Critical art reviews of Detroit galleries and museums weekly

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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.

Stephen Arboite @ N’Namdi Center for the Arts

Stephen Abolite, Installation image, N’Namdi Center for the Arts,  2022

N’Namdi Center for the Arts opened a solo exhibition on September 22, 2022, by the multidisciplinary artist Stephen Arboite born in Haiti, grew up in New York City, and now resides in Miami. Curated by George N’Namdi, he says, “ The spiritual work is dominated by a greater sense of self. Arboite asks the viewer to immerse themselves in an examination of understanding of self through a psycho-spiritual lens, hopefully generating awareness of emotional and mental well-being, and a path to a potentially reconstructed journey.”

Stephen Abolite, Untitled, Acrylic, Coffee, Graphic Collage, Mixed Media, 57″X56″ 2022

These multimedia collage self-portraits are obviously influenced by his Haitian heritage, which portrays the spiritual essence essentially manipulated by African spiritual practices. The mixture of human imagery with abstract elements engages the viewer with a combination of skill and ritual.

Stephan Aborite, Reflection Series #2, Acrylic, Coffee, Graphite, Collage Mixed Media on paper. 78″ x 31″ 2022

The artist refers to himself as multidisciplinary because some of the work is abstract fields of shape and color. As demonstrated in Reflection Series 2 there is a complex composition material set against a black background. He says in a statement, “Throughout that process, I found that the material itself, and how it dried, had a really intuitive quality,” says Arboite. “The same intuition that drew me to that led me to this current path. All these materials I use yield a certain weight, power, and energy. I think it is deeper than what is on the surface.”

Stephen Arboite, Bwa Kayıma, Acrylic, Coffee, Collage Mix Media, 50″ x 96″ 2022

This image is a combination of large shapes and small motifs that contrast with large solid areas in the composition soon led the artist on a powerful journey to explore his Haitian heritage and various discourses on the Caribbean diaspora. Many, if not most, of these collages use an overlapping outline of the artist’s face to make the point that all of these are self-portraits. Using a staining technique that includes ground coffee, metallic powders, and organic pigment, Arboite portrays the spiritual essence of his subjects. Whereas the spirit is primarily manipulated in African spiritual practices, his artworks perform a ritual that allows the aura to be seen up front and center.

Stephan Abolite, Reflection Series #3, Acrylic, Charcoal, Collage Mixed Media, 60 x 72″, 2022

Stephan Aboite is a multidisciplinary artist of Haitian descent who was born and raised in New York City and now resides in Miami. Arboite’s work considers beauty outside of classical aesthetic paradigms, emphasizing spiritual transformation and the evolution of human consciousness. Arboite considers himself primarily a self-taught artist with a foundation in drawing and painting from the State University of New York, Purchase College. His works have been exhibited nationally at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami, N’Namdi Contemporary in Detroit and Miami, Prizm Art Fair, and the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts in Michigan, amongst others. Some notable collections include the Jorge M. Pérez Art Museum of Miami, the Eric and Donna Johnson Collection, and the Arthur Primas Collection of African American Art.

The exhibition Big Good Angel is on display at the N’NAMDI Contemporary now through January 16th, 2023.

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.

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

Many Voices: The Fine Art of Craft @ BBAC

Installation image, Many Voices: The Fine Art of Craft @ BBAC

If there ever was a bright line of distinction between what we call contemporary fine art and what is now considered to be craft, that line has long ago been crossed and obliterated.  The mixed bag of artifacts on display in the exhibition at Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center from May 6 to June 2 illustrates this, with a range of objects and images that contrast the useful with the expressive, the carefully crafted with the emotionally contingent.  “Many Voices: The Fine Art of Craft” takes us on a tour of the increasingly porous borders between objects that can claim to be fine art, but qualify as craft only because they refer tangentially to traditional crafts and finely handmade objects that are intended for utilitarian purposes.

