Critical art reviews of Detroit galleries and museums weekly

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Best Times @ David Klein Gallery

Best Times Installation at David Klein Gallery, photo: K.A. Letts

“They were the best of times, they were the worst of times…”     

As Charles Dickens begins his 1859 novel, A Tale of Two Cities, he describes a historical period of political and social turbulence that is, in some ways, similar to our own.  To those disposed to pessimism, 2021 might seem like a time to despair, but the artists now showing work in Best Times at David Klein Gallery beg to differ. They celebrate beauty–in the natural world, in art, in everyday objects–while remaining clear-eyed observers of contemporary life and its discontents. Color is the star of the show here; its emotional impact ranges from the giddy pastel polygons of Sylvain Malfroy-Camine to the contemplative gray formalism of Matthew Hawtin, with quite a lot in between.

Late Stage, New Age (red exercise band infinity, sage, Kombucha, green aura) by Cooper Holoweski, 2020, mixed media, 40 x 24.75 inches, photo courtesy of David Klein Gallery

Cooper Holoweski sets the tone for the exhibit with conceptually and procedurally complex works on paper from his Late Stage, New Age series of works on paper.  He seems both enamored by and critical of the technological ecosystem’s marvels. Each piece is a demonstration of complex digital processes such as inkjet printing and laser cutting in dialog with the images of technology that their use makes possible. The cheerful consumerist palette of these mixed media artworks sets up an uneasy resonance with ghostly, truncated human anatomy. Juxtaposed with mundane food and household products, digital devices intrude–a new, added component to daily life that alters the human experience of the self and the environment.

Untitled (January 15) by Lauren Semivan, 2021, archival pigment print, 50 x 40 inches, photo courtesy of David Klein Gallery

Similarly-sized archival pigment prints by Lauren Semivan make an interesting point of comparison to Holoweski’s work. Her lyrical photo collages are composed of humble detritus–fairly anonymous, slightly used paper napkins, net tulle fabric, and the like. Those diaphanous and often translucent elements are bisected with thin lines of color, transforming the shallow fictive space into elegant compositions that fool the eye. The artist describes color in her work as an “emotional descriptor.”  Up close, the marks and scratches on the surface suggest imagined topographies and the physical records of human presence. Step back though, and the picture begins to pulse with the luminosity of a cloudy sky.

Lost City #2 by Susan Goethel Campbell, 2020, two-layered perforated woodblock print on Goyu paper, edition of 5, 23.5 x 31 inches, photo courtesy of David Klein Gallery

Susan Goethel Campbell’s color-saturated and heavily pierced works on paper describe tropical landscapes seen from above.  From a distance their source in aerial photography is evident, but as we draw nearer, the subtle striations of the wood block printing plates she uses to apply color and the tiny pin pricks that admit hues from the layer beneath begin to make the landscape dissolve into a dreamy abstract matrix of lines and shapes. Goethel Campbell’s choice of colors–acid-y greens, deep blues and aquatic turquoise–are evocative of equatorial environments but avoid the picture postcard aesthetic of tourist destinations.  The artist’s title for the series, Lost Cities, obliquely hints at the ephemeral nature of island ecosystems.

Sedition by Matthew Hawtin, 2020, collage on paper, 22 x 22 inches, photo courtesy of David Klein Gallery

In the middle gallery, Matthew Hawtin’s small, austere collages remain in the world of the handmade, but just barely.  His specialty is the subtle variation of textures and lines within a minimalist esthetic. These intimate artworks force us into closer examination, where we begin to discern the tiny differences in each severely cut rectilinear line and shape. There is something restful about contemplating the warm grays juxtaposed with clear bright reds and yellows.

