Dance! @ The Detroit Institute of the Arts

 DIA Presents a Multimedia Exhibition of Ninety works of American Art 1830-1960

How long have people been dancing? Probably longer than they were playing with fire. Nureyev captured the hearts of millions of ordinary people, while Baryshnikov stunned the critics and Martha Graham created the full-codified modern dance with her deviation from classical ballet.

Salvador at Podium Dance 3.2016

Director Salvador Salut-Pons at Podium introducing the Dance! 1830 – 1960 exhibition

 Coming off a very successful 30 Americans exhibition, Salvador Salort-Pons took the podium to introduce the new exhibition Dance! American Art 1830-1960, at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Opening March 29, 2016 the multimedia exhibition surveys the history of Dance in America as seen through the eyes of American Artists.

“This is the first major exhibition to explore visual art related to American dance. Dance has such a rich history and has touched all segments of American society,” said Salvador Salort-Pons, DIA director. “This exhibition is not only about the representation of the art of dance, it explores how artists were inspired by how Americans move, how they interacted with each other and experienced the rhythm of music.”

It was clear from her remarks at the media preview that curator Jane Dini had been working on this exhibition since her time spent working at the DIA, and that this exhibition had been in development over the past five years. In Dance!, Ms. Dini has been able to create her life’s dream.

“In addition to the outstanding works of art, it was important for me to have the voice and expertise of dancers within the exhibition itself,” said Jane Dini, now associate curator of American Painting and Sculpture, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and curator of the exhibition. “They help illustrate how dance as an artistic form had an enormous impact on the fine arts, especially painting and sculpture.”

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Video of Dancers – One of several through out the exhibition

 I never danced, but my parents were both professional dancers, which gave me some built-in personal interest. My parents were both recruited by a New York dance company in the mid-1930’s. In addition, in the 1980’s, I facilitated an artist-in-residency program in the Utica Schools, where we brought the Detroit City Dance Company, under the direction of Carole Morrisseau, into our forty schools over the period of a school year. Getting to know the day-to-day lives of dancers is something that stayed with me. I learned they lived in a physical world and often from moment to moment. The dancers had a unique devotion to their bodies, especially their ankles and feet.

Ms. Morrisseau is now a visual artist practicing in Detroit, and I caught up with her at the Scarab Club, “The concept of the current exhibit at the DIA is a credible one and exceptional in its undertaking. I believe there is a very strong relationship between the visual and performing arts. Hopefully this exhibit will expand the public’s view of the art of dance and visual art.” Carole Morrissieau will exhibit her visual artwork opening this month at the Scarab Club.

Arthur B. Davies

Arthur Bowen Davies, 1862 – 1928, Dances, 1915

Arthur B. Davies (1862-1928), often called an Ashcan painter, was an avant-garde American artist who spanned the boundaries between the 19th-century romantic tradition and early twentieth-century modernism in the United States. He was born in Utica, New York and studied at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1878 and at the Art Students League in New York in 1887. His idyllic figurative pastorals are often said to harken back to Botticelli. Davies supported the new abstract movement and participated in the early formation of MoMA in New York City. His work was collected ahead of its time by the Phillips Collection. In Dances, 1915, Davies used faceted planes of color to define the moving figures, resulting in a pattern of color evoking a dance celebration.

Eastman Johnson Negro Life at the South

Eastman Johnson, Negro Life at the South 1859, Oil on Canvas

Genre painter Eastman Johnson (1824-1906) had a turning point in 1859 with the exhibition in New York of his Negro Life in the South. His ambiguous picture of the leisure activities of a group of slaves was a sensation at a time when the topic of slavery was being universally debated. In the painting, a mother encourages her son to dance to the music of a banjo player. Born in Maine, Eastman Johnson was educated in Europe, where he was inspired by the work of Dutch Masters. He is best known for his realistic portraiture and as a co-founder of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Henry Joseph Sharp, The Harvest Dance 1894

Henry Joseph Sharp, The Harvest Dance 1894, Oil on Canvas

Joseph Henry Sharp (1859-1953) was an American painter best known for his work painting Native Americans. Sharp was born in Bridgeport, Ohio to Irish immigrant parents and studied at the Academy of Fine Arts at Antwerp. Sharp’s first trip to the West was in 1883 at age 24. He visited pueblos in New Mexico, Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Tucson. In his work, Harvest Dance, Sharp illustrates a strong skill set for painting the figure and depicting the sunlight on his subjects. Sharp went on to become one of the six founding members of the Taos Society of Artists.

