Brian Rutenberg and Frank Fisher @ BBAC

Brian Rutenberg, painter, and Frank James Fisher, ceramicist, open the Spring Season of 2021 at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center

As Michiganders crawl out of the winter and the Covid-19 pandemic (be it as slow as it is), we are greeted by the BBAC exhibitions that make it worth our time for a visit.  The main gallery features the ceramic work by Frank Fisher and Brian Rutenberg’s abstractions in the Robinson Gallery. “This is a must-see, exceptional exhibit,” said Annie VanGelderen, BBAC president and CEO. “Truly, all of our spring exhibiting artists are particularly wonderful in their own mediums.  Visitors will certainly leave inspired.”

Brian Rutenberg, Installation, 3.2021 All images courtesy of DAR

Sitting in the Robinson Gallery for a lengthy amount of time, I begin to acclimate to these large oil paintings by the nationally known artist from South Carolina, Brian Rutenberg.  The imagery gradually falls into place, something I would describe as abstract landscapes where there is an abundance of woodlands, horizons, skies, streams and rivers. Although he has spent his adult life, post-graduate school,  in New York City, these compositions are unique, inspired by the coastal Carolina landscape of his youth.  Those formative years must have made its mark on Rutenberg’s sensibility in terms of subject matter, as he brings this vibrant color scheme and the issue of scale to the forefront of the work.  If these paintings were all 20 x 30 inches, we would not be so affected. Still, Green River is a portal into the richness of heavily applied oil paint in a variety of ways and a color scheme that uses primary and secondary colors in a form that is individual to each painting.  There is a newness in how Rutenberg handles his forms, something that separates him from other abstract landscape painters, leaving us with a unique experience.

Brian Rutenberg, Green River, Oil on Linen, 63 x 160″

Brian Rutenberg, Detail Green River

Here is a detail from Green River (18 x 20 inches), where we see Rutenberg using a large variety of tools to spread paint: brushes, sticks, pallet knives and trowels. There is a color selection which repeats throughout the work that reflects on the subjects, a stream or vertical branch, and skies that reach out into a variety of pastel hues.

Brian Rutenbert, Corsair, Oil on Linen, 60 x 82",

The large 60 x 82 inch oil painting, Corsair, is another example of an abstract landscape where there is a horizon running horizontally with vertical lines like tree branches on the left and a blue stream on the right. The foreground dominates the composition with organic brown and foliage green.  The landscape may be subliminal, but it is clear to this viewer that Rutenberg’s abstract expressionism consistently repeats itself throughout the work. The Myrtle Beach-born painter is obsessed with the physicality of low hanging trees along South Carolina’s waterways, and continued to draw on those years long after moving to New York City.  When I refer to the term abstract expressionism, it would be similar to the female paintings by Willem de Kooning, where the figure is abstracted. Rutenberg does this in a unique way with his abstract landscapes.

Brian Rutenberg earned his undergraduate degree from the College of Charleston and his Masters of Fine Arts from the School of Visual Arts in New York City.

 

Frank James Fisher Ceramics Draw on Everyday Imagery

Frank James Fisher, The Ol’ Yes No, Slab-built porcelain, Raku Fired, reduction

A native Michigander from Milford, Frank James Fisher, has what he calls Pop Artifacts on display in the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center’s main gallery.  These reasonably small works are mostly slab construction using porcelain clay and a Raku firing. Some of the parts to these ceramic pieces are thrown on a potter’s wheel, but most come from lumps of clay rolled out into slab constructions where he adds photo imagery to the surface.  The title Pop Artifacts comes from using commercial images like Starbucks and goes back to the 1970s when artists like Andy Warhol used images from Campbell soup cans and a Brillo pad logo to create their art.

Frank James Fisher, Starbanks, Slab-built porcelain, Raku Fired, reduction

He says in his statement, “Advertising has recalibrated my brain. Forty years of working in the marketing community has saturated and skewed my aesthetic away from traditional art expression. My mind prefers graphics, headlines, logos, body copy, photos, illustrations, taglines, and any other marketing tool to express my creative thoughts. These are the tools I use to build narratives and fabricate impossible consumer products out of clay. I call them Pop Artifacts. Sculpted, cast, pressed, or thrown, these ceramic objects represent the desires we chase in the hope of capturing satisfaction.

