Critical art reviews of Detroit galleries and museums weekly

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Concerning Landscape @ Detroit Artists Market

An installation shot of Concerning Landscape at Detroit Artists Market, up through Feb. 18. Image courtesy of Michael Hodges.

Over the centuries, the venerable landscape painting has evolved far from the Dutch masters who first perfected the genre — a fact underlined by the heterogeneous work in Concerning Landscape, up through Feb. 18 at both the Detroit Artists Market and the new Brigitte Harris Cancer Pavilion at the Henry Ford Cancer Institute in Detroit.

Curator Megan Winkel has adopted a refreshingly ecumenical point of view in pulling this together. Works range from Ann Smith’s intriguingly peculiar sculptures with their bunched reeds and dangling root systems to Carla Anderson’s photographic prints of geologic forms, including lyrically striated rocks in a spring in Yellowstone County, Wyoming.

A fan of the grand view? Not to worry. Concerning Landscape also embraces figurative vistas, like Helen Gotlib’s meticulous intaglio print, West Lake Preserve II, or Bill Schahfer’s lush photo study, Lagoon Life.

Helen Gotlib, West Lake Preserve II, Intaglio print, carved birch panel, palladium leaf; 2021.  All Images courtesy of DAM

 “West Lake Preserve” places the viewer right in the tall weeds, looking up a small valley to a pond and woods, a highly satisfying view. The large print’s divided into eight separate panels, and with the exception of a little dull orange at the top, it’s mostly a duotone essay in sepia and black. The photographic print, Lagoon Life, by contrast, stars a white ibis posing beneath a jungle crush of palm trees that all loom, menacingly, over the elegant bird’s head.

Winkel comes at all this curation from an interesting vantage point. She’s the manager and curator for the Healing Arts Program at Henry Ford Health Systems in Detroit, tasked with buying art for the sprawling medical empire. “Curatorial projects for me are mostly big buildings now,” she said, “and thinking about all the ways people can experience art when they’re not seeking it out.” The landscape, she adds, has understandably long found a home in medical centers given its generally soothing visions of a natural world far beyond the reach of the artificial light of the hospital ward.

Landscape as an art subject, of course, has a long, respectable history. Both the ancient Greeks and Romans enjoyed the genre, and the walls in upper-class homes were sometimes painted with pastoral views. But the status of the landscape plummeted in the Middle Ages, when religion elbowed every other art subject aside. Indeed, the natural world was reduced to a mere afterthought, and one with generally lousy perspective, to boot.

Things began to turn around in the Renaissance, particularly during Holland’s “Golden Age” in the late 16th and 17thcenturies, when an exquisite sensitivity to landscape and weather welled up in many studios, yielding in the best cases – van Ruisdael comes to mind — breathtakingly believable clouds and storm-tossed skies. Indeed, an online essay by the National Gallery of Art notes that “with their emphasis on atmosphere, Dutch landscapes might better be called ‘sky-scapes.’” (The Detroit Institute of Arts, by the way, has an outstanding collection of Golden Age Dutch paintings, well worth seeking out on your next visit.)

Catherine Peet, Looking Up from the Deep, Mixed media, 10” diameter.

The one piece in Concerning Landscape that gives van Ruisdael a run for his money is the vertiginous, gorgeous, Looking Up from the Deep by Catherine Peet, which you’ll find at the Henry Ford Cancer Pavilion gallery. This delicate sunrise or sunset-tinged cloudscape feels like it should be peering down at you from the dome of some state capitol, an impression strengthened by its circular frame.

Sharing some of the same warm tones but at the far abstract end of the spectrum is Carole Harris’ mixed-media Desert Flower. The 2015 Kresge Artist Fellow has constructed an overlapping stack of hand-made fiber sheets that read like thick, highly textured paper, in colors ranging from cocoa to an alarming red peeking out beneath all the others.

The simplicity of this particular conceit is striking, as is Harris’ ability to make real drama out of colors that only emerge as narrow strips visible beneath the warm brown sheet on top. That Desert Flower pushes the boundary of “landscape” goes without question – so, too, the fact that it kind of knocks the wind out of you.

