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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.

 

 

Kwame Brathwaite @ Detroit Institute of Arts

Kwame Brathwaite, Installation image courtesy of DAR

On October 8, the Detroit Institute of Arts opened its doors to Black is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite.  The exhibit features over forty black-and-white and color photographs from the New York-born photographer known for his activism just as much as his eye behind the camera.

The first thing you have to do is understand the premise in which, “Black is Beautiful ” was created.  The civil rights movement; a collective endeavor by black Americans to eliminate racial discrimination had started in the late 1940s.  Black Americans wanted equal entry in the same economical, educational, housing spaces as their white counterparts. Remember, we’re talking about a time period in which black Americans didn’t even use the same water fountains and bathrooms.  But by the early 1960s, there was an energy shift within Black America.  There was a new aggressiveness and intentionality bubbling outside the scope of the Civil Rights movement.  There were activists that felt the quest for integration was sacrificing self-acceptance.

This is where Kwame Brathwaite enters the picture. On a cold Harlem night in 1962, he hosted a fashion show featuring audacious models with afros and natural hairstyles.  They were a visual protest to western beauty standards. The women (known as the Grandassa Models) would go on to be Brathwaite’s muse and kick start the “Black is Beautiful” movement. The movement ran simultaneously with the “Black Power” movement and opened the door for self-awareness, self-empowerment, and pinched some of the insecurities among black people.

Kwame Brathwaite, Photoshoot at a public school for one of the AJASS-associated modeling groups that emulated the Grandassa Models and began to embrace natural hairstyles. Harlem, ca. 1966; from Kwame Brathwaite: Black Is Beautiful (Aperture, 2019)

“I really felt it was important to bring in a photographer that could speak to the black experience.  ……What this exhibition really stresses is the work he did with the Grandassa Models.  You can see large-scale photographs that were involved in the fashion shows that he organized in the 1960s, one actually came to Detroit in 1963,” says Nancy Barr, Curator of Photography for the DIA.

Upon entering the gallery a selection of large 5×5 portraits draws first draws the viewer’s attention.  The brown-hued complexion on the portrait of model Ethel Parks is rich in energy. Her expression is a bit cunning and her presence feels life-like as her eyes seem to look back at you no matter what angle you’re viewing her portrait. The background is red, her hair is covered, and there is a sharp light fall-off at the edge of Park’s face which punctuates the energy in her appearance. This is the most dramatic lighting Brathwaite uses in this series of portraits.

Kwame Brathwaite, Model Ethel Parks at AJASS Studios, ca. 1965

Kwame Brathwaite, Sikolo Brathwaite, African Jazz-Art Society & Studios (AJASS), Harlem, ca. 1968

The two portraits of model Sikolo Brathwaite are subtle but confident. She wears a headpiece designed by artist Carolee Prince in front of a bronze background and a full picked-out afro in the other. The two portraits truly epitomize Brathwaite’s message and his definition of beauty. Sikolo Brathwaite doesn’t have makeup in either photograph, and her expression is powerfully stoic as the light wraps her face leaving the shadow to curve the contours of her jawbone.

In the middle of the exhibition space, the DIA also has a display of the actual dresses that Kwame styled for his models. The “Black is Beautiful” movement wasn’t just about hairstyles, but also African-centered ancestral clothing as opposed to standard American fashion. Seeing the actual clothing there along with the photographs of the models synchronizes and punctuates the collection as a whole. It breathes life into the viewing experience outside of the frames. The apparel was inspired by what was worn in cities like Accra, Lagos, and Nairobi.

Kwame Brathwaite, Sikolo Brathwaite wearing a beaded headpiece by Carolee Prince, ca. 1967

Brathwaite’s documentary work of the “Buy Black” movement from the 1960s is the second theme explored in this collection.  The “Buy Black” movement was a branch of black activist Marcus Garvey’s tree of black nationalism in which blacks were encouraged to buy goods and services from one another to build their own economic empowerment. It’s clear that Brathwaite is acting as a messenger journalist.   “This exhibition hits on a lot of points in regard to black femininity,  black culture, black history, and social activism.  Kwame really believed his photography was a tool for social activism and he really needed to record the things that were going on,” Barr says.

The focus in this photo is not the speaker but the Buy Black sign that sits in front and above a blurred attendee’s head at a rally. This was a constant in Brathwaite’s approach. 