Frank James Fisher, Frank Oil Tea-can, Wheel thrown, hand-built porcelain, Raku- fired, reduction, metal & wood handle

Inspired by mineral spirit containers from years ago, Fisher’s Tea-cans have the retro-look of an older metal fabricated chamber that might resemble a favorite of many ceramicists, the Tea Pot. Using hand-cut stencils, he applies them to greenware by adding glaze to the bare surface in various steps and then relies on the Raku process to achieve his desired aged look.

Frank James Fisher earned his BFA in graphic design from Central Michigan University and worked in advertising for 25 years until 2006 and teaches advanced ceramics courses in the metro-Detroit area where he demonstrates his art methods at workshops.

Both exhibitions at the BBAC run through April 22, 2021

Wayne Thiebaud @ Toledo Museum of Art

Wayne Thiebaud 100: Paintings, Prints, and Drawings @TMA

Wayne Thiebaud, Boston Cremes, 1962. Oil on canvas, 14 x 18 in. Crocker Art Museum Purchase, 1964.22. © 2020 Wayne Thiebaud / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY.

 

Prior to the Toledo Museum of Art’s exhibition Wayne Thiebaud 100: Paintings, Prints and Drawings, all my knowledge of the artist came from a handful of images from 20th Century art history books, which mostly featured his paintings of slices of cake behind glass which, like the repetitive Campbell’s Soup cans of Andy Warhol, offered subtle commentary on postwar commercialism and mass-production. But here we’re exposed to the full breadth of his artistic career, which also encompassed still life painting, portraiture, landscapes, cityscapes, and more, and all in a broad array of media. While Thiebaud may have initially made his mark as a staple of Pop-art, this exhibition reveals that his work is surprisingly diverse and rooted in art-historical tradition, and that he had an uncanny ability to translate centuries-old genres into the artistic vocabulary of the 20th and 21st Centuries.

Born in 1920, Wayne Thiebaud’s panoramic career has taken many trajectories, and it isn’t over yet.  When he was just sixteen, he took a job at Walt Disney Studios, working as an animator for Pinocchio and a variety of film shorts.  During the Second World War he joined the airforce intending to become a pilot, but was transferred to the Special Services Department where he worked as a map, mural, and poster designer.  After the war, he both studied and taught at Sacramento City College, and fell under the influence of the New York School of postwar abstract expressionists, such as Pollock, Kline, and DeKooning, whose gestural abstract style he  conscientiously began to quote in his own work, as in his very abstract painting The Sea Rolls In (on view in this exhibition). But Thiebaud ultimately  preferred representational art, and in his serialized paintings of frosting-rich plates of cake, he found a way to synthesize the gestural impasto of DeKooning with the illustrative nature of traditional still-life painting.

Filling the entirety of the TMA’s spacious Levis Gallery (and even spilling over into a large adjacent gallery) are chronologically arranged works which span the breadth of Thiebaud’s career, some on view for the first time.  Trucker’s Supper, a work in the TMA’s permanent collection, sets the tone of much of the subsequent work on view; a plate with a slab of roast beef and some french fries inhabits a stark-white indeterminate background space, all the paint rendered in rich imposto (an effect which mostly gets lost in translation when these works are reproduced in books or online).  Thiebaud was a figurative and illustrative artist, but if you step in close, you’ll see passages of brushwork that reveal his admiration for his abstract expressionist counterparts. While his paintings are certainly not hyperrealistic, in applying the paint so thickly some of his paintings of cakes become almost sculptural, and the paint mimics the texture of frosting with a surprising realism bordering on trompe l’oeil trickery.

Wayne Thiebaud, Pies, Pies, Pies, 1961. Oil on canvas, 20 x 30 in. Crocker Art Museum, gift of Philip L. Ehlert in memory of Dorothy Evelyn Ehlert, 1974.12. © 2020 Wayne Thiebaud / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY.

