Critical art reviews of Detroit galleries and museums weekly

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Asymmetry @ Library Street Collective

Asymmetry, installation at Library Street Collective All images: Library Street Collective

 Asymmetry, a two-person exhibition of work by Robert Moreland and Jacqueline Surdell on view at Library Street Collective until May 4, 2022, continues the gallery’s program of pairing the work of two artists in a provocative dialog.  Zenax, the recent show of Beverly Fishman and California painter Gary Lang could have been described as a more-or-less harmonious conversation; Asymmetry is something more along the lines of a very civil argument.

Untitled Yellow Square, by Robert Moreland, 2022, canvas on wooden panel with acrylic paint, tacks and leather hinges.

The exhibition demonstrates that the tenets of Constructivism–that materials and methods of construction generate the meaning and physical presence of art objects–retain their relevance well into the 21st century.   This philosophical habit of mind underpins the work of both Moreland and Surdell, but as one might expect of a line of aesthetic thought that is over 100 years old, their common starting point has diverged, resulting in endpoints that are quite far from each other in appearance and intent.

Born and raised in Baton Rouge, Robert Moreland dropped out of high school in his sophomore year and later began to teach himself about art by hanging out with friends at the margins of art school, talking to the professors and attending the occasional lecture. He worked with a woodworker for a time, where he learned the craftsmanship that is still a salient feature of his art practice.  Moreland moved to L.A. some years ago and credits the anonymity and openness of the city as a creative catalyst for his recent work.

Moreland prizes the labor of making art as a meditative act, and gravitates to the routine, everyday nature of fabrication.  The artist proceeds with deliberation when creating a piece, a working habit which he credits to his art conservator mother who, he says, showed him how to “slow down and take my time.” The artist uses hundreds of tacks—invisible on the face of the constructs–to secure the cloth on the underlying wooden components. Leather hinges connect the constituent pieces of each artwork. Taken together, these components and physical processes define his highly personal, almost ritualistic art practice.

Untitled Blue Rectangle IV, by Robert Moreland, 2021, canvas on wooden panel with acrylic paint, tacks and leather hinges.

 

Untitled Blue Rectangle IV, by Robert Moreland, 2021, side installation view.

The artist describes himself as more of a builder than a painter. These paintings or sculptures (Moreland resists referring to them as one or the other) operate as activators of the space around and in front of them. His artworks in Asymmetry, each listed as “Untitled” beside an austere description of their physical shape and color, are painted with stripes or squares of an intense single hue that follows the contours of each piece. The canvas components are stretched over rigid rectilinear –and occasionally columnar–wooden structures, which are then assembled into folded and buckled shapes that call to mind the vintage toy Jacob’s ladder, or perhaps reference industrial shapes like tank treads or conveyor belts. The 5 precisely constructed pieces installed in the gallery look as if they could fold or open or climb down the wall, implying movement event though they are static.

More defined by what they do not offer rather than by what they do, Moreland’s constructions are rigorous and demanding, their expressive content confined within narrow formal boundaries that refuse referentiality, gesture and imagery. In this, he follows in the footsteps of a well-established philosophy of aesthetics practiced by mid-century minimalists like Ellsworth Kelly and Donald Judd, artists Moreland professes to admire.

Not one but not two either (blue), by Jacqueline Surdell, 2022, braided cotton cord, steel, 108” x 51” x 11.” Photo: Library Street Collective.

In emotional temperature and methodological expressiveness, the work of Jacqueline Surdell could hardly offer a stronger contrast to Moreland’s recessive artworks. Exuberant and improvisational, her three free-form tapestries made from thick ropes and lines nearly dance off the wall. They nod to the warp and weft of traditional fiber works, but with these hefty woven pieces, Surdell has achieved a kind of painterly freedom in execution that is both novel and exhilarating. In overall shape she allows some scope to the effect of gravity, with elements of the artworks seeming to sink downward, referencing natural forms like bird nests or insect cases. Clotted knots and twisty braids surround circular portals, while individual cords escape and crawl across the floor.

