Popps Packing In Hamtramck, Michigan

Popps Packing Gallery Façade, Hamtramck, MI

All the world’s a gallery in a time of closed doors and shuttered art spaces. So leave it to Hamtramck — Detroit’s microcosm of storied Eastern Europe and Middle East immigration, rustic industry, and old-world charm that embraces punk rock and pierogis with equal relish — to flex its creative chops to inspire, engage and welcome interaction. Gina Reichert and Mitch Cope’s latest project, Ride It Sculpture Park, combines skateboarding and public art. Chido Johnson co-founded the Zimbabwe Cultural Centre of Detroit serving artists by breaking down borders and boundaries. Chris Schneider continues his own practice as well as exhibits some of the best of Detroit at his Hatch Gallery.

Another of the standouts in this inspiring entourage is Graem Whyte and Faina Lerman, co-founders of Popps Packing and Emporium. There’s no shortage of press on this dynamic couple. I could easily provide a bunch of links and you’d get a solid picture of the buildings they’ve purchased and renovated; and the prestigious grants that allowed that to happen. You’d be well versed in their individual achievements as artists, each in their own right. What’s behind all that is their cultural and social contribution to the neighborhood they’ve helped to transform while raising a family under the same umbrella.

Popps Packing Backyard Sculpture Park and Playground

When entering Popps Packing for an exhibition, you’ll likely be greeted by their two dogs. Kids are welcome and are free to tear around the large backyard, inventing games using any of the unusual sculptural structures once elevated and gallery-presented now doubling as playground equipment. A favorite event there is the Pinewood Derby fundraiser. Local artists from all over the Metro area completely ignore all Boy Scout instructions to construct the wackiest, usually unbalanced, excessively heavy and very much, sometimes purposefully, flammable vehicles. These semi-functional contraptions are put to the test in a vigorous racing contest that causes competitors to double up with laughter and feigned agonizing defeat when their car loses to a LED illuminated octopus in a polka dot dress. The party lasts well into the night on beer, grilled cheese and Yuen Hom’s famous rum cakes.

 

Popps Packing Pinewood Derby Compound

 

Popps Packing Pinewood Derby Starting Line

These kind of events draw neighbors as well as artists in a convivial heterogeneous social brew. With a desire to “find space to continue to be fluid with programs that are spontaneous and responsive as opposed to contrived and formalized,” Lerman says. “It’s also walking a fine line between being credible as an art venue and still being a home that welcomes folks in.” While most traditional gallery spaces can present as a bit intimidating to the uninitiated, this easygoing approach welcomes all who are curious.

Popps Packing Exhibition Space

 

Popps Packing Exhibition Space

With the arts ecosystem severely limited right now, these innovators adapted to the current landscape by embracing The Pause to step back and reassess their message and mission going forward, emerging as a stronger, clearly focused arts platform. As a community-based ideal and an awareness that not everyone has access to the internet, they aren’t jumping on the Zoom bandwagon but choosing to stick with their holistic approach focusing on a residency-based infrastructure. It’s also afforded some much needed studio time to reacquaint themselves with their personal art practices that have mostly taken a backseat to the steady exhibition schedule and certainly the business of raising a family.

While we eagerly await new work, Whyte’s Remain Calm installation at the Oakland University Art Gallery returns relevant in our current circumstances. Whyte’s tenet that we must ‘remain calm’ in the face of potential catastrophes says, “I’d like to think we can change the course of history if we really want to, even if it seems impossible.”

Graem Whyte Make Love Not War, modified ping pong tables, wood paneling, aluminum steel, wheels. 6’4”x8’4”x11’

Whyte continues: “Remain Calm was in 2012, and there was a bit of buzz about the Mayan Calendar and the whole ‘the Apocalypse is coming’ thing, and the show was a response to that. There were four main pieces in the show, each one correlating with one of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, but instead of death and destruction, my approach was to think of transformation. So instead of Death, Famine, Conquest and War, my pieces embodied Rest, Meditation, and Love/Play. Make Love Not War was a sort of ping pong vortex and was a nod to battle, but with the spin of play and positive interaction. I guess the concept of that show relates today as well, as we are all forced to pause and reflect in an uncertain time. And MLNW will be undergoing a transformation of its own in the next couple weeks as it is reworked into a new chicken coop for Popps.”