A Specificity by Ben Pritchard, 2021, oil on panel, 8 x 10 inches, photo courtesy of David Klein Gallery

For gallery visitors who hunger for something a little more visceral than Hawtin’s cerebral formalism, a collection of heavily textured, richly colored abstractions by Ben Pritchard occupies the opposite wall and might be just the thing. These lush, impasto-ed paintings in robust blues, greens, oranges and browns bring to mind the idiosyncratic paintings of the early modernist Arthur Dove. Pritchard is a painter of signs and symbols–cryptic shapes that might be stylized animals or kites or moons, but remain just outside the realm of the known. They are objects of meditation, nonspecifically directing the range of our thoughts and emotions.

Yellow Rose Moon by Mitch Cope, 2021, oil on Masonite panel, 73 x 73 inches, photo courtesy of David Klein Gallery

From the two loosely painted floral tondos on view, Mitch Cope, who is best known for large-scale installations exploring the Detroit landscape and the objects within it, is taking a little vacation from all that. He seems to be having a great time. The frowsy, slightly retro painted blossoms on Masonite retain a kind of subtle urban surface that suggests found objects and undercuts the prettiness of the subject matter.

Rome by Sylvain Malfroy-Camine, 2021, oil and acrylic on canvas, 25 x 30.75 inches, photo courtesy of David Klein Gallery

Sylvain Malfroy-Camine’s many-sided paintings perhaps best describe the euphoric mood that pervades Best Times. Fenced within their polygonal pens, multi-colored ovals and swatches have escaped the earth’s gravity and float or explode inside the pictorial space. In addition to his studio practice, Malfroy-Camine is a musician, and the discrete spots of color in each artwork suggest musical notes in a jubilant symphony.

The artists in Best Times aren’t starry-eyed optimists. There are ample references to contemporary unease, from Cooper Holoweski’s cheerily ominous digital devices to Susan Goethal Campbell’s lush depictions of fugitive coastlines. But hope is a choice, and for right now, the joyful ambience of this summer collection seems right.

Best of Times, Group Exhibition, through August 28th, 2021 at the David Klein Gallery

With Eyes Wide Opened @ Cranbrook Museum of Art

Cranbrook Museum of Art, With Eyes Opened, Sculpture Court and Mixing Chamber, installation, photo: PD Rearick

With Eyes Opened: Cranbrook Academy of Art since 1932 has just opened at the Cranbrook Museum of Art in Bloomfield Hills, to great acclaim and national attention. Covered by the New York Times Magazine with a spiffy video tour and ample media attention both local and national, it’s a hydra-headed beast of a show with many sponsors but no single curator. Objects and images from every period of the Academy’s history compete for space and attention, with no fewer than ten dueling accounts threaded throughout the museum’s seven galleries.

The organizers seem to have had difficulty settling on a single narrative for this exhaustive survey of the Academy’s history–and no wonder. The tapestries, sculptures, paintings, prints, photographs, product prototypes and mass-produced products tell a kaleidoscopic story of the many creative minds whose vision and creativity have emanated from the school over time.

The history of this premier American art institution is told through objects in only piecemeal fashion in the physical exhibit; the accompanying printed volume, a 624-page doorstop of a book, contains a more complete narrative of the school’s history, along with one-page profiles of many (though not all) of the artists and designers represented in the show.

Untitled (Aluchair) by Christopher Schanck (MFA, 3D Design 2011), 2019, aluminum foil, resin Collection Cranbrook Art Museum

At the entrance to the main gallery, visitors can watch American Look. Commissioned in 1958 by Chevrolet, this cold war artifact celebrates many of the post-World War II designed amenities that were newly available to middle class consumers of a certain limited demographic.  Throughout the celebratory video, the “American-ness” of the consumer lifestyle is promoted relentlessly. Even though the uncritical materialism may seem cringe-worthy to a modern viewer, the optimism and can-do mentality expressed in the video amply show why the period beginning in 1950 is often called the American Century. The film provides a good starting point for With Eyes Opened, which takes us on a visual tour not only of the mid-century American esthetic, but also, by implication, through a consideration of how those perceptions and values have grown and changed over time to include contemporary preoccupations with equity, diversity and sustainability.

