Detroit Collects @ Detroit Institute of Arts

Salvador Salort-Pons, Director of the Detroit Institute of Art, at the media preview introducing Detroit Collects.

Detroit Collects: Selections of African-American Art from Private Collections

I knew the DIA was working on an exhibition of African American Art that was scheduled to open in mid-November, 2019. Still, I did not know anything about the curation process. This exhibition of sixty works of art with a range of media is on loan and is comprised of nineteen local Detroit collectors. In all my experience, just the concept was interesting, intriguing and unique.

At the media preview, from the moment DIA Director Salvador Salort-Pons took the podium to introduce the exhibition, it was clear this project was personal.  He said,” When I became the director of the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), it was immediately clear to me that the museum needed to acknowledge an extraordinary effort to connect with these communities of art lovers, tell their stories and show in our galleries the fruit of their long-standing passion.”

Not since I bought my first DIA poster in 1972 of a traveling Matisse Exhibition had I ever seen or heard of a museum taking this approach to curating from local collectors. That morning, Director Salort-Pons talked about how he and his wife Alex, after many years of living outside the city, quickly recognized the need to connect and acknowledge the art by recognizing artists living in a  city community that was 80% African American. He mentioned a memory he had of the gatherings of artists and writers called “tertulias” which used to take place in the local cafes of Spain in the late 19th and early 20th century that were the cultural  engines of the time. Over the past three years, along with his curator, Valerie J. Mercer, the General Motors curator for African American art since 2000, they began to support and execute a new vision, drawn from the many dinners, breakfast meetings and lunches to identify artists and collectors of African American art in Detroit.

“The DIA’s General Motors Center for African American Art is the first curatorial department dedicated to African American art in the U.S.,” said Salort-Pons. “This exhibition builds on our history of collecting and displaying African American art and creates a new opportunity for our visitors to see themselves reflected in the museum’s galleries.”

Robert S. Duncanson, Flight of the Eagle, Oil on Canvas, 1856

The artist Robert S. Duncanson was prevented from any kind of formal art training because of the institutional racism that existed in the 19th century. Yet, this forested landscape, Flight of the Eagle, completed in 1856, could be compared to the work of William Mason Brown or Frederic Edwin Church. At the center a soaring eagle, the U.S. National bird, has flown from its mate on the branch of a dead tree. Duncanson was born in Seneca County, New York, in 1821 to an African-American mother and Scottish-Canadian father, who sent his son to Canadian schools during his youth. In 1841 Duncanson and his mother moved to Mt. Healthy, Ohio, near Cincinnati. His biography says that in 1849, Duncanson established a studio in Detroit where he had been active as early as 1846. His artistic activities were favorably noted in both Cincinnati and Detroit, where he worked throughout his career supported by abolitionists who commissioned his work. For the Detroit Collects exhibition, this work is on loan from the collection of Walter O. and Linda Evans.

Beauford Delaney, Greenwich Village, Oil on Canvas, 1945

Beauford Delaney was born December 30, 1901, in Knoxville, Tennessee where his parents were prominent and respected members of Knoxville’s African-American community. His father Samuel was both a barber and a Methodist minister, but he is remembered for his work with the Harlem Renaissance in the 1930s. In his work, Greenwich Village, Delaney depicts the illuminated streets of New York City’s Greenwich Village where the artist settled in the mid-1930s. Having a studio in Greenwich Village, he became part of a gay bohemian circle of friends. He established himself as part of the NYC art scene, which included artists such as Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe, and the young writer James Baldwin. For the Detroit Collects exhibition, this work is on loan from the collection of Mary Anne and Eugene A. Gargaro Jr.

Walter J. Williams Jr., Children at Play, Oil on Canvas, 1975

Children at Play, by Walter J. Williams Jr., is a touching figure painting that conveys the innocence of childhood while boys play without a worry in the world. The composition contrasts six figures with soft and translucent oil paint colors while they explore the simplest of abstract shapes. The idyllic and peaceful setting draws the viewer into a place where everyone would want their child to live and learn. Williams enrolled at the Brooklyn Museum Art School in 1951, where he was scholarly and was said to have paid close attention to his lessons. In the summer of 1953, he studied at the Skowhegan School of Art in Maine and participated in his first major group show, the Whitney’s 1953 Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting. For the Detroit Collects exhibition, this work is on loan from the collection of Darnell and Shirley A. Kaigler.