Wall Vessel V, Constance Compton Pappas, unfired clay, cedar

 

Balanced, Constance Compton Pappas, cedar, plaster, clay

The objects in the exhibition fall roughly into two categories. Works by artists such as Constance Compton Pappas, Dylan Strzynski, Sandra Cardew and Sharon Harper privilege the expressive properties of the materials and push them to the limits of their identity. Often there is a toy-like mood to this work.  Any pretense to utility is deeply submerged beneath the artists’ emotionally poignant themes. Pappas’s wall-mounted, naturally irregular wooden shelves support clay objects that only refer to vessels, and certainly were never intended to function.  They are signs for cups and the considerable pleasure to be derived from them rests upon their rough, stony texture contrasted with the irregularities of the wooden support. Elsewhere in the gallery, Pappas uses the abstract shapes of 3 cast plaster houses, again placed on a raw wood pedestal in a stack, entitled Balanced, that implies a state of wonky precarity.  Dylan Strzynski’s playful, barn-red house model, Attic, made of wood, sticks and wire, suggests a kind of Baba Yaga cottage on legs, poised to jump off its pedestal in pursuit of the viewer. Sandra Cardew’s Boy with Broom continues the preoccupation with play. The subdued color and rough fabric of the golem-child is both a little funny and a little ominous. Sharon Harper’s Pink Trailer makes an interesting kind of mini-installation by hanging a 2-dimensional photo landscape on the wall behind a diminutive clay trailer, suggesting the possibility of travel through wide open spaces.

Attic, Dylan Strzynski, wood, paint, sticks, wire, string

 

Sandra Cardew, Boy with Broom, mixed media assemblage

Danielle Bodine’s wall installation, Celestial Dance, offers a floating population of tiny woven wire and paper elements that might claim to be plankton or might be satellites.  Whatever they are, their yellow starlike shapes weightlessly orbit a larger, spiky planetary body, and cast lively shadows on the wall. The basketry techniques that Bodine has employed for nearly 20 years allow her complete freedom to invent these minute entities in three dimensions.

Sharon Harper, Pink Trailer, low fire clay, photograph

The fiber artist Carole Harris, who has several works in the show, continues to be in a class by herself. From her beginnings as a more conventional quilter, Harris has traveled far and wide, taking inspiration from Asia, Africa and beyond. Her carefully composed, expressively dyed and stitched formal abstractions are emotionally resonant and reliably satisfying. The artist employs a mix of fabrics and papers, along with hand-stitching and applique, with the easy virtuosity of long practice.

Danielle Bodine, Celestial Dance, mulberry and recycled papers cast on Malaysian baskets, removed, stitched, painted, stamped, waxed linen coiled objects, plastic tubes, beads,

Carol Harris, Yesterdays, quilted collage

Russ Orlando’s pebbly pastel ceramic urn-on-a-table, Finding #171, is covered by contrasting buttons and frogs wired to the substrate. The vessel evokes a friendly presence: it wants to know and be known.

Two artists in “Many Voices,” Lynn Avadenka and Karen Baldner, are masters in the craft bookmaking/printing, whose work perfectly balances function and form, though to different ends. Baldner’s snaky, wiggly rice paper centipede of a book, Letting Go, shows how exquisite technique can pair with creative expressiveness to yield an original effect. The restrained elegance of Lynne Avadenka’s handmade screen Comes and Goes III demonstrates that utility and esthetic pleasure need not be mutually exclusive.

Karen Baldner, Letting Go, piano hinge binding with horsehair, mixed media print transfers

 

Lynne Avadenka, Comes and Goes III, unique folding screen, relief printing, letter press, typewriting, book board, Tyvek

Among the objects in this collection, Colin Tury’s handsome, minimalist metal LT Chair hews closest to traditional ideas of craft, as does Cory Robinson’s smoothly crafted side table, which looks as if it belongs in a hip, mid-century bachelor’s lair.

Colin Tury, LT Chair, aluminum, steel

 

Cory Robinson, Canberra Table, American black walnut

In this time and place, and as illustrated by the artists in “Many Voices,” the categorization of an object as “art” or “craft” has become less and less useful. Historically, crafts based on highly technical knowledge—ceramics, fiber glass and the like –have been assigned a lesser status because of their identity as objects of utility.  It is undeniable too that many of these crafts were practiced by women, which devalued them in the estimation of collectors and galleries. Fortunately, those preconceptions are receding into the past, as artists progress toward a future that is more open to new forms and voices, new materials and subjects.

The artists in “Many Voices: The Fine Art of Craft” are: Kathrine Allen Coleman, Lynne Avadenka, Karen Baldner, Danielle Bodine, Sandra Cardew, Candace Compton Pappas, Nathan Grubich, Christine Hagedorn, Sharon Harper, Carole Harris, Amanda St. Hillaire, Sherry Moore, Russ Orlando, Cory Robinson, Dylan Strzynski, Colin Tury.

Many Voices: The Fine Art of Craft at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center runs until June 2, 2022.

 

 

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