Popps Packing Compound Live Music

With such a concentration of ingenuity contained in a few square miles, it’s a clear illustration of how energy generated by one inspires another until an entire community is humming with creativity.  Whyte comments, “I’m generally of the opinion that positive thoughts go a long way in determining our futures.” Turn your babushka into a mask, throw on your docs, grab the kiddos and scope out a little hometown live art.

Angela Glajcar @ K.OSS Contemporary Art

Angela Glajcar, K.OSS Contemporary Art Installation image 2020

K.OSS Contemporary Art presents Angela Glajcar in a solo exhibition titled “My Silence Is My Self Defense.” Glajcar was born in Mainz Germany and studied at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Nuremberg. She achieved Master Student status and has been the recipient of several prestigious awards. Following her Detroit exhibition at K.OSS, she has a show at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington D.C. this June.

Angela Glajcar, Terforation  Installation detail

K.OSS’s IG promotional images of achromatic abstract paper sculpture caught my attention;  “My Silence Is My Self Defense” sealed my curiosity. The title was taken from a Billy Joel song “And So It Goes” where the lyrics read:

In every heart there is a room
A sanctuary safe and strong
To heal the wounds from lovers past
Until a new one comes along

I spoke to you in cautious tones
You answered me with no pretense
And still I feel I said too much
My silence is my self defense

And every time I’ve held a rose
It seems I only felt the thorns
And so it goes, and so it goes
And so will you soon I suppose

But if my silence made you leave
Then that would be my worst mistake
So I will share this room with you
And you can have this heart to break

And this is why my eyes are closed
It’s just as well for all I’ve seen
And so it goes…

I’ve been intrigued with low- to no-color work as I’ve been following Daniel Arsham for a while. In a welcomed respite to current trends where the viewer is regularly bludgeoned with color, the absence of it makes the work intrinsically calmer. It invites introspection and is instinctively meditative. Glajcar takes us on an other-worldly foray into cloudlike glacial caves of transparency, light, and shadowy layers; ever peering into the soul of an unchartered destination.

Angela Gajcar,  Terforation Installation 50 x 39 x 196″

Successful diatonic work is a feat in itself. It’s a lot like losing one of the five senses forcing you to rely on the remaining four to evaluate your surroundings. An artist requires some serious skills to pull off strong work without the use of color. The piece can’t rely on a shock of red to salvage a mediocre composition. Sculpture affords depth in its naturally occurring dimensions. The viewer has the luxury of physically circumnavigating the piece, interpreting it from every available angle. Representational sculpture allows the viewer to seamlessly connect through an easily recognizable subject. Glajcar has created abstract work that draws the viewer in via mysterious allure. Her expansive installation is particularly compelling in that every person who attended the opening found themselves absorbed in their attempt to discover its secrets by looking through the piece from one end to the other; even placing themselves into the middle of it, determined to force the piece to revelation. We looked again, deeper, closer: each reexamination whispering like a best friend revealing the latest gossip.

Glajcar writes, “I have chosen one of my ”Terforations“ as a “route“, is a way of dealing with space. My work in general is about exploring how space is experienced. “Terforation“ is a term I established by myself. It partly stems from perforation (from the Latin for hole, foramen), that is, the perforation of hollow or flat objects. It also refers to terra, the Latin word for earth. It alludes to the term terra incognita (unknown land; figurative: new land) to indicate that my work is about exploring unknown regions. For terra incognita hints at a vague idea, the supposition of knowledge as yet not clearly definable. The object refusing to be defined more clearly is the shape, the space created by the horizontal layering of sheets of paper with holes in them. To draw the viewer’s attention to this interstice, this void, it is never possible to look straight through the works, because the holes are positioned such that the hollow stretches into the unknown.”

