for the false promises of capitalism.   Or as Doyle says in his artist’s statement:

Today, as we experience an opioid epidemic, everything has become a drug.  Social media, advertisement, market research: all born out of attempts to create false desires in a population with no actual resolution to those desires, only a constant cycle of momentary satisfaction that intends on keeping us locked in a state of perpetual, hankering consumption.

Of course, Doyle’s subtle jeremiad wouldn’t resonate with his audience if the artworks he has created were not attractive.  And they are. His beautifully crafted and carefully constructed images of pretty flowers, shiny cutlery and glittering disco balls—even his wall-mounted portrait of a black garbage bag containing who-knows-what—are (sanctioned) pleasures for the eye, given force by their titles. Hence the disco ball is entitled Death Star, his lush bouquet of poppies is called A Siren’s Symphony. Even as we viscerally feel the attraction, we are brought up short by the artist’s ominous caveat.

Nick Doyle, Body at Rest, 2022, collaged denim on panel, 51” x 40”

 

Nick Doyle, Siren’s Symphony, 2022, collaged denim on panel, 95” x 89”

All except one of the artworks in this exhibition are handmade out of quotidian denim, the fabric of the common man and Doyle’s signature material. The artist has meticulously cut and laminated shapes reminiscent of paint-by-numbers kits to silhouettes made of shaped medium density panels. Individual pieces like Cold Sweat, an oversized, pink, melting popsicle, and Morning Shake, a cup of coffee surrounded by a spill, are disturbingly specific images of personal addiction. Please Let Me Go combines magnified images of drug paraphernalia—a belt, a spoon, a cheap lighter—in an unholy trinity.   It’s impossible to look at Putting Two and Two Together without imagining the sensation of physical shock that comes from sticking a fork in an electrical socket.

Nick Doyle, Putting Two and Two Together, 2022, collaged denim on panel, 72” x 10” (fork), 40” x 25”

The poppies in Farmers and Reapers introduce an unexpected lyrical note—and possibly a sly irony–into Doyle’s visual vocabulary, which up to now has consisted mostly of manufactured objects. Doyle employs images of mass-produced items–still ubiquitous, pandemic-related supply chain issues notwithstanding–as a kind of shorthand for capitalism and colonialism, and in a broader sense, American individualism and toxic masculinity. The opioid-producing poppies, sourced mostly from Southeast Asia and Latin America, might represent the revenge of the third world, which has now created a reciprocal addiction.

Nick Doyle, Cold Sweat, 2022, collaged denim on panel, 67” x 47”

Only one of the artworks in Farmers and Reapers is a three-dimensional miniature similar to those that have appeared in Doyle’s previous shows. Gone, a doll-size, perfect replica of a hospital bed, is made of wood and comes complete with rumpled hospital sheets and blanket. It is a poignant comment on the ultimate price that many will pay for their addiction. Positioned on a low pedestal, we see the bed from above, the ghostly point of view of a departing soul. The sensation of looking down is shocking, but already we feel the remoteness that must accompany the passage of the recently deceased.

The undeniable attractions of the artworks in Farmers and Reapers heighten the emotional charge of their dark subtext by simultaneously seducing and repelling the viewer. These poppies and mirror balls, these garbage bags and spoons and forks, together constitute both a warning and a lament for the destructive yet often unacknowledged power of invisible economic forces. As Reyes/Finn partner Bridget Finn says of the artist, “He opens conversations on addiction, destruction and capitalistic greed and the ways in which they are opposed to the fallacy of the American Dream, thus using the fiber of American culture to craft its critique.” With Farmers and Reapers, Nick Doyle seems intent on raising awareness of the traps laid by malign elements as the first step toward moving beyond them.

Nick Doyle, Gone, 2022, maple, cotton, wax, 2022, 13” x 22” x 11”

Nick Doyle: Farmers and Reapers at the Reyes/Finn Gallery through July, 16.   All images courtesy of the artist and Reyes/Finn, Detroit

44 – Portraits of a President @ Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History

An installation view of 44 – Portraits of a President at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.

In a moment that feels fraught with political peril, the Charles H. Wright has resurrected its show of creatively painted busts of President Barack Obama, first mounted in 2012 and at the time titled Visions of Our 44thPresident.

The current show is called 44 – Portraits of a President and includes a few new Detroit artists not in the original. The exhibition, staged in two galleries on the museum’s lower floor, will be up through Dec. 31, 2022.

All of which raises the question: why resurrect an exhibition after 10 years?

The reason, said Patrina Chatman, the Wright’s director of collections and exhibitions, has everything to do with efforts by some in this country to rewrite the nation’s racial history, downplaying aspects like slavery they find uncomfortable or distasteful.

This deeply offends the historian in Chatman. “You don’t just change the historical record because you don’t want to tell the stories” she said, arguing that those engaging in this sort of revisionism don’t want people to know how dreadful things really were at one time.

“We’re a history museum,” Chatman added. “We have to make sure these stories are told, and told in different ways.”