Alvin Loving, untitled Triptych, Oil and Collage on Canvas, 1981

Al Loving was born in Detroit in 1935 and is one of the best known national artist whose work grew from his interest in the work of Josef Albers. Loving earned a BFA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1963 and an MFA from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.  In 1969, Loving famously became the first African-American to have a one-person show at the Whitney Museum of American Art. In the work Untitled Triptych, Loving’s abstraction knocks the viewer off their feet with this vast array of shape, line, color, and depth of space. I was familiar with much of Al Loving’s work, but not this magical triptych that keeps the viewer spellbound. For the Detroit Collects exhibition, this work is on loan from the collection of Roy and Maureen Roberts.

Martin Puryear, Reliqary, Gessoed Pine, 1980

Martin Puryear was born in 1941 in Washington, D.C., and began exploring traditional craft methods in his youth, making tools, boats, musical instruments and furniture. After receiving a B.A. in Fine Art from the Catholic University of America in 1963, Puryear spent two years as a Peace volunteer in Sierra Leone, where he learned local woodworking techniques. In the work Reliquary, one could see something spiritual as in a tombstone-like object made of pine planks with dovetail joints, but the field of holes covered in a translucent gesso coating suggests otherwise. Over his lifetime, this work has remained visibly complex, both organic and geometric, where he falls into both areas of Minimalism and Formalistic sculpture. Puryear earned his MFA from Yale and began teaching at Fisk University in Nashville and at the University of Maryland in College Park. In 1977, following a devastating fire in his Brooklyn studio, Puryear had a solo show at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. For the Detroit Collects exhibition, this work is on loan from the collection of Gayle and Andrew Camden.

Aaron F. Henderson, Stomp It Down, Gouache, 2015

Aaron F. Henderson, a native of Birmingham, Alabama, has been an artist all his life. The self-proclaimed narrative artist has always loved to draw and paint. He works mainly in oils and gouache on canvas, linen and 100% cotton paper using bold, vibrant colors in his artwork that is showcased in exhibits, museums and corporations and private homes around the world. Henderson’s style has been influenced by such legendary artists as Elizabeth Catlett, William H. Johnson, Charles White and Jacob Lawrence. The woman in Stomp It Down is so beautifully and realistically rendered that she seems to emerge from the paper. The work is part of a series that visualizes the spirituals sung by enslaved people of African descent as an act of defiance and self-expression. The song called “Stomp It Down” refers to the injustices that will be eradicated once freedom is achieved. For the Detroit Collects exhibition, this work is on loan from the collection of David and Linda Whitaker.

Hughie Lee-Smith, Girl Fleeing, Oil on Canvas, 1959

Hughie Lee-Smith was an African American artist and teacher whose surreal paintings often featured distant figures under vast skies and desolate urban settings. In 1958 Lee-Smith moved to New York City and taught at the Art Students League for 15 years.  Holland Cotter of the New York Times wrote, “Mr. Lee-Smith’s paintings usually have spare settings suggestive of theater stages or bleak urban or seaside landscapes. Walls stretch out under gray skies. Men and women, as lithe as dancers, seem frozen in place. Most are dressed in street clothes; some wear exotic masks. Children frequently appear, as do props reminiscent of circuses. The work has an air of mystery associated with the paintings of Giorgio and Edward Hopper.” In the painting Girl Fleeing, the young girl is escaping from the factory without explanation, reminiscent of the woman in Andrew Wyeth’s “Christina’s World.” For the Detroit Collects exhibition, this work is on loan from the collection of Jerome Watson and Deborah Ford.