Sargent Johnson Dance Hall Study

Sargent Claude Johnson, Dance Hall Study, 1935, Tempera, Watercolor, and Graphic on Illustration Board.

Born in Boston on October 7, 1887, Sargent Johnson was the third of six children of Anderson and Lizzie Jackson Johnson. Anderson Johnson was of Swedish ancestry, and his wife was Cherokee and African American. As a member of the bohemian San Francisco Bay community and influenced by the New Negro Movement, Sargent Johnson’s early work focused on racial identity. Johnson’s art ranged from African American masks to producing paintings of local folks and creating small, figurative sculptures. Dance Hall, a study in watercolor and graphite, was a study for the San Francisco Housing Authority mural.

Robert Henri Salome Dancer

Robert Henri, Salome Dancer, 1909, Oil on Canvas

Robert Henri (1865 – 1925) was a leading figure in the Ashcan School of American realism who helped organize a group known as “The Eight.” Henri studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia and under Thomas Anshutz, a protégé of Thomas Eakins. Art critic Robert Hughes declared that, “Henri wanted art to be akin to journalism. He wanted paint to be as real as mud, as the clods of horse-shit and snow, that froze on Broadway in the winter, as real a human product as sweat, carrying the unsuppressed smell of human life.” When Henri painted the dancer in the role of Salome, a seductress from the New Testament, in 1909, it was rejected by the National Academy because the exposed leg was considered too controversial by the fine arts world. Robert Henri was a popular and influential teacher at the Art Students League of New York.

Paul ManshipDancer & Gaselle

Paul Manship, Dancer & Gasell, Bronze, 1916

Paul Manship (1885 – 1966) was born in St. Paul, Minnesota and began his art studies at the St. Paul School of Art in Minnesota. From there he moved to Philadelphia and continued his education at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. At one time the country’s most famous exponent of Art Deco, he embraced archaic vocabularies of Greek, Roman and Indian art to create decorative, stylized, Neoclassical works. The statue in the fountain in New York City’s Rockefeller Plaza, Prometheus (1933), is one of his most famous works. The bronze Dancer and Gazelles, was completed in 1916 and won the National Academy prize in 1917. The tension in the small areas between the figures emphasizes the dancers’ gestures, which command the gazelles’ movements.

Dance Diagram A Wharhol

Andy Wharhol, Dance Diagram, 1962, Casein and Graphite on Linen

Andy Warhol (1927 -1987) a leading American Artist who ushered in the Pop Art movement, began to make paintings of iconic American objects such as dollar bills, mushroom clouds, electric chairs, and the most famous Campbell’s Soup can. The New York opening at the Stable Gallery on November 6, 1962, was Warhol’s first one-man show and also where he first debuted Dance Diagram. It was presented in a series featuring six additional Dance Diagrams with the source material taken from the Dance Guild’s 1956 book Fox Trot Made Easy. It shows Warhol’s interest in selecting objects from American culture as subjects for his artwork.

Biba Bell, a Detroiter who recently completed her PhD in performance studies at N.Y.U., says, “The ways that dance is taken up symbolically within visual art is so interesting! I’m imagining that each piece produces these figures and forms in diverse and unique ways, but there is something about the dancer, the body that is dancing, filled with movement and the moment and a kind of excess of life/ liveliness that is astounding and so important when depicting any culture.”