Model 1601 Stacking Chair by Don Albinson (Cranbrook Academy of Art Sculpture, 1940-1941), 1965, aluminum, nylon, molded plastic. Photo PD Rearick

The video serves as an introduction to one of the more successful elements of the exhibit, which celebrates the modern chair. Designers like Charles and Ray Kaiser Eames and Don Albinson  were uniquely successful at conceptualizing and producing practical, relatively inexpensive and attractive mass production chairs, many instantly recognizable today as fixtures of modern life in home and office.  The chair as a concept unifies this display;  in addition to the mass produced chairs there are a number of hand-crafted, one-of-a-kind examples such as Chris Schank’s Alufoil  Chair and Terence Main’s  Queen Anne, Queen Anne doubled chair. Here, as throughout the exhibit, the organizers have decided to mix the mass-produced and the hand-crafted, without comparing or contrasting the purposes and philosophies involved.

Cranbrook Museum of Art, Sculpture Court, installation. Photo: DAR

The physical and esthetic center of the exhibition, which brings the concept of design and art to a satisfying apotheosis of the handmade and the mass-produced, comes in the Mixing Chamber. There,  the room-sized mural of black and white figures by Cleon Peterson suggests the sensibility of a 21st century Egon Schiele. Tortured, semi-nude bodies surround the wittily conceived bench by Vivian Beer, whose automotive-painted red drape on the slipper shape is at once modern and baroque.

Untitled (Asthma, High Blood Pressure) by Beverly Fishman (Artist-in-Residence, Dept. of Painting 1992-2019) 2018, urethane paint on wood. Photo: PD Rearick

In the adjacent North Gallery, 34 paintings, works on paper and photographs hang floor to ceiling, with abstraction as the ostensible unifying theme. The hanging of contemporary art salon style is a fraught strategy that calls for sensitively selected and carefully coordinated curation and enough space around each piece to allow the work to breathe.  Here the disparate artworks compete visually, like guests at a crowded cocktail party shouting to be heard.  Beverly Fishman’s brightly colored, sharp-edged geometric polygons (almost) hold their own, and McArthur Binion manages to succeed simply by installing a painting, DNA: Study (Lake St. Clair), too large to share the space with other artwork. As worthy as each piece in the gallery may be, a little editing would have been welcome.

Untitled by Rebecca Ripple (Artist-in-Residence, Dept. of Sculpture, 2017-present) 2016, plastic, aluminum brass, photocopy, pencil, hair, champagne foil. Photo: K.A. Letts

In the Sculpture Court, through the Mixing Chamber ‘s other doorway, Nick Cave’s exuberant  SoundSuit (2012) holds the floor, with a recessive companion, Flamer, by Mark Newport, hanging on the adjacent wall.  Duane Hanson’s provocatively banal figure lounges nearby, unimpressed. Other strong work in the sculpture court includes several fiber pieces which seem to have wandered in, perhaps to provide space between the large and diverse 3-dimensional works–not a bad idea as it turns out. The white-on-white tapestry Montana 30, by Colombian artist Olga de Amaral, made up of small squares of white painted canvas relieved with touches of red, is especially welcome here. Sculptures by artists of the past such as Marshall Fredericks and Carl Milles share the space, more or less peacefully, with artworks by younger artists like Tyanna Buie and Kate Clark. Toward the back of the gallery, James Surl’s spiky mobile floats in its own private galaxy, next to a terrific assemblage by Rebecca Ripple that radiates an ad hoc starburst of Miro-esque energy.

Auburndale Site, Detroit MI (#4) by Object Orange, 2006, archival color photograph, 1/25 Cranbrook Museum of Art. Photo: K.A. Letts

In a small side gallery near the elevators, three photographs by the art collective Object Orange deliver a moment of surreal surprise. From 2005-2007, these (anonymous) Cranbrook graduates undertook a conceptual project called Detroit, Demolition, Disneyland which involved painting–in “Tiggerific” Orange– derelict structures in the city as a form of both public performance and protest. The photographs, brilliant orange structures against bleak gray backgrounds, are arresting, unexpected and a bit melancholy.