The premise for “44,” both 2012 and 2022, is simple: Take replicas of the same bust of President Obama, created for the original exhibition by Santa Fe artist Matthew Gonzales, and encourage artists to have at them. The result is a kaleidoscopic parade of Obama likenesses, dressed up in all the colors of the rainbow, and ranging from literal representations to the very abstract.

All Parties by Detroit artist Tyree Guyton.

One of the most interesting is Detroit artist Tyree Guyton’s high-concept contribution, “All Parties.” The Heidelberg Project founder has given us a blandly painted president with light-coffee skin, gray hair, and a pink suit jacket with an orange, striped tie. In front of him is a table stacked with old-fashioned teacups and spoons, an allusion to the Tea Party that rose up in 2009 to bedevil President Obama and his Affordable Care Act as it made its tortuous way through Congress.

In his artist’s statement, Guyton defined Americans — in particular, apparently, Tea Party conservatives — as a “people in a flummoxed situation of refusing to change with the times.”

Appropriating Obama’s image for artistic purposes, of course, was well established even before the 2012 Wright exhibition. The most-famous example is surely Shepard Fairey’s “Hope” poster, based on an Associated Press photo and one of the most-totemic images from 2008. On the other side of the aisle, artist Jon McNaughton produced a series of highly critical paintings of the president that variously portray him fiddling while Washington burns, or stepping all over the U.S. Constitution. (Fox News’ Sean Hannity reportedly owns one of McNaughton’s canvases.)

Perhaps “44’s” most-daring treatment comes from Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, a Brooklyn artist with an African-American mother and an Iranian father (hence the unusual last name). With “Is He Black Enough?” she tackles the question by painting the top half of the president’s face a deep, rich ebony, while the bottom half looks a lot like a white guy with a good tan.

In so doing, Fazlalizadeh touches on the twin complaints that pursued our first African-American president: For many white people, he was unquestionably “too Black,” at the same time that some members of the African-American community charged he wasn’t Black enough. In her artist’s statement, Fazlalizadeh suggested the question highlights “the potency of the color black.”

My Time to Shine by Nina Chanel Abney.

Also going out on a limb symbolically is New Yorker Nina Chanel Abney with her bust. Somewhat shockingly, “My Time to Shine” represents the 44th president as a clown with yellow hair, circular red cheeks, and a garish outfit. Her aim, Abney said on the accompanying label, was to underline how “the ruler of any country must put on many faces to appeal to the masses,” very much as a clown does in a circus.

It’s a plight that seems to stir some sympathy in the artist. Acknowledging the intense, often hostile, scrutiny any president faces – and Obama was certainly no exception (nor Trump) — Abney said she wanted to explore “the idea of concealment for self-preservation,” an intriguing insight into the psychological drawbacks of presidential power.

Tarred and Feathered by Angelbert Metoyer.

Another bust sure to raise eyebrows is New Orleans artist Angelbert Metoyer’s “Tarred and Feathered,” in which we find the former president, his black face streaked with bright gold, wearing a crown of feathers like a Native American tribal leader. Metoyer suggests opponents, with their fierce disdain, in effect tarred and feathered Obama. But the symbolism is two-sided. “In the Afro-Caribbean cultures of the South,” the artist noted, a crown of feathers signals power and prestige. “With this bust,” she said, wrapping things up nicely, “the punishment became instead an adornment – he is beautified by it.”

Preston Sampson’s Tales Retold.

Finally, the somewhat downbeat “Tales Retold” by Baltimore artist Preston Sampson acknowledges Obama’s huge accomplishment as the first Black president, but steps back to ask whether his administration really changed the trajectory Sampson argues the country’s been on for at least a century.

In “Tales,” Obama is decked out in a Roman centurion’s helmet, complete with red plume. While many Americans are proud that we elected Obama, the artist suggests we still resemble the Roman Empire more than we might like to think, and that the president, for all his virtues, did little to alter that.

Which leads to a heavy question: “Will we follow the same course of ruin?” as Sampson asked in his artist’s statement. “That tale is yet to be told.”

Mr. President Hear Our Cry by Kevin Cole.

44 – Portraits of a President will be up at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History through Dec. 31,2022.

Quiet As It’s Kept @ Whitney Biennial 2022

Whitney Museum of Art Biennial 2022, Installation image

The Whitney Biennial is the longest-running survey of American art and has been a hallmark of the Museum since 1932. Initiated by the Museum’s founder Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney as an invitational exhibition featuring artwork created in the preceding two years, the biennials were originally organized by medium, with painting alternating with sculpture and works on paper. Much has evolved over the years and this year the Biennial comes after being postponed because of the pandemic. The spaces here contrast significantly, acknowledging the acute polarities in American society. One floor is a labyrinth, a dark space of containment and another is a clearing, open and light field. The subtitle of this year’s Biennial is Quiet as it’s Kept, is a colloquialism.  The quote comes from the writer Toni Morrison and is said prior to something, often obvious that should be kept a secret. The curators, David Beslin, and Adrenne Edwards have been entrusted with making the exhibition that resides within the Museum’s history, collection and reputation. This is the 18th iteration and continues to function as an ongoing experiment.

