Your Very Own Paradise @ OUAG

Oakland University Art Gallery presents Thirteen Artists Work

Your Very Own Paradise, Installation 2019, All Images Courtesy of DAR

Oakland University Art Gallery opened its fall exhibition schedule with Your Very Own Paradise, artwork from far and wide with oil paintings, photographs, and sculptures on September 7, 2019.  Based on a curatorial premise that perception is reality, Director of the OUAG Gallery, Dick Goody, brings together thirteen artists whose ‘very own paradise’ differs significantly in expansive motifs and varying types of personal identity.

Melanie Daniel, Goat Love In a Digital Age, Oil on Canvas, 54 x 48″, 2018

In the painting Goat Love in a Digital Age, artist Melanie Daniel creates this crowded narrative where people are trying to reconnect on a surrealistic globe of isolation. This expressionistic portrayal of figures of all nationalities seems to find themselves in a desolate environment, using these goats as a means to reconnect with nature.

Melanie Daniel lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and earned her MFA from Bezalel Academy, Israel, and is currently the Padnos Distinguished Artist-in-Residence at Grant Valley State University.

Marc Yankus, Tinsmith, Archival pigment print, 38 x 27″, 2015

For a city dweller, buildings are his paradise, both in structure and composition.  Marc Yankus is a photographer, and from his series, The Secret Lives of Buildings: Tinsmith, he captures an incredible pallet of light, shape, and color. His architectural detail of these facades, always formally placed, without the presence of people, is quiet and an ethereal slice of New York City that takes on a personality.  He says in his statement, “ I have walked by these buildings every day for the last 20 years.”

Marc Yankus’ fine artwork and publishing experience span more than forty years. His work has been included in exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum and the South Street Seaport Museum, New York, the George Eastman House, Rochester, New York, and the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

Amer Kobaslija, Northern Light III, Oil on panel, 86 x 72″, 2011

In the work Northern Light III, this large oil on panel presents the viewer with an interior aerial belonging to the famous painter Balthus. Amer says in his statement, “I get to understand the paintings through the act of making them, each piece individually and as a series – one work in relation to the other. Making is thinking.  These paintings are a reflection of my surroundings, the place where I live, and the people I encounter along the way.  As a painter, my aim is to engage with society – not to judge or impose answers but reflect on the place that I love and think of it has home.”

Born in Bosnia in 1975, Amer Kobaslija fled the war-torn country in 1993 for Germany, where he attended the Art Academy in Dusseldorf. Amer Kobaslija is a painter who was offered asylum by the United States and immigrated to Florida, where he completed his BFA in Printmaking at the Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, FL. He then went on to earn his MFA in Painting at Montclair State University in New Jersey. He currently lives and works in Orlando, Florida

Rebecca Morgan, Self Portrait Post MFA Wearing the Smock of a Former Employer II, 2017 graphite and oil on panel 20 x 16 inches Courtesy of the artist and Aysa Geisberg Gallery.

The painting, After Work Sunset, oil, and graphite on panel, is an example of where the artist Rebecca Morgan uses herself as the subject for what could be described as a self-portrait, but she is playing with her audience, a kind of cathartic moment where she manipulates the image as though she is laughing at herself.  She seems to be looking to illustrate emotional discomfort. Much of her work devotes itself to embracing the discomfort, the flaws, and oddity as a way to turn it into lightness.

In her statement, she says, “The face jugs, cartoons, and paintings represent a kind of blissful ignorance: they’re totally fine with looking so hideous and awful; it’s of no consequence to them. Though covered in acne, wrinkles, and blemishes, their confidence and contentment is the ultimate acceptance of self-love. They’re blissfully unaware, unruly, wild and untamed.”

Rebecca Morgan received a BA from the Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and her MFA from Pratt Institute, NY.

In mounting this kind of exhibition,  it presents the question, what is the role of the university gallery?  Much like other educational institutions, like the Wayne State University’s Elaine Jacob Gallery where the sole mission is to bring in work from outside Metro Detroit, the OUAG Gallery has over the years provided a mix of both Detroit Metro art work and then at times, Goody imports artists from all parts of the world. Both exist in an environment not depended on sales for its existence, providing a venue that contrasts with the average contemporary gallery.

