Art Basel Miami @ Detroit Art Review

Miami Art week, the mammoth fine art fair comprised of Art Basel Miami Beach plus twenty satellite fairs, events and parties, salted around the city like raisins in a fruitcake,  has just ended.   It was an all-you-can see buffet of contemporary art, much of it excellent. It’s impossible to see it all without developing a serious case of esthetic indigestion. But my project to see the art coming from the Great Lakes region, and Detroit in particular, made the task more manageable.

A string of fairs located in lavish oversize tents, Scope, Pulse, Untitled, Context and Art Miami, were lined up along the beach and interspersed with large public art works exposed to the sun and air.   Art Miami, at 30, which predates Art Basel and is the oldest and one of the most respected  fairs,  is where I found David Klein Gallery’s booth. This year, the gallery showcased a  collection of Detroit artists who will be familiar to anyone who’s been paying attention, as well as a couple of talented newcomers.

David Klein Booth at Art Miami, Photo by K.A. Letts 2019

Gallerist David Klein told me that the gallery opened its first booth at Art Miami 11 years ago, during the height of the Great Recession, and that they’ve been coming every year since.  The booth was anchored by Kelly Reemtsen’s monumental Rise Up.The warm Miami air seemed to billow the voluminous taffeta skirt of her genteel but assertive debutante, and the light in the heavy white  impasto surrounding the figure felt a little different on the beach in Miami than it had when I saw the piece in Detroit.

Rosalind Tallmadge and Marianna Olague, two recent graduates of Cranbrook Art Academy, were represented by David Klein in Miami this year. Klein described Cranbrook as “…a great resource for us. Rosalind we met when she was in the painting program [there] and Marianna Olague is also a very recent Cranbrook grad.” Artworks by the two seemed to respond to the ambient Florida sunshine, though in different ways.  Tallmadge’s formal mica, glass bead and metal leaf-encrusted artworks, which seem more the product of geology than of art, shimmered, while Marianna Olague’s self-contained and pensive young women occupied a pictorial space suffused with the warm light of her native El Paso.

Marianna Olague, Here Lies Toro, 2019, David Klein Gallery, Art Miami, 2019

Mario Moore, The Visit, 2019, David Klein Gallery, Art Miami, photo courtesy David Klein Gallery

David Klein Gallery has routinely shown the work of African American artists, but suddenly at Art Basel Miami Beach 2019, there was a notable increase in artists of color prominently displayed throughout all the fairs. Mario Moore’s large single-subject portraits were exactly on trend.  The self-possessed, casually dressed inhabitants in Moore’s paintings, situated comfortably in their everyday  environments, projected confidence and understated dignity.

The highest concentration of Detroit representation was at NADA (New Art Dealers Alliance), which bodes well for the future of the art scene in Detroit.  This fair shows work by up-and-coming galleries and artists (and famously provides a hunting ground for more established galleries hoping to poach promising young artists.) Held in the Ice Palace Studios, Nada’s relaxed atmosphere, with some artworks scattered around the grounds and hammocks and picnic blankets provided for physically exhausted and/or visually overstimulated fairgoers, was a welcome change from the more aggressively commercial fairs.

Detroit was represented in the main exhibitors’ section by Simone DeSousa Gallery and Reyes/Finn. And in the NADA Projects section–a sort of junior NADA–I encountered Detroit Presents, a collection of Islamic prayer rug-inspired collages by Anthony Giannini presented by Detroit Art Week.

This was the second year that that Simone DeSousa has represented artists at NADA. She chose to exhibit the work of two Detroit-based creatives, Veha Nedpathak and Iris Eichenberg. NedPathak’s richly colored, freeform process-derived paper tapestries, created by her self-invented ritualistic practice, contrasted nicely with Eichenberg’s light absorbing, idiosyncratic black objects.