Cranbrook Museum of Art, With Eyes Opened, Object Islands, installation, Photo: PD Rearick

The Wainger Gallery, last stop on the main floor galleries, features a clever installation of “object islands,” table height circular plinths that subtly guide the viewer through a broad array of fairly small- scale ceramics, metal objects and product design prototypes. Many of the objects in this gallery are one-of-a-kind art objects in a variety of media, often in unusual combinations, such as Iris Eichenberg’s untitled brooch made of porcelain, silver and linen.

With Eyes Opened takes on a lighter tone in the museum’s lower level gallery with The Menagerie, a whimsical collection of figures and objects inspired by the natural world, from Marshall Frederick’s chunky Two Bears to Stephen Malinowski’s photograph Cafeteria, a surreal bison-in-a-dining room.  The playful theme of The Menagerie is echoed nearby with a small collection of toy and playground designs that, while welcome, seem like an afterthought.

In the adjacent hall gallery, prints and posters highlight Cranbrook’s influential graphic design program. Installed next to printed media that feature collage, photomontage and progressive typography, several unique works hint at the endless formal potential of paper as a medium.  Elizabeth Youngblood’s elegant, silvery process drawing is tucked into a corner near Laurence Barker’s more exuberant hand-made paper piece.  Layers from the Disemboweled Series by Winifred Lutz takes the medium into the realm of expressionism.

Yet Untitled by Elizabeth Youngblood (MFA Design, 1975) 2018, paint, mylar. Photo: Glenn Mannisto

And last–but not least–some of Cranbrook Academy’s most recent graduates inhabit the lower level deSalle Gallery with distinction. Many of these young artists currently live and work in Detroit and continue the Academy’s tradition of excellence in both craft and conception. The growing diversity of the school is on display here, pointing to a more inclusive future, now enabled by the recent $30 million gift from Dan and Jennifer Gilbert to support student diversity.  Ricky Weaver’s gray and white photo-apparitions emanate spirituality, across from Ebitenyefa Baralaye’s Portrait II, a comic-sinister stoneware head.  Around the corner, Marianna Olague’s painting El Pleno Dia seems to emit its own light.  The emerging artists in this gallery demonstrate the continuing influence of the Academy’s alumni on the Detroit art scene and beyond.

With Eyes Opened is multi-faceted, rich and a little chaotic, more of a class reunion than a retrospective.  What comes through loud and clear in this exhaustive–and sometimes exhausting–survey, though, is the Academy’s continued vitality and its ongoing relevance to any discussion of the 21st century designed environment. And really, that’s enough.

Cranbrook Museum of Art, With Eyes Opened, deSalle Gallery, installation, Photo: P.D. Rearick.

Eyes Wide Open at Cranbrook Museum of Art through September 19, 2021

Art + Labor & The Long Goodbye @ MSU Broad

24/7: Art + Labor Around the Clock installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2021. Photo: Aaron Word/MSU Broad.

COVID-19 had a dramatic impact on how we work; even as we return to normalcy, it remains unclear if the workplace will ever fully return to how things were in pre-pandemic years.  An intimate, single-gallery exhibit at the MSU Broad offers an ensemble of works which explore labor as depicted in art, with a particular focus placed on the ambiguity between domestic vs. work spaces. Anyone who has worked from home this past year will immediately relate to the contents of 24/7: Art + Labor Around the Clock.

This is a show which brings together an eclectic ensemble of photography and works on paper which span just over a hundred years.  Together, these works speak to the notion of work beyond the boundaries of the 9 to 5 workday. COVID forced many of us to work from home, but for many people in certain lines of work this was historically the normative experience.  A trio of anonymous photographs shows workers in telecommunications, textile, and agriculture, all industries which once were performed principally in domestic settings (telephone operators once had switchboards in their homes, for example, so they could be on call day and night).

