Visual Citizenship @ MSU Broad Museum

Visual Citizenship, installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2020. Photo: Eat Pomegranate Photography.

The exhibition Visual Citizenship, on view at Michigan State University’s Broad Art Museum through December 26, is a considered show that comprises politically-charged prints and photographs that snugly fill the museum’s trapezoidal Collections Gallery.  Its title comes from scholar, author, and filmmaker Ariella Azoulay, who argues that image-viewing is an active civic engagement, and Visual Citizenship explores the implied moral, ethical, and civic questions and obligations presented when a viewer confronts images, particularly images of injustice. The show is thoughtful, timely, and visually satisfying, and it includes artists whose names carry some real weight in the art-world, such as Kathe Kollwitz, William Hogarth, Francisco Goya, and others.

The advents of photography and printing democratized the image to a degree unparalleled until the age of the internet.  They’re both relatively inexpensive media, and they don’t rely on moneyed and powerful patrons.  Furthermore, photos and prints are easily reproduceable, and together they helped introduce a new visual language of civic and political discourse.

Francisco Goya wasn’t the first artist to harness printmaking to document social and political injustice, but he’s certainly among the most famous.  His series of just over 80 prints which comprise his Disasters of War relay in first-person perspective and with unrelenting honesty the gritty and violent events that transpired when Napoleon’s army invaded Spain.  The show’s informational panels aptly compare Goya’s etchings to the photographs captured by a modern-day war correspondent.  On view is an etching from his Disasters, showing hangmen leading prisoners to a makeshift scaffold where several dead bodies already swing.  There are also several etchings from his satirical Follies series.  These images, never published in Goya’s lifetime, are freighted with dark and surreal imagery that seems to anticipate by a hundred years the style of the early 20th century symbolists.  Goya’s work is rarely pleasant, but it’s a welcome foil to much of the fawningly polite Napoleonic propaganda produced by the likes of Jacques Louis David or Antoine-Jean Gros.

Duro es el paso! (The way is hard!), from The Disasters of War, 1810-14. Etching and aquatint, 9 1/2 x 12 7/8 inches. MSU purchase, funded by the MSU Development Fund 64.76

Perhaps the most arresting and uncomfortable ensemble of images in the show is the Erased Lynchings series by conceptual artist Ken Gonzales-Day.  Gonzales-Day scanned images from actual postcards spanning from 1870 to 1940, all of which depicted photographs of the lynching of Lantin Americans, African Americans, Native Americans, and Asian Americans.  He then digitally erased the victims, leaving only the spectators, who now become the subject of the image.  The series addresses the role that bystanders and spectators play during social and political atrocities, and also the erasure of uncomfortable moments from our national narrative.

Erased Lynchings, installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2020. Photo: Eat Pomegranate Photography.

Lynching of Frank MacManus, Minneapolis, MN, 1882, from Erased Lynchings 2006-2019.  Archival inkjet print on rag paper mounted on cardstock, 6 x 4 ½ inches. MSU purchase, funded by the Nellie M. Loomis Endowment in memory of Martha Jane Loomis, 2019.17.1-5

A generous selection of photographs of significant political marches, rallies, and protests highlights the role that documentary photography played in making people aware of the Civil Rights Movement, perhaps something easily taken for granted now that anyone with a smartphone and a social media account is a potential lay-photojournalist.  These images include an ensemble by Leonard Freed, a photojournalist whose seminal work Black in White America (1968) documented the Civil Rights Movement with sensitivity and empathy, emphasizing the humanity of his subjects rather than the acts of violence and brutality they endured—the reverse of what Susan Sontag referred to in On Photography as the “atrocity exhibition,” which have a danger of becoming counterproductive to their cause.  Here, a selection of Freed’s photographs variously document a civil rights protest in Brooklyn, the historic 1963 March on Washington, and the 20th Anniversary March on Washington in 1983.

1963, Washington D.C., USA (March on Washington, 8-28-’63), 1963. Photograph  11 x 14 inches.   Courtesy Special Collections, MSU Libraries, Michigan State University

Finally, a quartet of engravings by William Hogarth adds some levity to the exhibit, as Hogarth’s wry, satirical works always tend to do.  His characteristically tongue-in-cheek series Humours of an Election, based on an actual 1754 Oxfordshire election, implicates both the Whigs and the Tories in trying to hijack the election through any means necessary.   Hogarth’s humorous approach to political critique is about as far from Goya’s nightmarish visions as one could possibly get, though both artists certainly shared a jaundiced perception of those in political power.