If you’re not a dance aficionado, Dance! American Art 1830 -1960 at the DIA might spark your interest, and while you’re in New York City, get tickets to see An American in Paris, by the Tony Award-winning choreographer Christopher Wheeldon who has created a critical and commercial success breaking new ground by bringing ballet to Broadway set to the music of the Gershwins.

I recall, my father watching black & white films of Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers for hours, and he tap-danced into his eighties. When I was very young, attending a family wedding, my parents did something rare; They danced. Everyone gathered around to watch them exhibit their talents publicly for maybe the last time. I was so very proud.

The Detroit Institute of Arts deserves credit for this curatorial creation of its own that will travel to the Denver Art Museum, July 10 – October 2, and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, October 22, 2016 – January 16, 2017.

Exhibition tickets are $14 for adults, $10 for Wayne, Oakland and Macomb county residents, $7 for ages 6–17, $5 for Wayne, Oakland and Macomb county residents ages 6–17, and free for DIA members. Admission is free every Friday. School groups need to register in advance. Tickets at dia.org or 313-833-4005

 

“Doubly So” @ CCS Center Galleries

Duplicity from Without and Within: Molly Soda, Sheida Soleimani, Sofia Szamosi, and Dessislava Terzieva

Image 1 Installation Shot Doubly So

Installation Image – “Doubly So” All Images Courtesy of Clara DeGalan

“Doubly So,” an exhibition conceived and curated by Samantha ‘Banks’ Schefman of Playground Detroit, that opened last Friday at Center Galleries at Detroit’s College for Creative Studies, features four up and coming artists exploring identity within social media from a (surprisingly illusive) outside perspective. The four engage with what builds an identity in the age of social media which, essentially, comprises being constantly seen, and our conflicted desires both for privacy (another increasingly illusive phenomenon) and for maximum exposure. That frisson between a desire for and retreat from exposure is grappled with most tellingly in the work of two of the artists, Molly Soda, and Sofia Szamosi. Both primarily feature their own faces and bodies in their work in “Doubly So,” and the impression is that they are objectifying themselves in an aim to draw discourse of the exhibitionism of the female body in popular culture back into the hands of women.

Image 2 Molly Soda Mary Kate 2015 Printed Fleece Blanket 60 in x 50 in

Molly Soda – Mary Kate 2015 – Printed Fleece Blanket 60 in x 50″

This practice has been pretty widespread in women’s art since the 1970’s (Szamosi’s archive of selfies strongly reference Hannah Wilke’s photographic self-portraits in content and form, and her film “Tarred and Feathered” channels the visceral imagery of the Abjectionist movement.)

Image 3 Sofia Szamosi Tarred and Feathered 2015 Digital Print with frame 31 in x 22 in

Sofia Szamosi – Tarred and Feathered – 2015 Digital Print with frame 31 in x 22″

In “Doubly So,” Szamosi’s identity unpacking feels a bit outdated at first look- the knee-jerk response is that this argument has already been made, again and again, and is past its vital currency. However, it still possesses the power to unsettle. Moving along Szamosi’s selfie chronology, taken in photo booths between 2005 and 2015, I couldn’t tell whether I was tired of seeing her body or jealous of its beauty. This uncertain response that wells up in me pretty much every time I am confronted with such work is a clue that our relationship with depictions of the female body, even by other females, is far from liberated or resolved.

Image 4 Sofia Szamosi 10 Years of Photobooth Self Portraits detail 2005 to 2015 194 original photo booth strips 8 in x 23 ft

Sofia Szamosi – 10 Years of Photobooth Self Portraits detail 2005 to 2015 194 original photo booth strips 8 in x 23 ft

Molly Soda has gained critical acclaim for her work in and about social media, and she plays with its tropes really cleverly. Her website (mollysoda.biz) is hilarious- for a moment you truly fear you’ve stumbled onto a bit of porn-saturated malware that is going to eat your computer alive, tiny gyrating women and pixilated graphics abounding. Her work in “Doubly So” follows Szamosi’s in winking exhibitionism that seeks to subvert assumptions about the exposure of women in social media. Soda poses as various celebrities caught in paparazzi shots as they fill parking meters, climb out of cars, pause for an ill-fated moment of unselfconsciousness while wading in the ocean.