Sam Gilliam, Wave Composition, Acrylic, 1979

Sam Gilliam was raised in Louisville, Kentucky, where he received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Louisville in 1955, served in the Army from 1956-58, returned to Louisville, and completed his MFA in 1961. Gilliam has dramatically influenced the direction of American Art. He is particularly known for his innovation in draping the canvas stained with a large variety of colors providing a multidimensional and sculptural quality to the work. The work Wave Composition was created in 1979 as a study for a large drape painting commissioned for the Detroit Receiving Hospital, where it has been on display since 1980. In 1972 Sam Gillian became the first African American artist to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale, and in 2017, his work was included in its prestigious Central Pavilion. Sam Gillian lives and works in Washington D.C. For the Detroit Collects exhibition, this work is on loan from the collection of Jerome Watson and Deborah Ford.

Richard Mayhew, Transition II, Acrylic on Canvas, 2013

Richard Mayhew, born April 3, 1924, is an Afro-Native American landscape painter and arts educator. His abstract, brightly colored landscapes are informed by his experiences as an African American/Native American musician. He studied at the Art Students League of New York and later attended the Brooklyn Museum Art School. In his work,Transition, his fluorescent depictions of the American countryside tackle ideas surrounding African-American identity, jazz music and Abstract Expressionism. “Landscape has no space, no identity,” he once said. His body of work is based on his extensive travels throughout the United States, and he was notably a member of the black painters’ collective “Spiral,” which included other members such as Romare Bearden and Hale Woodruff.  For the Detroit Collects exhibition, this work is on loan from the collection of Lorna Thomas, M.D.

Mario Moore, Mom Says I’m Her Sun, Oil on Copper, 2015

The youngest artist in the Detroit Collects exhibition is Mario Moore with his painting Mom Says. Moore is a source of pride for the Detroit art community and is represented by the David Klein Gallery. His mother is Sabrina Nelson, a long-time studio teacher at the Detroit Institute of Arts, where Moore has been surrounded by the Detroit African American art community for most of his life. He earned his BFA from CCS and his MFA from Yale University and for a figurative artist there is an extraordinary quality about not only his technical ability but his choice of subjects. Recently Moore has spent his time as a Hodder Fellow at Princeton University, depicting large-scale paintings of black men and women who work around the campus in blue-collar jobs. When I think about the work of Mario Moore, there is a message of social justice that reminds me of Kehinde Wiley, who addresses the issue of inequality in the selection of the figurative subjects in paintings of the past.  For the Detroit Collects exhibition, this work is on loan from the collection of David and Linda Whitaker.

The are many other institutions that have contributed to the development and exhibitions of artists with African American roots. The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History was founded in 1965 to explore and celebrate African American Art, History, and Culture. The N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, under the ownership of George N’Namdi who has furthered the careers of prominent and emerging African American artists since 1981. The Detroit Fine Arts Breakfast Club co-founded by Harold Braggs and Henry Harper has been meeting since 2009, attracting artists, collectors, and art enthusiasts who discuss, sell, and purchase African American Art. The Detroit Artist Market played a pioneering role in curating exhibitions that furthered the work and careers of many African American Detroit artists.

Collectors in the exhibition include long-time supporters of the DIA, such as Maureen and Roy Roberts — a contemporary African American gallery bears their names in recognition of a generous contribution to the museum. Other collectors include Nettie Seabrooks, the first African American woman executive at General Motors and deputy mayor, chief of staff and COO of the City of Detroit during the administration of Mayor Dennis Archer; and Rhonda D. Welburn, practicing attorney and former board member of the DIA who serves on the board of many nonprofit and charitable organizations such as the DMC Foundation and the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation.  Published in conjunction with Detroit Collects: Selections of African American Art from Private Collections is a 136 color catalog by Valerie J. Mercer.

Detroit Collects: Selections of African-American Art from Private Collections is free to all residents living in Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties through March 15, 2020.

 

Robert Schefman @ David Klein Gallery

Robert Schefman, Installation image, David Klein Gallery, 2019

In his first solo exhibition with David Klein Gallery, Robert Schefman presents a series of works exploring the hidden world of secrets. Via social media, Schefman asked followers to send him one personal secret, no names attached. Protected under a cloak of anonymity, Schefman coaxed quite a few people out of their shame and guilt to reveal the darkest of grave-destined secrets. These confessions became the framework for this series. The paintings are allegorical visual poems inviting the viewer to peer into the subjects’ private space glimpsing their angst or discomfort. Particularly striking is “On the Edge of the Moon,” wherein a woman seated alone on the beach in an ordinary kitchen chair, faces out toward the gloom. She appears to be contemplating her circumstances while the rhythm of the surf calms and comforts. A vital component of this painting is scale. At 78 x 120”, the viewer can mentally walk right into this scene illuminated only by the headlights from a waiting car.