Neha Vedpathak, So many stars in the sky some for me and some for them, 2018, Simone DeSousa Gallery, NADA (photo courtesy of Simone DeSousa Gallery)

Iris Eichenberg, Untitled, Simone DeSousa Gallery, NADA, photo by K.A. Letts

When I asked DeSousa about her plans for future art fairs, she pointed out that there is considerable expense involved in participating, but the Nada fair makes the most sense for the gallery, and so far it has proved to be a good showcase for the artists and for her. It’s likely that she will to present artists from her gallery there in future.

A more conceptual vibe prevailed at Reyes/Finn, where the frosty glow of Detroit-born Maya Stovall’s hermetic neon signs referred to year dates significant to the artist and referenced coincident meaningful cultural touchstones. These gnomic objects, though compelling in themselves, represent only a small portion of Stovall’s work in performance, installation and video. Co-exhibitor Nick Doyle celebrated common man-made objects raised to monumental scale–a giant wall outlet, a huge, discarded coffee cup–rendered in denim-blue, a color both common and cool.

Maya Stovall, 1959 from 1526 (NASDAQ:FAANG) series, 2019, photo by K.A. Letts

Nick Doyle, Shutter, 2019, Reyes/Finn Gallery, NADA, photo by K.A. Letts

The street art esthetic that is so prevalent in Detroit was noticeably absent from the established fairs, with the exception of Scope, where I saw a pair of Chicago galleries, Vertical and Line Dot Editions, that carried the flag for that way of thinking and making.   The Mana Wynwood neighborhood is the place to see that esthetic expressed. A lot of the art is on the street, and it’s rude and risky.  Some of the most impressive work that I saw in this vein wasn’t in a fair at all, but at Mana Contemporary, where Miami’s indigenous art community has a home. There, I saw work that hasn’t (yet) made it into the mainstream unless you count a small piece by Karl Wirsum that I glimpsed in the back room at Corbett vs. Dempsey in their Art Basel Miami Beach exhibit. And Detroit/Brooklyn-based SaveArtSpace.org  engaged in its usual end run around the establishment, with three street-side bus stop ads featuring the work of Chris Pyrate, Brian Cattelle and Peat “EYEZ” Wolleager.

Keya Tama, Love Trap, Mana Contemporary, Wynwood neighborhood, photo by K.A. Letts

Peat “EYEZ” Walleager, EYE Want You by, SaveArtSpace.org, (photo courtesy of SaveArtSpace.org)

A visit to Miami Art Week is probably the most efficient way to take the pulse of the art scene now, in all its diversity and variety, even though you may come away troubled, as I did. I found that the art world is just another part of the real world, where the .1 percent, by virtue of its vast resources, decides how art is defined and commodified. And lingering in the distance like a thundercloud is climate change, a looming presence that’s hard to ignore while looking at art on a vulnerable beach.

Miami Art Basel, December 2019

 

 

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.

 

100 Photographs: Detroit 1970-1990 @ CCS Center Galleries

100 Photographs: Detroit 1970-1990 opened to the public on November 16 and closes on December 15, 2019, at College for Creative Studies’ Center Galleries. Featured are five social documentary photographers: Michelle Andonian, David Griffith, Don Hudson, Dave Jordano, and Glenn Treist.

Installation Image, 100 Photogrpraphs 1970-90, CCS Center Galleres 2019 All images courtesy of Olivia Gilmore

The gallery is designed in such a way that viewers naturally move through the space in a counter-clockwise motion. A symbolic gesture—the cyclical and counter-clockwise arrangement of the photographs thrusts Detroit’s past into the present moment—linear time dissipates as recurrent history reflects back at the viewer.
A look (back?) into the mirror of history; motifs on situations that are strangely ongoing in Detroit’s and America’s present. In other words, the exhibition is a poignant reminder that we still have much work to do. The image planes are brimming with people: striking, gathering, celebrating. Of course, there are quiet moments of pleasure, too.

In its totality, the exhibition captures a parallel Detroit that is not so different from today, despite the modern trimmings that have made the city today appear different prima facie.