After firmly (and perhaps unwittingly) establishing his reputation as the painter of cakes and pies, Thiebaud explored figure painting so as not to be defined by a single subject. Like his still lifes, his figures generally inhabit empty white spaces, recalling the portraits of Manet, who often placed his figures against grey, uninhabited space (as he did with his portrait of the French journalist Antonin Proust, a work in the TMA’s collection just a few galleries away).

Wayne Thiebaud, Betty Jean Thiebaud and Book, 1965–1969. Oil on canvas, 36 x 30 in. Crocker Art Museum, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Wayne Thiebaud, 1969.21. © 2020 Wayne Thiebaud / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY.

Thiebaud was largely unsatisfied with his early attempts at portraiture, however, and in the 1960s he turned toward landscapes and cityscapes, genres he would continue to explore in subsequent decades.  But his treatment of the subject is joyously whimsical.  Thiebaud’s improbably vertical cityscapes and landscapes heave and buckle in a visual parody of the streets of San Francisco and the mountainous terrain surrounding the San Fernando Valley.  Some of these stylized landscapes feature parabola-shaped hills, and seem like playful, almost cartoon-like caricatures of the land (in the 1940s, Thiebaud indeed worked for a while as a cartoonist).

Wayne Thiebaud, Street and Shadow, 1982–1983/1996. Oil on linen, 35 3/4 x 23 3/4 in. Crocker Art Museum, gift of the Artist’s family, 1996.3. © 2020 Wayne Thiebaud / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY.

Wayne Thiebaud, Park Place, 1995. Color etching hand-worked with watercolor, gouache, colored pencil, graphite, and pastel, 29 9/16 x 20 3/4 in. (sheet/image). Crocker Art Museum, gift of the Artist’s family, 1995.9.50. © 2020 Wayne Thiebaud / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY.

A generous selection of prints and drawings makes the point that Thiebaud was also a consummate draftsman.  He was interested in printmaking for the entirety of his career, and in Delights (a series of seventeen aquatints), Thiebaud applied the visual textures of hatching and cross-hatching to replicate in a different media the tactile textures we find in all his previous still lifes.  Featuring reductive, scribbled-in  illustrations of cakes, pies, and ice-cream cones, these small prints have the stylized polish we might expect of a New Yorker cartoon (a publication for which Thiebaud illustrated many covers, and subscribers to the magazine will have recently seen his painting Double Scoop grace the August 17, 2020 issue).

Wayne Thiebaud, Dark Chocolates, n.d. Etching hand-worked with colored pencil, 8 7/8 x 10 1/4 in. (plate), 14 3/8 x 15 1/4 in. (sheet). Crocker Art Museum, gift of the Artist’s family, 1995.9.36. © 2020 Wayne Thiebaud / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY.

Wayne Thiebaud, Cake Window, from Delights series, 1964. Etching, 4 15/16 x 5 7/8 in. (plate), 12 3/4 x 10 3/4 in. (sheet). Crocker Art Museum, gift of the Artist’s family, 1995.9.1.13. © 2020 Wayne Thiebaud / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

The show concludes in an adjacent gallery space which showcases some of his recent work, which is largely a continued exploration of earlier themes and genres.  But here we also find an ensemble of paintings that feature clowns, a new subject in his work.  Stylistically, these subtly parallel his paintings of cake and pies, and much as Thiebaud used paint to replicate the thick frosting on a cake, here it replicates impastoed clown makeup.

Wayne Thiebaud 100: Paintings, Prints, and Drawings is a diverse and sprawling exhibition, which is exactly the sort of retrospective the artist deserves given the breadth and depth of his oeuvre.  While Thiebaud developed a distinctly recognizable style of his own, he was never bound to a specific theme or genre, and this exhibition triumphantly gives the lie to any notion that Thiebaud was simply the Pop-era painter of cakes and pies.

Wayne Thiebaud 100: Paintings, Prints, and Drawings is on view at the TMA until May 2, 2021

Tylonn J. Sawyer @ N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art

Installation image, Tylonn J. Sawyer, N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, 3.2021 All images courtesy of the Detroit Art Review

A new exhibition, White History Month Volume I and II: The Year of the Flood by Detroit native artist Tylonn J. Sawyer is now on display at the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art and runs until June 19, 2021.  There is a cadre of contemporary Detroit artists that express themselves using the figure as the dominant source of their subject matter, including Mario Moore, Sydney James, Peter Williams, Tyanna Buie, Senghor Reid, Rashaun Rucker to name only a few, but no one that takes on the visual language associated with the power and oppression leading to the social injustice against African Americans, as does Tylonn J. Sawyer.

