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“Notes from the Quarantimes” @ Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum

Five-hundred-year floods, particularly in the midst of a pandemic, don’t ordinarily generate intriguing art shows, but that’s precisely the origin story of “Notes from the Quarantimes” at the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum in Saginaw through Jan. 15, 2022.

Following a seven-inch deluge in May 2020, the Edenville Dam north of Midland crumbled, disgorging, according to the “Quarantimes’” program with the artist statements, 22.5 billion gallons of Wixom Lake that gushed downstream, in minutes scooping out the original route of the Tittabawassee River, uprooting houses and fully grown trees alike. One of the homes near the dam, damaged but not destroyed, has been owned by artist Andrew Krieger’s family since 1955.

“Notes from the Quarantimes” is up at the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum on the Saginaw Valley State University campus through Jan. 15, 2022

“It was nutty,” Krieger said of the day the waters rose. “A Consumer’s Power guy who was nearby said our house was going to float away any minute” — but perhaps miraculously, it did not.  That said, things were nip and tuck for a while, but the Kriegers essentially lucked out. Their basement was submerged and ended up with a foot of muck at the bottom, but the waters stopped eight inches short of their first floor. The wooded area around the house, however, was turned into a veritable moonscape in a matter of hours, with craters where entire root systems of giant trees had been wrenched free. Krieger figures they lost about 100 trees, many planted by his father; his brother says 200. In any case, the clean-up task was herculean. The day after the flood, an exhausted Krieger texted five of his best art buddies: “I need help. Overwhelmed and sad.”’

They all rallied. In short order, Mitch Cope, Scott Hocking, Michael McGillis, Clinton Snider and Graem Whyte were all at the house, and each of them would continue to return on a regular basis over the next year, a nice testament to the quality of the friendships involved.

Krieger says the group had already been talking pre-flood about doing an exhibition together but hadn’t yet hit on a concept. “I think,” he added, “it was Graem Whyte who said, ‘This is the show. It’s about us coming up and helping you, and Edenville, and this pandemic.’” The result is a good-looking, spirited exhibition of considerable artistic diversity that reflects both the Sturm und Drang involved in simultaneously coping with a vicious virus and the cataclysmic consequences of climate change.

Clinton Snider “After the Flood,” Oil on panel, 2021

Clinton Snider’s “After the Flood” tackles the catastrophe head-on, with a melancholy portrait of the six friends surveying a ravaged landscape, with Krieger himself at center standing on a rock surrounded by the newly trenched stream. Like so many of Snider’s paintings, the light is muted and sepulchral – the artist says he favors early dawn light. In tone and feel, “After the Flood” evokes much the same mournful vibe as Snider’s 2005 portrait, “Studebaker Razed,” which captured the abandoned Detroit factory the morning after its catastrophic fire.

Another compelling visual statement directly tied to the dam disaster is Whyte’s amusingly titled “Batten Down the Hatches.” This large installation, lying prone on the gallery floor, stars a debris pile bound together with yellow ratchet straps. Among its disparate elements are a toppled ornamental lamp post – its five globes still lit, in a nice touch – and a tree-length log with long, carved toes, as if Treebeard, the walking, talking, tree-like “ent” in “Lord of the Rings,” had lost a limb.

Graem Whyte, “Batten Down the Hatches,” Maple, found lamp post, cast aluminum, wheel, paint on wood, ratchet straps, 2021

And don’t miss – well, really you can’t miss – Whyte’s “Vortex of Janus” smack in the center of the gallery. This mechanical construction on wheels is very big, maybe five feet tall, or so – a tapering, octagonal, open-ended kaleidoscope. The interior metal sides appear to be swirling, a nice optical illusion created by a pattern of clean, sharp-edged parallelograms and the occasional through-line in vivid hues. Besides creating an intriguingly kinetic visual – you immediately see how water forced through the vortex would rush out the smaller end with multiplied force – this is an elegant, absorbing color study dominated by shades of green, black, and surprising bursts of orange and lavender.