Robert Schefman, “On the Edge of the Moon,” oil on canvas 78 x 120″ 2019

Visually poignant is “In Love with My Best Friend.” Unable to declare his love, possibly at the expense of a valued friendship, the unrequited lover sits amongst tokens of lovelorn and childhood toys, possibly symbolizing the length of the relationship. A bare light bulb harkens to harsh interrogation, coercing the admirer to give up his ghost and confess. His head is slightly bent toward his chest, implying the burden he carries on his broad but heartbroken shoulders.

Robert Schefman,  “In Love with My Best Friend,” oil on canvas 72 x 56″ 2019

Using our familiarity with texting and Twitter, the laser cut words-only pieces, devoid of a supplied visual reference, allows the viewer to consider their secrets. As a painter, reading “Someone Else Did One of My Paintings and I Signed My Name” caused my left eyebrow to rise in Scarlett O’Hara judgment. Identifying with an author makes the show somewhat participatory and taps into empathy on shared common ground. #metoo

Robert Schefman, “I Prefer My Mom’s Company Now That She Has Alzheimer’s,” laser-cut paper 16 x 20″

Robert Schefman,  “I Can’t Admit to All of the Drugs and Alcohol I Constantly Use to Get High” laser-cut paper 16 x 20″

Technology lends to speed and convenience. It made collecting this subject matter considerably easier. What makes this show genuinely compelling is mindful, patient execution. Schefman deftly wields his paintbrush with the best of the Renaissance Italians, masterfully telling dramatic stories through light and shadow. Throw in a side of Dutch trompe l’oeil, and the illusion is astonishing. Upon close inspection, however, it is surprising and delightful to discover the brushstrokes are looser than anticipated affording a soupçon of personal expression. A very relatable image is “Secrets.” In an attempt to silence his torment, this secretary seeks to ‘bury the evidence literally. I get that this image is metaphorical, but the idea of a thief on the precipice of capture, hastily disposing of material that will surely convict him, is far more romantic.

Robert Schefman, “Secrets” oil on canvas 44 x 30″  2017

 

KF: Assuming the models aren’t the confessors, why are most of the subjects’ backs turned?

RBS: Point of view is a valuable element in the narrative, with implications for both content and visible form. It accomplishes a number of goals. The back of a figure gives the viewer an easier opportunity to project themselves into a subject, rather than an encounter a specific person. In “The Edge Of The Moon,” point of view was used to keep the viewer isolated from the figure on the beach, and still experience the intersection of earth, water, sky, and self.

KF: Your genre has historically been an illusionist narrative via sculpture and painting. Why spell it out now with the text-only/no image pieces?

RBS: So much of the “Secrets Project” was generated by words that I wanted to honor the written word with pieces that focused on them. I have a long history of making paper sculpture as well as 2-dimensional work, and developing an idea with these elements resolved itself in a pointed way.

KF: What about your secrets? Are they lurking somewhere in this series unidentified?

RBS: Most of the secrets fell into categories; experiences, fears, and obsessions that we all share, myself included, but the rule of the project is anonymity, so my secrets remain.

Technology has permeated just about every aspect of our lives. From the comfort of our sofa, we command our smart devices to deliver groceries or name a state capitol. (I shudder to think what’s being recorded.) Many people are using social media channels as a crowdsourcing confessional, looking for validation from strangers as often as from people they actually know. It’s getting harder to maintain personal privacy while we demand transparency from public figures. Some feel relieved when they finally clear the slate. What about the participants in this project? Did this action unburden the keepers and free them from their prison? Ask Alexa.