He says in his statement, “Within this collective body of work, I’m interested in themes of black motherhood, confident hypocrisies observed in politics, religion, and the overall social order. Culling from the Western History and cultural tropes, the work in this exhibition centers on the distortions in American social fabric.”

Tylonn J. Sawyer, The Birth of Venus, Oil and Mixed Media on canvas, 72 x 48″, 2021

The painting from 1480 by the Italian artist Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus, depicts the goddess Venus arriving at the shore after her birth when she had emerged from the sea fully-grown. The painting was created during the Italian Renaissance, has dominated western art for seven centuries, and as we see,  Sawyer selects the title to give new meaning to this painting’s title.  When I first experienced the work, I was thinking of Madonna and Child in our contemporary urban world, taking from one of the most popular titles in art history. Here in Sawyer’s work, the standing portrait with child is drenched in symbolism. The American flag is the backdrop for this new mom holding her infant surrounded by butterflies.

Tylonn J. Sawyer, Three Graces: Aretha, Oil on canvas, 72 x 60″, 2019

The painting Three Graces: Aretha is a large oil painting that depicts three African American women standing in front of the American flag with these hand-held black and white masks of the performer Aretha Franklin.  This motif is used in several of Sawyer’s paintings; as an example, he uses Nina Simone and Martin Luther King as the subject of masks.  The concept raises a question in the viewer’s mind: What is the idea presented, and where does it come from?

Sawyer explains, “Borrowing from rituals in sub-Saharan Africa where people would place the mask of their ancestors and spiritual deities to seek counsel for contemporary problems, the figures in this exhibition wear masks of civil rights leaders, activists, artists, and political figures. The figures represent metaphoric deities placed on the backdrop of Americana. Using religious metaphor, history, pop culture, and the flag as sacred symbols of America, I am exploring questions of how Blacks exist within the mythology of Americana.”

Tylonn J. Sawyer, Your Founding Fathers Owned Slaves and We Ain’t Forgot that Shit II, Oil on canvas, 48 x 32″, 2021

Tylonn Sawyer must have known that when it came time to apply for graduate school, he wanted to attend a school specializing in representational art, focusing on figurative painting. The New York Academy of Art is a graduate school that combines intensive technical training using methods and techniques that met his goals.  The painting Your Founding Fathers…the work that is tongue-in-cheek where the African American female is working on a portrait of George Washington—reminds us that not everyone is a descendent of the first U.S. president.

Tylonn J. Sawyer, Missy Misdemeanor Elliot, Charcoal and glitter on paper, 30 x 22, 2020

Throughout the exhibition, there is a collection of charcoal drawings, 30 x 22″ as in Missy Misdemeanor Elliot, that illustrates portraits from famous contemporary celebrities that remind people that there is much accomplishment in the entertainment business.  Sawyer gives credit where credit is due by featuring these realistic headshots where some are surrounded with gold foil.  Sawyer says “Using Hip-Hop, a music genre and culture as a not only medium for both the audio and historical soundtrack, but also as witness to our participation in history, Year of the Flood, immerses the viewer in a body that  refracts movement through a false sense of stasis, offering various aspects of praise and conflict with and of Americana.”

Tylonn J. Sawyer, Every Now and Then, 84 x 50″, Charcoal and Acrylic on Paper, 2017

The large work, Now and Then, charcoal and acrylic is a field of police painted with flat white acrylic faces, depicts the officers as automated cutout droids crammed together in search of a strategy. The symbolism of a police force lacking the diversity it deserves is one more example of Sawyer’s tools to make his social injustice message loud and clear.