Kwame Brathwaite, Charles Peaker speaking on 125th street. Peaker became the head of the African African Nationalist Pioneer Movement after its founder, Carlos Cooks, died. Harlen, ca. 1967

In the center of the photograph of a man at an earring counter, there is a “Buy Black” poster.  The viewer’s eyes are drawn right to it because the man’s hand is adjusting the earring rack right below the poster. Again, Brathwaite is very intentional with the messaging and this photograph is one of the most well-composed of the collection.

Brathwaite’s photograph of a dark skin black woman holding a child’s hand at the entrance of an African market pulls two of Brathwaite’s themes together. The woman is wearing a natural hairstyle as a Buy Black poster hangs from the doorway above her head.  There’s a poster on the window that says, “Garvey Day Sale” along with various African-inspired items in the window.

Kwame Brathwaite, African Market, Harlem, ca 1967

The third tier in Brathwaite’s exhibition is the photographs of Jazz greats and the Harlem nightlife.  Many of the photographs are great captures of musicians in their element such Miles Davis and Paul Chambers performing under the harsh glow of stage lights, drummer Max Roach playing the drums, and Abbey Lincoln singing like her life depends on it.

Kwame Braithwaite, Abbey Lincoln Singing at an AJASS event, Harlen, ca 1964

Kwame Braithwaite, Miles Davis and Paul Chambers, Randall’s Island Jazz Festival, ca 1958

What makes Brathwaite’s images of Harlem’s nightlife so energetic is the composition.  The way the man has his head supported by his hand as the smoke from his cigar trickles towards the top center of the frame is simply cool. Seeing nothing but the silhouette backs of the jazz quartet feels more intriguing than if the photograph was of them performing straight on. Even though the front row of faces is blurred in the photograph of the crowd at Randall’s Jazz Festival, the energy of the attendees in the far distance under the halo glow of the lights visually describes what that moment must have felt like.

Although the photographs of black women are the face of the “Black is Beautiful ” exhibition; the viewing experience is catapulted to a higher level because the images of black activism and entertainment tell more of the story of black life in the 1960s.  What’s also compelling is how those themes are still in existence in today’s racial climate.  The Black Lives Matter movement is relatable to both Black is Beautiful and the Buy Black movements.  Western beauty standards are still being defined and questioned today just as much today as they were in the 1960s.  Kwame Brathwaite’s portraiture craftsmanship and the way he finds the composition within his documentary photographs act as a time capsule and make “Black is Beautiful” a quintessential exhibition.

The Exhibition:  Black is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite at the Detroit Institute of Arts runs through January 16, 2022.

 

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.

2021 All Media Exhibition @ Detroit Artist Market

Detroit Artist Market: All Media Exhibition, 2021, All images courtesy of DAR

The Detroit Artist Market has been mounting this All Media Biennial Exhibition for many years and getting a wide range of work based on the juror and their particular persuasion.  This exhibition’s juror, Valerie Mercer, DIA curator of African American Art, has significant experience in this market between her time at the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Detroit Artists Market. She says, “The 2021 All Media Exhibition reveals how Detroit artists kept busy during the surge of the pandemic. They created artworks that expressed, through varied artistic approaches, the importance of hope, survival, love, humanity, identity, beauty, community, nature, and culture for their and our lives.”

The exhibition includes nearly seventy artists reflecting a large variety of media. Here are works of art that might give the reader a feel for the variety of work in the exhibition.

Harold Allen, Laocoon, Acrylic on Canvas, 2020

The painting Laocoon by Harold Allen jumps out at the viewer with this abstract expressionistic non-objective action painting that piles these five-inch brush strokes up on top of each other, working from dark tones in the background to bright primary colors in the foreground. He says, “What I want is for the viewer to have is the concept that the shapes and color have a narrative sense about the interaction, activity, and relationship with each other.” Harold Allen earned his BFA from the College of Creative Studies and an MFA from Wayne State University.