As a native Chicagoan, Surdell feels related to the environment, history, and blue-collar work ethic of the city, with childhood memories of her grandmother’s plein air landscape painting adding yet another level of complexity. The physical act of creating the works, which weigh an average of 150 pounds, demands considerable physical strength that the artist, a self-described recovering athlete, has in abundance.  She often uses her own body as a shuttle, weaving pounds of rope together as she unifies figure and ground.

Earth Licker, by Jacqueline Surdell, 2022, Braided cotton cord, nylon cord, steel, 120” x 120” x 16.” Photo: Library Street Collective

Not one but not two either (blue-detail)

The palette of Surdell’s work is determined by the native color of commercially available nylon and cotton lines.  The repetitive, almost beaded effect of row upon row of knots in Earth Licker suggests a ceremonial process like the traditional craft of some imaginary future tribe. The woven elements frame and celebrate the implied portal.  In the other two pieces, Not one but not two either (blue) and Not one but not two either (red), triangular imagery points to the open spaces, setting up a bilateral conversation between a circular void and pointing chevron. Her process is open-ended and spontaneous, yet the results seem inevitable.

Fiber art, a medium long devalued because of its association with women’s work, seems–at last–to be coming into prominence as a medium. Here in Detroit, recent shows of woven work by distinguished international textile artist Olga de Amaral at the Cranbrook Art Museum, as well as exhibitions by Detroit artists Carole Harris, Boisali Biswas and Jeanne Bieri, seem to indicate that fiber art has entered a new era of acceptance as a major medium of expression. Surdell’s work is a welcome addition to this burgeoning contemporary art practice.

In this age of pluralism and inclusivity, these contrasting bodies of work by Robert Moreland and Jacqueline Surdell in Asymmetry represent two valid ways of making and thinking about art among many. Moreland’s artworks depend upon an established minimalist esthetic that retains considerable currency in contemporary art, even as Surdell’s tapestries set off for unknown territory. The choice is not either/or, but both/and.

Asymmetry, a two-person exhibition of work by Robert Moreland and Jacqueline Surdell on view at Library Street Collective until May 4, 2022

Castagnacci: Quarry Echoes & Wanderings @ BBAC

Vincent Castagnacci: Quarry Echoes & Wanderings at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center

An installation view of Vincent Castagnacci: Quarry Echoes & Wanderings, which will be at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center until April 21.

 Vincent Castagnacci: Quarry Echoes & Wanderings (1984-2021) is an intriguing tour through abstraction with a distinctly geometric cast, and will be up at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center through April 21. Castagnacci, the University of Michigan’s Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Fine Art Emeritus, takes rationalism’s standard forms – squares, semi-circles, triangles and parallel lines – and twists them to his liking, confounding conventional expectations.

Take, for example, the large, black and white VII.06 – 19.VIII.06. This series of interconnected squares, some scored in dull red, has an undeniable momentum, and appears to be in the process of levitating from left to right. The piece is spare, and looks like it was sketched rather quickly — doubtless an illusion. In some respects, you could say it resembles a series of matchbooks or, more intriguingly, the sort of early renderings architects jot down to see how different building volumes will interact with one another.

Vincent Castagnacci, VII.06 – 19.VIII.06, Charcoal pencil, Dry pigment, Gesso, 2007.

But Castagnacci, who maintains a studio locally in Pinckney and one in Gloucester, Massachusetts, attributes the genesis of his work to the geometry of natural landscapes, not man-made forms. In his artist’s statement Castagnacci cites the “coastal topography of Cape Ann” around Gloucester, with its boulder-tossed beaches and craggy granite bluffs, as both inspiration and defining aesthetic undergirding his point of view. So perhaps VII.06 – 19.VIII.06 is less architectural and more a tectonic rendering of rock and hillside.

Castagnacci, who arrived at the University of Michigan in 1973, studied at the Boston Museum School at Tufts University, then followed that with both a B.F.A. and M.F.A. from Yale. He was most recently a Mellon Fellow at Kalamazoo College, and has also been a visiting artist at the American Academy in Rome. His artistic interests range widely. Encouraged by the dean of the U-M School of Art & Design to reach across academic boundaries, Castagnacci collaborated with percussionist and composer Michael Gould in a five-year project that in 2005 yielded Into the Quarry, an installation celebrating the convergence of art and music in space and time.