Carole Harris, Desert Flower, Fiber, 2023

Russian transplant Olya Salimova, currently on a one-year BOLT Residency with the Chicago Artists Coalition, gives us something entirely different with her Body into Dill, one of the most original and daffy conceptions in the entire show. The centerpiece of this photograph is a rectangular garden space – disturbingly, about the size of a grave – that’s dug into the patchy lawn of some unpretentious backyard. Metal garden edging sunk in the turned-up dirt sketches a simple human shape, rather like police outlines of dead bodies on the sidewalk. Within that human-like enclosure, someone – Salimova? — has planted dill weed.

Its obvious imperfections are part of what makes this image so compelling. The yard clearly needs work, and the plantings in the “body” are scattered, newly dug and unsubstantial — apart from some vigorous leaf action filling up the head.

Olya Salimova, Body into Dill, Photography, 2021.

For those who enjoy a little disorientation in their photography – And when well done, who doesn’t? – Jon Setter’s collection of a half-dozen large prints, all up-close shots of building details, is a delight to behold. Each reads as an abstract design in 1920s Russian Constructivist mode. But in one case you’re looking at parallel diagonals on the late, lamented Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, and in another, the Detroit Free Press building downtown on West Lafayette.  As a group, these deliberately confusing framings are both mischievous and fun to examine.

Jon Setter, Purple and Gold with Shadow (Detroit Free Press), Archival pigment print, 2021.

 Finally, Scenic Overlook 2 by Sharon Que, an Ann Arbor sculptor who also does high-end violin restoration, might remind you of a minimalist diorama minus the glass case. On a simple wooden shelf, Que’s sacked two smaller pieces of wood topped by a chalky white boulder or peak – part of the fun is the uncertainty — next to which sits a big, black, bushy… something.

Let’s stipulate that the white form is, indeed, a mountaintop. Call the spiky black, roundish thing next to it a plant, and you’ve got a surprisingly convincing perspective study of a bush and a white peak far, far in the distance – never mind its actual proximity in the assemblage.

Is it weird? Is it oddly compelling? Yes and yes.

Sharon Que, Scenic Overlook 2, Wood, magnetite, paint; 2016.

Concerning Landscape at Detroit Artists Market, up through Feb. 18.

Luxe @ David Klein Gallery Birmingham

Mary-Ann Monforton, Luxe, installation, David Klein Gallery, 163 Townsend St., Birmingham MI

The breathless hype, the eye-watering price tags, the manufactured scarcity—we all recognize the strategies that the makers of designer goods use to promote luxury items. But Detroit artist Mary-Ann Monforton is having none of that. In her first solo exhibition at David Klein Gallery in the upscale Detroit suburb of Birmingham, she presents Luxe, a collection of 10 slightly oversized, comic replicas of well-known luxury brands that are both an homage and a send-up of late capitalist getting and having.

Monforton knows plenty about the world of red velvet ropes and status objects. Though she grew up in the Detroit area, her professional life has been centered in New York’s gallery and club scene, where she has lived several simultaneous lifetimes as a music promoter, art curator, visual artist and cultural media publisher. She has rubbed shoulders with late 20th and early 21st-century arts stars in her prolific and varied career–Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf and Jean Michel Basquiat, among others–and occasionally has collected their work.

Mary-Ann Monforton, Hermes Birkin, 2022, wire mesh, plaster gauze, paint, 24.5” x 17” x 4”

Now that she is back in her hometown, Monforton is prepared to share a few thoughts on the pretensions inherent in the easily recognizable signifiers of status. Sharped-eyed but not unkind, her observations take the form of wonky and slyly ironic designer bags and shoes made of humble materials that loosely imitate prestigious consumer commodities.

The artworks in Luxe are installed in David Klein’s middle gallery, now painted blushy pink in a kind of shorthand nod to a high-end boutique.  Artful silver wire stars hang from the ceiling and overhead a handmade imitation of a fancy chandelier casts a fictive glow on the bags and shoes below. Effortlessly holding the center of the space is an oversized replica of the iconic Hermes Birkin bag, in coral “ostrich,” for the fashionable giantess. Said giantess might also be interested in Monforton’s golden Valentino Garavani slipper with its pointy toe and (literally) spikey heel.  The chic send-up of the Manolo Blahnik open-toe stiletto is likewise a winner in the Brobdingnagian fashion department.   My personal favorite, though, is the improbably elegant black Louboutin Ballerina Ultimate, which manages to be both larger-than-life and dainty.