Tylonn J. Sawyer, The King James Version, 30 x 22″, Oil on Paper, 2020

The King James Version, also known as the King James Bible, is an English translation of the Christian Bible for the Church of England in 1604.  Historically,  Britons were enslaved in large numbers, typically by wealthy merchants, who exported indigenous slaves from pre-Roman times and became significant participants in the Atlantic slave trade. The painterly portrait here depicts a contemporary African American draped in the U.S. flag, poking fun at such an event’s impossibility.

Throughout our country’s history, the intersection of art and activism has played a crucial role in social movements against inequality, oppression and injustice.  The authors of the Declaration of Independence outlined a bold vision for America: a nation where there would be equal justice for all. More than two hundred years later, it has yet to be achieved.  Though generations of civil rights activism have led to significant gains in legal, political, social and educational realms, the forced removal of indigenous peoples and the institution of slavery marked the beginnings of a system of racial injustice from which our country has yet to recover.

Tylonn J. Sawyer earned his BFA from Eastern Michigan University and his MFA from the New York Academy of Art.

White History Month Volume I and II: The Year of the Flood at the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art runs through June 19, 2021.

 

Souls of Black Folk: Bearing Our Truths @ Scarab Club

Installment Image, Souls Of Black Folk, Scarab Club, Detroit, Images : Courtesy of David E. Rudolph/ D. Ericson & Associates Public Relations.

In  W.E.B. DuBois’ essay, “Of Our Spiritual Strivings” from his poignant collection, The Souls of Black Folk, the sociologist makes a thorough and thought triggering assessment on being Black in America.

“The  Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world, — a world which yields him no self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world,” he wrote. “It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness; an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

Written in 1903, this passage is  the impetus for  the exhibition Souls of Black Folk: Bearing Our Truths, on view at the Scarab Club through March 20. Curated by Donna Jackson, artist and owner of DMJ Studios, DuBois’ words and concept of dual identity – being Black and being American– resonated on a deeper and heightened level for Jackson throughout 2020 – a year imploded with a global health pandemic that still looms and a socio-political and racial reckoning that forced America to finally discuss racism and injustices on a worldwide stage.

In a reflective statement about the exhibition, Jackson expressed, “With the death of George Floyd and the amount of pain and in many cases,  guilt I have seen poured in our streets and in our media, I went back and re-read The Souls of Black Folk. The two-ness of being Black and American sits heavy and true with me. Sometimes this feeling is hard to pinpoint or express and yet, DuBois did it simply. It freed me to know that this feeling can be described. It is okay to be these two things. To be Black. To be American. The challenge is being accepted as both.”

The collection features the works of twenty, established and emerging Black artists – a first in the Scarab Club’s 100+ year-history– and range in emotion from depictions of harsh truths of existence in a Black body as well as expressions of joy, love and being human.

Jackson’s Black and Blue, sets a strong tone. The massive acrylic painting depicts a faceless  black body as a shooting target, a red dot is on the chest and  the words black and blue are scribbled throughout.  ‘Black Lives Matters’ and  ‘Blue Lives Matter’ chants mentally collide, drawing flashes of the racial  contention and shooting deaths of Black men and women by police officers and white citizens. I am reminded of Dubois’ use of the veil as a metaphorical presentation of the color line, racial oppression and injustices.

Donna Jackson| Black and Blue (Who’s The Target) | Acrylic on Canvas

There’s a trauma that exists within  Blackness that is inexperienced in mainstream America. Yvette Rock’s The Brutal Passage depicts the foundation of that pain. Accompanied by a performance, entitled 400 Years of Labor, the magnitude of the mixed-media canvas is aptly felt. Before the artist appears on screen, chains clinking is the first sound, followed by foot thumps, groans and heavy breathing. The artist appears carrying the thick canvas, each step a struggle. Each step a reminder of slavery and the oppressive mentality behind it.

The emotional and psychological grief  that comes with injustice and trauma carries over into Carole Morriseau’s chilling, The Healing Wall. The mixed-media ensemble comprises four quadrants, containing 1200-1500 colorful ribbons with painted portraits bearing the names of Black lives lost due to police brutality. George Floyd.  Rodney King. Breonna Taylor. Ayanna Jones. Emmett Till. And the list of Black and brown souls, gone (as we see it) too soon, goes on. Morriseau also incorporates phrases #StopTheKillings and #IAmTrayvon to represent social justice movements.  The visual breaks your heart, but there is  also a source of strength, purpose and a knowing that this is why we must continue to lift their names and use the tears as fuel to keep marching forward in hopes of a just world.