Robert Schefman, Any Particular Secret” 54×36″ oil on canvas 2017

 

“Robert Schefman: Secrets” remains on view through December 21, 2019 at the David Klein Gallery

Summer Wheat & Hirosuke Yabe @ Wasserman Projects

Wasserman Projects Presents Summer Wheat, Hirosuke Yabe, and Matthew Bennett Laurents

Installation view of Wasserman exhibit, 2019, Images PD Rearick

A warehouse-gallery bristling with whacky lines and florid color, the current Wasserman Projects exhibition is testament to the wonderful volatility of contemporary artistic production. Featuring the inventive paintings and sculpture of Oklahoma City native artist Summer Wheat and complimented by the exuberant, folk-like sculpture and installations of Japanese artist Hirosuke Yabe, both of whose work employ crafty processes to achieve a singularly, spectacular visual presence. And while their playfully beguiling surfaces shimmer with  graphic energy both artist’s work limn deep political and economic issues.

To achieve the magical inlaid surfaces of her paintings, resembling the high craft marquetry of Renaissance cabinetry, Wheat squeegees paint through aluminum screen that serves as her warp and weft structure, to create stunning, flat biomorphic shapes of women, engaged in inscrutable activities. Like the Medieval and Renaissance tapestries that inspired them, Wheat’s paintings read as allegories that engage themes of historical, moral and religious importance. And like the stories in those tapestries, they are belied by the stunning surface that composes them.

Summer Wheat, “Picnic with Coins,” 2019, acrylic on aluminum mesh, 68” x 96”

Embedded in the flat, Picassoan/Matissean, cubist arrangement of colored puzzle pieces, Wheat’s narratives turn on money and women. The center piece of her exhibition is “Picnic with Coins,”2019, a triumphant play on the history of picnic painting. Lounging about, a group of intertwined women whose central preoccupation seems to be the bags of coin instead of sensuous human relationships and picnic baskets. Not the harem of Matisse’s “Joy of Life,” if there is anything joyfully erotic it is bodily connection to collections of dollars and coins that decorate the landscape. The surface of the flat paintings is detailed with a novel, raised relief of cake decorator-like, squiggled drawings and loose grids of paint.

Summer Wheat, “Coin Cart,” 2019, acrylic on aluminum mesh, 68” x 47”

Using the same intriguing squeegee process, Wheat’s painting, “Piggy Bank Version ll,” 2019, has a profile of a piggy bank which ironically, like a Grecian urn, is festooned with female figures in various poses, “embracing” (seducing?) the piggy bank. The symbolic piggy bank contains coins decorated with female figures and female figures that seem to have managed to gain entrance to the bank. Art historical references are inscribed throughout her drawing including Egyptian-like figures such as in the remarkable domestic image, “Coin cart,” 2019, of a stylized Egyptian female figure wearing harem pants, pushing a grocery cart burdened with a large coin imprinted with a female head. Wheat’s parody of our social landscape functions by symbols and irony and requires a certain acrobatic, visual literacy to unpack, but is rewarding in its astute payoff. The sharp edged, cartoony drawing and over-the-top, dazzling color palette are worth the price of admission themselves.

Like Wheat, Hirosuke Yabe’s large installations and scores of small wood sculptural works are teeming with a sort of shanty-town aesthetic in their jury-rigged construction methods but belie adroit hands and keen craftsmanship. The small wooden heads and full animated figures are sculpted with a nata, a small traditional Japanese woodsman hatchet, that renders an incised angular cut into the wood, not unlike Wheat’s own crosshatching in her paintings, giving a consistent look and feel to his cast of characters. One senses a rich history in the form and mark that the nata hatchet makes in sculpting the heads.

Hirosuke Yabe, “Old Dog Man,” 2019, reclaimed wood, motors, dimensions variable

The center piece of Yabe’s work are three large sculptural installations that function as an anchor for his whole body of work, including the heads and animated anthropomorphic pieces. Composed of repurposed wood salvaged in Detroit, “Old Dog Man,” 2019, and “Young Dog Man,” 2019, are abstracted, geometrical dog figures, instrumental in an allegorical narrative that belong to the large shack-like, “House of Consumption,” 2019, (perhaps a dog house). All three sculptures are animated by small whirligigs attached to the body of the dogs, including a beautiful ceiling fan in the house, operated by small electric motors. The whirligigs are brilliant in giving life, a kind of Rube Goldberg, kinetic life, to the dog-like sculptures, that symbolize the rudimentary instinct for consumption. (Think Labrador Retriever eating dinner!)