Annie VanGelderen, BBAC president and CEO, praised Castagnacci’s “incredible body of work, one that demonstrates both restraint and a thread connecting through the years.” The pieces on display, she added, “unfold in geometric presentation, whether with painting, drawing or printmaking.”

Vincent Castagnacci, Rome: III.25.80-20.VII.12, Oil and chalk, 2012

The contrast between Castagnacci’s spare black-and-white drawings and his colorful, texture-rich paintings, which pop like exclamation points, is part of what gives this exhibition its juice. The oil-and-chalk Rome: III.25.80-20.VII.12 offers a pleasing contrast to the “simpler” works, an essay in repetitive verticals that progress in color from dull, mottled shades of powder blue to nightingale brown. It’s a remarkably textured exercise. The effect, one viewer suggested, reminded her of the raw material for blue jeans, though for this visitor, it read more like a satisfyingly weathered, corrugated metal wall in tones of grayish-blue.

There are a number of absorbing essays in squares and rectangles here, including the austere, geometric 23.II-5.III.11#1, comprised of three or four superimposed frames. Two are squarish, while a third contained within the others tilts and lists into its fellows, like an unsteady parallelogram. Rendered in surprisingly rich tones of charcoal and ash, 23.II-5 almost amounts to a monochromatic color study, animated by a densely textured black rectangle that anchors the work and gives it its mesmerizing depth.

Vincent Castagnacci, 23.II-5.III.11#1, Oil, 1997

23.II-5.III.11#1, is a warm, color-saturated canvas in distressed shades of barn red, scored here and there with verticals and horizontals that almost suggest inset panels in a door. In some ways this lush, resonant piece feels thousands of miles from the Massachusetts coast and Cape Ann. In its warmth and seemingly ancient appearance, it calls up the Mediterranean more readily than the North Atlantic.

Finally, 7-11.X.19, one of the handsomest pieces on display, is a highly formalistic, acrylic-and-ash color study in green, periwinkle, lavender and shades of gray edging into black. Part of the charm of this composition is that while the strong colors all seem to occupy the same plane, the dark gray they frame looks downright three-dimensional, as if that quadrant of the canvas were receding several inches from the rest of the work. It’s an absorbing design that tiptoes to the edge of trompe l’oeil.

Vincent Castagnacci, 7-11.X.19, Acrylic, Ash, 2019.

Get ready for something completely different when you pass from Castagnacci to the adjacent gallery housing Christine Welch’s Nature of Things, also up through April 21. The first work that greets you is a “wasp comb,” very much like a honeycomb, framed in a box atop a bed of greenish-yellow leaves. Wasp nests figure large in this unusual exhibition. Indeed, perhaps the most-striking elements are the several large paper-wasp nests hanging from the ceiling like so many cocoons of prodigious size.

Welch says she’s dazzled by our connection to nature, and in particular with the structural similarities beneath the surface of any number of natural forms, the human body included. With Nature’s Seamstress, she constructs a mannequin out of a clothing designer’s dress form, in a skirt made from large sheets of wasp paper, and a round wasp comb for a head. Completing the ensemble are two strands of large, brown seed pods strung together into a necklace.

The combination of oddball elements at first sounds like it might be amusing, a bit of a visual joke, but the actual assemblage is far more sobering than humorous, with suggestions of a totemic form constructed by a people far more intimate with the natural sphere than those of us in the “civilized” world.

An installation view of Nature of Things: Christine Welch, at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center through April 21.

Christine Welch, Hive, at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center

Both Vincent Castagnacci: Quarry Echoes & Wanderings (1984-2021) and Nature of Things: Christine Welch will be up at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center through April 21.

 

Betty Brownlee @ The Annex Gallery at 333 Midland

Betty Browlee, Into the Woods, Installation image, Annex Gallery, All images Courtesy of DAR

The Annex Gallery at 333 Midland opened an exhibition, Into the Woods, of new work by the longtime Detroit painter Betty Brownlee. The artist, who transitioned from Landscape paintings in the 1990s, is now a well-known figurative painter (which includes self-portraits) where this body of work focuses on women and the female body.