Funny and tragic both is Michael McGillis’ “Poseidon’s Throne” that blends a reference to cottage life with ugly reality. In his artist’s statement, McGillis says he’s always been interested in landscape and human scale, and with “Throne” he’s sculpted a convincing diorama of a bend in a new stream that’s clearly raked its way through a now-barren landscape. At one end, as if to underline the absurdity of it all, a cheerful, orange Adirondack chair sits mostly submerged, already acquiring a green, river-scum patina below the waterline.

Michael McGillis, “Poseidon’s Throne” (detail), Mixed media, 2021

Dominating the far wall as you walk in is Scott Hocking’s sizable installation, “Woodsmun of the Forest,” as well as one of two videos the artist made while kayaking around both the Edenville disaster and waterways in the Detroit area. Sparingly narrated by Hocking, the videos — in particular “Kayaking through the Quarantimes” — are mesmerizing, pretty gorgeous and, on occasion downright funny.

HOCKING VIDEO: “Kayaking through the Quarantimes” 19 Minutes

For its part, “Woodsmun” is a triptych comprised of large tree parts that were either submerged almost 100 years ago when the Edenville Dam was erected or else fell or washed in sometime over recent decades. The central element is a huge, distressed trunk partly suspended from the ceiling, framed by smaller, sculptural wood forms. In a puckish touch mostly on the backside of the installation, Hocking’s integrated man-made artifacts – some would say trash – that he retrieved from the drained lake, including a rope, rusted beer cans, and a large ornamental daisy that’s got “1970s perky bad taste” written all over it.

For his part, Krieger has mounted a number of color photographs of what remains of the dam, as well as landscapes including “Tittabawassee Sunset #1.” That image fills up a clear, cylindrical container rather like a scientific specimen, or last year’s preserved tomatoes. But the artist’s biggest crowd-pleaser is likely to be “Last Day on Earth,” an off-white ceramic sculpture of a hopeless fellow maybe two feet tall with a sign wrapped around his midriff that proclaims “DOOM,” and adds, just to make sure passers-by get the point, “Our last day on earth and the end of human existence.”

Andrew Krieger, “Last Day on Earth,” Ceramic, 2021

But apocalypse or no, this being America, as you read down you realize the sign’s actually an ad urging you to “enjoy” your last meal at Howie’s Soda Bar with its celebrated “good food” and “reasonable prices.” Because even in the midst of apocalypse, you want value for your money, right?

Finally, standing somewhat apart in tone and size are Mitch Cope’s three colored-pencil water lily studies. Each of these large, square canvases also invokes one of three planets in a somewhat cryptic fashion – specifically the moon, Saturn and Jupiter. They’re handsome, restful works. In a show devoted to destruction, Cope’s vividly colored drawings radiate hopeful calm and underline the healing power of looking closely at nature. The three are a lovely balance to the sharper narratives on display all around them.

Mitch Cope, “Water Lili #1 Jupiter,” Colored pencil on paper, 2021

Clinton Snider, Tree of Eden, 2021, 53 sec.

“Notes from the Quarantimes” is on display at  Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum through January 15, 2022.

 

 

 

 

Per(Sister) and Free Your Mind @ MSU Broad

Per(Sister): Incarcerated Women of the United States installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2021. Photo: Zoe Kissel/MSU Broad. Per(Sister) is a traveling exhibition developed by the Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The United States is home to the world’s most incarcerated population, with 2.2 million individuals held within its prison system. Over the past 40 years, the incarceration rate for women has increased by over 800%. Per(Sister): Incarcerated Women of the United States is a socially-driven exhibition that harnesses the arts to raise awareness of the particular challenges women face during and after incarceration, with attention given to exploring some of the underlying societal conditions that have helped drive forward incarceration rates in the first place.