Hirosuke Yabe, “House of Consumption,” 2019, reclaimed wood, motor, dimensions variable

Accompanied by the small sculpted heads, each of which gives expression to the emotional range—from ghoulish to angelic– of human psychology, Yabe’s overall installation reads like a parody of the human landscape. There is story book quality to his work that is tempts us to read it like moral tale. Yabe’s “crudely” (yet elegantly) hacked and chopped forms of bodies and heads, and faces, are take offs on classical modernist forms from surrealism to African masks and totemic poles. The whole of the Wasserman Projects’ warehouse space is alive with a population of faces and bodies and composed of a brilliant array of lines and colors, a testimony to the, as usual, smart curatorial job led by Alison Wong. Part of the joy of this latest iteration of the Wasserman Projects is to explore the helter-skelter shapes and forms and mark-making of all three of the artist’s work that makes up this delightful wilderness of art.

Installation view of Matthew Bennett Laurents (Wasserman rear gallery)

To compliment the duo of artists in the front room gallery, in the rear gallery are a range of ceramic vessels wrought by Portland Oregon artist and Cranbrook Art Academy grad, Matthew Bennett Laurents. Adding to the limitless possibility of human expression that the exhibition already displays, Laurents’s vessels contain faces exuding archetypal human emotion or conditions of life. His faces, especially, add to the forest of lines and surfaces that inhabit this fine exhibition.

Matthew Bennett Laurents, “Fear,”2015, ceramic, 9.75” x 5.75” x 5.25” Image courtesy of Glen Mannisto, DAR

Wasserman Projects Presents Summer Wheat, Hirosuke Yabe, and Matthew Bennett Laurents through December 21, 2019

 

Your Very Own Paradise @ OUAG

Oakland University Art Gallery presents Thirteen Artists Work

Your Very Own Paradise, Installation 2019, All Images Courtesy of DAR

Oakland University Art Gallery opened its fall exhibition schedule with Your Very Own Paradise, artwork from far and wide with oil paintings, photographs, and sculptures on September 7, 2019.  Based on a curatorial premise that perception is reality, Director of the OUAG Gallery, Dick Goody, brings together thirteen artists whose ‘very own paradise’ differs significantly in expansive motifs and varying types of personal identity.

Melanie Daniel, Goat Love In a Digital Age, Oil on Canvas, 54 x 48″, 2018

In the painting Goat Love in a Digital Age, artist Melanie Daniel creates this crowded narrative where people are trying to reconnect on a surrealistic globe of isolation. This expressionistic portrayal of figures of all nationalities seems to find themselves in a desolate environment, using these goats as a means to reconnect with nature.

Melanie Daniel lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and earned her MFA from Bezalel Academy, Israel, and is currently the Padnos Distinguished Artist-in-Residence at Grant Valley State University.

Marc Yankus, Tinsmith, Archival pigment print, 38 x 27″, 2015

For a city dweller, buildings are his paradise, both in structure and composition.  Marc Yankus is a photographer, and from his series, The Secret Lives of Buildings: Tinsmith, he captures an incredible pallet of light, shape, and color. His architectural detail of these facades, always formally placed, without the presence of people, is quiet and an ethereal slice of New York City that takes on a personality.  He says in his statement, “ I have walked by these buildings every day for the last 20 years.”

Marc Yankus’ fine artwork and publishing experience span more than forty years. His work has been included in exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum and the South Street Seaport Museum, New York, the George Eastman House, Rochester, New York, and the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

Amer Kobaslija, Northern Light III, Oil on panel, 86 x 72″, 2011

In the work Northern Light III, this large oil on panel presents the viewer with an interior aerial belonging to the famous painter Balthus. Amer says in his statement, “I get to understand the paintings through the act of making them, each piece individually and as a series – one work in relation to the other. Making is thinking.  These paintings are a reflection of my surroundings, the place where I live, and the people I encounter along the way.  As a painter, my aim is to engage with society – not to judge or impose answers but reflect on the place that I love and think of it has home.”