Betty Brownlee, Briar Rose, Oil Paint on Paper, 51 x 90 inches, 2022

One of the most powerful paintings in this exhibition is Briar Rose where scale and composition make a difference. The choice of composition reminds this writer of 18th century neoclassic work by Jaques-Louis David. The contemporary attributes of Brownlee’s dripping paint provide a coeval effect that brings the artwork into the present. The six figures, most asleep, spread out horizontally against lush green surroundings, making the painting romantically inviting. It does what every painter wants: It brings the viewer back… again, and again.

Betty Brownlee, The Audience, 19 X 25 Inches, Penetrating Ink on Paper, 2022

The other elements present in these works on paper are the pencil grid, the dripping of paint, and the setting found in commercial illustration from the 1950s, maybe the 60s. The grid that Brownlee uses and leaves behind could be used with small illustrations and then enlarged to support the drawing process. Brownlee is not hiding this penciled grid from these works. It is as if she finds an attractive section from an illustration in the past and captures a moment in time in The Audience. Is the female character looking back at something that startles her? The artist remains very conscious of her use of color, relying on the interaction of primary and secondary color using a variety of penetrating inks.

Betty Brownlee, The Cook’s Revenge, 19 X 25 Inches, Penetrating Ink on Paper, 2022

Much of the show’s subject matter is contemporary, but the painting, The Cook’s Revenge, could skillfully go back to an earlier time when the artist successfully combines the figure with still life. This work is different from the smiles and cheery figures in most of the paintings. Instead, we find a sober expression surrounded by earth tones, Brownlee maintains her grid and the two-thirds/one-third composition formula that always works. Is there a throwback to Vermeer in there somewhere?

Betty Brownlee, Bouffant, 51 X 36 Inches, Oil on Paper,

Who doesn’t like a self-portrait included in a solo show? Brownlee sets herself, head and shoulders, left of center, dominates the composition in terms of scale, and includes a painting in the background (perhaps one of her own). She stares the viewer down with a smile and continues with what has become a signature: A penciled grid, and drips of paint. After observing these subjects in most compositions, the figures are not drawn from life but instead captured from photo compositions. And fair to say, this writer likes these consistent elements appearing in every piece. After all, it is a contemporary tool that separates her work from other similar work, something that one does not forget.

Betty Brownlee, You never have any ideas, Only Feelings, Penetrating Oil on Paper, 2019

I recall seeing this work at MOCAD, the Double Vision exhibition,  where artists were asked to work in couples (Betty Brownlee and Cristin Richard), and I liked this painting then. Again, it feels like a throwback to commercial imagery from the 1960s via the clothing and hairstyle. The pigmented ink captures the moment as the transparency of the light is casually illustrative. This painting is based on a film still from a Jean-Luc Godard film.

Betty Brownlee is a longtime artist residing in Detroit. Having received her MFA at Wayne State University, she has been included in many local exhibitions (30 plus) and remains a steadfast participant in the Detroit arts community. Her work is distinctive and deserves wider exposure.

Betty Brownlee, Installation image, South Wall, Penetrating Oils on Paper

Betty Brownlee earned her BFA and MFA from Wayne State University. Her work has been exhibited at the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Cranbrook Academy of Art Museum, the Kresge Art Museum in East Lansing, the legendary Willis Gallery in Detroit, and most recently at the Annex Gallery in Highland Park.

Located in a large, industrial site in Highland Park (a city within the borders of Detroit), 333 Midland is a historic factory, formerly the Lewis Stamping Plant, that provides extensive space to artists and sculptors, especially those who wish to create large-scale works. The owner, developer and sculptor Robert Onnes came to Detroit in 2013 from Whangaparaoa, just outside of Aukland, New Zealand to invest in the Detroit art community. This solo exhibition by Ms. Brownlee is her second solo exhibition, part of fifty art exhibitions & events at 333 Midland spaces since 2014.

The exhibition Into the Woods at the Annex Gallery at 333 Midland is on display through April 5.

Romare Bearden: Abstractions @ UMMA

An installation view of “Romare Bearden: Abstractions,” at the University of Michigan Museum of Art through May 15.