Your Very Own Paradise has been created to explore the notion that requires the artist to rise above convention, play with reality, and deliver an exhibition by the works of Nick Archer, Enrique Chagoya, Melanie Daniel, Maira Kalman, Amer Kobaslija, Andrew Lenaghan, Tayna Marcuse, Rebecca Morgan, Lamar Peterson, Orit Raff, Simon Roberts, Thomas Trosch, and Marc Yankus.

Your Very Own Paradise, Oakland University Art Gallery, through November 24, 2019

 

Copying and Invention in East Asia @ UMMA 

Imperial winter dragon robe, China, early 19th century, embroidered silk. University of Michigan Museum of Art, Gift of Elizabeth Henshaw Gasper Brown in memory of Horace, William and Helen Lou, 1989/1.34

In Western visual culture, copying is sometimes freighted with duplicitous or subversive undertones.  Marcel Duchamp’s notorious LHOOQ, a defaced poster of the Mona Lisa, is hardly flattering to the original, after all.  But drawing mostly from the University of Michigan Museum of Art’s permanent collection, the exhibition Copies and Invention in East Asia showcases the many ways the artists of China, Korea, and Japan actively copied and referenced pre-existing visual motifs across borders and across time.

There are over a hundred works on view which snugly fill the UMMA’s spacious Taubman Gallery, mostly gleaned from the past (the oldest artifacts coming from Han Dynasty China, about two millennia ago), though there are a smattering of 20th century and contemporary works on view.  The chronological and geographical scope of this exhibit is ambitiously large, so the show is compartmentalized thematically; there’s a section on literati painting, for example, and another on the auspicious animal symbols that recur.

Seifû Yohei III, White teapot and sencha pitcher with stamped dragonfly designs, circa 1893-1914, porcelain with clear glaze. University of Michigan Museum of Art, Bequest of Margaret Watson Parker, 1954/1.512 and 503

A set of ceramic bowls by the celebrated artist Seifu Yohi III are a case-study for how Japanese art imitated and synthesized the visual cultures of the territories conquered by imperial Japan.  Yohi intently studied pottery from China’s Ming and Song Dynasties (of which there are some examples on view), and his artistic output is one of respectful mimicry.   Employed by the imperial household, his work, characterized by its fine, milky-white glaze, reflected the interest Japanese patrons had in Chinese art.

Yamamoto Baiitsu, Blossoming Prunus Branch, after Wang Mien, 1847, hanging scroll, ink on paper. University of Michigan Museum of Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. C.D. Carter, 1970/2.156

Copying at its most literal is demonstrated by the Japanese landscape painters who replicated their original Chinese models, right down to the signatures of the original artists, though their intentions were never deceptive.  An elegant ink painting of a wispy tree branch by 19th century Japanese artist Yamamoto Baiitsu is an example, its architype being a 14th century work by Chinese artist Wang Mian.  And an impressively large hanging scroll demonstrates how even within China itself, artists would directly copy preexisting Chinese paintings.  Wu Wei’s Travelers on a Mountain Pass (painted, incidentally, at exactly the same time Leonardo was dabbing away on the Mona Lisa) is a tribute to a painting by the 10th century artist Li Cheng, though Wu’s painting is more abstract, retaining a definitive personal style.  This is also a painting that advances the case for seeing art in person; cinematic in scale, this work practically engulfs the viewer, an effect that would get lost in translation if reproduced in a book.

XU ZHEN ® Eternity-Aphrodite of Knidos, Tang Dynasty Sitting Buddha, 2014, glass fiber-reinforced concrete, marble grains, sandstone grains, mineral pigments, steel. Courtesy of James Cohan Gallery, New York ©Xu Zhen

For me, the most visually compelling works are the several contemporary sculptures on view.  South Korean artist Chul Hyun Ahn’s deceptively simple light sculpture Two Circles, placed right at the show’s entrance for maximum impact, comprises two colored circular florescent lights positioned concentrically between two mirrors, framed and mounted on the wall; stand directly in front of Two Circles, and the illusion is that you’re staring into an infinity of circles eternally receding into the distance.  Chul Hyun Ahn’s sculptures are abstract references to Zen Buddhist ink paintings, characterized by a reductive though elegant simplicity.  Approaching copying with a wry sense of humor, sculptor Zu Zhen created a literal mash-up of two iconic images in Eastern and Western visual culture: a seated Tang Dynasty statue of Buddha seems to sprout (where its head should be) an upside-down reproduction of the Aphrodite of Knossos.