Yvette Rock | The Brutal Passage | Mixed Media on Canvas| 72×36| 2020

Carole Morriseau | The Healing Wall | Mixed Media | 45×50| 2020

Grief is heavily felt in the aforementioned pieces and in Rita Dickerson’s$100,000,000 SLAVES: The Absence of Black Ownership and Control, that never settles.  In this assortment of feelingsthere is a visceral balance and resilience presented in the installation. We see the way joy claims its right to shine in spite of historical pain and constant wearing of the veil in Cydney Camp’s Juneteenth (Teenth) painting, which depicts a couple laid out in a yard, smiling while taking in a hot day, and Ralph Jones’ life photo, We’re All Here,  that shows Black and brown children and families playing in water at Hart Plaza,  and certainly in Mandisa Smith’s Black Joy made from felted wool. This is part of the story, too. This is love and care.

Mandisa Smith | Black Joy | Mixed Media | 18inx18in | 2020

Honoring the ancestral realm with spiritual grounding and understanding “I am, because they are,” Monica Brown’s mixed-media-on-wood painting and image-making, I Prayed For You Before You Were Born (I) and Prayed For You Before You Were Born (II ),  are soothing like a needed hug. The art works are part of the artist’s ‘Mythical Memory’ series rooted in connections between the body, memory, personal history and healing. The circular motion in these small but mighty visuals feels like  a continuous prayer and donning of armor by loved ones. 

Monica Brown | I Prayed For You Before You Were Born (I) | Acrylic and Mixed-Media on Wood | 8”x8”

Monica Brown | I Prayed For You Before You Were Born (II) | Acrylic and Mixed-Media on Wood | 8”x8”

Olivia Guterson’s Sankofa, is reminiscent of Ghana’s Akan tribe and the mythical bird that serves as one of the Adinkra’s cultural symbols. With its head turned backward, the posturing speaks to embracing “what is at risk of being left behind.” Further, the three syllables that make up the word “Sankofa” mean return, go, look, seek and take. With this in mind, Guterson’s illustration welcomes a form of travel and seeking wisdom. There’s a present comforting that feels ancestral and communal. The artists’  use of black-and-white, textured lines and eyes throughout the image, brings both intensity and a sort of calm on this quest for knowledge and using the past as a guide to the future.

Olivia Guterson | Sankofa, 2020 Oil and ink on archival paper | 10×14

Throughout Jackson’s curation, we see the complexities and layers of the Black experience. We see love, the rich appreciation of  literature, music, connection, progressive thinking and being amid the struggle and the striving. Souls of Black Folk: Bearing Our Truths is a looking glass for not only a deep dive into DuBois’ philosophy but that of Black life as narrated by Black visual artists.

View closely, Black voices have stories to tell. And this exhibition SPEAKS.

“The human soul cannot be permanently chained.” – W.E.B. Dubois

Olivia Guterson | Sankofa, 2020 Oil and ink on archival paper | 10x14

Desiree Kelly | W.E.B Du Bois | Woodburn, oil, acrylic, collage on wood | 12 x 12

Participating Artists: Monica Brown, Taurus Burns, Cydney Camp, Rita Dickerson, Olivia Guterson, Asia Hamilton, Donna Jackson, Sydney James, Ralph Jones, Desiree Kelly, Charles Miller, Carole Morisseau, Sabrina Nelson, Yvette Rock, Phillip Simpson, Mandisa Smith, Rachel E. Thomas, Charlene Uresy, Carl Wilson, Cara Marie Young

Souls of Black Folk: Bearing Our Truths – On Display at the Scarab Club until March 20, 2021

ALSO ONLINE: https://www.soulsofblackfolk.com/  

Dual Vision @ MOCAD

Install image, Dual Vision, MOCAD, 202, All images courtesy of K.A. Letts

It’s March 2021, and we’re beginning to sense the coming of spring and an end to our seemingly endless COVID winter.  If crowded bars and restaurants are still out of the question, we can at least look forward to pants with waistbands and the occasional coffee at Starbucks.  The curators of Dual Vision at MOCAD appear to be sensing it too. Curator Jova Lynne, assisted by Maceo Keeling and advised by Kathryn Brackett Luchs, Ed Fraga and Robert Sestok, have assembled 40 Detroit artists, working in pairs, to showcase the personal interactions we have all been missing.  Some of Detroit’s best known and most accomplished creatives–along with a few newcomers– are celebrating at least the prospect of a return to normal.