“Romare Bearden: Abstractions” at the University of Michigan Museum of Art through May 15 tackles work the African-American artist produced between 1952 and 1964, what some scholars call Bearden’s “forgotten decade.” That characterization is intriguing since he exhibited and won commissions during those years. But the pieces he was showing at the time – abstract oils and watercolors, as well as highly stylized figurative works — have since been elbowed aside by the blistering originality of Bearden’s Cubist-inflected collages and photomontages depicting everyday Black life.

For contrast and context, a number of those are also on display in this exhibition. But there’s no disputing the collages are what won the Charlotte, North Carolina native his place in art history. Indeed, in its 1988 obituary, the New York Times called Bearden “the nation’s foremost collagist.”

“Abstractions,” organized by the American Federation of Arts and SUNY’s Neuberger Museum of Art at Purchase College, considers the artist’s formative period in Paris and New York, one that ultimately led to an epiphany about what his art was supposed to do. Bottom line? In an era defined by the Civil Rights struggle, Bearden and many other Black artists felt abstraction was too pure, too apolitical, too far-removed from the demands of the age. So he put it down and turned his energy elsewhere.

“I felt,” Bearden said, “that the Negro was becoming too much of an abstraction, rather than the reality that art can give a subject.” He realized he had to “establish a world through art in which the validity of my Negro experience could live and make its own logic.” That led to the collages – and co-founding Harlem’s Spiral arts collective, whose members tried to work out the responsibility of the Black artist in an era of political and racial upheaval.

Romare Bearden, The Blues Has Got Me, 1944; Watercolor and ink on paper 29 x 35 ½ inches, SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah, GA, Permanent Collection, Gift of Dr. Walter O. Evans and Mrs. Linda J. Evans©, Romare Bearden Foundation / VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY Courtesy American Federation of Arts

American culture is the richer for Bearden’s shift into collages, but there’s no denying much of his earlier work is gorgeous. Particularly striking are four or five small, stylized water colors, all painted in exquisite tones, that straddle the line between the literal and the abstract. “The Blues Has Got Me” from 1944, for example, is a portrait of two musicians jamming, though only one instrument, a fiddle or violin, is recognizable. The painting is a pleasing mash-up of competing colors and colliding triangles that form legs, chairs and a table. It’s bursting with energy, and frankly fun to examine.

In tone and feel, however, it could hardly be more different from 1962’s “River Mist,” one of Bearden’s later oil abstracts that’s a dreamy, almost geologic study in blue water tones and soft terra cotta. Long versed in watercolor, Bearden had struggled through much of the 1950s with oils. But when he and his wife Nanette moved from Harlem to a downtown loft on Canal Street, where Bearden spent the rest of his life, the artist began experimenting with much larger-scale works and developed his signature approach to abstract art.

Romare Bearden, River Mist, ca. 1962; Oil on unprimed linen, and oil, casein, and colored pencil on canvas, cut, torn, and mounted on painted board 54 ¼ x 40 7/8 inches, Romare Bearden Foundation, Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York© Romare Bearden Foundation / VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY, Courtesy American Federation of Arts

During this period, he also started studying with a Chinese master, identified only as a Mr. Wu on Bayard Street, in the techniques of Chinese calligraphy and ink-wash painting. That influence is especially visible in “Eastern Gate” from 1961, a diaphanous exercise in shades of pinkish beige crisscrossed by what appear to be fragments of calligraphy.

Romare Bearden, Eastern Gate, ca. 1961; Oil on canvas 55 7/8 x 44 inches, Romare Bearden Foundation, Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York©, Romare Bearden Foundation / VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY, Courtesy American Federation of Arts

Romare Howard Bearden was born in 1911 in Charlotte, North Carolina, but his parents moved to Harlem when he was very small. His father was a pianist, while his mother was a political activist, and the two created a rich, intellectually vibrant household for a young person to grow up in. The Bearden apartment became a favorite stopping-off point for poet Langston Hughes and other members of the Harlem Renaissance.

The teenaged Bearden ended up finishing high school in Pittsburgh while living with his grandparents, but after a stint at Boston University, he transferred to New York University, where he studied with the great satiric German artist George Grosz. After enlisting in the army during World War II, Bearden took advantage of the GI Bill and spent 1950 at the Sorbonne reading philosophy. While in the City of Lights he met writer Richard Wright as well Pablo Picasso, George Braque, and Constantin Brancusi – becoming good friends with the latter.