Copies and Invention in East Asia, to its immense credit, takes a comparatively niche topic and makes it interesting, accessible, and visually punchy.  It’s a diverse show, ranging in scope from 2000+ year old Chinese burial objects to a set of countertop Buddhist stupas fresh off the 3D printer.  It’s a show that playfully gives tangible expression to the Japanese literary critic Hideo Kobayashi’s assertion that “Copying is the mother of creation.”

 

Textures of Detroit @ Kreft Center Gallery

Installation Kreft Gallery, Textures of Detroit, 2019

Installation , Textures of Detroit, Kreft Gallery, 2019

Textures of Detroit is an exhibition of work that revolves around the theme of visual and tactile textures of Detroit.  It’s an intimate, multimedia show of six seasoned and accomplished contemporary Detroit artists (Peter Bernal, Matt Corbin, Roy Feldman, Carol Harris, Carl Wilson, and Ann Smith), whose sometimes rugged and gritty work is almost a foil to the chic polish of Concordia University’s Kreft Center Gallery.

The exhibition opens with a fine salvo of woodblock prints and linocuts by Kresge fellow Carl Wilson, who last year enjoyed a show at the Grand Rapids Art Museum. It’s not hard at all to imagine these as still frames from noir film; they seem like storyboarded images or concept art for black-and-white cinema, evocative of soulful and morose saxophone riffs.  In one graphic-novel style image, we see a line of beleaguered workers trundling toward the beginning of their shifts at some industrial job.    In another an elderly woman sits alone in a dark room illuminated by a solitary hanging bulb, and nurses a glass of indeterminate substance.

There are several textile works on view by textile artist Carole Harris, who creates fiber art that seems almost painterly, and, at times, even sculptural.  Her color palate is rusty and industrial; it’s no surprise to learn she draws inspiration from aging architectural structures.  Move in close, and her arrangements of patchwork abstractions reveal a dizzying network of swirling stitch-work that recalls the pirouetting clouds of Van Gogh’s Starry Night.  Her works subtly reference the time-worn textures of urban Detroit, and they exude an undeniable beauty.

Roy Feldman, “Untitled,” Silver Halide print on Kodak Endura paper. Image courtesy of the artist.

A quintet of photographs by Roy Feldman, a Detroit-based photographer and Emmy-Award winning filmmaker, presents a set of images of multi-layered urban interiors, each characterized by disorienting reflections which lend the set an air of magic-realism, an effect the photographer here achieves by capturing images of people taken ether reflected in mirrors or viewed through windows, a device which misleadingly lends the images the initial appearance of being double-exposed. In one instance, we see the side of a cropped face of a woman applying eyeliner; she holds out a small, circular mirror which reflects her eye as it seems to gaze back directly at us, though seemingly disembodied like a hovering object from a painting by Rene Magritte.

Roy Feldman, “Untitled,” Silver Halide print on Kodak Endura paper. Image courtesy of the artist.

Ann Smith and Mark Corbin both create sculptures from found objects and detritus, though their respective styles are certainly distinct, Corbin’s works rhyming more with the unrefined assemblage-style works of Detroit’s Tyre Guyton (of the Heidelberg Project), and Ann Smith’s works clearly more fussily worked and refined; the curvaceous metallic wisps of her Squash Blossom are a sort of cursive in 3D.   Together, along with the fiber works of Carole Harris, this ensemble presents Detroit texture in the most literal sense.

Carol Harris, In the Spirit, 69 x 71″ textile, 1992

Like the Copies and Invention show on view at the UMMA, Textures of Detroit takes a relatively niche point of departure and delivers an immensely satisfying result. It’s eclectic, for sure, but these multimedia works seem to come together not just through their application of tactile and visual texture, but also through the understated affection they seem to exhibit for the Motor City, its textures, and its people.

 

SALON @ David Klein Gallery Detroit

 

“SALON” Gallery 1 Installation View. All photos are courtesy of David Klein Gallery.

At the David Klein Gallery, Detroit, the exhibition “SALON” ambitiously presents 90 works by 39 artists across a range of media, with sundry formal intentions in diverse dimensions, all the while accomplishing the near impossible task of curating a ruminative viewing experience in which a spirited dialogue between each work translates into an expansive conversation with its audience. “SALON” summons and breathes new life into old models of art viewership and cultural discourse that once placed an emphasis on wide-eyed pluralistic wonder.

“SALON” Foyer Wall Installation. 