The Hidden World Collection, (Picture of women working at a telephone switchboard). MSU purchase, Eli and Edythe Broad Fund for the Acquisition of Modern and Contemporary Art.

Two works approach this theme with tongue-in-cheek humor.  In a wry parody of the classic children’s book Goodnight Moon, Krithika Varagur and Eric Macomber give us Good Night Zoom; its imagery, color palette, and style echoes that of the original classic, but now our beloved rabbit protagonist is wishing goodnight to the things which have become fixtures of our pandemic-era lives (“Goodnight screens,” for example).  Also approaching the subject with humor is the animated film El Empleo (The Employee) by Santiago Grasso and Patricio Plaza, in which there’s no boundary between work and domestic spaces, and humans are paid to perform the roles of functional, inanimate objects.  The redundant, joyless lives of the film’s characters echo the pulverizing tedium of the fictional worlds envisioned in the absurdist plays of Samuel Beckett.

El Empleo (The Employee), Santiago Grasso and Patricio Plaza, 2008.

Some of these works are visually mesmerizing, such as Michael Kenna’s moody, backlit photographs of Dearborn’s Ford Rouge Complex, which manage to turn the factory into something that verges on the sublime and the surreal.  Together, these images seem to suggest that this complex is a living, breathing behemoth that never truly shuts down.

Michael Kenna, The Rouge, Study #1, 1992. MSU purchase, partially funded by an anonymous donor.

Jenny Kendler: The Long Goodbye installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2021. Photo: Eat Pomegranate Photography.

Concurrent with (but unrelated to) 24/7: Art + Work Around the Clock, a second gallery space explores the human impact on the planet’s biodiversity.  The Long Goodbye is a considered ensemble of sculptural work by multimedia artist Jenny Kendler, who tactfully integrates the media she uses with the message she delivers. Although inhabiting a comparatively small space, the visual impact of this exhibit is striking.

Nearly filling the length of one of the gallery walls is Whale Bells, a collaborative project by Kendler and glass artist Andrew Bearnot.  This is an ensemble of two dozen functional glass bells.  The ropes for each bell incorporate traditional sailor’s knots, and the clappers are actual fossilized ear bones from Miocene-epoch rorqual whales, the ancestors of today’s humpback.  Kendler makes the point that 5-20 million years ago, these now-extinct whales, equipped with the ability to create music, were once very likely the most culturally advanced entities on earth. Here, the bones that once allowed these whales to perceive sound are now employed as the literal instruments which project sound. The environmental commentary here is understated, but the installation invites us to consider that today’s humpback whale was once an endangered species before it became the center of one of the first international environmental campaigns (Save the Whales) in the 1970s.  Through this installation’s use of sound, we’re also reminded that in recent years noise pollution caused by human commercial activity in the ocean (tand he oil industry in particular) has had a detrimental effect on whales’ migration patterns and mating activity.

Jenny Kendler: The Long Goodbye installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2021. Photo: Eat Pomegranate Photography.

The literal centerpiece of this exhibition space is Amber Archive, a circular table on which are displayed approximately 130 fragments from different plant and animal species which are vulnerable to extinction as the direct result of human activity.  Each specimen is individually encased in a glowing orb of amber resin.  These include (among many other things) fragments of bird feathers, whale baleen, and snakeskin.  This installation is visually striking, but it also serves as a sort of DNA time-capsule, not unlike the world’s seed-vaults which aim to preserve and protect Earth’s biodiversity.

Jenny Kendler: The Long Goodbye installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2021. Photo: Eat Pomegranate Photography.