Four Prints of an Election: Plate II, Canvassing for Votes, 1757. Hand-colored engraving, 15 3/4 x 21 1/4 inches. MSU purchase 64.16

Visual Citizenship is a rewarding show, and each vignette of photographs or prints could easily be the starting point for a subsequent exhibition.  It’s certainly relevant and timely, and not just because this happens to be an election year. After all, in the age of social media, the smartphone, and the viral video, images have become the primary way we gather news and process information, which certainly seems to underscore Ariella Azoulay’s original point that image-viewing is a civic act.

MSU Broad – Visual Citizenship, on view at Michigan State University’s Broad Art Museum through December 26, 2020

 

 

Black Matters @ Flint Institute of Art

Install image, Black Matters, FIA

Chicago-based artist Matthew Owen Wead never intended Shooting Targets to be an ongoing series.  Originally conceived in 2009, this body of work memorialized selected black victims of police violence spanning the years 1969 through 2009.  But the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Ahmaud Arbery earlier this year sadly keep this body of work perennially relevant.   The thirteen works from Shooting Targets comprise the bulk of the exhibition Black Matters currently on view at the Flint Art Institute, a moving and considered exhibition of life-sized woodcuts that manage to cross into the realm of performance and conceptual art.

Occupying the FIA’s single-room graphics gallery, Black Matters consists of sixteen large woodcuts depicting black victims of police or vigilante violence; each print shows a black figure against a stark, white void, echoing the nearly universal formula for a typical target at a shooting range.  Using himself as the model for most of the prints, Wead imagined the possible expression and posture of each victim in the moment before their death.  Revealingly, it’s not necessarily always fear or panic we see; the five bullets that struck the mentally disabled Ronald Madison were fired into his back, for example, so some of these victims couldn’t react to what they didn’t expect.  Each image is accompanied with didactic text on the wall relaying the story of each victim.

Matthew Owen Wead, American, born 1984 Breonna Taylor, 2020 Woodcut on paper 36 x 24 inches Courtesy of the artist

These works are confrontational in scale and certainly make a strong statement presented together as an ensemble, but their size also references the approximate size of a target at a shooting range.  And we see each individual only from the waist up, also a conscious allusion to a target.  Close inspection of some of these prints reveals actual bullet holes in the print corresponding to the number of times each victim was shot.

Stylistically, these works conscientiously betray the influence of early 20th century expressionistic woodcuts, particularly the visceral and emotionally charged works of Kathe Kollwitz, which Wead acknowledges were a formative influence on his work, along with the dark and visually punchy works of the Baroque painter Caravaggio.

Matthew Owen Wead, American, born 1984 Johnny Gammage, 2009 Woodcut on paper 36 x 24 inches Museum purchase, FIA

All of these works apply expressive linework.  The agitated undulations and swirling light and shadow that appear on the jackets of Michael Pleasance and Khiel Coppin seem to help externalize their states of mind and underscore the drama of the moment, for example.  And the knee on George Floyd’s neck is rendered abstractly as a frighteningly oppressive network of chevron lines which consume half the page.  But there’s also an understated elegance in some of these images, as in the portrait of Ronald Madison, his back rendered with sinuous linework and deft application of light and shadow.

Matthew Owen Wead, American, born 1984 Ronald Madison, 2009 Woodcut on paper 36 x 24 inches Museum purchase, FIA

Both this exhibition’s title and font carry subtle references.  Black Matters, of course, references the Black Lives Matter movement.  But the “B” and “M” in Black Matters  double as a 3 and a 5, wittily referencing the Three-Fifth’s Compromise which emerged from the 1787 Constitutional Convention, a policy that determined that in assessing the populations of each state, slaves would be counted as 3/5 of a person.  The title and the 3/5 fraction together also subtly make the point that addressing systemic racism should always be a priority, not merely in those moments when a particularly sensational video happens to go viral.

Matthew Owen Wead, American, born 1984 George Floyd, 2020 Woodcut on paper 36 x 24 inches Courtesy of the artist

Install image, Black Matters, FIA

This show demonstrates that police brutality has been a problem well before George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbey unwittingly became names with which we are all familiar.  Personally, I found it sadly revealing that almost all of these individuals were people I had never heard of before, suggesting my own relative ignorance of the history and the scope of the problem.  Black Matters is a considered, moving, and pathos-laden exhibition, and it’s also an exhibition that shouldn’t have to happen.