This exhibit was arranged by the Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University in Louisiana, and paired 30 current and formerly incarcerated women (referred throughout the exhibit as “PerSisters”) with artists who listened to their stories and translated their experiences into artistic form. At the time of the show’s creation, Louisiana was the incarceration capital of the world, with over 1,000 incarcerates per 100,000 inhabitants, compared with 600 per 100,000 in Russia, and 118 per 100,000 in China. Michigan State University’s Broad Art Museum now hosts this traveling exhibit. Underscoring the relevance of the show across state lines, the Broad complements the show with the adjacent exhibition Free Your Mind, which addresses incarceration specifically in Michigan.  Together, both shows encourage us to view these individuals with empathy and dignity.

Per(Sister): Incarcerated Women of the United States installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2021. Photo: Zoe Kissel/MSU Broad. Per(Sister) is a traveling exhibition developed by the Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The works of art (ranging from photography, painting, site-specific installation, fabric art, sculpture, and even music) are eclectic, reflecting the individual experiences they represent. One wall prominently displays large black and white portraits of all 30 PerSisters featured in the exhibition, sympathetically photographed by Allison Beondé; visitors can hear these women in their own words at stations equipped with electronic devices and headphones, and printed excerpts from their interviews accompany many of works in the show, so their voices and faces are always present.

Per(Sister): Incarcerated Women of the United States installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2021. Photo: Zoe Kissel/MSU Broad. Per(Sister) is a traveling exhibition developed by the Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Per(Sister): Incarcerated Women of the United States installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2021. Photo: Zoe Kissel/MSU Broad. Per(Sister) is a traveling exhibition developed by the Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana.

While each work of art in Per(Sister) responds to an individual’s personal experience, many of these works also address broader issues regarding the prison system more generally. Epaul Julien’s portrait of Dolita Wilhike conscientiously recalls images of the iconic political activist Angela Davis. But in the background is a prominent American flag which, up close, is revealed to be a collage of historic images of enslaved African Americans, including the familiar schematic rendering of the notorious Brookes slave ship. We also see the script of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which abolishes slavery “except as punishment for a crime,” a constitutional loophole that effectively allows institutional slavery to persist in the form of the prison industrial complex. Artist Amy Elkins confronts the leasing of convicts for unpaid labor in the garment industry in particular with her site-specific wallpaper which mimics textile art, its floral imagery stitched together with the colors used for prisoners’ uniforms.

Per(Sister): Incarcerated Women of the United States installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2021. Photo: Zoe Kissel/MSU Broad. Per(Sister) is a traveling exhibition developed by the Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana.

One of the most compelling stories in the exhibit is that of Bobbie Jean Johnson, imprisoned for 40 years for a murder she denied committing. She was released in 2018 with the help of the Innocence Project, which provided compelling evidence in support of Johnson’s testimony that her confession was coerced by an officer who was asphyxiating her with a plastic bag. Making the point that in the American justice system a confession is regarded as the “queen of criminal evidence,” artist Rontherin Ratliff created a large sculpture of a queen, which, in the game of chess, is the most powerful piece. But confessions are problematic, as several high-profile cases amply demonstrate– the now-exonerated “Central Park Five” come to mind.

Caption: Per(Sister): Incarcerated Women of Louisiana, installation view at the Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University, 2019. Per(Sister) is a traveling exhibition developed by the Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Plenty of didactic text and informational graphic-illustrations guide viewers through the root causes of female incarceration, the impact of incarceration on mothers, the physical and mental impact of incarceration, and specific challenges women face upon re-entering society. Some specific issues addressed include the lack of access to proper healthcare, as many jails and prisons are not equipped to provide basic prenatal and postpartum care to female inmates. The show also addresses the impact of incarceration on families; nearly 80% of female incarcerates are mothers, the majority of whom are the sole caregivers to their children.