The term salon originates as a social event that flourished during the Enlightenment. A crucial practice in “the age of conversation,” the salon collected persons of intellectual and cultural significance within the home of a well-to-do host to allow for an absorbing, investigative conversation on a wide-ranging set of issues. These were intended to be regularly recurring conversations around art, literature and politics to satisfy a hunger for knowledge while refining the tastes of all participants, mingled with a dose of amusement as egos politely debated for intellectual superiority. The salon also came to be identified with a series of academic art exhibitions beginning in 1667, at the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Work chosen to be exhibited by a juried system, jostled for space in dense groupings that covered the wall from top to bottom. With the rise of public museums in the 18th century, a similar method of presentation was followed. Work that had once been displayed in private collections, often serving as the backdrop for salon conversations, and were ordered as closely grouped arrangements to juxtapose formal contrasts more immediately, was replicated in the new public displays.

“SALON” Gallery 2 Installation View.

Crowded together to view a salon exhibition, the public was at times overwhelmed by the tightly clustered variety of works, but also in a state of awe and wonder, delving into vigorous conversation. With the advent of the “white cube” display methodology with neutral walls, controlled lighting and the spatial isolation of individual works of art inducing a hushed distance among viewing patrons, the salon approach was no longer the de facto system. The white cube environment, the earliest known iteration being an 1883 exhibition at London’s Fine Art Society by American artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), was initially intended as an innovation to eradicate distraction, disconnecting art from the world and imposing more rigorous viewing criteria upon the viewer: there is only one way to see the artwork, and it is thus. Subsequently, what was innovative has now become conventional, with institutions and galleries continually questioning how to liberate the viewing of art from the impulse of Modernist constraint.

“SALON” Gallery 1 North Wall Installation.

At David Klein, the use of the salon as both conversational gathering point and display methodology, stimulates an adventurous public viewing space. Rather than filling every wall from top to bottom and side to side, the work in the exhibition is broken down into intriguing groupings displayed on eight separate walls in the two gallery spaces. It would be a fool’s errand to extract a work or two from each group and create a “best of” series of highlights as the basis for an exhibition review. There is no star amongst the roster of artists here, culled from the gallery’s extensive exhibiting family. This is a group effort; each work assists the other as contrasts are amplified to deepen the conversation. Such collective resonance is where the true joy of “SALON” resides as hierarchies are erased. The graphic sits beside the painted. The drawn beside the photographic. The representational beside the abstract. The minimal beside the dense. The humorous beside the solemn. And so on and so forth. Such juxtapositions are the stuff of wildly active viewing. The exhibition hums with a vitality.

“SALON” Gallery 2 North Wall Installation

As a viewer moving from wall to wall, from conversation to conversation, one approaches the whole of each arrangement, marveling at the curatorial decisions resulting in unexpected formal juxtapositions. These configurations are the result of thoughtful installation on the macro level as well as care for content on the micro level. As one drills down into individual works, crowding in closer, examining each piece on its own terms, something occurs moving from one close inspection to another: the experience of the prior work lingers a bit more on the way to settling into the next. Like the exquisite sound design in a Robert Altman film, the voices overlap. On the north wall of gallery 2, the energetic collisions of Alisa Henriquez brush up against the hard-edged purity of Matthew Hawtin which finds a partnership with the carefully observed humanity of Mario Moore which is confronted by the mediated spectatorship of Jessica Rohrer which dissolves into the formal filigree of Janet Hamrick which simultaneously eases and bumps into the heightened temperature of Corine Vermeulen. There are many such moments throughout “SALON.”

“SALON” Gallery 1 South Wall Installation.

Realistically, “SALON” is an exhibition about availability. The works chosen are bite-sized morsels representative of a larger body of work by each artist, serving as distilled entrées into their concerns. Framed for ease of hanging and transportability, the majority of works priced at a modest level for a larger audience, such market concerns go hand-in-hand with the formal accessibility of the exhibition. Free of viewing images in isolation in support of a single voice, the communion on display in “SALON” is a liberating and welcoming experience. Rather than being instructed where to place one’s focus, there is a choice of attention. In an era in which digital platforms tailor our viewing habits with surgical precision, employing harvested algorithms to produce ever narrower windows on the world, it is good to be reminded of the virtues of pluralistic viewing. “SALON” is a social event that invigorates the necessity of wide-ranging cultural conversations, reinforcing a community of expression.

“SALON” Gallery 2 East Wall Installation.