Michelle Andonian, Fleetwood Cadillac Plant, 1987

Andonian’s photograph, Fleetwood Cadillac Plant, 1987, captures a strike at General Motors automobile factory, likely before it closed the same year and left 1,500 workers jobless. There is a sense of solidarity between the picketing crowd, likely workers who were facing joblessness upon the plant’s closing. The photograph recalls the recent past: the nearly six-week-long United Auto Workers strike of G.M., which concluded in October of 2019 with workers successfully gaining wage increases and additional benefits; it also echoes the more than soon-to-be-laid-off workers at the G.M. Hamtramck-Detroit.

Glenn Treist, Woman with Roses on Overpass, Summer 1983

Triest’s image, Woman with Roses on Overpass, Summer 1983, is a sweet moment. Flowers cover a portion of the woman’s face, and although the photograph is in black-and-white, one could swear that the roses are yellow, or maybe pink. The viewer enters the frame and can imagine the vibrancy of the hot, summer day and the smell of the roses. It is difficult to say if she is aware of the camera or not—does she gracefully look away—knowingly? Or is she just as wholly absorbed as we are on her walk?

Dave Jordano, Man Handing Out Muslim Newspapers, Detroit 1973

Jordano’s Man Handing Out Muslim Newspapers, Detroit 1973 is of a man at perhaps the state fairgrounds or a public outdoor event passing out Mohammed Speaks the official newspaper of the African American political and religious organization the Nation of Islam, from 1960 to 1975. His brow is furrowed perhaps because of the camera nearby, because of bright sun, or a mixture of both. At first glance, he looks ahead focused intently on something else, however on second glance, we realize he could be looking at the camera. His crisp suit and pensive stance impart an absolute seriousness and determination.

David Griffith, Detroit, Michigan 1980

Griffith’s image Detroit, Michigan 1980 depicts a bevy of blonde women bearing sashes that read “Dutch’s Dollies,” along with matching gingham skirts and sheer, white blouses. Men are dispersed behind them. Dutch was Ronald Reagan’s nickname, and surely this was the Republican National Convention of 1980 held at the now-defunct Joe Louis Arena. On the right side of the image plane is a woman adorning a patriotic “I’m for Reagan” boater hat. The women are in song or in a chant. Not too dissimilar from the 2016 RNC outfits, except for the fact that at the latter convention, the skimmer hats were replaced with cowboy hats, and the outfits were patriotic cum cowboy regalia.

Don Hudson, Detroit, State Fairgrounds, 1980

In Hudson’s photograph, Detroit, State Fairgrounds, 1980, the focal point is of the man, kneeling on a blanket; he gazes through the eyepiece of an 81 MM Mortar assault weapon. The M29 Mortar was notably used just five years prior—throughout the duration of the Vietnam War. The man is flanked by other men and boys. Close by, on another blanket, stands a young boy, five or six, passively holding a rifle and smiling half-heartedly at his father snapping a photo.

100 Photographs: Detroit 1970 – 1990, CCS Center Galleries through December 15, 2019

Richard Prince: Portraits @ MOCAD

“Richard Prince: Portraits,” Installation image, 2019 – Image Courtesy of MOCAD

Richard Prince, who invented “rephotography” back in 1977, is still at it in 2019, apparently undeterred by any number of litigious skirmishes and accelerating technology. The 91 works on view in Portraits, his plainly titled exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, have been appropriated from Instagram (IG), the mega-expanding social-media platform, founded in 2010, that now counts some 600 million plus users. That number alone offers the omnivorous Prince a mind boggling trove from which to lift, enlarge, and revamp the posts of swanning millennials and Generation Z’s from which he draws his subjects.