In an adjacent gallery space, the exhibition Free Your Mind complements Per(Sister) with a specific focus on incarceration in Michigan. While Michigan has fewer incarcerated individuals than other states, it leads the way in punitive sentencing, with its 33,000 inmates serving more time on average than those of any other state. This exhibition addresses four themes: the length of sentencing, the impact of incarceration on women, the impact of incarceration on youth, and the impact of COVID-19. All the works in this single-gallery space come from incarcerated individuals who have exhibited with the Prison Creative Arts Project at the University of Michigan.

Even allowing that these works were created by individuals with no formal training in art, the technical skill in some of these works is, by all standards, astonishing.  Daniel Valentine’s pencil drawing of a hand holding a rose, The Scarlet Fancy, is rendered with such realism that it looks like a photograph, even when viewed from just a few inches.  Sarah Yien’s small charcoal drawing I Need to Breathe, showing a body struggling to break through some sort of translucent tarp, also seems photographic, but evokes the blurred photorealism we might expect from the paintings of Gerhard Richter.

Suffragette City is a deceptively playful and visually flamboyant approach to social criticism. In this colorful watercolor and pen & ink panorama which vaguely resembles the busy pages of a Where’s Waldo book, artist Rik McDonough populates a zany cityscape with humorous, thinly veiled allegories of the social and political forces behind mass incarceration. We see armies of pawns scurrying about a dystopian cityscape, and close inspection reveals that many of the buildings in this city are rows of books, all calculatedly chosen titles (Les Misérables, Animal Farm, and 1984, for example).

Incarceration rates among women in Michigan have risen over the past ten years even as the overall statewide prison population has decreased, and much of Free Your Mind features work by women artists. Samantha Bachynski’s Rose Trellis Dream Wedding Dress, a life-sized crocheted wedding dress, is particularly evocative. As quoted in the show, Bachynski movingly says of the dress, “It’s a beautiful piece of art and I’m so proud of it, but I know I’m not going to get to do the two things I wanted to in my life: get married or be a mom. So I want someone else to feel absolutely beautiful wearing it and experience what I’m not going to experience….It’s not a complete end. I still have a life in here. It’s not the life I wanted, but it’s the life I have made for myself.”

Samantha Bachynski, Rose Trellis Dream Wedding Dress, 2019. Courtesy of the Prison Creative Arts Project, University of Michigan.

Although these are both art shows, they’re information-heavy, and visitors should expect to read their way through much of these two exhibits. The accompanying booklet to Per(Sister) is a generous 126 pages long and is really an exhibition catalog replete with introductory essays, biographies of the participants, a brief timeline of the American prison system, and a glossary of terms. It’s perhaps cliche to describe an exhibition as thought-provoking, but the content of these shows really does have a way of getting inside one’s head, only to keep resurfacing as time passes. Together, Per(Sister) and Free Your Mind serve to amplify the voices of a population which, though sizable, remains largely invisible, and they emphatically make the point that individuals shouldn’t forfeit their humanity once they enter the carceral system.

Per(Sister) and Free Your Mind are both on view at the Michigan State University Broad Art Museum through December 12, 2021.

 

 

Nanette Carter & Contemporaries @ N’Namdi

The work of Nanette Carter is joined by Al Loving, Sam Gilliam, and Gregory Coates at N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art

A Survey, Thirty Years of work by Nanette Carter, Install Image courtesy of DAR

The new exhibition at N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art centers on the artwork of Nanette Carter and three of her contemporaries. All the work is based on various ways to approach the depth and variety of abstraction. The exhibition surveys thirty years of work going back to 1983 when N’Namdi first exhibited the work of Nanette Carter. The video below gives the reader an in-depth explanation of her artwork where she talks about using oil paint on mylar and then cutting up and arranging forms, shapes, color, and line to express a unique composition.  Here, she takes the viewer through her process that begins with a small drawing.