Image 5 Molly Soda Selena 2016 Printed Fleece Blanket 60 in x 50 in

Molly Soda – Selena 2016 – Printed Fleece Blanket 60 in x 50″

There is an interesting commentary here on the scorn heaped upon these women for daring to appear in public in an un-camera-ready state. The large-scale portraits are printed on fleece blankets in a nod to commemorative kitsch- and perhaps a suggestion that we draw comfort from the exposed humanity of these pop culture goddesses. But should we? Are these images not as objectifying and offensive as the idealized, photo shopped guises we are used to seeing celebrities in? Soda’s work in “Doubly So” left me with a grim suspicion that autonomy of image in social media still alludes women, and it’s a problem we are going to have to spend a few more decades thinking our way around.

Soleimani and Terzieva, by contrast, do not place their likenesses into their work in “Doubly So,” which creates a wholly different dialog with identity’s plight in social media. So much of our engagement with the online world revolves around the persona we create for ourselves there, it’s easy to forget what that world is doing outside of our identity-building enterprise, and how the signals we receive (and do not receive) from it are informing or misleading us. Terzieva’s sprawling installation of twining USB cords, false flowers, and technological baubles in various states of decay comments on the mounds of obsolescence we leave in our wake in our hunger for ever swifter, sexier, newer conduits. Her sculptures of moss-coated smartphones embedded in piles of organic material are beautiful, and could have stood on their own without the prefabricated environment installed around them, which becomes a bit distracting. Terzieva’s best sculptures have old-school magnifying glasses affixed to them, through which one sees these objects blown up into delicate terrarium-like landscapes, in which the cell phone becomes strangely monolithic, or dissolves altogether into glittering shells and pebbles.

Image 6 Dessi Terzieva Nostalgia Feels Like Deja Vu 2016 Acrylic Concrete Seaweed Wax Cell Phone Battery iPhone 8 x 7 x 3 in

Dessi Terzieva – Nostalgia Feels Like Deja Vu – 2016 Acrylic Concrete Seaweed Wax Cell Phone Battery iPhone 8 x 7 x 3″

Soleimani’s work, bright and bubbly though its surfaces are, instantly grounds this digital universe in the grimmest of real calamities. Her series of archival pigment prints, and their accompanying soft sculptures, present portraits of Iranian women who have been publicly executed for what the governing regime in Iran defines as crimes, such as defending themselves from rape. Voices of dissent under a totalitarian government are rapidly squelched- the freedom with which we share our political beliefs on Facebook, and other social media is as much taken for granted in the United States as is the objectification of women’s bodies for worship, derision, or personal affirmation. Soleimani’s work achieves ever refining tension between sensual beauty and hard-hitting political content- her elaborate collages juxtapose brilliant colors and moist glittering surfaces with dismembered body parts and visual fever dream montages of oppression, control, rebellion, and terror. Her work in “Doubly So” tones things down a bit formally, maintaining the bright palette but letting the subjects of her portraits engage the viewer more quietly and directly, with stunned but defiant gazes and wringing, desperate hands.

Image 7 Sheida Soleimani Delara 2015 Soft Sculpture

Sheida Soleimani – Delara 2015 Soft Sculpture

 

Image 8 Sheida Soleimani Sakineh 2015 Archival pigment print with frame 41 in x 28 in