“Abstractions” is organized more or less chronologically, so you pass through galleries hung with large abstracts, and then round a corner and suddenly find yourself surrounded by the later collages. It’s a bracing, delightful shift in dynamism and excitement. Simply put, the collages – which often mix the beautiful and the bizarre – bristle with energy and veiled meaning.

Romare Bearden, Melon Season, 1967; Mixed media on canvas 56 ½ x 44 ½ inches, Collection Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, State University New York, Gift of Roy R. Neuberger, 1976.26.45 ©, Romare Bearden Foundation / VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY, Courtesy American Federation of Arts

One of the most striking is the 1967 “Melon Season,” a startling collage of two African-American women, in which the Cubist influence is undeniable. The woman at left is austere and rather beautiful, her profile comprised of contrasting black squares. For her part, the woman on the right has a deformed face patched together with three or four different graphic elements, one eye a good inch above the other, giving her a slightly daft look. It’s a little shocking, frankly, yet it’s precisely that tension between composure and disturbance that gives this grave work its magnetism

You’ll find “Abstractions” on UMMA’s second floor, in the A. Alfred Taubman Gallery 1. But before ascending the grand curved staircase, consider wandering the small exhibition, “You Are Here,” hung in the apse on the first floor of the original, neoclassical building. This show features pieces from the museum’s own collection that vault across centuries and genres. The superstar here is Kehinde Wiley’s 2008 “Saint Francis of Assisi,” based on Giovanni Bellini’s “St. Francis in the Desert” from 1480. But all the works selected by Jennifer M. Friess, UMMA associate curator of photography, are compelling. And as she encourages us, by all means, do play with Harry Bertoia’s small, elegant sound sculpture. You won’t regret it.

An installation view of “You Are Here” at the University of Michigan Museum of Art through May 7.

“Romare Bearden: Abstractions” is at the University of Michigan Museum of Art through May 15. “You Are Here” will be up through May 7.

 

Salon Redux @ David Klein Gallery

An installation view of “Salon Redux” at Detroit’s David Klein Gallery.

 “Salon Redux” at Detroit’s David Klein Gallery is a handsomely staged 28-person group show that includes almost any medium you can hang on a wall (and a couple that sit on the floor), and manages to be a refreshing antidote to lousy weather and other contemporary ills. But you’ll have to move quickly; “Salon Redux” is up only till Feb. 26.

The exhibition was inspired in part, says Christine Schefman, Klein director of contemporary art, by the strong positive reaction to an earlier “Salon” in 2019.  “That show had such great energy,” Schefman said, “so we decided to do it again — or ‘redux.’” She adds that it’s a spirited way to kick off the new year, and there’s no denying that.

Twenty-eight artists are represented in the salon-style group show.

Hanging works salon-style, of course, means creating a sort of wall collage, with pieces hung above and below one another in large groupings, rather than the standard approach with everything at eye level and in a single row. (The excellent wall arrangements in “Redux,” by the way, were done by preparator Craig Hejka.)

Three walls are taken up with these narrative groupings, and while they feature very different smallish works, there are a few commonalities linking them. In particular, each wall includes an irregularly-shaped color collage by Cranbrook grad Sylvain Malfroy-Camine, which in a couple cases almost resemble an artist’s old-fashioned wooden paint palette, with irregular splotches of color on a roughly circular background.

The most interesting of the three is “Diving Bell.” With its background of deep-sea blue, the work immediately calls up notions of water, while the spray of dark-blue, green, and yellow ovals covering it – all vertical — resemble nothing so much as bubbles rising to the surface. If you need a tranquil spot to rest your eyes for a minute, this would be a good choice.

Sylvain Malfroy-Camine, Diving Bell – 2021, Oil and acrylic on canvas, 23 1/2 x 26 1/2 inches.

Similarly balming in its way is Detroiter James Benjamin Franklin’s “Roam,” a gorgeous geometric color study of various shapes, with one large, off-balance dot – painted cerulean blue — that looks like it’s tiptoeing across the canvas toward escape. It’s a delightfully unstable element that defines the entire painting. Franklin’s use of colors is instructive as well. The tans, greens, and darker blues absorb light, while a silver streak and a semi-circle of lustrous black pop it right back at the viewer, compounding the visual texture.