Nanette Carter, Bouquet for Loving #17, Oils on Mylar, 57 x 50″ 2011

Carter has developed a painting style that consists of abstract designs and effects superimposed on top of each other in ways that emphasize chance but often reflect a theme as in the artwork Bouquet For Loving #17.  Carter does not precisely follow a particular tradition, and that’s evident in each of her works, which are stand-alone concepts to which she brings materials such as fabric into her oil paint on mylar world.

Nanette Carter, Aqueous #49, Oil Collage on Mylar, 46 x 53″ 2008

An example is a work Aqueous #49 where Carter elegantly composes a circular composition using her mylar collage on an expansive surface of textures based on an organic color palette. The random placement of patterned designs within the paintings, along with their slightly free-form outlines, establishes Carter’s desire to work both inside and outside the conventions of her genre.

Nanette Carter earned her B.A. at Oberlin College where she majored in Art and Art History.

Al Loving, Red Hook #1, Mixed Media on Board, 38 x 28″

Born in Detroit in 1935, Al Loving studied painting at the University of Michigan–Ann Arbor. After graduation, he relocated to New York where he found himself among a social group that included artists Robert Duran and Sam Gillian. In 1969, Loving famously became the first Black artist to have a one-person show at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

In the work Red Hook, Loving showcases his traditional spiral shapes creating a more organic abstraction.  A kind of shaped canvas relief on the wall, the mixed media piece draws primary colors together in a collage-type construction. His work became known for using geometric shapes and shaped canvases where he was drawn to corrugated cardboard and rag paper.

 

Sam Gilliam, In The Fog, Relief, hand-sewn, acrylic on hand-made paper, 36 x 48″, 2010

The color field painter is recognized for representing the United States at the Venice Biennale in 2017.  Gilliam was born in 1933 in Tupelo, Mississippi, and grew up in Louisville, Kentucky. The Black painter and lyrical abstractionist artist are associated with the Washington Color School, a group of Washington, D.C.-area artists who developed abstract art from color field painting in the 1950s and 1960s.

His works have also been described as belonging to abstract expressionism and often a more lyrical abstraction. He works on stretched, draped, and wrapped canvas and adds sculptural 3D elements. He is recognized as the first artist to introduce the idea of a draped, painted canvas hanging without stretcher bars around 1965, and this was a major contribution to the Color Field School.

Gilliam has worked with polypropylene, computer-generated imaging, metallic and iridescent acrylics, handmade paper, aluminum, steel, plywood, and plastic in his more recent work.  Sam Gilliam earned a B.A. and his M.A. at the University of Louisville.

 

Gregory Coates, I Made It, Mixed Media on Wood, 48 x 45″

Gregory Coates was born in Washington D.C. in 1961 and grew up in the northeast part of the district. He is a Black artist known for working in the realm of social abstraction. In this exhibition, the work I Made It is a composition of concentric circles of various sizes on an orange-red background.

Gregory Coates attended the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C., from 1980-1982 and later the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in 1990.

George N’Namdi founded G. R. N’Namdi Galleries in 1982 in Detroit, Michigan. It is one of the oldest commercial galleries in the United States and features works of contemporary abstract artists. The gallery has established its reputation as the leader in educating and inspiring new and seasoned collectors.  They have worked hard at building art collections around Metro Detroit and beyond. Works from the gallery are featured in some of the most prominent public and private collections worldwide.

Nanette Carter & Contemporaries @ N’Namdi is on display through December 31, 2021

 

 

Yigal Ozeri @ Flint Institute of Arts

Brush with Reality: Yigal Ozeri at the Flint Institute of Arts

“Brush with Reality: Yigal Ozeri” at the Flint Institute of Arts through Jan. 2, is a career retrospective of the painter’s large-scale, striking portraits that read like photographs. It’s a handsome, accessible exhibition that makes for a good introduction to the FIA, if you’ve yet to visit, located in a polychrome modern building in Flint’s Cultural Center.

The temptation is to call the Israeli-born Ozeri’s work “photorealist,” but it’s a term the artist, who’s lived and worked in New York City for years, doesn’t apply to himself – never mind his admiration for the genre.