Sheida Soleimani Sakineh 2015 Archival pigment print with frame 41 in x 28 in

Soleimani’s soft sculpture portraits of these doomed women call to mind a passage from Lewis H. Lapham’s preamble essay to the Spring 2016 issue of Lapham’s Quarterly, the theme of which is “Disaster.” “…( a joint venture of money and machine), the danse macabre surrounding us onscreen reduces human beings to things- broken toys, smashed dollhouse furniture… Too far removed or arriving too late on the scene, the camera doesn’t grasp the human response in the eye of the storm.” The doll-like construction of Soleimani’s sculptures evokes the loss in translation of the real horror of these women’s lives and deaths, glimpsed briefly via digital stream. As the press release for “Doubly So” is careful to note, “Though it has been an ongoing political struggle for American women to fight for gender justice and equality, it pales in comparison to the totalitarian government of Iran that will sentence one to death for speaking up against them on such social media streams as Facebook.” “Doubly So” attempts to find common ground between the struggle for autonomous identity faced by American women and the daily life-and-death struggle Iranian women must undergo, yet, as the press release cannot help but state, the former struggle simply pales when juxtaposed with the latter.

“Doubly So” is on display at Center Galleries at The College for Creative Studies March 19 through April 23, 2016

 

“Transitions” @ the Galerie Camille

The Art of Shifting Stillness: Brian Day and William Harris

Galerie Camille Install-1 (1)

“Transitions” at Galerie Camille, Installation View, Courtesy of Galerie Camille All other images Courtesy of Clara DeGalan

Galerie Camille’s current show features the work of two artists at two very different points in their careers- Brian Day, an established Detroit area photographer, and William Harris, a painter and former student at College for Creative Studies. At first glance, the two couldn’t be more different, stylistically, technically, or conceptually. That is part of the point, says Melannie Chard, director of Galerie Camille, a recent addition to Midtown’s mushrooming gallery district. “It is actually my intention to continue to exhibit established artists with newer artists, and you will see this theme in upcoming shows as well… I like that it provides an opportunity to introduce collectors to new work, and the artists seem to enjoy the collaboration which ultimately strengthens the artistic community.” Chard’s conviction that there is room for everybody in Detroit’s exhibition roster, and her commitment to showcasing new and potentially risky work, is welcome news that immediately sets Galerie Camille apart in a scene that can feel insular and difficult to gain exposure in.

The work of Day and Harris shown side by side is proof that Chard’s formula is potent. In nearly every respect, Harris is the Appletini to Day’s Grey Goose, neat- both get you there, via different styles, materials, and combinations. Both, however, derive from the same culture, and are hunting down the same distillation- the human figure as it inhabits, symbolizes, and claims its stake in iconic architectural structure.

1 William Harris Onementum Oil on Linen 40 x 30

William Harris, Onementum – Oil on Linen 40 x 30

SONY DSC

Brian Day, In The Air Tonight, Photograph on Paper, 11.5 X 17.5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harris is a hitherto self-taught painter whose style is in a state of fraught transition, as it becomes overlaid with academic techniques and compositional tropes. His work, at this point, maintains an ardent, romantic floridity and an endearing improvisational use of materials that speaks both to his naiveté and his sincerity. His subject matter involves various experiments in dissolving figural repetitions into cavernous architectural spaces, drawing imagery from Surrealism, documentary images of derelict architectural spaces, and what I can only define as a romantic music video aesthetic.

3 William Harris Empirical Light Oil on Linen 48 x 36

William Harris, Empirical Light – Oil on Linen 48 x 36

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

His technique and subject matter are still finding their way- his rendering of hands is particularly problematic, especially juxtaposed with his incredible facility with faces, and eyes in particular- his figures manage to be both iconic of the structures they are overlaid onto, and autonomous characters in their own right, who engage the viewer, from one piece to the next, with an unsettlingly steady, appraising return gaze. Harris’ technical foibles would be less distracting if they were more intentional and canny- which might, ironically, throw off the crystalline sincerity of his work.

Day, by stark contrast, is a mature artist in full command of his powers. His photographs are fluent masterworks, each finding a balance between content and form that evokes the early Constructivist photography of Alexander Rodchenko.