Betty Brownlee + Cristin Richard, A Critique of Jean-Luc Goddard, 2021, mixed media detail.

Dual Vision, on view at MOCAD until August 8, 2021, is an all-of-the-above kind of exhibition that allows plenty of scope for artists working in a variety of media–video, painting, sculpture, sound, photography, fiber, printmaking. In the spirit of re-connecting, I met my friend and fellow arts writer Mariwyn Curtin at the gallery. Our visit provided us with an opportunity to practice the cultural interaction that will soon be part of our lives again. We hope.

Mariwyn and I noticed immediately the preponderance of installation among the entries.   This makes sense; the installation form allows maximum individual expression for each artist, while demonstrating–as if we didn’t know it already–that a collaborative artwork can be more than the sum of its parts.

Tony Rave + Tylonn J. Sawyer, Family Matter Episode 3 x Black and Blue: Field Notes, 2021, mixed media installation detail

A number of ofrenda-adjacent collections of objects and images included strong spiritual themes, while others featured ripped-from-the-headlines immediacy.   Tony Rave and Tylonn J. Sawyer’s installation, Family Matter Episode 3 x Black & Blue: Field Notes managed to combine both elements.  The altar-like installation presented a profusion of Rave’s saccharine white, ready-made ceramic figurines, mostly devotional in nature, their faces obscured by painted-on blackface.  They seemed–to me–to illustrate the artist’s bleak observation that Blackness is itself a social construct perpetrated by White culture. The theme was amplified by Sawyer’s companion pieces, family portrait-sized composite pictures of the 4 officers implicated in the death of George Floyd that provided a bitter corollary comment on the provisional nature of racial identity.

Rashaun Rucker + Mario Moore, Big Ma’s Porch (A Black Sanctuary) 2021, mixed media installation

Some much-needed psychological relief from the rawness of the Rave/Sawyer installation was provided by the nearby collaboration of Mario Moore and Rashaun Rucker. Big Ma’s Porch (A Black Sanctuary) conjures the artist’s wistful childhood recollections of his great grandparents’ front porch, a place of love and safety and tall tales, the mood of warm memory reinforced by Moore’s lovely silverpoint drawing.

My gallery companion brought her own distinctive sensibility to Dual Vision; Mariwyn responded to a couple of collaborations that I perhaps lacked the background to appreciate.  She particularly enjoyed A Critique of Jean-Luc Goddard by Betty Brownlee and Cristin Richard. She observed, “The skin-like translucent paper banners with French words on them was intriguing. Getting to the wall of images behind the banners was a little like passing through a section of forest with tall white trees. When I saw the wall of paintings, I thought immediately of Cindy Sherman’s Film Stills series. Once I made it through to read the label on the wall, it was rewarding to realize that [the collaboration] did indeed feature painted stills from films by Goddard.”

Mariwyn Curtin standing next to In Front of My Backyard by Julia Callis + Josh Kochis, 2021, acrylic, graphite, string on panel, mixed media installation.

The collection of smallish paintings by Nancy Mitchnick and John Corbin on the subject of the periodic table seemed a bit scattershot to me, but Mariwyn found something to like in the looseness of their improvisatory approach. She commented, “I thought it was interesting that the collaboration … was called Untitled when there is such a heavily researched background to the work…The treatment of each element captures the wave state of atoms more so than the Bohr diagrams seen in chemistry textbooks that look like mini solar systems. Each painting or cardboard mosaic seemed like a portrait of the doorway between particle and wave state.”