“Brush with Reality: Yigal Ozeri” at Flint Institute of Arts, All images by Michael H. Hodges

Ozeri, with works in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Israel Museum, among others, deliberately deviates from the photorealist playbook. “He said he wants to deconstruct photography,” says Tracee J. Glab, FIA curator of collections and exhibitions who organized the show.  “It all starts with the photographs,” she adds, mostly taken by the artist’s daughter, “but from there he then decides what parts he wants to make precise and hyper-realistic, and what parts more soft-focused and impressionist.” Additionally, Ozeri’s work stands out in another significant way – most photorealist painters focus on inanimate objects and symbols of modernity like cars, roadside diners, or California swimming pools. Few do people.

The result is a collection of canvases of remarkable depth and technical skill. Over half the gallery space is given to the artist’s trademark portraits of pretty young women in landscapes – more on that in a moment — with the rest drawn from a series of urban New York scenes.

Among the latter, the 2018 “Untitled; Cristal” features a somber, young African-American woman in a full fur coat in the middle of a Manhattan avenue, staring straight at the viewer — typical of much of Ozeri’s portraiture. It’s part of the composition’s power that it both conveys a strong sense of the subject’s character, as well the impression that New York City on either side of her is hurtling at you full blast.

Yigal Ozeri, Untitled; Cristal, 2018, oil on canvas, Collection of the Artist, NJ.

The painting is curator Glab’s favorite among the New York series. “With the distortions on either side of her,” she says, “it really captures what it’s like to be in New York City, overwhelmed.”

One of the most hyper-realist treatments is “Lizzie in the Park.” Take a good look at the cascade of blond and brown hair falling out from her black hood. You read precisely how it would feel to the touch. It’s a minor detail in its way, and yet the one that totally makes the painting – and one you can hardly take your eyes off. By contrast, the snowy, woodsy background behind her is all low depth of field. Was that the nature of the actual photograph, or has the artist softened things to make the subject pop? You decide.

Yigal Ozeri, Lizzie in the Park, 2010, oil on paper, Collection of Wayne F. Yakes, MD.

But not all of Ozeri’s portraits come with such a sharp focus. With “Untitled; Olya” from 2015, the young woman on a wind-swept beach is rendered in soft focus, which in this case adds a certain urgency. And if you look closely, the remarkable brushwork almost creates three dimensions out of two. It’s a gorgeous image, yet one that calls to mind the inevitable questions of 2021 – in this case, whether it’s entirely seemly to stage an exhibition of pretty young women painted by a man born in 1958.

Yigal Ozeri, Untitled; Olya (detail), 2015. Oil on canvas, 54 x 80 in. Collection of Louis K. and Susan P. Meisel.

It’s an issue Glab freely admits she pondered. “I definitely questioned that as a woman and feminist,” she says. “I asked Ozeri – why women? And his answer was that he felt he was depicting their power.” Additionally, he told her all the models are paid, and while Ozeri picks the locations, from city streets to the Costa Rican jungle, the models (occasionally men) choose how they want to be depicted – whether lying in shallow water in a stunning red dress as with 2012’s “Untitled; Territory,” or in a harvested field in “Untitled; COVID Wheat Field” from last year.

“I liked that answer,” Glab said. And she’s also solicited feedback from visitors, none of whom have had any complaints. Glab thinks this is in part because while the gaze is indisputably male, it’s neither exploitative nor condescending. These women, gorgeous though they all may be, are presented as individuals with force and power and not as pin-ups. Their direct stares challenge us to imagine they were anything but knowing and willing participants in this process.

Breaking the mold in part because of its strong emotions is the aforementioned “Untitled; COVID Wheat Field.” A young black man in a sweater and face mask has collapsed, seemingly ecstatic, in an autumnal field. Under a glowering sky, he radiates unexpected delight and joy – a contrast to Ozeri’s mostly sober, enigmatic women. Indeed, while the season around him is all wrong, the subject personifies the giddy rapture so many of us felt early this summer when liberty seemed at hand before the Delta variant really started to bite.