Mary-Ann Monforton, Valentino Garavani, 2022, wire mesh, plaster gauze, steel spike, string, paint, 11” x 6” x 17″

Monforton has some fun with the surface textures, colors and patterns of her fashionable facsimiles.  On her Louis Vuitton “Speedy” bandouliere, she subverts the well-known, militantly regular Louis Vuitton surface pattern, exploding it into an irregular constellation scattered across the satchel’s surface–less elegant perhaps, but more expressive. The intertwined C’s on her Chanel Bucket bag are both instantly recognizable and hilariously awry.   The materials that she references, lizard, ostrich, crocodile and precious metals–now rendered in plaster, wire mesh, and the odd metal spike–gleefully poke fun at the pretensions of the originals.

There is a kind of liveliness in these objects. They are imbued with character and seem ready to dance and move. Unlike the highly finished, larger-than-life sculptures of Claes Oldenburg, to which Monforton’s work is sometimes compared, these friendly avatars of luxury are approachable and relatable.  In some ineffable way, they are human.

Mary-Ann Monforton, Louis Vuitton “Speedy” 2022, wire mesh, plaster gauze, paint, 14” x 5” x 9”

In addition to the three-dimensional artworks in Luxe, Monforton has created a series of drawings of her designer creations in pencil, pastel and paint on paper. Rather than preparatory drawings, the nine renderings were created after the fact in a kind of object portraiture that captures the soul of each subject, as any good portrait should.  The drawing of a Chanel Bucket bag and Louboutin Ballerina Ultimate high heel, paired in imaginary conversation, make a harmonious comic duet. A drawing of a pair of Louboutin leopard peep-toe platforms surrounded by stars, like the other drawings, reveals the affection of the artist for the objects she has birthed.  These animated images invite an immediate association to Andy Warhol’s 1955 drawings of fashion shoes, though the comparison is only glancing; Warhol’s shoes seem conventional and rather deadpan when compared to Monforton’s lively representations.

Mary-Ann Monforton, Louboutin Ballerina Ultimate, 2022, wire mesh, plaster gauze, paint, 12” x 5” x 9”

The artist’s history as a collector prepares her uniquely for her explorations into how we assign value to objects. In her artist’s statement, Monforton is clear about her aims: “These objects explore the psychology of fame, fortune, mega-wealth, and privileged consumption.” She continues, “The broader concepts of ascribing value to things is played out in this line of luxury goods that defy perfection and are rife with failure and humor.” The imperfect simulacra on display probe human preoccupations with social prestige and how it is related to craft and economy.

In Luxe, Mary-Ann Monforton combines her childlike joy in the making of a thing with a very adult moral framework that proposes the exchange of one set of values for another. She suggests a more humane ethic that privileges vulnerability and emotional expressiveness over materialistic status-seeking, perhaps a good new year’s resolution for 2023.

Mary-Ann Monforton, Chanel Bucket and Louboutin Ballerina Ultimate,2022, paint, pencil, pastel on paper, 18” x 24”

Luxe is on view at David Klein Gallery, 163 Townsend St., Birmingham, Michigan, through February 4, 2023.

Zaha Hadid @ Broad Museum

Zaha Hadid Design: Untold at Michigan State University’s Broad Museum

An installation view of Zaha Hadid Design: Untold at Michigan State University’s Broad Museum through Feb. 12.

When the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, designed by the late Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, opened at Michigan State University 10 years ago, the structure was heralded as one of the most commanding pieces of modern architecture on any Midwestern academic campus. As Artforum noted at the time, the 46,000-square-foot structure is “not so much a building as an event.”

That pretty much nails it. Comprised of juxtaposed blocks of parallel steel folds and pleats, and emerging from the ground at skew angles, students immediately nicknamed the $45 million project the “spaceship.” The Broad (pronounced “Brode”) is an aggressive, entertaining structure dropped between MSU’s academic-revival class buildings and the Grand River Avenue commercial strip, a building that makes little visible effort to harmonize with its surroundings — even as it feels somehow perfect in its location. Indeed, the Broad resembles nothing so much as an alien vessel that plowed into the earth at high speed during an emergency landing.

The Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, designed by Zaha Hadid. (Photo courtesy Michigan State University Communications.)

If the work of Hadid, a Pritker Prize-winner who practiced for decades in London until her death in 2016, challenges both geometry and convention, much the same can be said for the Broad’s exhibition up through Feb. 12, Zaha Hadid Design: Untold. This career retrospective, curated by the Broad’s former director, Dr. Mónica Ramirez-Montagut, and Woody Yao of Zaha Hadid Design, spans 40 years of creative work, and sprawls over three floors. Rather than concentrating on her buildings, Untold spotlights Hadid’s non-architectural work, including tables, chairs, colorful rugs, chandeliers, a tea service, a chess set, and a car prototype that looks a bit like a sharp-nosed egg with wheels. She even brought her skills to bear on sneakers and outré fashion.

Zaha Hadid, Installation view of carpets and table in Zaha Hadid Design: Untold, at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2022. (Photo: Dustin Forest)

For their part, Hadid’s buildings have a habit of upending our expectations for what a structure ought to look like. In addition to the Broad, one of her best examples is the large, crystalline egg she balanced on top of a traditional, 19th-century building for the Port Authority of Antwerp, Belgium. Or you could point to her elegantly curvilinear Aquatics Center built for the 2012 London Olympics.

In like manner, the artifacts in this show challenge age-old assumptions for what shape ordinary objects should assume. “There are 360 degrees,” Hadid famously said. “Why stick to one?” Following this dictum, tables, chairs and shelving units in Untold shake off any pretense of rectilinearity or standard form, morphing into instruments at once sinuous, expressionist and functional. As Broad Interim Director Steven L. Bridges put it, these works “ask us to think and see things differently at every turn.”

Zaha Hadid, Installation view of furniture and shelving units in Zaha Hadid Design: Untold, at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2022. (Photo: Dustin Forest)

Born in Baghdad in 1950, Hadid graduated with a mathematics degree from the American University in Beirut, Lebanon, before moving to London in 1972 to attend the Architectural Association of London School of Architecture where she won the Diploma Prize on graduating in 1977. Two years later she founded Zaha Hadid Architects in the British capital, though she wouldn’t complete her first building, the swooping Vitra Fire Station in Weil Am Rhein, Germany, until 1993.

Most of Hadid’s designs were built abroad, perhaps unsurprising for a European architect. She did, however, design a condo tower that’s nothing but curves adjacent to New York’s High Line, as well as the Lois and Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati – a handsome exercise in Brutalist block geometry that was the first major American art museum designed by a woman. As much an educator as a pioneering designer, Hadid taught at London’s Architectural Association, and held guest professorships at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, as well as Columbia, Harvard and Yale.

Zaha Hadid, Installation view of vase, table and carpets in Zaha Hadid Design: Untold, at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2022. (Photo: Dustin Forest)

Hadid’s work is often called “transformational,” and the pieces in this exhibition underline how radical her vision could be. Indeed, The Guardian dubbed her “the queen of the curve” for her boundary-pushing architecture. Starting her career in the 1970s, Hadid was very much the exception in a profession dominated by men who didn’t necessarily take kindly to a brilliant Iraqi woman. Small wonder, then, that one of the adjectives most commonly used to describe her is “fearless.”

That gutsiness, tempered by extraordinary vision, can be found all over the Broad Museum, both in Untold and the structure of the interior spaces themselves. Cutaways allow for dramatic vistas from the third floor down to the second, and the walls, depending on where you are in the building, tilt from 15 to 40 degrees off the perpendicular. Much like Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan, Hadid’s Broad Museum is as much an experiential thrill as an envelope to house artifacts. In this respect, going to Untold is something of a twofer – both an intriguing exhibition and a passage through mind-bending architecture.

Zaha Hadid, Installation view of Zaha Hadid Design: Untold, at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2022. (Photo: Dustin Forest)

Zaha Hadid Design: Untold will be at Michigan State’s Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum through Feb. 12.