In the center of the gallery, images in Tyanna Buie and Chelsea A. Flowers’s video collage Call and Response prompted a visceral reaction. Adjacent television monitors engage in cacophonous conversation with each other and deftly capture the drinking-from-a-firehose quality of current events.  The fragmented clips, in which Buie and Flowers use off-the-shelf photographic apps to superimpose their faces onto pop culture and political figures to pointed comic effect, illustrate the extent to which our experience of events is colored by our racial identity in these polarized times.

Gisela McDaniel + Martha Mysko, Self Portraits In: Self portraiture in surrounding, in landscape, in DNA, in objects, in material, in eyes, in stories, in images, in the present, in the past, in plastic, in the familiar, 2021, Mixed media installation

Gisela McDaniel and Martha Mysko‘s mixed media installation wins the prize for best title:  Self Portraits In: Self portraiture in surrounding, in landscape, in DNA, in objects, in material, in eyes, in stories, in images, in the present, in the past, in plastic, in the familiar. This maximalist collection of fuschia and turquoise figurative and abstract paintings next to a bedraggled palm tree, near a pina colada perched  on a wrecked car hood, manages to suggest both a tropical getaway and a post-apocalyptic scene of environmental destruction.  I felt a wave of nostalgia for the beach vacation none of us took this year, along with a distinct urge to get my towel and lie down on the radioactive sand.

Robert Sestok + Kurt Novak, Forgotten Networks, 2020, Welded steel

In the center of the gallery, Robert Sestok and Kurt Novak contributed visual ballast to Dual Vision with their terrific steel assemblage Forgotten Networks. The monumental sculpture, which combines Novak’s humorous accessibility with Sestok’s formal elegance, provides a strong focal point for the exhibit around which the other artists’ work seems to revolve.

Michael Luchs, Moth (Jade), 2020, Woodcut, collagraph, sumi ink on glassine paper on canvas

Kathryn Brackett Luchs, Moth (Pink), 2020-21, Woodcut, sumi ink, on glassine paper on canva

Both Mariwyn and I enjoyed In Front of my Back Yard by Julia Callis and Josh Kochis, though her observations were better articulated than mine. She: “The installation of the distressed wood fence really gave the sense of peeking into a window from the outside yard and made me feel a bit like a voyeur.” Me: “Wow. I love those flat sea green, black and silvery gray colors.” The hues and textures of the wooden and found objects in Callis and Kochis’s environment accord well with the handsome pair of matching kimono-like wall hangings by Kathryn Brackett Luchs and Michael Luchs, installed on an adjacent gallery wall. The tissue-like glassine paper and the jittery marks of the sumi ink of Moth (Jade) and Moth (Pink) bring to mind the silence of moths’ wings as they pursue their life cycle through day and night and space and time.

My visit to Dual Vision with Mariwyn reminded me of how much I’ve missed social interaction and good conversation about art during the pandemic. There was a lot to look at and respond to–more than anyone could see and comment on in only one visit.  Other viewers will respond to some of the work that we haven’t mentioned, and I suppose that on another trip to MOCAD my friend and I might see things we missed on our first pass. Dual Vision has presented us with an invitation to celebrate our resilient and diverse Detroit art community, to reconnect, re-engage and restart our cultural conversation. I suggest you schedule a visit to form your own opinion.  Bring a friend.

Dual Vision Participating Artists:

Robert Sestok & Kurt Novak, Jim Chatelain & Steve Foust, Kathryn Brackett Luchs & Michael Luchs, Joyce Brienza & Deborah Sukenic, Simone DeSousa & Tim Van Laar, Nancy Mitchnick & John Corbin, Carlo Vitale & Ed Fraga, Nicole Macdonald & Carl Wilson, Betty Brownlee & Cristin Richard,  John Egner & Amelia Currier,  Gisela McDaniel & Martha Mysko, Tony Rave & Tylonn Sawyer, Rashaun Rucker & Mario Moore, Tyanna Buie & Cheris Morris,  Nour Ballout & Cyrah Dardas, Bree Gant & Cherise Morris, Sabrina Nelson & Levon Kafafian, Sterling Toles & Nate Mullen, Adam Lee Miller & Nicola Nuperus.

MOCAD Dual Vision through August 8, 2021