4 Brian Day Feel No Pain Photograph on Paper 7.5 x 11.5

Brian Day, Feel No Pain – Photograph on Paper 7.5 x 11.5

Like Rodchenko, Day grounds his work in a deceptively straightforward, documentary style that speaks simultaneously in a more subversive formal language, conjuring gorgeous abstractions in light and shadow even while capturing candid moments of human passage through urban space. Day’s documents of action, while political in their content (his body of work “Planet Detroit” depicts the ravages of house fires in run-down neighborhoods, seen up close as fire fighters battle with them, or at a distance, as grim vertical plumes of smoke rise against a scene of daily urban transit) dwell in the formal beauty of these arrangements of light and shadow as well, with a lightness of touch that offsets the potential for objectification that lurks in his subject matter- Day is able to see both horror and beauty from ground level.

The two artists share an interest in the vital role human action plays in the life of architecture, and, in turn, how the narrative of that architecture informs the culture that inhabits it- the embattled maintenance and slow decay of the structures that define our landscape becomes part of our viscera, as well as the scenery of our daily movements. It will be interesting to see where Harris takes his exploration of the figure’s physical and metaphorical weaving into structures. The formal lushness of Day’s work supplements, rather than distracts from, the problematic grittiness of his subject matter. Finding visual rhymes and formal touchstones between the two artist’s pieces is one of the great pleasures of “Transitions.” Both are asserting themselves as vital voices in this epochal moment that work made in and about Detroit is experiencing.

“Transitions” is on view at Galerie Camille from March 11 through April 1, 2016.       http://www.galeriecamille.com/

“Surrealism: The Conjured Life” @ MCA Chicago

Stop Making Sense at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago

MCA2 Intallation

“Surrealism: A Conjured Life” installation view All Images Courtesy of Sarah Rose Sharp

There is a fairly structured approach to cognitive development within our society—we try to make order of chaos. We assigned meanings to symbols (like letters or shapes), and organize those symbols in configurations that generate more complex meanings (like words or images), and continue along, stringing together ever-greater numbers of shapes and letters to make cogent arguments and beautiful imagery. We (hopefully) teach our young people fluency with the existing sets of shapes and letters, so they can grow up to understand all the meaning that has come before, and potentially contribute thoughts of their own to the collective understanding.

Unless we don’t. The Surrealist movement, which formally emerged in Paris in the mid-1920s, supplanted the basic order of established meaning, challenging straight-line association and favoring experimentation across a wide range of media, including theater, writing, film, poetry, and of course, visual art. A survey of foundational and second-generation Surrealist art from the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) collection provides a vivid showcase of some of the lesser-known founders of Surrealism and those that followed in their footsteps—including a number of Chicago-based contemporary artists—and underscores the difficulty inherent in making work that disrupts the basic building blocks of meaning, as they are instilled in most of us from a young age. The work on display includes sculpture, paintings, drawings, and multi-media installations, and a wild array of subjects, rife with texture and symbols. Paradoxically, the exhibition materials provided by MCA immediately attempt to contextualize and categorize some of the symbols, themes, and motifs commonly explored by Surrealists—including death, winged messengers, sleep and dreams, the grotesque, mannequins and dolls, and phantasmagoria—which to some degree undermines the destabilizing objectives of Surrealism as a movement. Again, being nonsensical, generating and/or accepting ambiguous meaning in art, is harder than it initially seems.

MCA4 wire sculptures on wood

Harry Bertoia, Landscape Fantasy (n.d.), Lead, wire, and stone slab

The gallery is organized into two spaces, an inner circle with rich purple walls that displays some of the movement’s foundational contributors, such as Max Ernst, René Magritte, Dorothea Tanning, Kay Sage, and Remedios Varo. There are some outstanding works here, each radically different from the next – the aesthetics of Surrealism are as disparate and personal as the individuals who worked within the movement. Landscape Fantasy (n.d.) by Harry Bertoia is a delicate collection of lead and wire constructions, resembling a flea circus-like playscape, on a stone slab. This minimal and understated work sits just adjacent to Punching General (1969) by Enrico Baj—an cartoonishly-shaped and upholstered military figure on a spring, designed, presumably, to act as a sparring partner for the expression of animosity toward the military state. Within a nearby patch of wall is a four-part installation by Doris Salcedo; Atrabiliarios (1993) encases shoes recovered from victims of mass violence in wall niches, stitching them in behind semi-opaque membranes that give them an otherworldly quality.