Yigal Ozeri, Untitled; COVID Wheat Field, 2020. Oil on canvas. Doron Sebbag Art Collection, ORS Ltd., Tel Aviv.

Included within the New York series, though completely out of place geographically, is a portrait of a cheerful guy in a lavishly decked out Israeli candy store in 2019’s “Untitled; A Tel Aviv Story” – and his American analogue running  a candy-packed, Manhattan kiosk in “Untitled: A New York Story,” also from 2019. But for those who adore the gritty romance of the Big Apple, Ozeri’s nighttime painting of a New York intersection is particularly persuasive, with car headlights providing visual drama. It’s chock full of banal details from New York street life – the cars, the recently painted bike lane, the construction cones and the construction worker, the jaywalker, and the receding parade of eight-story buildings with lighted windows here and there marching toward the vanishing point. It’s enough to make the impressionable fall in love with New York all over again.

Yigal Ozeri, Untitled; New York, 2020. Oil on canvas. Collection of the Artist, NJ.

 

“Brush with Reality: Yigal Ozeri” will be up at the Flint Institute of Arts, which is free on Saturdays, through Jan. 2.

 

 

Patrick Earl Hammie and Charles Mintz @ Crooked Tree Arts Center

Lustron Stories, Installation image, Crooked Tree Arts Center

The Crooked Tree Arts Center, situated in a forested neighborhood on 6th street in Traverse City, MI, is just far enough removed from the city center that it serves as an oasis from the heavily trafficked streets of the town’s perennially congested main drag. But this relatively hidden gallery space offers first-rate programming worth the five-minute walk from Front Street, where all the action is. Crooked Tree currently hosts two exhibitions: an ensemble of large-scale paintings by Patrick Earl Hammie, and a body of photographs by Charles Mintz. Both shows combine technical finesse with layers of considered and understated social commentary.

This is a busy month for Illinois-based Patrick Earl Hammie; concurrent with this show in Traverse City, he also has work featured in the newly-opened Men of Change exhibit at Detroit’s Wright Museum (a show organized by the Smithsonian Institution), and a solo exhibition about to open at the Freeport Museum in Illinois.  At the Crooked Tree, Hammie presents a selection of large paintings (and a few smaller studies) that are deeply personal but also engage in discourse with broader social issues.

In Untimely Ripp’d, Hammie presents viewers with a confrontationally large painting of a mother delivering a baby by cesarean section. Discussing the work at the show’s opening, Hammie notes that, historically, paintings of medical procedures typically present the operating room as an emphatically male-dominated space– The Gross Clinic by Thomas Eakins, for example, or Rembrandt’s Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp.  Subverting this convention, Hammie peoples this space entirely with women. Further challenging art-historical norms, the large scale of the work serves as a direct response to the imposingly large paintings of the Romantic era, so often accompanied by hyper-masculine bravado and saber-rattling.

Patrick Earl Hammie, Untimely ripp’d (Work Cited: Fadhley, Salim [2014]. “Cesarean section photography.” Wikiversity Journal of Medicine), 2017, oil on linen, 96 x 70 in.

Hammie’s portrait of his mother (C.R.H.) is an affectionate tribute. Painted while she was recovering from a stroke, here she confronts us with a determined and resolute expression, ardently refusing to let her stroke get the best of her faculties.  Step in close, and it’s easy to detect Hammie’s interest in Expressionism. He applies paint thickly, and you could count the brush strokes if you cared to. But his scrubbed-in brushwork never compromises the clarity of his subjects (if this seems a little paradoxical, perhaps zoom in on some o fRembrandt’s later paintings, and marvel at his uncanny ability to capture a lucid likeness through the loosest brushwork).