“SALON” is Jamie Adams, Elise Ansel, Emmy Bright, Mitch Cope, Carlos Diaz, Joel Grothaus, Janet Hamrick, Matthew Hawtin, Alisa Henriquez, Patrick Hill, Scott Hocking, Cooper Holoweski, Trisha Holt, Cyrus Karimipour, Trevor King, Andrew Krieger, Stephen Magsig, Kim McCarty, Clara McClenon, Mario Moore, Carrie Moyer, Brittany Nelson, Marianna Olague, Judy Pfaff, Benjamin Pritchard, Kelly Reemtsen, Jessica Rohrer, Tylonn Sawyer, Robert Schefman, Julie Schenkelberg, Lauren Semivan, Clinton Snider, Rosalind Tallmadge, Corine Vermeulen, Liat Yossifor, and Elizabeth Youngblood.

“SALON” is on view at David Klein Gallery Detroit Until November 2.

 

 

 

Dissident Art Under Repressive Regimes @ the Broad

The Edge of Things: Dissident Art under Repressive Regimes, installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2019. Photo: Eat Pomegranate Photography

Between 1964 and 1985, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil were variously ruled under dictatorships and military juntas, all of which received tacit support from the United States.  Truth is murky under repressive regimes, as evidenced by the difficulty in pinpointing the actual number of people that were killed or “disappeared” (a sinister verb that acquired notoriety under Argentina’s General Jorge Videla who famously applied the word to describe dissidents “neither dead or alive”), though estimates are that in Argentina alone, approximately 30,000 people were killed in state-sponsored violence.  In South America, the Cold War was always raging hot. Until January, the Broad Art Museum highlights the experimental art produced by South American dissident artists who, at great personal risk, harnessed the visual arts to speak truth to power.

The Edge of Things: Dissident Art Under Repressive Regimes comprises a diverse array of multimedia work by sixteen South American artists (and two artist collectives) who “lived on the margins,” all united in their use of art as self-assertion and resistance.  Given the censorious nature of the regimes in which these artists lived and worked, most of the art on view necessarily approaches the subject matter metaphorically and indirectly, though the human body, intact or broken, recurs both as subject and, in some wince-inducing instances, the medium.

Much of this art is performance documented through photography or video, the transient nature of performance being perhaps a suitably discrete way to make a resonant statement in a climate of censorship.  A triptych of photographs documents Chilean performance artist Lotty Rosenfeld’s artistic intervention for which she altered the partition lines on a mile of road with white tape, transforming each straight line into a cross, or, alternatively, each “minus” into a “plus.”  For Rosenfeld, disrupting traffic law was a metaphorical act intended to subtly undermine law in a more general sense under Augusto Pinochet.

Another series of photographs documents performance artist Elias Adasme, who posed in various urban settings alongside a map of Chile (in some instances, a map is painted or projected directly onto his body).  In one performance, the artist’s seemingly lifeless body suspends upside-down from a road sign, Adasme’s pose bringing to mind a battered body in a torture cell. As a sort of coda to his performances, Adasme installed photographs of his performances in public spaces and documented the length of time they remained on view before police confiscated them.  Depending on where they were placed, this could range from as little as 30 minutes or as long as a month.

The Edge of Things: Dissident Art under Repressive Regimes, installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2019. Photo: Eat Pomegranate Photography

Silhouettes often recur in the show as a symbol for the “disappeared,” and a confrontationally large photograph by Edwardo Gil fills an entire gallery wall, showing Argentinian police arriving on the scene of a public artistic intervention for which artists collaborated with the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo (the “Mothers of the Disappeared”) and pasted silhouettes on the exteriors of government buildings throughout in Buenos Aires.  The featureless figures stand as surrogates memorializing just a few of the 30,000 people who disappeared under the Videla regime.  Similarly, Argentine artist Fernando Bedoya also applies the silhouette in his drawings, for which he builds human-like figures using letters which spell out the names of various individuals who were abducted or imprisoned.

The Edge of Things: Dissident Art under Repressive Regimes, installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2019. Photo: Eat Pomegranate Photography

A commanding series of seven expressionistic paintings by Brazilian artist Victor Gerhard portrays specific incidents of violence that occurred in Brazil under the country’s veritable litany of Military dictators; Gerhard’s combination of paint with newspaper collage and text recalls some of the politically-charged works of Robert Rauschenberg, who also mined newspapers for content.  A second work by Gerhard also addresses news (specifically, state-sponsored propaganda); a one-channel video in stop-motion animation shows a picture of a woman being force-fed images culled from various newspapers.  The work was the artist’s response to a series of laws which authorized the censorship of the press, and serves as a metaphor for the public’s involuntary consumption of state media with which the Brazilian government force-fed the population.