As curated by director Elysia Borowy-Reeder and installed in the largest of MOCAD’s galleries, the hang is an unexpectedly old fashioned one: Salon style, cheek by jowl in multiple tiers, canvases ganged nearly edge to edge, blanketing every square inch of wall space available. Moreover, the format from image to image is identical, the portrait looms at the top followed by multiple lines of text: up first is often a description drafted by the Instagrammer, then the greedily coveted tally of “likes,” #hashtags, comments from sundry “followers,” and a concluding cryptic blurb by Prince or one of his handles (@joankatzz, for example). The whopping impact of 90-plus ink jetted canvases of widely different sizes is pretty overwhelming, the antithesis of a standard line-up of worthies stationed at eye level.

“Richard Prince: Portraits,” Installation image, 2019 – Image Courtesy of MOCAD

Prince rather vividly narrates in a wall text and poster how the immersion in IG posts is like scurrying down a rabbit hole for hours on end following a gazillion leads, threads, and hashtags in pursuit of portrait material. In an excerpt from his journal Birdtalk, he lays out the raison d’etre of his motives and practice: “I can start out with someone I know and then check out who they follow or who’s following them, and the rabbit hole takes on an outer body experience where you suddenly look at the clock and it’s three in the morning. I end up on people’s grids that are so far removed from where I began it feels psychedelic.”

“Richard Prince: Portraits,” Installation image, 2019 – Image Courtesy of MOCAD

Embarking on a similar process, museum visitors pan across the fatiguing (periodic pauses are recommended) array of images; espy known (Miley Cyrus, Brooke Shields) or unknown subjects; parse texts replete with non sequiturs, truncated spellings, made-up words, and innuendoes; identify recognizable operatives (Jerry Saltz, New York art critic, John Sinclair, Michigan activist); overlook absent punctuation, dismiss absurdities, treasure pearls of wisdom, decode overabundant emojis, and so on.

Richard Prince, “Untitled (@gab3),” Ink jet on canvas, c. 2015-19 Image Courtesy of DAR

AND marvel and revel in the visual audacity, weirdness, and sexiness of poses, gestures, facial expressions, props, costumes, and locales, from @psytranceclub’s transformation into an elegant, horned human and animal hybrid to embody her belief in the bond between species, to the surreality of the necklace of shoes that circles the torso of @violetchachki, or the rarified identity between owner and pet in @katevitamin, in which both mistress and hairless cat sport blond bobs. A visitor might also be moved by the sad young men backdropped by a Los Angeles sunset in @gab3; one wears a Hello Kitty sweatshirt, the other hangs a cross on a chain over a skull emblazoned top. Alternatively, an onlooker might be swept along by @barbaraperezw, a bronzed surfer with wind-blown hair blithely skateboarding to her destination. Hair, big or razor sharp, figures in @afropunk and @fatalbert69: perhaps she calls to mind Diana Ross or Angela Davis as commentator @joankatzz snidely trolls (while also name-checking John Sinclair); and he, via a mirror, simultaneously displays both a tousled hairstyle head on and a sharply etched zig-zag design on sides and back.

Richard Prince, “Untitled (@barbaraperezw),” Ink jet on canvas, c. 2015-19 Image Courtesy of DAR

Taxing as surveying these and other abutting panels is, MOCAD’s installation and Prince’s modus operandi further ramp up the impact of Portraits.  The austere white walls of the gallery, the bright, shadow free fluorescent lighting, and the absence of any ancillary furnishings—benches, pedestals, or caption labels—plus Prince’s smooth, toothless canvas in a brilliant white–manufacture a crisp, chilly white on white perimeter. The fusion of Prince’s art and the museum’s style of display heightens the focus on the IG subculture (per Prince’s nomenclature) and the performative, narcissistic display of its followers.

Richard Prince, “Untitled (@afropunk),” Ink jet on canvas, c. 2015-19 Image Courtesy of DAR

Portraits exists, simultaneously, as a group display of appropriated Instagram accounts (two thirds of and by women); and a showcase of Prince’s enlarged screenshots which he hijacked by appending strings of obscure, laconic comments; and as recollections of the portraits/self-portraits vaingloriously posted by the initial Instagrammers. That’s three shows in one generated by the umpteen intersecting and overlapping dynamics of these pieces, so it is no surprise that Prince refers to his portrait spawn as “friendly monsters.”