Angela Gajcar,  Terforation,  installation detail

Although the paper material is quite heavy at 300g, it reads exquisitely graceful. The sculpture at once takes and gives space. The hand-torn edges grant detail to the Universal language of exploration; the search for love and sanctuary.

Glajcar writes, “Using paper was somehow the end of a long journey. After working with wood and steel I found out that paper is meeting my particular
requirements perfectly. Initially, paper appears light and fragile. Depending on its quality and layering, however, it can also be heavy and resilient. Since paper is made of natural substances and is therefore perishable like any other natural tissue, it takes up a position halfway between natural and artificial. In contrast to wood or metal it absorbs color and is permeable without being of any color itself. Paper can be processed without any tools – although this requires quite a bit of effort – and can easily be agitated, so that the works that already give the impression of floating begin to sway, casting a moving shadow. For me no other medium is of such a wide range of possibilities.”

Angela Gajcar,  Terforation,  installation detail

The smaller pieces seem to be abbreviations of the larger installation but miraculously hold an element of the same unsolvable mystery. The search for resonance isn’t as deep yet delivers satisfactory vibrations. In our world’s persistent cacophony of jarring frequencies, Glajcar’s work offers a momentary hiatus, allowing the viewer’s breath to relax and return to peace.

Installation by Angela Glajcar is on view at K.OSS Contemporary Art through March 28, 2020

Nick Doyle @ Reyes / Finn

A series of works using denim constructions on the wall and mechanical miniature sculptures.

Nick Doyle, Reyes / Finn Gallery Installation, All images courtesy of DAR

On the coattails of Art Basel in Miami 2019, the Reyes / Finn gallery opens the new year with Nick Doyle’s work Paved Paradise. This conceptual revisit to pop art skillfully displays American iconography, both the denim works on the wall and moving miniature sculptures. Pop Art of the early 1960s was exemplified by an enlarged work on canvas of a Campbell’s soup can by the artist Andy Warhol and the term “pop art” was officially introduced in December 1962; the occasion was a “Symposium on Pop Art” organized by the Museum of Modern Art.

When the viewer enters the exhibition, acrylic on canvas is the first impression, but on closer examination, it’s cut and colored denim on board that realistically creates the illusion. There is the apparent cliché associated with denim, a kind of masculine Americana that embodies these objects. There is a mix of signage, painting of objects, and moving miniature sculptures that captivate the viewing audience.

Nick Doyle, The Time for Change is Now and No Vend, (diptych) Collaged Denim and Flashe on custom relief panel, 36 x 72 x 1.5″, 2019

He says in his statement, “My Practice is multidisciplinary and often employs sculpture, painting, mechanical motion, and video. I look to media, particularly film, television, and photography as a source of imagery. I think of visual media like a pop culture database full of narratives pertaining to the cultural moment. My interested lies in what these narratives have to say about us as a culture, and the permission these narratives allow us as individuals. I think of my work as part of the psychological landscape of media culture. The objects, videos and machines that I make hold the psychic energy of my experiences and life, and allow me a way to engage with a broader visual discussion. I use a lot of commonly found materials often found in local hardware stores. I recently started using a lot of denim.”

Nick Doyle, Executive Toy: Hit the Pavement, Denim, Steel, Brass, concrete, silica, bronze, and vintage Samsonite suitcase, 16.5 x 14 x 20″ 2019

In the Falling Man, the customized suitcase has a figure of a man suspended mid-background, and as the crank moves the windows downward, the illusion is created. This work has a sense of humor interjected described by the artist as a sense of darkness (jumping out a window) and lightness (it’s not a real person) that contribute to an emotional journey. Regardless of the artist’s intentions, the kinetic sculpture reflects a level of craftsmanship that is respectful, if not extraordinary.