Denyse Thomasos, Displaced Burial/Burial at Gorée, 1993.

The sixth-floor section of the Biennial opens with two large-scale abstract works by the late artist Denyse Thomasos, who died in 2012 at 47. For these striking works, Thomasos was interested in creating the sense of claustrophobia felt by enslaved people crossing the Atlantic crossing and inmates being held in prisons. Her goal was “to capture the feeling of confinement,” she once said, per the wall text, as a way to explore how structures like ships and prisons have “left catastrophic effects on the Black psyche. Her black and white overlapping grids create a feeling of claustrophobia and captivity. There are two twin paintings presented here as the viewer enters a space that is entirely black. Most of this floor is divided up into rooms (all black) that serve as viewing rooms for art videos.

Rebecca Belmore’s sculpture, “ishkode (fire),” 2021

At the Whitney Biennial, center, the Indigenous artist Rebecca Belmore’s sculpture, “ishkode (fire),” 2021, made from clay and bullet casings.  The Anishinaabe artist Rebecca Belmore—who was the first Indigenous artist to present Canada at the Venice Biennale, in 2005—made this commanding ceramic sculpture from a sleeping bag cast in clay and surrounded it with an arrangement of empty bullet casings. The work, a critique of the historic genocide and ongoing disproportionate violence against Indigenous people, is a centerpiece of the sixth floor of the exhibition, illuminated from above in the otherwise darkened space. “The work carries an emptiness,” the artist writes. “But at the same time, because it’s a standing figure, I’m hoping that the work contains some positive aspects of this idea that we need to try to deal with violence.”  In the background, Guadalupe Rosales’s photographs of East Los Angeles, 2022.

Daniel Matinez, Post Manifesto for the Future, 2022

There are five photographs that document what Daniel Joseph Marinez has described as “radical performative experiment of becoming post-human and the evolution of a new species.” Martinez used his own body to interrogate and bear witness to the extraordinary moment in human history, our own self-destruction.”  The recent abstract paintings on view here involve a process of accumulation in which the surface of the canvas is constructed of sweeping gestures, letters, drips, splatters, and moments of erasure is a reflection of how we evolve in life.  The black and white silkscreened work of marks and impressions tries to articulate who we are or who we might be at any given moment: a kind of visual poem or disruption.

Adam Pendelton, Untitled 2021

Ralph Lemon is an interdisciplinary artist who works primarily in performance and has made drawings throughout his life.  For the Biennial he has created a choreography of work that is presented in a group and moves throughout the exhibition in a circle.  Every so often the work moves to a new position in the collection. Themes range from elaborate visual mediations and the nature of the artistic process itself to experiments refracting Black American culture, icons, music, and joy.  It is fair to say this is an installation of images that changes its position during the exhibition.

Ralph Lemon, One of several from an untitled series, that changes. 2022

There are five paintings by Jane Dickson who shares the hopes and aspirations that commercial signs convey both in contemporary suburban spaces she photographed in New York City during the 1980s.  The Motel is one of the five.   Dickson’s careful depictions suggest that certain violence comes with making generalizations in the writing off of those who lead their lives in the areas that are frequently overlooked or dismissed. In her statement she says, “I chose to be a witness to my time, not to document its grand moments, but to capture the small telling ones, the overlooked everyday things that define a time and place.

Jane Dickson, Motel 5, Acrylic on Felt, 2019

Coco Fusco, Your Eyes Will Be an Empty Word, 2021.

In this new video, Coco Fusco directly reflects on the death toll caused by the pandemic. We see her in a boat just off Hart Island, near the Bronx. The island has long been the site of New York City’s potter’s field, where unclaimed bodies are buried. At the height of the AIDS crisis in the ’80s and ’90s, many bodies of people whose families had disowned them were sent here; over the past two years, it has again become active at an alarming rate. Fusco tapped poet and writer Pamela Sneed, an AIDS activist who penned a 2020 memoir Funeral Diva about that era, to provide the narration—written by Fusco—for this poignant mediation on death, loss, and grief. Over the course of 12 minutes, Sneed tells us that there could be as many as a million bodies buried here, but no one accurately knows. With the staggering total death totals from Covid, she notes, bodies become numbers in ways that make us forget the stories of those who are lost. Throughout the film, like a chorus, Sneed repeats, “‘When death comes it will have your eyes,’ he said.”

If you are visiting New York City before September 6, 2022, it is always a good experience to see what is going on around the country.  Something worth note is there are four indigenous artists represented from various parts of Noth America.  The exhibitions are on floors, 1, 3, 5, and 6.

In Summary, I would agree with the art critic Peter Schjeldahl who says “ long on installations and videos and short on painting, conventional sculpture, and straight photography.” When he writes for The New Yorker. Whitney Biennial 2022

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