MCA11 group pieces

Marcos, Raya, Night Nurse (1993/96), Installation view

Things are no less esoteric and trippy in the outer ring, which highlights Chicago-based artists that were influenced by the Surrealist movement. An entire wall is devoted to Marcos Raya’s disturbing installation Night Nurse (1993/96), which feels as though one of Frida Kahlo’s medical forensic paintings jumped its frame to become a department store window display. Paintings on Plexiglass suggest internal organs, literally hidden levels of processing, and highly textured paintings pile on revelations in the opposite direction—Surrealists were seemingly obsessed with abstracted notions of the body’s inner workings. The Rascette (1961) by H.C. Westermann, attempts to highlight the secret information encoded in our very palms. A freestanding display presents a two-sided work by Henry Darger—Chicago’s much posthumously celebrated outsider artist, who spent his professional life as a hospital custodian, all the while working on an longform manuscript peppered with illustrations of kewpiesque children in various fantasy states, that is equally disturbing as it is inspired.

MCA7 wooden hand

H.C. Westermann, The Rascette (1961), Painted woo

MCA9 wood soldier

Enrico Baj, Punching General (1969), Vinyl, metal, cloth, ribbon, foam,

Many contemporary artists in various media have used transcendental meditation as a method for discovering new perspectives and inspiration, and some of them—for example, filmmaker David Lynch—create work that is among the most challenging, dislocating, and original, in a field dominated by sloppy exposition and audience hand-holding. “Surrealism: The Conjured Life” presents a critical mass of work that collectively instigates a kind of dream state—surrounded by so much disordered thought, the viewer cannot help but surrender, at least temporarily, and cease to impose logic upon what she sees.

For some, this may prove to be an extremely alienating experience, but for this reviewer, it is a welcome respite from the cultural spoon-feeding that is the hallmark of our media age, designed to sell consumer products, above all else. Any one of the works in the exhibition would be worthy of longer consideration, but the best effect of all is the collective disorientation. It is a very different kind of shock and awe than the political and media process used to handily to inspire fear and division among the populace; it is a confusion that inspires wondering, and with it, transcendence.

 

 

Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Illinois     https://mcachicago.org/Home

No Boundaries @ the Charles Wright Museum

 

Installation

No Boundaries, Installation Image – All Images Courtesy of Ron Scott

As part of a national tour, No Boundaries opened at the Charles Wright Museum of African American History on January 18, 2016. The exhibition represents nine aboriginal artists from the continent of Australia who were inspired by their ancient cultural traditions. The contemporary exhibition incorporates more than 75 paintings created between 1992 and 2012. The works are drawn from the collection of Debra and Dennis Scholl, Miami-based collectors and philanthropists.

“The artists all have a common thread, and each had reached a senior status in their communities.” said Dennis Scholl. “We chose works by those who, to paraphrase the artist Paddy Bedford, after having painted all of their mother ‘country’, and finally chose to simply paint.”

The indigenous aboriginal art of Australia has a rich history that has been studied by scholars from all parts of the world, especially the work that pre-dates the European colonization. The oldest forms are the paintings on rock in Central Australia that depict people, animals, plant life and spirituality. It is believed that Aboriginal people are the descendants of a single migration from Africa to the continent 64,000 to 75,000 years ago. All the artifacts and the earliest human remains suggest that the region now referred to as Queensland, was the single most densely populated area of pre-colonialized Australia. But this exhibition is about contemporary Aboriginal art that, according to some artists, is tied to their past.