“Richard Prince: Portraits” remains on view at MOCAD through January 5, 2020

 

Landscapes @ Henry Ford College Sisson Art Gallery

Landscapes Through Michigan Eyes Hosts Local Artists

Installation Panoram image, All images courtesy of Henry Ford College Art Gallery, 2019

When we survey the majority of classic art imagery that has evolved over the last few hundred years, it could be divided easily into three categories:  Still life, figurative and landscape. Who dominates landscape painting historically would-be artists? El Greco, Vincent Van Gogh, J.M. Turner, John Constable, Claude Monet, Paul Gauguin, Paul Cezanne, and the Americans Andrew Wyeth, Edward Hopper and Georgia O’Keefe, to select only a few of many.

The Henry Ford College exhibition Landscapes Through Michigan Eyes hosts local Michigan artists. The exhibition’s co-curators Donald Cronkhite and Steve Glazer selected contemporary artists who work in a variety of styles and visually demonstrate how their work has been inspired by this time-tested genre. As artists continue to expand the direction images and experience take them, the landscape remains a strong contender for subject matter. I would suggest that by using scenes of nature as a way to tell a story, illustrate an idea, or conceptualize a metaphor, the genre continues to provide an outlet for artistic inventiveness.

Jim Nawara, “Buena Visa,” Oil on Linen, 40 x 54 inches, 2013

In Jim Nawara’s 40 x 54-inch oil painting titled Buena Vista, the viewer looks through a wide horizontal window of a red brick wall at a vast and arid terrain with mountains on the horizon.  What strikes me first is the concept, followed by the composition, convincing depiction of light and the subtle use of the three primary colors. It seems like an abstraction played out in the single point perspective painting that delves into magical realism when it creates this ambiguity between nature and a man-made structure. Better understood by non-Western cultures, when the viewer settles in their own experience, Nawara paints a realistic view in an unrealistic setting.

He has stated that he often prefers depopulated, nondescript or non-picturesque sources. “The subject does not need to be obviously beautiful, grand, or pristine.”

While his compositions involve the creation of illusions and allusions concerning particular places and things in the world, Nawara has said,  “I am interested in natural and unnatural visual events in landscape.  These events may be grand, unimportant, profound, or quirky.  While an image usually evolves from an actual place, the paintings are essentially abstract configurations of shape, space, color, and light that I perceive or imagine within a subject from the beginning.  Ultimately the work is about interpretation, invention, and memory, as well as the physical process of painting.  I consider subject matter a vehicle to express something ineffable, yet guided by acute observation, history, and by the inspirational works of a wide variety of fine artists, past and present.”

Jim Nawara earned a BFA degree from the Art Institute of Chicago and his MFA degree in painting at the University of Illinois, Champaign.  Nawara is a Professor Emeritus of Painting & Drawing in the James Pearson Duffy Department of Art and Art History at Wayne State University in Detroit, where he taught for forty-six years.  His paintings, drawings and prints have been exhibited in more than 250 international, national and regional group exhibitions as well as nine solo exhibitions.

Bill Jackson, “Tolstoy’s War and Peace” , 37” x 50″

When I think about the late Bill Jackson’s work, it’s the reflections of aquatic reeds and rushes in a still pond that stays with me.  Jackson was a Detroit photographer of abstraction who contributed to the community of photography immensely, most recently at the Marshall Fredericks Sculpture Museum in Saginaw, MI, with his exhibition Stillness at Dawn. Jackson’s 30 x 50-inch landscape  Tolstoy’s War and Peace takes on a daguerreotype feel of an elevated perspective of an abstract field image, but as the title suggests, he may have seen it as a metaphor for a field of war.

Jackson said, “My photography is sparse. Some images are dramatic encounters.  Others invite exploration and contemplation.  But they say no more than necessary.  I got there by going everywhere else first”.  Bill Jackson earned his Ph.D, at Monteith College, Wayne State University, and passed away last November 2018.