Born in Bosnia in 1975, Amer Kobaslija fled the war-torn country in 1993 for Germany, where he attended the Art Academy in Dusseldorf. Amer Kobaslija is a painter who was offered asylum by the United States and immigrated to Florida, where he completed his BFA in Printmaking at the Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, FL. He then went on to earn his MFA in Painting at Montclair State University in New Jersey. He currently lives and works in Orlando, Florida

Rebecca Morgan, Self Portrait Post MFA Wearing the Smock of a Former Employer II, 2017 graphite and oil on panel 20 x 16 inches Courtesy of the artist and Aysa Geisberg Gallery.

The painting, After Work Sunset, oil, and graphite on panel, is an example of where the artist Rebecca Morgan uses herself as the subject for what could be described as a self-portrait, but she is playing with her audience, a kind of cathartic moment where she manipulates the image as though she is laughing at herself.  She seems to be looking to illustrate emotional discomfort. Much of her work devotes itself to embracing the discomfort, the flaws, and oddity as a way to turn it into lightness.

In her statement, she says, “The face jugs, cartoons, and paintings represent a kind of blissful ignorance: they’re totally fine with looking so hideous and awful; it’s of no consequence to them. Though covered in acne, wrinkles, and blemishes, their confidence and contentment is the ultimate acceptance of self-love. They’re blissfully unaware, unruly, wild and untamed.”

Rebecca Morgan received a BA from the Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and her MFA from Pratt Institute, NY.

In mounting this kind of exhibition,  it presents the question, what is the role of the university gallery?  Much like other educational institutions, like the Wayne State University’s Elaine Jacob Gallery where the sole mission is to bring in work from outside Metro Detroit, the OUAG Gallery has over the years provided a mix of both Detroit Metro art work and then at times, Goody imports artists from all parts of the world. Both exist in an environment not depended on sales for its existence, providing a venue that contrasts with the average contemporary gallery.

Your Very Own Paradise has been created to explore the notion that requires the artist to rise above convention, play with reality, and deliver an exhibition by the works of Nick Archer, Enrique Chagoya, Melanie Daniel, Maira Kalman, Amer Kobaslija, Andrew Lenaghan, Tayna Marcuse, Rebecca Morgan, Lamar Peterson, Orit Raff, Simon Roberts, Thomas Trosch, and Marc Yankus.

Your Very Own Paradise, Oakland University Art Gallery, through November 24, 2019

 

SALON @ David Klein Gallery Detroit

 

“SALON” Gallery 1 Installation View. All photos are courtesy of David Klein Gallery.

At the David Klein Gallery, Detroit, the exhibition “SALON” ambitiously presents 90 works by 39 artists across a range of media, with sundry formal intentions in diverse dimensions, all the while accomplishing the near impossible task of curating a ruminative viewing experience in which a spirited dialogue between each work translates into an expansive conversation with its audience. “SALON” summons and breathes new life into old models of art viewership and cultural discourse that once placed an emphasis on wide-eyed pluralistic wonder.

“SALON” Foyer Wall Installation. 

The term salon originates as a social event that flourished during the Enlightenment. A crucial practice in “the age of conversation,” the salon collected persons of intellectual and cultural significance within the home of a well-to-do host to allow for an absorbing, investigative conversation on a wide-ranging set of issues. These were intended to be regularly recurring conversations around art, literature and politics to satisfy a hunger for knowledge while refining the tastes of all participants, mingled with a dose of amusement as egos politely debated for intellectual superiority. The salon also came to be identified with a series of academic art exhibitions beginning in 1667, at the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Work chosen to be exhibited by a juried system, jostled for space in dense groupings that covered the wall from top to bottom. With the rise of public museums in the 18th century, a similar method of presentation was followed. Work that had once been displayed in private collections, often serving as the backdrop for salon conversations, and were ordered as closely grouped arrangements to juxtapose formal contrasts more immediately, was replicated in the new public displays.

“SALON” Gallery 2 Installation View.