Nick Doyle, Rolling Stone, Collage Denim and Flashe on custom relief panel, 38.5 x 23.25 x 1.5″, 2019

Nick Doyle, 1-800-COLLECT, Collaged Denim on custom relief panel, 49 x 24 x 1.5″, 2019

The two images of a package of cigarettes and a wallphone are conceptually pop art subjects, both in that, they enhance the scale of the object and are nostalgic in their intent. And that is not to say it is problematic, rather a matter of fact. As Landscape and Figure painting continue as a productive genre, why not Pop Art?

Nick Doyle, Kwik-Stop dan Executive Toy: Send in the Clown, 2019

Doyle works across various platforms and media.  In work, Kwik-Stop and Executive Toy: Send in the Clown, 2019 is what I would describe as an installation piece because it creates an environment that includes a small car, gas pump, soda drink, and various suitcases. It also serves to illustrate that his thinking is non-linear or confined to one medium of expression. Growing up in Los Angeles amongst the media mecca of the world drenched in a land of fruits and nuts where the language is streamlined in pop culture, it seems to fit nicely within the creative work of Doyles’ experience. In an interview, he says, “In Los Angeles, wealth, glamour, and fame were commonly flaunted and in certain ways gave me a grotesquely warped sense of success. There is an entire landscape of shame to traverse when comparing oneself to the class and social hierarchies not only embedded in LA’s culture but pop culture as well.”

Nick Doyle, Running on Empty, Collaged Denim on custom relief panel, 30 x 30 x 1.5″, 2019

This large circular gas gage, Running on Empty, reminds me of the Jackson Browne song released with the same name, in 1977, before Doyle was born but written at the height of the Pop Art era.  Contrary to the title, Nick Doyle’s tank is full.

Nick Doyle was born in Los Angeles, 1983, and now works and lives in Brooklyn, New York.  He earned a BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute and an MFA in sculpture from Hunter College, NY.

Nick Doyle @ Reyes / Finn runs through February 22, 2020

Sixty Seconds in Kusama’s Infinity @ Toledo Museum of Art

Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929), Fireflies on the Water, 2002. Mirrors, plexiglass, lights, and water, 111 × 144 1/2 × 144 1/2 in. (281.9 × 367 × 367 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from the Postwar Committee and the Contemporary Painting and Sculpture Committee and partial gift of Betsy Wittenborn Miller 2003.322.

 

Stepping into Yayoi Kusama’s installation Fireflies on the Water at the Toledo Museum of Art is a dreamlike experience; it comes as little surprise to learn that this other-worldly sculptural environment was inspired by a childhood dream in which the artist saw a myriad of fireflies over a river on a summer night.  To experience Fireflies, visitors individually enter a darkened room in which every surface (including the floor and ceiling) reflects into infinity the tranquilly pulsating shimmers emitted by 150 tiny electric lights suspended at different heights.   The visual and sensory effect is one of floating in infinite space; the impulse is to linger, just as you might under a starry night sky, but once your allocated 60 seconds inside this space are over, you’re kindly asked to leave so the next guest can enter, and the experience lives on only as a fleeting memory.

The tranquil beauty of Fireflies belies the tenacious, fiery spirit that defined much of Kusama’s artistic career in Postwar Abstraction, which spans well over half a century.  Her parents ardently discouraged her from becoming an artist; nevertheless, while in her twenties Kusama left Japan and, in 1958, entrenched herself in New York City, the newly established capital of the art-world.  Her friends and acquaintances included Georgia O’Keefe, Donald Judd, and the surrealist Joseph Cornell.  Her early works anticipated (and very possibly even directly inspired) both the soft sculptures of Claes Oldenburg and the famously repetitive screen-prints of Andy Warhol.  During the Vietnam War, she even organized provocative nude anti-war protests in public spaces like Wall Street, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty, and the Museum of Modern Art.  Her critical reputation at one time surpassed even Warhol’s, in part because of her theatrical Happenings, and may have continued to do so had she not returned to Japan in 1973, and, in the West at least, faded into comparative obscurity.