Tommy Wilson, "Stillness", 19 x 19", Oil on Linen, Mixed Media

Tommy Wilson, “Stillness”, 19 x 19″, Mixed Media

Tommy Wilson’s work has been consumed by landscape for many years as he found subject matter in rural settings and the urban environment. In each situation, he sought out strong compositions in empty houses amongst fallen dwellings, dominated by the negative space in dilapidated doors and windows. I was fortunate to see his work evolve while he completed his MFA at Wayne State University in 2017. Here in the work Stillness, he presents a watercolor of trees set on a wooden shelf with a companion scroll that pulls on the viewer’s imagination.

He says in his statement,  “As a studio artist, I work primarily with oil paint and various surfaces to capture the stories that land and urban-scapes tell. I find that these environments  share visual narratives which resonate both personal and collective truths.”

Lucille Nawara, Platte River, 24 x 43, Oil on Linen, 2000

In  Lucille Nawara’s oil painting  Platte River  she brings her experience and knowledge of chiaroscuro, along with her direct observation on site.  Her composition  draws the viewer into her composition of light, color, texture, and space. The southern sunlight from the left provides strong cast shadows of the dense trees  onto the grasses on this promontory.  These energetic shadows and grasses  contrast  the  more peaceful brilliant  background dunes  and meandering river that flows into Lake Michigan on the horizon.  She says in her statement, “I sketched  directly on the canvas with blue oil paint diluted with mineral spirits, then painted this landscape  for four consecutive long days in chilly mid-October. The composition and colors were established  in situ, then later finished in the home studio with photos as reference for details.”

Lucille Procter Nawara is a Detroit-based landscape painter and printmaker. She graduated from Smith College earning a BA, spent 1 ½ years studying painting, life drawing and printmaking at Boston University, then earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Illinois, in Champaign-Urbana. She has been an assistant professor and instructor, for over 20 years, teaching drawing, painting, and design at Wayne State University, Cranbrook Academy of Art, and the College for Creative Studies in Detroit.

Rick Vian, “Trout Fishing in Armenia”, 60 x 72″, Oil on Linen, 2015

The Detroit artist Rick Vian brings his love of landscape to this lively abstract expressionistic composition, Trout Fishing in Armenia, revealed to this viewer by a knowledge of his entire body of work. Although Vian’s work over thirty years is dominated by abstraction, he has a large group of work that is derived from his time spent in the woods of the upper peninsula, an extensive collection of both drawing and large oil paintings of trees. It would seem very possible to this writer that Vian’s landscape work would surely inform the abstract work. This fiery new painting, Trout Fishing in Armenia, introduces contrasting motifs of grid lines that make the art feel fresh and exciting. Common to earlier work, Vian draws the viewer into his composition with a light source that lingers near the center, surrounded by the action of shape and complex color.

He says in his statement, “I am mostly interested in visual perception and the underlying patterns that make sense of it. I am also interested in how the visual information of this world is filtered through the mechanisms of perception, affected by thought, and emotion, resulting in expression. I start with an idea, and the painting happens in the process, I don’t really know where it’s going to go. I’m following what’s happening on the canvas, and that way, the painting will take me someplace I haven’t been before.”

Rick Vian earned a BFA from College for Creative Studies and his MFA from Wayne State University. Rick Vian has been included in over 45 group exhibitions, 5 two-person exhibitions, and 12 one-person exhibitions in the Detroit metro area. Most recently, Vian retired from his work as an Associate Professor of Drawing and Landscape Painting at the College for Creative Studies, Detroit, MI.

An exhibition of contemporary landscape painting, drawing, and photography by Michigan Artists include the work of Donald Cronkhite, Edward Duff, Bill Jackson, Meighen Jackson, Matt Lewis, Jim Nawara, Lucille Nawara, Rick Vian, Emily Vastbinder, Tommy Wilson and Emily Jane Wood.

Landscape Through Michigan Eyes at Henry Ford College Gallery through November 27,