Black Matters, Matthew Owen Wead, Flint Institute of Art

Soft Powers @Arab American National Museum

 

Soft Powers, dimensions variable, installation

Yasmine Diaz has already had work exhibited in both sides of the Atlantic ranging from venues such as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Poetry Project Space in Berlin, and Station Beirut in Lebanon.  But soft powers at the Arab American National Museum is her first solo exhibition in a museum space, and as such seems like a debut of sorts.  Los Angeles based Yasmine Nasser Diaz recently completed her artist in residence in March 2020 at the AANM, and with Soft-Powers, she presents an intimate and largely autobiographical reflection on the experience of coming-of-age in the United States as the daughter of immigrants.

Soft Powers wittily puns on both the medium and the message of the exhibit, referencing the silk of the show’s fiber etchings and the “soft powers” immigrants are forced to develop as they navigate conflicting loyalties and cultures.  Diaz approaches the topic from first-person perspective, having herself grown up in Chicago as the child of immigrants from Yemen.

Say No To Drugs, 30 x 38,” silk-rayon fiber etching

The exhibition is divided into two sections, beginning with an ensemble of fiber etchings based on the artist’s own photographs of Yemeni friends and family in private interior spaces.  Her fiber etchings are mostly monochromatic (and of a warm rose color palette), and the figures they portray are reductive like those of an Andy Warhol screen-print.  But there’s enough visual information to suggest some of the tension (and fusion) of differing cultures.  In one image, we see a woman wearing a “Say No! to Drugs” t-shirt; in other images, we see women dressed in what appears to be more traditionally ethnic dress. In most of these images, we see women in a group or ensemble, often embracing, and exuding sisterhood and solidarity.

Thick as Thieves, 28 x 36,” silk-rayon fiber etching

Truth or Dare, 44 x 58,” silk-rayon fiber etching

The second space in the exhibit is an immersive installation of a bedroom with some interactive components.  This is the third iteration of her Teenage Bedroom series, and comprises all the elements you’d expect to find in the bedroom of two fictional children of immigrants to America.  There’s enough detail that wandering around the space feels almost creepily voyeuristic.  Having come of age myself in the 90s, I appreciated anecdotal elements like the California Raisin collectibles placed on the television set, and the Trapper Keeper binder on the floor, details that imparted a bit of whimsey and (for me anyway) shared experience.  Queen Latifah posters, stacks of cassette tapes, a stack of People magazines, Islamic prayer beads, and black and white photographs of presumed relatives are a few elements in the room that collectively hint at cultural synthesis as these children embrace American culture while acknowledging their traditions and family histories.

Video Courtesy of the Arab American National Museum

Unfortunately, by its nature Teenage Bedroom loses some of its impact when just viewed online, and since the AANM is closed indefinitely due to Covid 19, the show must be experienced digitally by default.  However, the AANM assembled a virtual walk through of the exhibit, narrated by Diaz herself.  And most of the silk-etchings from the show are viewable on her website.  Though the show can’t be viewed in person (for now), it remains a timely and relevant exhibit, particularly against the backdrop of the 2017 travel ban which affected aspirant immigrants from Yemen.  In this show, Diaz quietly urges us to look at arrivals from other homelands with empathy, and she imparts a healthy respect for the soft powers these immigrants develop as they tactfully navigate the bridging of cultures.

They Talk About Us,  36 x 30,” silk-rayon fiber etching

They Talk About Us,  36 x 30,” silk-rayon fiber etching

Stewart & Stewart Fine Art Prints @ BBAC

Installation Image, Glimpse: Fine Print Selections from 1980-2020 is on view in the Kantgias-DeSalle Gallery, All images courtesy of Stewart & Stewart

The Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center opens and celebrates forty years of independent printmaking and publishing by Norman and Susan Stewart. Glimpse: Fine Print Selections from 1980-2020 is on view in the Kantgias-DeSalle Gallery. 

From the beginning of the 1980 decade, not far off Telegraph and Quarton Road, sets a small bungalow converted from a gardener’s house, once part of the Book Family summer estate, on Wing Lake that would become the studio for the master printer Norman Stewart.  Fresh from his MFA at Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1977, he continued his work as an artist, and began the process of inviting artists to come and reside in the studio to create their editions in printmaking. Likely one of a kind in the country, the renovation included living quarters to the visiting artist leading to a vibrant and productive relationship that would last for many years.