Each of these two exhibits nicely supplement the Broad’s current lead exhibitions.  Interstates of Mind, with its focus on Michigan’s automotive industry, certainly parallels much of the content of Art + Labor, particularly Michael Kenna’s photographic series on the Rouge automotive plant.  And Kendler’s work certainly underscores Seeds of Resistance in her emphasis on preserving biodiversity.  Taken together, this quartet of exhibitions prompts us to consider the relationship between industry and the environment, and how our commercial pursuits have lasting ecological consequences.

24/7: Art + Work Around the Clock is on view through August 22.

The Long Goodbye is one view through June 27, 2021 at the East Lansing Broad Museum.

Photography @ Scarab Club

50th Annual Photography Exhibition at the Scarab Club

Installation view, 50th Annual Scarab Club Photography Exhibition, Installation photo by Christopher Gene, all other photos courtesy of Scarab Club

A striking and expansive display of photographic sensibilities, currently on view in the 50th Annual Scarab Club Photography Exhibition, continues a long-standing tradition of welcoming and introducing current photographic practice. Juried by Ralph Jones, Detroit photographer, documentarian, educator, mentor, and exhibiting artist, this “unthemed” show (as per the Club’s Call for Entry application) is visually vibrant and emotionally rich. The spacious installation of the submissions of 38 artists enhances a diverse array of figurative and abstract images, formats both commandingly large and gem-like in scale, and bold, colorful pictures in tandem with austerely black and white compositions.

Technically, Matthew Raupp’s Detroit Photo Series (2020) might be termed a relief, projecting as it does some three inches plus from the wall. His compendium of 192 colorful, miniature views of buildings (2 x 2” each) represent sharply focused, frontal images of structures drawn from the precincts of Detroit. Each is individually mounted on a 2 “ wood cube imbuing them with the weight and heft of a three-dimensional structure. Fronts of houses, storefronts, banks, churches, and fire stations in various states of repair–intact, rehabbed, repurposed, or derelict– attest to the adaptability and resiliency of The D. Additionally, an iPhone mounted dead center zooms through the entire ensemble of facades, offering an alternative, fast-paced scan (so 21st century) through Raupp’s personal land bank.

Matthew Raupp, Detroit Photo Series, 48 x 48 x 3,” Wood blocks, photographic prints, iPhone

 

Detail, Matthew Raupp, Detroit Photo Series

Two vertical compositions, rather like exclamation points, punctuate one wall, making the most of the slender height of the format. In Kate Gowman’s five feet tall Scrapyard Fire (2012), no flames are in sight. Instead, a hazy atmosphere pervades the scene. The smoggy smoke of the fire, some distance away, merges with the gray, shapeshifting clouds and gracefully listing tree trunks, while two men quietly inhabit the crisply detailed foreground, one perched atop a wrecked car and the other standing nearby, while gazing toward the unseen fire. Aesthetically, the subtle tonalist merging of gray hues belies the alarming import of Gowman’s title. In contrast, Vincent Cervantez’s poignant The Unveiling (2021), a three feet tall still life of a white bridal(?) veil sprawled on a bed of brown, parched leaves, evokes loss, accidental or deliberate, perhaps a dream forsook, or even a violent encounter. Discarded objects and litter–masks, plastic bags and containers, whippets, and etc.–pervade the culture. Here, rather affectingly, an eddy of wind lifts the veil and threatens to whisk it out of sight.

Kate Gowman, Scrapyard Fire, 60 x 36,” Fine art print on Hahnemuhle paper

Vincent Cervantez, The Unveiling, 36 x 24,” Digital print

Affirmation rules as well in the Scarab Club’s 50th anniversary show. Tom Stoye’s Leap of Farith (2016) presents a silhouetted figure, legs spread wide (the print is 32” broad), head skimming the top of the frame, bounding through a spray of water. Its lithe, explosive energy swiftly transports the viewer aloft and across the expanse of paper. The small, square, quiescent People in a Pandemic (2020), by Anne Knight Weber, however, features four clustered, stationary figures (one adult and three children) on a vast beach as avatars of the endemic isolation of a pandemic. Sans a frame, water, wet sand, reflections, and azure sky shimmer and float free of the gallery wall heightening the glassy stasis of the scene.