The Edge of Things: Dissident Art under Repressive Regimes, installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2019. Photo: Eat Pomegranate Photography

Any discussion about the Cold War in South America must invariably include the United States, and one gallery wall is filled with a timeline briefly summarizing the rise of each respective dictatorship and the political entanglements which led the United States (largely through the actions of the Central Intelligence Agency) to support these regimes, which, as violent as they were, nonetheless were viewed by Washington as preferable to their leftist and Communist opposition counterparts.  The wall-text also explains Operation Condor, the sordid American-backed alliance between a half-dozen South American regimes which collaborated across borders and shared information and recources to eliminate any opposition.  Actions under Operation Condor included the notorious Argentine “Death Flights” and the assassination of exiled Chilean opposition leader Orlando Letelier by a car bomb on American soil in Washington D.C., very possibly with the approval of the CIA.

The Edge of Things: Dissident Art under Repressive Regimes, installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2019. Photo: Eat Pomegranate Photography

Given the weighty subject matter of The Edge of Things: Dissident Art Under Repressive Regimes, one might think that this exhibition would be drearily depressing. But the tone of the show, to me at least, seemed ultimately optimistic, showcasing the inventive ways artists continued to create art despite the censorious and restrictive conditions in which they worked, and demonstrating that dictators and death squads ultimately couldn’t crush the triumphant spirit of resistance.

THE EDGE OF THINGS: DISSIDENT ART UNDER REPRESSIVE REGIMES   THE BROAD  JUNE 1, 2019 – JAN. 5, 2020

 

 

 

Life is a Highway & Everything is Rhythm @ Toledo Museum of Art

Claes Oldenburg, Profile Airflow, 1969. Cast polyurethane relief over lithograph. Collection of Flint Institute of Art

For those of us who grew up with the automobile as a ubiquitous part of life, the very prevalence of which (like oxygen) perhaps makes it go largely unregarded, it’s worth giving pause and considering the revolutionary, democratizing effect of the advent of the automobile, a cultural paradigm shift which literarily and figuratively reshaped the 20th Century American landscape.  The automobile takes center stage in the Toledo Art Museum’s exhibition Life is a Highway, the first U.S. exhibition to explore the automobile’s influence on visual culture, with specific attention to the Midwest.  This is not just a show about automobile-inspired art, but it manages to offer some commentary on both the celebrated advances of 20th Century technology and on the social and labor injustices that accompanied them.

Robert Frank,Belle Isle, Detroit, 1955. Photograph. Collection of MFA Houston

Life is a Highway assembles over 150 works spanning a diverse array of media, though photography seems to dominate the gallery suite.  Road signs and traffic cones, in addition to offering playful ambiance, guide viewers through the show.  Arranged chronologically, the exhibition opens with images that suggest the optimistic spirit with which the automobile became an American symbol.  A lithograph by Thomas Hart Benton shows the Joad family (from Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath), rendered in Benton’s characteristically folksy style, packing their belongings into the rickety-looking pickup truck which will transport them from the Oklahoma dust bowl to a better life (or so they think) in Edenic California.  But a looping video from Charlie Chaplin’s iconic film Modern Times suggests the cost on the human spirit of the age of the assembly-line and the automobile; Chaplin’s character must perform menial tasks on an implausibly fast assembly line, his body itself reduced to a mere machine.  And while the crisp paintings and photographs of Charles Sheeler celebrate the sublime grandeur of modern industrial temples (his ant’s-eye perspective reminiscent of the etchings of Piranesi’s views of Roman ruins), Arthur Siegel’s bird’s-eye view of a labor strike offers a different perspective, literally, on industrial progress.

Life is a Highway, Installation image, TMA 2019

After the Second World War, the automobile increasingly became both necessity and status symbol, and the American landscape changed to accommodate its omnipresence in American life. Robert Brown humorously approaches this with a painting of a cartoonified map of America in which every inch of earth has become occupied with shopping centers and parking lots.  In contrast, the photographic pencil drawings of Charles Kanwischer suggest that there really is an understated sublime beauty in the industrialized American landscape: the columns of his US 24 Road Project (presumably meant to support a bridge) here against a barren landscape seem like ruins from an ancient civilization, the Minoan palace of Knossos, perhaps. And Catherine Opie’s photographs of highway overpasses, rendered in elongated horizontal prints, are exquisite examples of 2D design, and one doesn’t even recognize these as roads at first, such is her ability to show the beauty in what we might consider the mundane.