Paddy Beford Ngamalingy 2003

Paddy Bedford, 70 X 64 Polymer on Canvas

Paddy Bedford comes from Jurrawun, Australia and spoke the Gila language. His work was integral to the development of the landmark exhibition, “Blood on the Spinifex” that was held at the Ian Potter Museum at the University of Melbourne in 2002. In his artwork, he introduced a new expressionism, one that recognized the use of both positive and negative space and stark contrast. He rose to national acclaim when his images brought to memory the station massacres, because to some, they symbolized aerial maps. Paddy Bedford’s work is held in collections throughout Australia, Europe and the United States.

Boxer M Tjampitjin Purkiti 2005

Boxer Milner Tjampitijin, 40 X 32, Polymer on Canvas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boxer Milner began painting in the 1980s at the Warlayirti Art Center in the Wirrimanku Balgo region. Buried in his palette and restricted formal syntax is his mastery of geometry and form. These rigid structures with high-keyed colored geometric shapes offer a rare idiosyncratic iconography not seen in other aboriginal art. Rendered in a measured architecture of lines and dots, they move into a more sophisticated sense of design. His work is part of many collections throughout Australia and at the National Gallery of Victoria.

Tommy Mitchel 2012

Tommy Mitchel, 36 X 36, Polymer on Canvas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Born in the Gibson Desert near Papulankutja, Tommy Mitchel came to painting late in life. His glowing fields of overlapping dots create a patchwork of grids. Mitchel was quickly recognized as a regional talent at the Warakurna Art Centre. His graceful use of color and space take the viewer on a visual journey. He has described his work as drawing on his early life in the Ngaanyatjarra Country where he wandered as a child. His work is part of many collections, including the National Gallery of Victoria and the Art Gallery of South Wales.

Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri Kalparti 2003

Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri, 66 X 70, Polymer on Canvas

Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri is originally from Lake MacKay but lived nomadically with his family in the remote western desert. He eventually settled in to paint at the Papunya Tula Art Centre. His swirling lines of dots create a pulsating field of optical intensity. Shimmering like a mirage, they invoke a shifting of movement in the desert sand, a metaphor for the energy fields while ‘Dreaming’ that runs through everything. His work is part of many collections in Australia, including the National Gallery of Australia.

There is a wall of introductory information presented in the exhibition that includes biographies of each artist. The material introduces the term ‘Dreaming’ which occurs while the artist is awake or sleep. “For the artists in this exhibition, the Dreaming goes by different names: Tjukurrpa in the Western Desert; Ngarranggarni in the Kimberley; and Derulo in the North. The Dreaming incorporates ancestral beings, the creation of the universe and the laws governing social and religious behavior. It also dictates connections to a place that define individual Aboriginal identities. The Dreaming encodes the location of essential waterholes and food sources into stories, dances, and song.”

There is a short video as part of the exhibition, which is narrated by an art gallery owner. The cut-away shots of aboriginal people show them with little clothing and often sitting on the ground painting their dots. It caused this writer to research the history of the Aboriginal people of Australia which uncovered concerns raised by a United Nations report about unethical and discriminatory practices against Aboriginal indigenous people. Australia’s 460,000 Aborigines make up about 2 per cent of the population. They suffer higher rates of unemployment, substance abuse, and domestic violence than other Australians and have an average life expectancy of 17 years less than the rest of the country.

What would be educational in this exhibition is a section that places these artists in context to the overall treatment of these native indigenous people, their heritage, cultural, traditions, and challenges in a land that was colonized by Western Europeans in the mid-1700s. I am sure this kind of national show has been vetted and follows ethical standards for procurement by the collectors. Overall, the exhibition is a very good introduction to this contemporary art movement created by a native people whose art deserves recognition around the world.

This exhibit is free with museum admission. No Boundaries: Aboriginal Australian Contemporary Abstract Painting originated at the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno, Nevada and was organized by William Fox, Director, Center for Art and Environment, and scholar Henry Skerritt.

http://thewright.org/index.php/visit/general-info