 

Patrick Earl Hammie, C.R.H., 2017, oil on linen, 80 x 68 in

Several smaller paintings in this ensemble come from the artist’s Oedipus series, an exploratory body of work over ten years in the making. Oedipus’ name means “swollen foot,” and Hammie’s expressive, close-up renderings of feet were informed by references to historical and personal associations. Feet can evoke the means by which enslaved individuals escaped and trekked toward freedom for example; alternatively, feet could suggest the manacles and restraints that kept the enslaved in bondage. But the series also obliquely references the artist’s father, who lost several toes as the result of diabetes, and who was reduced to a comatose state as the result of surgical complications, leaving Hammie (young at the time) with the difficult decision of whether or not to prolong his father’s life, and under what conditions. Like the rest of his work, these paintings combine technical excellence with conceptual depth.

Patrick Earl Hammie, Study for Oedipus, 2017, charcoal on linen, 68 x 68 in.

Concurrent with this exhibition, the Crooked Tree Arts Center is also showing a body of photography by Charles Mintz, who here explores the American dream of home-ownership.  Mintz is an Ohio-based photographer whose series Every Place I’ve Ever Lived (a body of work that addresses the housing foreclosure crisis) is featured in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Museum of American History. Lustron Stories, on view at the Crooked Tree, is an extension of Mintz’s interest in photographing working-class domestic spaces.

This show is a photographic exploration of Lustron houses and their enduring legacy. Manufactured in Columbus, OH, in the late 1940s by Lustron Corporation, these 1,100 square-foot prefabricated steel houses offered affordable housing to the working class. They utilized reductive spaces stripped bare of almost all decorative elements, and could be purchased for approximately $10,000.  About a third of these 2,500 homes are still extant, and most are still inhabited.

Charles Mintz, Mr. Kahle – Defiance, OH, 2014, inkjet print from scanned film, 30 x 39

It takes just a few images to get a sense of the Lustron aesthetic; after all, there wasn’t much variety and customization wasn’t an option.  They were made from steel and coated with enamel, rendering magnets the best device to personalize the interiors with pictures or other wall-hangings. They came in four colors, and much of the furniture was built in, like the ubiquitous recessed bookcase and mirror we see in several of the living rooms pictured here.

Though the houses themselves have a similar (if not exactly uniform) aesthetic, in this series Mintz manages to suggest the varied personalities and walks of life of their inhabitants. Each individual (or family) poses beside or within their home, surrounded by personal effects and belongings that speak to their personal stories.  Pat C, for example, sits in her living room (flanked by the ever-present Lustron bookshelf), surrounded by a myriad of collectibles, paintings, and photographs (some in black and white, and others in the sort of washed-out color characteristic of photographs from the 70s) that offer us glimpses of her multi-generational family history.

Charles Mintz, Pat C – Canton, OH, 2012, inkjet print from scanned film, 30 x 39 in.

Like much else from the postwar era, it’s difficult not to look back at Lustron homes without seeing them as remnants of a more optimistic time when anything factory-made and mass-produced, from Tupperware to TV Dinners, promised a forward-facing domestic utopia. It’s an optimism that, in retrospect, seems altogether naive. But the goal of universal home-ownership was (and remains) admirable and worth pursuing. Even Frank Lloyd Wright tried his hand at designing affordable housing, an ambition that gave rise to his Usonian homes; however, he was never able to translate his lofty and ideal design aesthetic into homes that were actually affordable for the broader public. So say what you will about the reductive design of Lustron homes; they were an innovative and largely successful approach to affordable housing, and arguably succeeded in accomplishing what Wright never did. But still, the series leaves one wondering, in the end, if perhaps America’s working class is deserving of something just a little more…

Charles Mintz, Clementine and Anita – Oak Park, MI, 2012, inkjet print from scanned film, 30 x 39

Forward and Lustron Stories are both on view at the Crooked Tree Arts Center in Traverse City, MI through November 13, 2021.

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