No. Green No. 1. Oil on canvas, 70 x 49.5 in (177.8 x 124.8 cm).  Baltimore Museum of Art, The Edith Ferry Hooper Bequest Fund, BMA 1996.11

America re-discovered Kusama around the turn of the Millennium, precisely when she began re-inventing the Infinity Rooms for which she’s now most associated with.  They originate with her Infinity Net paintings of the 1960s, for which Kusama would apply a thickly impastoed net of paint onto a dark canvass, allowing the ground of the canvass to show through in the negative space as a seemingly infinite network of dots.  Breaking away from the finite confines of the canvass, she began experimenting with enclosed, mirrored environments in which whimsically colored dots and vegetal, gourd-like forms really did seem to repeat into eternal space.

Fireflies on the Water was the first in the next generation of Infinity Rooms, which, rather than playfully burst with full-intensity vibrant colors, evoke the subdued quiet stillness of a starry night.  Visitors to Fireflies stand on a small platform surrounded by water, which ripples just enough to allow the reflected lights to shimmer, though almost imperceptibly.  The lights aren’t a uniform yellow, as a firefly’s signal might be, but range from subtle yellows, reds, and blues, much like the stars.   The lights seem to extend infinitely in 360 degrees (including vertically), so the illusion is that you’re standing on a platform hovering infinitely high in indeterminate space—don’t look down…it’s quite disorienting.

Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929), Fireflies on the Water, 2002. Mirrors, plexiglass, lights, and water, 111 × 144 1/2 × 144 1/2 in. (281.9 × 367 × 367 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from the Postwar Committee and the Contemporary Painting and Sculpture Committee and partial gift of Betsy Wittenborn Miller 2003.322.

It’s easy to understand the current widespread appeal of Kusama’s works; though her mirrored spaces long predate the Smartphone, they now resonate perfectly with the culture of the Instagram selfie.  Earlier this fall, the New York Times advised readers to expect a two hour wait to experience her infinity room at the David Zwirner Gallery in New York.  (It should be noted that the TMA has a timed-ticket system, and viewers won’t wait in line more than fifteen minutes.) In the hands on another artist, such an application of mirrors might conceivably be reduced to a funhouse gimmick.  But Kusama’s Fireflies is undeniably transcendent, applying the illusion of infinity a way to guide us toward thinking about eternity (and perhaps by extension, mortality), and viewers to the Toledo Museum of Art will find it well worth the fifteen minute wait to experience their own sixty seconds in Kusama’s Infinity.

Fireflies on the Water is on view at the Toledo Museum of Art through April 26, 2020

Between Light and Shadow @ Toledo Museum of Art

Intersections, installation – All images courtesy of the Toledo Museum of Art

Many in the Midwest will already be familiar with Pakistani artist Anila Quayyum Agha, whose luminous sculpture Intersections won both the Public Vote and Juried Grand Prize at Art Prize 2014, the only time  this has happened at Grand Rapids’ highly acclaimed and much-imitated public art festival.  Through February 9, 2020, three installations by Agha transform a suite of galleries at the Toledo Museum of Art, comprising the exhibition Between Light and Shadow. Visually, these immersive works are an extension of her prizewinning installation originally displayed at the Grand Rapids Art Museum, but these new works are subtly informed by current events, and in addition to being undeniably beautiful, they carry an understated political resonance.

In a public conversation at the exhibition’s opening with Diane Wright, the TMA’s curator of glass and decorative arts, Agha revealed that she had always faced obstacles as a female artist.  In Lahore, Pakistan, where she was born and raised, she was barred entrance to some spaces open to men.  In the United States where she received her MFA, one of her instructor’s, speaking from personal experience,  told her to expect to work twice as hard for the same opportunities accorded to men.  But Agha humorously revealed that it was the defining moment when her son, anxious for a pair of Nike shoes, asked “why are we so poor?” that she realized her only option was to face her prospects with the unflagging grit and steely determination needed to succeed, whatever the odds.