Scott Hocking @ Cranbrook Art Museum

An installation view of Scott Hocking: Detroit Stories at the Cranbrook Art Museum. Detroit Stories is up through March 19, 2023.  Image courtesy of Cranbrook Art Museum

There was a time, not so long ago, when most suburbanites and even some Detroiters regarded our grand, dilapidated city as an embarrassment. It would take youngsters just out of college in the early 2000s, dazzled by the postwar-Berlin landscape and surfeit of abandoned buildings to explore, to start to write a different narrative that didn’t run away from the city’s blemishes, but celebrated the beauty to be found within our fabulous ruins.

Scott Hocking, a 40something working-class kid from Redford Township, was in the forefront of that cultural vanguard two decades back, and his early forays caught the attention of a nation accustomed to ignoring Detroit. Luckily for those unfamiliar with his work and those who love it alike, the Cranbrook Art Museum has just opened his first career retrospective, Scott Hocking: Detroit Stories, up through March 19, 2023.

After getting his degree at the College for Creative Studies, Hocking established himself as one Detroit’s most articulate storytellers, creating work that reminded the world that the Motor City, for all its problems, is a mythic place deeply rooted in the American consciousness.

Starting in 2008, Hocking – impoverished like many students after graduation – began working with that great Detroit resource, found objects, out of sheer necessity. They were about all he could afford. But unlike the gifted Cass Corridor artists from the 1970s and 80s, who plowed the same field, Hocking wasn’t just picking up junk and creating artful collage or 3-D pastiche. His ambitions were epic in scale, and it quickly became clear his was a unique voice in a city increasingly crowded with interesting artists.

Scott Hocking, Ziggurat—East, Summer, 2008, installation view Fisher Body Plant 21, Detroit. Photo Courtesy of Scott Hocking and David Klein Gallery, Detroit.

Hocking’s first grand conceit lit up the art world like a meteor — and vanished almost as quickly. Collecting some 6,201 wooden “bricks” that paved the concrete floors of Fisher Body Plant 21, a crumbling auto factory near the east-side tangle of railroad tracks known as Milwaukee Junction, Hocking built, block by repetitive block, a majestic Ziggurat or stepped pyramid. Set in the dead center of a vast, rubble-strewn factory floor and framed by two rows of industrial “martini columns,” the massive structure looked, for all the world, like an artifact from a lost civilization. For pure sculptural drama, Ziggurat was unbeatable – mysterious and jaw-dropping all at the same time.

“I always try to explain the beauty I see in Detroit,” Hocking’s said, and it amounts to a sort of professional ethic. And indeed, his creations go a long ways toward accomplishing just that. For its part, Ziggurat quickly got national exposure. A photographer, Sean Hemmerle, rounded a corner while exploring the city’s industrial infrastructure and happened upon the monument unawares. In an interview with The Detroit News, he confessed it knocked him right off his feet. The picture he produced would end up running across a full page and a half in Time magazine as part of an essay on Detroit.

Unfortunately, Ziggurat had a short shelf life. In a development completely unrelated to the sculpture, the EPA bulldozed all the floors in Fisher Body Plant 21 to clear out toxic debris – including Hocking’s sober stepped pyramid. But it hardly matters. Also a talented photographer, he documents all his constructions so they live on long after they’ve degraded or disappeared.

It’s also worth noting, whether intentional or not, that Ziggurat works superbly at the symbolic level. Had Hocking erected a tombstone in a dead auto factory, it’d be a gesture both banal and trite. But a ziggurat, like the pyramids, is a funerary object — even if that’s not our first association upon seeing it. It’s the oblique nature of the reference that gave the doomed structure its pathos.

It has to be said that Hocking’s a veritable artistic polymath, with work ranging from the large-scale sculptures to installations to the haunting series, Detroit Nights, where he documents the dark city using available light. In the words of the show’s short introductory essay, Hocking – part archeologist and archivist – “[uncovers] layers of history, meaning and memory, with a historian’s sense of discovery and a writer’s craft of storytelling.”

Word to the wise: don’t miss his series of portraits of boats abandoned on Detroit streets.

Scott Hocking, The Secrets of Nature, 2012 / 2014 / 2022, Fiberglas, wood paint, metal, concrete, various found objects, Courtesy of and David Klein Gallery, photo by deo Owensby.