But while the automobile became a symbol of freedom for many, the exhibition also turns its eye to the racial injustices painfully prevalent in automotive America.  Well into the 1960s, many restaurants and hotels refused service to people of color, necessitating the Green Book, a travel guide authored by Victor Hugo Green which listed establishments deemed safe for African Americans travelling in the Jim Crow South.  Several Green Booksare on display, alongside photographs from Jonathan Calm’s series Journey Through the South: Green Book, for which Calm traveled through the deep south, photographing locations from the Green Book as they appear today (some are now just vacant lots).  Among the establishments is the Lorraine Motel, which played host to, among others, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, and Dr. Martin Luther King the fateful night he was assassinated.

John Baeder, Stardust Motel, 1977. Oil on canvas. Collection of Yale University Art Gallery

Perhaps those who grew up during the pervasive automobile culture of the 50s and 60s, when cars had a Baroque lavishness entirely unburdened by any regard for efficiency, will find this exhibition especially resonant.   But one certainly doesn’t have to be an automotive know-it-all to appreciate Life is a Highway, which manages to be interdisciplinary in its scope, touching at once labor history, social (in)justice, economics, the environment, and so much more.

In addition to Life is a Highway, the TMA is concurrently exhibiting a vibrant show in its newly re-opened new-media gallery suite.  Everything is Rhythm is a multisensory show which explores intersections between music and the visual arts.  The show pairs fourteen paintings with corresponding works of music, which viewers can listen to by plugging in headphones (provided by the museum) into ports located at listening stations scattered throughout the gallery suite.  The exhibit gently challenges preconceptions of what an art exhibit ought to be, and in its tactful paring of image and sound manages to achieve an effect best described as cinematic.

In most cases, the pairings reflect a direct relationship between the composer and the painting. Harold Budd’s 1996 album Luxaserved as a musical tribute to some of his favorite artists, such as Anish Kapoor and Serge Poliakoff.  Here, his airy, meditative, and sinuous electronic composition Agnes Martin seems an apt musical interpretation of the British painter’s work, characteristically space and serene.   Composer Morton Friedman very much admired the paintings of Mark Rothko, and in 1971 even composed a moody and somber instrumental and vocal composition for the equally moody and somber Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas.  For this exhibit, an untitled 1962 Rothko is paired with Friedman’s Madame Press Died Last Week at Ninety, a morose symphonic work which rhymes with the tragic emotion Rothko so ardently tried to convey in his art.

Hans Hofmann (American, 1880-1966), Night Spell, 1965, oil on canvas, 72 x 60 in. (182.9 x 152.4 cm), Toledo Museum of Art (Toledo, Ohio), Purchased with funds from the Libbey Endowment, Gift of Edward Drummond Libbey, 1970.50

Some pairings emerged as curatorial decisions, regardless of whether or not the respective artists and musicians were conscientiously responding to each other.  While admittedly quite subjective, the pairings seem to work quite well.  The soulful, improvisatory trumpet of Miles Davis is paired with Hans Hofmann’s abstract expressionist Night Spell, itselfthe product of improvisation and intuition.  And the myriad of rhythmic vertical lines in Julian Stanczaks And Then There Were Three, a spellbinding tour de force of the Op Art movement, seems the logical visual equivalent of the hypnotic repetition of Philip Glass’ Metomorphosis III, a solo piano work which, while repetitive, manages to be undeniably beautiful, much like ocean waves breaking on the shore.

Everything is Rhythm, Installation, TMA 2019

Everything is Rhythm is a delightful show.  It’s also a great introduction to abstract art for those who dislike abstract art.  After all, music is abstract insofar as it’s transient and ephemeral, and we can appreciate an instrumental work even if it’s not about anything in particular, but merely succeeds in evoking a certain mood.  Over a century ago, American artist James McNeil Whistler advanced the argument that the same ought to be true for the visual arts, and he began giving his increasingly abstract paintings musical titles (arrangementsand nocturnes).  Were he to magically time travel to the present day, he’d certainly view this exhibition approvingly.

Life is a Highway at the Toledo Museum of Art runs through September 15, 2019, and Everything is Rhythmis on view through February 23, 2020.