Tom Stoye, Leap of Faith, 21 x 32,” Photographic print

Anne Knight Weber, People in a Pandemic, 11 x 11,” Photograph, acrylic glass

Other photographers focus upon the uneasy balance and oft tense interaction between figuration and abstraction. An emphatic zig zaging line rivets the view of Jerry Basierbe’s Steel Breakwater #3–Point Betsie, MI (2019), while in Hats(2016) by David Clements a swirling orange oval governs the foreground. In the former, the dark, zig zagging line of the breakwater thrusts the viewer into the silky, placid waters of Lake Michigan, a coastal locale frequented by the artist. It’s a harsh, slicing armature that connotes something of the blunt force of industrialization. In the latter, Clements presents a vignette drawn from his ongoing series documenting African American church services. Here, the elliptical orange confection up front instantly captures the viewer’s eye before noting another woman, also attired in a matching, eye-catching hat and coat, seated in the next pew forward.

Jerry Basierbe, Steel Breakwater #3–Point Betsie, MI, 18 x 18,” Digital photographic print

David Clements, Hats, 14 x 16,” Photograph

One of the smallest works in the exhibition also touches on fashion. Teresa Petersen’s Fashion for Women and Children (2018), a mere 3 x 3,” presents a fenced off storefront featuring pink and blue pastel raiment for women and children. Like Raupp, Basierbe, Clements, and others, she too scours particular locales for definitive subjects. Alas, here the fashions on parade are imprisoned behind a metal grate, teasingly short-circuiting a window shopper’s desires.

Teresa Petersen, Fashion for Women and Children, 3 x 3,” Photograph

Small, medium, or large, splendidly hued or chastely black and white, figurative or abstract, these singular examples may indeed spur a desire to encounter more of the photographs on display. And that is exactly what this golden anniversary exhibition at the Scarab Club proffers: all 38 selections remain on view through June 26, 2021.

The Scarab Club is located at 217 Farnsworth St. across the street from the Detroit Institute of Arts.

¿GENDƎR? @ Detroit Artists Market

DAM Gender Exhibition, Installation image, All images courtesy of DAM unless noted.

¿GENDƎR? is an exhibition of how artists depict gender, using their own thoughts and experiences. Some explore outdated gender stereotypes, roles, and sexuality while others confront societal norms. In the 21st century, the idea of gender has had many reformations, and the new lexicon reflects that: cisgender, binary, non-binary, gender fluid, androgyny, transgender, and gender pronouns. The show is but a glimpse into the myriad of possibilities. Curator Gary Eleinko invited artists, who regularly employ the figure in their narratives, to select works that calibrate perception toward the varied facets of gender.

Miroslawa Sztuczka, Under the Skin, 48” x 36” (each panel) mixed tech, collage, oil, acrylic

Miroslawa Sztuczka’s figurative diptych Under The Skin describes a gender spectrum through its striking palette in thickly applied expressive strokes. Those charged marks afford a noticeable contrast to the smoothness of the faces. The melee of figures are arranged in what reads like a glamourous party complete with fame hiding behind sunglasses. The left side of this piece contains those who identify as feminine, recognizable through the generally accepted symbolism of heeled red pumps accessorizing bare legs. To the right, pants resting on flat red shoes are cast as the masculine inverse. Humanity meets in the center blending into the gender fluid, agender and non-binary spectrum. The bold yellow figure exuberantly breaks free from social confines leaving the two mysterious figures at the bottom, symbolizing the constrained concept of binary man/woman only, to be squashed by the liberated throng.