One of the more striking assemblages on display, both funny and daunting, is the wall-sized Secrets of Nature. Here Hocking utilizes figurative artifacts, human and animal alike, found at what he calls “tourist traps and roadside attractions” – in particular, a clutch of Bible characters from the former Good Shepherd Scenic Gardens up north in Mancelona. The installation looms high above the viewer with dozens of saints and sinners peering down at you. The work’s got a weird depth. In the words of the accompanying label, Secrets focuses on “creation and destruction mythologies … and ancient prehistoric wisdom.”

Scott Hocking with The Egg and the MCTS, 2012, Photo Scott Hocking; Courtesy the artist and David Klein Gallery.

Another of Hocking’s astonishing, large sculptures was The Egg in Detroit’s Michigan Central Station, the towering wreck on Michigan Avenue now being renovated by the Ford Motor Co. into high-tech office space — one of the most recognizable symbols of Detroit’s decline.

Using shattered pieces of marble that had cracked off the walls along one of the upper-story hallways after decades of freeze and thaw, Hocking painstakingly assembled thousands of shards to create a symmetrical ovoid sculpture that’s easily nine feet tall. The design has an almost Japanese aesthetic in its use of irregular, jagged elements — albeit all the same thickness – to produce something elegantly and breathtakingly symmetrical.

Workers doing asbestos removal before Ford acquired the depot helpfully suggested to Hocking that the egg’s weight might be too great for the floor. So they built a structural support system right below to prevent collapse.

The Egg reflects Hocking’s interest in geometric shapes, but as with Ziggurat, you can read something more into the design – in this case, birth and renewal rather than death.

Of course, this being Detroit, making art out of the city’s desolation exposes you to the charge of “ruin porn,” the cheap shot leveled most frequently at outsiders who can’t refrain from taking pictures of our astonishing dilapidation – like the French photographers and authors Romain Meffre and Yves Marchand, whose 2010 “The Ruins of Detroit” scandalized Michiganders but dazzled the world.

Cranbrook Art Museum Director Andrew Satake Blauvelt, who curated the show, isn’t buying the allegation. “In this case, Scott is from Detroit,” he said, creating actual art in these buildings, not merely gaping. “It’s not just depressing pictures that will go in a magazine,” Blauvelt said.  He points out that College for Creative Studies Prof. Michael Stone-Richards, who wrote an essay for the exhibition catalog, “also references the idea of ruins,” noting the fascination has a long history – indeed, going back to at least the 17th century, when Germans of means started traveling to Italy in search of the ancient and profound. “We go to Rome to venerate the ruins from past centuries,” Blauvelt said, because like Detroit, “they tell a story.”

Scott Hocking, Celestial Ship of the North (Emergency Ark) AKA The Barnboat #0721, 2016, installation view, Port Austin, Michigan. Photo Courtesy of Scott Hocking and David Klein Gallery, Detroit.

Not all Hocking’s remarkable constructions are in the Motor City. Indeed, he’s been invited to create work around the world. But one of his most recent and compelling pieces is found in Michigan’s thumb outside Port Austin – where he created an enormous sculpture as part of the “barn art project” first launched by former Public Pool gallerist Jim Boyle along with Steve and Dorota Coy, two artists who go by the monicker Hygienic Dress League. The project’s turned four old barns scattered around the countryside into art objects both oddball and beautiful. (See especially architect Catie Newell’s “Secret Sky.”)

With permission from the owner, Hocking deconstructed an 1890s barn starting to slump and rebuilt it into an ark-like sculpture that hangs off several telephone poles — a fitting metaphor, many would say, for our imperiled times.

It’s often said that the arts have “saved” Detroit. And it’s indisputable that at the turn of the century, Detroit and the state of Michigan were fortunate in having a rich crop of talent who made the Motor City their subject long before it became chic – among them Taurus Burns, Clinton Snider, Corine Vermeulen and Andrew Moore. While Hocking’s work is the most peculiar and original of the bunch, they’ve all helped Michiganders and the world at large see Detroit in a fresh light.

Scott Hocking and Clinton Snider, Relics, 2001. Photo by deo Owensby.

Scott Hocking: Detroit Stories at the Cranbrook Art Museum is up through March 19, 2023.

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.

 

 

 

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