Franklin, another Cranbrook MFA, is having a moment – in addition to “Salon Redux,” he’s got a solo show at Reyes Finn in Detroit with nine of his large-scale, abstract works, also up through Feb. 26, 2022.

As it happens, Cranbrook enjoys pride of place in this exhibition, claiming 11 of the 28 artists. In addition to Malfroy-Camine and Franklin, there’s Emmy Bright with her “NO, 4/4” – two black ceramic letters spelling out “NO” that hang from a hand-made brass chain. Bright, who co-heads the graduate school’s print media department, often plays with cryptic messaging that at its best toggles between the puckish and the almost-profound. Also well worth a look is Brooklyn artist Rosalind Tallmadge’s copper-hued “Cross Section X,” one of her remarkable layered constructions made of gold leaf and mica that read a bit like aerial views of scarred, metallic moonscapes.

Emmy Bright, NO, 4/4 – 2017, Ceramic, handmade brass chain, Letters 6 x 4 1/2 inches.

Among figurative paintings on display, Bakpak Durden’s “The Refrigerator” is a bit of an intriguing puzzler. Durden, whose website ID’s him as a “multi-disciplinary, queer, hyperrealistic artist based in Detroit,” has painted a fellow who’s facing away from us. He’s got long dreadlocks and is leaning on a refrigerator’s wide-open door, seemingly looking within for something good to eat. But there are possible clues to a more distressing narrative. Is the subject searching for last night’s leftover steak, or is his face, hidden from us, actually buried in the crook of his elbow that’s propped on the refrigerator door? Is he grabbing his dreads with one hand in an idle gesture, or is it a signal of despair? Adding mystery as well is the outline of a triangle, color orange and completely out of context, albeit fascinating, that’s got the young man within its snare. Meaning — who knows? The can of Café Bustelo coffee on the shelf to the right isn’t saying.

Bakpak Durden, The Refrigerator – 2020, Oil on wood panel, 24 x 24 inches.

On a lighter note, Ohioan Anthony Mastromatteo’s oil-on-gesso-board painting, “My & My & My & My & My & My & My Fight, Too” stars seven identical images of Wonder Woman, a repetition of the exact same cut-out cartoon panel “taped” in each case, one after the other, to a blank blue background. The DC comics super-heroine is sprinting towards us, her thoughts on Artemis, goddess of wild animals and the hunt. Given the me-too moment we’re living in, there seems little doubt some male abuser’s about to get his comeuppance, big-time and bruising. In any case, as a work of art, it’s an oddball, charming concept. (Mastromatteo has a nice touch for unsentimental whimsy. His online resume features a fly at the upper-left corner, casting a little shadow on the CV.)

Also lightening the mood are three stainless-steel, fanciful line sculptures by Los Angeles artist Brad Howe, each mounted five inches off the wall. Looking a bit like happy graphics or electronic circuitry, they’re painted in unlikely hues that, magically, all work splendidly together. In particular, “Bingo by the Sea”is a fizzy essay enlivened, like all three compositions in the show, by shadows on the wall beneath that echo the sculpture’s lines.

Brad Howe, Bingo by the Sea – 2021, Stainless steel and acrylic, 24 x 18 x 5 inches.

Worth seeking out as well are New Jersey artist Jessica Rohrer’s two photorealist aerial portraits of tidy, well-kept neighborhoods that look like they could be in Chicago or Detroit – engaging drone’s-eye portrayals of the American Dream that, along with an astringent color palette, feel remarkably fresh. There are also intriguing, minimalist sculptures with light by Detroiter Patrick Ethen and Toronto’s Matthew Hawtin, and in a show that otherwise eschews politics, Brooklynite Mary-Ann Monforton has crafted a sly put-down with “Mar-a-Lago.” It features a clunky dinner place-setting with concrete “silverware,” each piece plastered within an inch of its life in gold leaf — a puckish conceit with bite.

“Salon Redux” will be at the David Klein Gallery in Detroit through Feb. 26.

 

 

 

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