Sue Carman-Vian, Women at Their Heights, 38” x 48”, graphite

Monumental statues of men presented in commanding poses advertising their power and achievements litter parks and public places. The glaring absence of legions of accomplished women yet to be immortalized in a similar manner is the subject of Sue Carman-Vian’s Women At Their Heights. Carman-Vian’s creatively nimble mind imagines a park elevating these uncounted women to their long denied status. The viewer is reminded of a woman’s long-standing relegated role of sexual appeal via high heels while the woman’s placement on a pedestal indicates the importance of one’s social and intellectual accomplishments. This imagery presented in graphite renders the scene dreamlike yet does not wilt. The strong narrative isn’t distracted by the pull of color. Fine detail executed by the direct hand of the artist makes this a very personal epistle.

Judy Eliyas, Untitled (Woman Hanging Stockings In The Bathroom, 42” x 42”, black and white gelatin silver print

Judy Eliyas addresses female roles with a  similar sensibility to Carman-Vian’s, though uses the medium of black and white photography to communicate her story. In Untitled (Woman Hanging Stockings In The Bathroom), Eliyas inserts herself into staged domesticity with a slice of humor by including the viewer who has ambushed the now annoyed subject in a private moment. Eliyas’ images harken to a softer Cindy Sherman-like genre in her autobiographical scenes. The absence of color combined with selected settings and costuming make these images feel dated yet they tackle very contemporary constructs.

Claudia Shepard, E-Male, 48” x 48”, oil on panel

Upon initial glance, E-Male is a bit of a compositional jumble. Traditional portraiture tends to a solitary figure relaxing in the center of the canvas; a sleepy gaze fixed somewhere out of the picture’s range. In this painting, Claudia Shepard has defied convention by drawing on the pioneering photography of Eadweard Muybridge to give us a body in motion. There is a discernible evolution-of-man sequence, representing the progression of the masculine and its changing perceptions. The circle is completed by adding leaping figures illustrating progressive thinking and interpretation of what it means to be male. This includes representation in the nude portrait genre, where the ubiquitous female form has dominated for centuries due to archaic concepts of beauty.

Sabrina Nelson, You Ain’t Never Gonna Fly, approximately 5 ft. x 6 ft pattern paper, thread, milagros, bird cage, tape, gold leaf, doily, black feathers. Image courtesy of Kim Fay.

Sabrina Nelson addresses the figure through what it wears, offering clues to a person’s identity while doubling as personal armor. When choosing to represent the feminine through wardrobe, the dress is a garment that universally registers as female energy. You Ain’t Never Gonna Fly employs fragile patterned tissue paper to illustrate human vulnerability as well as the skin itself. It looks good but can be torn easily. The birdcage represents the womb embellished with a ribbon of crimson hemorrhage. This imagery is significant in that only those who were born female possess a womb with the ability to gestate life. Nelson chooses to suspend her dress aloft, suggesting our self-identity and value precariously dangle on a delicate thin string. At a distance, Nelson’s dresses float and flatter. Upon closer inspection, the complications of negotiating one’s life is woven into the seams and imprinted on the skin.

This show makes a concerted effort to represent the multitude of voices in the gender conversation. A captivating self-portrait by Darryl DeAngelo Terrell remarks on a transgender experience. A thoughtful, fata morgana image by Feather Chiaverini portrays a non-binary account. John Hegarty delivers more traditional but harshly realistic portraiture. These works visually chronicle a sliver of a complex and evolving narrative on who we are as humans, revealing the beauty, tenderness, fragility and brutality that comes with embracing diversity. Many different flowers make up a bouquet. “Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilization.” -Mahatma Ghandi.

Participating Artists: Judy Eliyas, Jo Powers, James Stephens, John Hegarty, Teresa Petersen, Claudia Shepard, Bumbo, Darryl DeAngelo Terrell, Feather Chiaverini, Miroslawa Sztuczka, Sue Carman-Vian, Sabrina Nelson, Robert Schefman, Austin J. Brady, Betty Brownlee, Callie Hoskins.

On view May 7-June 5, 2021 at Detroit Artists Market 4719 Woodward Avenue, Detroit

 

 

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