She started as a fiber artist, drawn to the medium for its practicality and commercial marketability.  But her work became increasingly sculptural and immersive, gradually incorporating light and shadow.  She was particularly influenced by the exploded sheds by Cornelia Parker– sheds detonated by the artist and then partially re-assembled in gallery spaces; lit by an internal light, these suspended works scatter their shadows across the gallery space, and seem to arrest a moment in time, mid-explosion.  Looking at Agha’s works in Between Light and Shadow, all of which are illuminated from the interior, it’s easy to detect Parker’s influence.

Though these works are variations on a common visual motif of diffused light and shadow, each of the three installations in this exhibit subtly convey different aims.  The centerpiece that anchors the show is a variant of her Intersections.  In this iteration, the sculpture is metallic, yet, suspended from the ceiling by barely noticeable thin cables, it appears to hover weightlessly and the gallery transforms into an ethereal space in which the Earthly laws of physics no longer apply.  The cube’s complex geometric arabesque patterns are direct quotations from the Alhambra in Spain, a place historically associated with religious and ethnic tolerance during Moorish rule of the Iberian Peninsula.  Though all the versions of Intersections apply the common motif of an internally-lit suspended cube, subtle variations ensure that wherever these works are displayed, viewers will never experience the same environment twice.  Here, the red walls of the gallery space were inspired by the red wedding dress a Pakistani bride traditionally wears on her wedding day.

Occupying the two other rooms in the gallery suite are similar installations, The Greys in Between and This is Not a Refuge! 2, and both deliver subtle social and political commentary.   Like Intersections, the internally lit Greys in Between diffuses light and shadow across the gallery space.  But this ensemble of laser-cut sculpted forms comprises two distinct but similar and symbiotically connected rhomboidal elements.  In its original state, Agha wanted the surface of these forms to reflect the serene greens and blues she had recently encountered during a trip to the Florida Keys.  But in 2017 the Trump administration’s rhetoric toward immigration became increasingly hostile, and in response Agha subsequently blackened the work, responding to the diminishing prospects of immigrants in America.  In this work, Agha wanted to add the element of time; the mechanized parts of Greys in Between rotate at one revolution per hour, and viewers who linger a bit may notice the sculpture’s organic and vegetal patterns slowly, almost imperceptibly, moving across the gallery walls.

Greys in Between, installation image courtesy of the Toledo Museum of Art

The political undertones in Agha’s work are generally understated, but not so in the candidly titled work This is not a Refuge! 2.   The sculpture is based on a previous work of the same title, a highly permeable house intended to be displayed outdoors and exposed to the elements, and thus utterly unsuitable for use as an actual shelter.  The work was conceived as a response to xenophobia in the United States and Europe.  Delicately applying the gentlest possible language to offer historical context, Agha says that many of the current problems which led to the immigration crisis are rooted in conflicts and wars that “the CIA may have fiddled with.”  But she concluded her conversation with Diane Wright remarking that it’s precisely because she loves America so much that she feels the urge to critique it.

This is Not a Refuge!2, installation image courtesy of the Toledo Museum of Art

Agha’s works are poignant and timely, but she avoids the high-decibel screech and the gravitational pull to cliché which is so overabundant in our current political discourse, and somehow manages to deliver understated socio-political commentary through works of art whose transcendent beauty verges on the sublime.  While they respond to real-world issues, they also impart a sense of wonder, which is perhaps what gives her work such widespread appeal.  And as for her son, when an inquiring audience member asked if he ever got his coveted pair of Nike shoes, Agha was happy to report, that yes, in fact he did.

Video courtesy of the Toledo Museum of Art

Between Light and Shadow now on view through February 9, 2020