Ian Matchett, Jazz, Oil on Canvas, 2021

The painter Ian Matchett captured the sizeable realistic oil portrait from a low angle, as his subject sits on a porch edge with a Covid mask hanging off his ear. The painting Jazz was selected Best in Show and sends a message that figure painting still has some life left in this century-old mainstay of expression.  He says in his statement, “I use a mixture of processes to compose my paintings including reference images, sketches, and when possible collaboration with the subjects. When depicting living people, I prioritize meeting with the subjects of my paintings. We discuss what drives their work, what keeps them going, what I see, what they want to share, and ultimately how I could build all of this into a painting.” Matchett is a graduate of UofM in fine art and social studies, which he continues as a part-time social organizer living and working in Detroit. Most of his work focuses on the connections and continuities between revolutionary movements of the past and present.

Ann Smith, America the Beautiful, Steel, Paper Mash, Wood, Bark, Paint products, 2020

The sculpture located on a base, Ann Smith’s America The Beautiful, is a large free-standing organic plant-like work constructed on a steel armature, shaped with paper mâché and painted colorfully with paint products. She says, “These sculptural accretions are visual artifacts of the thoughts and experiences of one contemporary organism, and investigate my place in the system.” Ann Smith has an art studio in the 333 Midland studio in Highland Park where she is one of twenty-five resident artists, collectively known for their BIG shows. Ann Smith is a graduate of the College for Creative Studies.

Nolan Young, Untitled Relief, Encaustic, Mixed Media, 2021

This young artist, Nolan Young, presents a relief that reminds this writer of Cass Corridor’s work from the 1970s.  It could be described as “Newton-esque.” He says in his statement, “Reconstruction through destruction is a key element to my work.  I use found objects, often discarded and forgotten objects to represent observations I have made about post-industrial Detroit. As a product of this environment, I cut and vandalize these objects to create scenes in which the events of deconstruction is a process for Reconstruction.”

Donita Simpson, Portrait of Carl Wilson, Photograph, 2017

The image Portrait of Carl Wilson demonstrates the photographic quality in this well-known Detroit photographer, Donita Simpson. Best known for her portrait of Gilda Snowden (2014), she has captured the larger-than-life quality in her image of the famous abstract Detroit artist. In the Portrait of Carl Wilson, Simpson frames her subject surrounded by contemporary art, just right off-center, capturing this relaxed expression of Mr. Wilson. For years, Simpson has been documenting Detroit artists in their work and where they live. Donita Simpson earned her BFA and MFA from Wayne State University.

Woodbridge Estates, Acrylic on Panel, 2021

This small oil painting, Woodbridge Estates, is representative of the urban landscape painting by the artist Bryant Tillman. Streets, parked cars, neighborhoods, and low light casting high contrast shadows across these subjects with a fluid palette of paint. Bryant Tillman was a 2013 Kresge Visual Arts Fellow.  https://www.kresgeartsindetroit.org/portfolio-posts/bryant-tillman  The Detroit artist has painted in the City of Detroit for thirty-five years and has given his audiences his indelible style of impressionism, exemplified by the painting of a Honda Accord with his own shadow cast on the car’s body.  Bryant Tillman was awarded the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant, New York, NY, in 2017.

Participating Artists:

Jide Aje, Harold Allen, Zoe Beaudry, Robert Beras, Boisali Biswas, Davariz Broaden, Marguerite Carlton, Chris Charron, Sherell Chillik, Winnie Chrzanowski, Glenn Corey, Amelia Currier, Valarie Davis, Edmund Dorsey, Artina Dozier, Laurel Dugan, Jan Filarski, Anne Furnaris, Myles Gallagher, Bill Gemmell, Alex Gilford, Dae Jona Gordon, Albert Gordon, Jabrion Graham, Margaret Griggs, Talese Harris, Steven Hauptman, Carol Jackson, Naigael Johnson, Dawnice Kerchaert, Rosemary Lee, Brant MacLean, Lilly Marinelli, Ian Matchett, David McLemore, David Mikesell, Timothy O’Neill, Bruce Peterson, Marcia Polenberg, Shirley Reasor, Laura Reed, Philip Ross, Angelo Sherman, Donita Simpson, Cameron Singletary, Ann Smith, Nicolena Stubbs, Rosemary Summers, Ron Teachworth, Roger Tertocha, Bryant Tillman, Vasundhara Tolia, Kimberly Tosolt, Alan Vidali, Bryan Wilson, Marsha Wright, Nolan Young, Lori Zurvalec.

Detroit Artist Market: All Media Exhibition, 2021

Detroit Artist Market: All Media Exhibition, through September 11, 2021

 

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