Crowded together to view a salon exhibition, the public was at times overwhelmed by the tightly clustered variety of works, but also in a state of awe and wonder, delving into vigorous conversation. With the advent of the “white cube” display methodology with neutral walls, controlled lighting and the spatial isolation of individual works of art inducing a hushed distance among viewing patrons, the salon approach was no longer the de facto system. The white cube environment, the earliest known iteration being an 1883 exhibition at London’s Fine Art Society by American artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), was initially intended as an innovation to eradicate distraction, disconnecting art from the world and imposing more rigorous viewing criteria upon the viewer: there is only one way to see the artwork, and it is thus. Subsequently, what was innovative has now become conventional, with institutions and galleries continually questioning how to liberate the viewing of art from the impulse of Modernist constraint.

“SALON” Gallery 1 North Wall Installation.

At David Klein, the use of the salon as both conversational gathering point and display methodology, stimulates an adventurous public viewing space. Rather than filling every wall from top to bottom and side to side, the work in the exhibition is broken down into intriguing groupings displayed on eight separate walls in the two gallery spaces. It would be a fool’s errand to extract a work or two from each group and create a “best of” series of highlights as the basis for an exhibition review. There is no star amongst the roster of artists here, culled from the gallery’s extensive exhibiting family. This is a group effort; each work assists the other as contrasts are amplified to deepen the conversation. Such collective resonance is where the true joy of “SALON” resides as hierarchies are erased. The graphic sits beside the painted. The drawn beside the photographic. The representational beside the abstract. The minimal beside the dense. The humorous beside the solemn. And so on and so forth. Such juxtapositions are the stuff of wildly active viewing. The exhibition hums with a vitality.

“SALON” Gallery 2 North Wall Installation

As a viewer moving from wall to wall, from conversation to conversation, one approaches the whole of each arrangement, marveling at the curatorial decisions resulting in unexpected formal juxtapositions. These configurations are the result of thoughtful installation on the macro level as well as care for content on the micro level. As one drills down into individual works, crowding in closer, examining each piece on its own terms, something occurs moving from one close inspection to another: the experience of the prior work lingers a bit more on the way to settling into the next. Like the exquisite sound design in a Robert Altman film, the voices overlap. On the north wall of gallery 2, the energetic collisions of Alisa Henriquez brush up against the hard-edged purity of Matthew Hawtin which finds a partnership with the carefully observed humanity of Mario Moore which is confronted by the mediated spectatorship of Jessica Rohrer which dissolves into the formal filigree of Janet Hamrick which simultaneously eases and bumps into the heightened temperature of Corine Vermeulen. There are many such moments throughout “SALON.”

“SALON” Gallery 1 South Wall Installation.

Realistically, “SALON” is an exhibition about availability. The works chosen are bite-sized morsels representative of a larger body of work by each artist, serving as distilled entrées into their concerns. Framed for ease of hanging and transportability, the majority of works priced at a modest level for a larger audience, such market concerns go hand-in-hand with the formal accessibility of the exhibition. Free of viewing images in isolation in support of a single voice, the communion on display in “SALON” is a liberating and welcoming experience. Rather than being instructed where to place one’s focus, there is a choice of attention. In an era in which digital platforms tailor our viewing habits with surgical precision, employing harvested algorithms to produce ever narrower windows on the world, it is good to be reminded of the virtues of pluralistic viewing. “SALON” is a social event that invigorates the necessity of wide-ranging cultural conversations, reinforcing a community of expression.

“SALON” Gallery 2 East Wall Installation.

“SALON” is Jamie Adams, Elise Ansel, Emmy Bright, Mitch Cope, Carlos Diaz, Joel Grothaus, Janet Hamrick, Matthew Hawtin, Alisa Henriquez, Patrick Hill, Scott Hocking, Cooper Holoweski, Trisha Holt, Cyrus Karimipour, Trevor King, Andrew Krieger, Stephen Magsig, Kim McCarty, Clara McClenon, Mario Moore, Carrie Moyer, Brittany Nelson, Marianna Olague, Judy Pfaff, Benjamin Pritchard, Kelly Reemtsen, Jessica Rohrer, Tylonn Sawyer, Robert Schefman, Julie Schenkelberg, Lauren Semivan, Clinton Snider, Rosalind Tallmadge, Corine Vermeulen, Liat Yossifor, and Elizabeth Youngblood.

“SALON” is on view at David Klein Gallery Detroit Until November 2.