Although there are several exceptions, the majority of work presented by Stewart & Stewart is screenprinting, (occasionally known as “silkscreen,” or “serigraphy”) where ink is pushed through an applied stencil on a stretched fabric frame against the surface of the paper. Sometimes there is only one screen (Martha Diamond, Vignettes) in this exhibition and as many as 32 screens ( Hugh Kepets, Astor and Catherine Kernan, Traversal I) for a single print.  Unlike many other printmaking processes, a press is not required, as screenprinting is essentially stencil printing and usually produced in editions.

Although early roots of screenprinting can be traced to the ancient Orient,  the artistic expression that began in the United States was in the 1930s. Among the earliest were Harry Gottlieb, and Ruth Chaney, that went on to include nationally known artists such as Josef Albers, Bridget Riley, and Andy Warhol. Although we see other printmaking techniques by artists used in this exhibition that include archival pigment prints, relief prints, lithographs, cliche’-verre, and intaglio prints such as etchings and aquatints, none of these execute the kind of cumulative range of modulation, color, and transparency, and surface treatment as thoroughly as the screenprinting process.

Nancy Sojka former curator of Prints and Drawings, Detroit Institute of Arts remarked,  “These prints are a small part of Norm and Susan Stewart’s living legacy which currently stands at more than two hundred editions — excluding additional 100-plus monoprints by several different artists from among the thirty-five with whom they have collaborated. This prodigious body of work could not have been realized without having a bold vision tempered with sound judgment, extremely hard work, good bookkeeping, and a persistently positive outlook. Over the course of these last four decades the Stewarts have remained true to a central guiding principle.”

Judy McReynolds Bowman (American),  Mom in Harlem, 22″ x 30″ archival pigment print, 2020.

Judy Bowman’s work has arrived on the art scene in Detroit after a hiatus from working as an educator in the Detroit Public School System and raising her family of ten children.  After graduating from high school, she began taking art classes at Spelman College, Atlanta, while adding  classes at Morris Brown College and Clark Atlanta University, majoring in Art.  The large paper collages as in Mary Don’t You Weep,  flatten perspective and call out to Romare Bearden to appear, are reflections on her rich life experiences.  Her focus relies heavily on composition and color, and folk felt subjects that seem to be filled with images of family, relationships, love and faith, and the African American community.  The honesty of Bowman is in full force in these slices of colorful cut and pasted paper.

Janet Fish (American), Leyden, 12-color screenprint,  28.5″ x 41”, 1991

Janet Fish is known primarily for her densely detailed, richly colored, complexly composed still life work often lit with an intensity that matches its informational overload, Fish revels in the delightful inherent contradictions of her elective craft. The objects that serve as armatures for color and light in her work are exuberant in their state of flux.  The conceptual, formal, and iconographic history of the still life genre confirms our own experience.  Fish earned her MFA from Yale in 1963 and is an artist who does oil painting as well as printmaking, lives in New York City, and Middleton Springs VT, and is represented by the DC Moore Gallery. During her evolution, her fellow classmates included Chuck Close, Nancy Graves, Robert Mangold, and Richard Serra. The tight-knit group who formed an intense, ambitious, competitive genus that motivated one another to develop and defend their work. In her work, Leyden, light plays the leading role in both subject and background. Janet Fish created ten fine art screenprint editions in residence at Stewart & Stewart’s Wing Lake Studio starting in 1991, and her impressive body of work included a fine art screenprint edition commissioned by the Detroit Institute of Arts in 1996.

Jane E. Goldman (American), Ellen’s Window 20-color screenprint, 29.75″ x 21.75″, 1990.

In her work, Ellen’s Window, the 20-color screenprint, looks down from above with this elegant diagonal composition of a bowl of fruit, cups on a tray, and window reflections. She says in her statement, “I make art to wake up, to dream, to understand, to speak to my colleagues, the world. My media includes painting and printmaking.” A nationally recognized painter and printmaker, she has taught at Massachusetts College of Art, UCLA, Rice University, and Hartford Art School; and been a visiting artist at many institutions, including Harvard University and Artist Proof Studio, South Africa. Jane Goldman was born in Dallas, Texas, and earned her B.A. degree from Smith College and M.F.A. from the University of Wisconsin.

Richard Bosman (Australian)  Rear View Night B, monoprint/hand painted, 21.75″ x 29.75″,  2017

Richard Bosman’s  Rear View Night B, is one monoprint/hand painted, as part of a series of images that include this review view mirror composition. The print image has a naturalistic palette with expressionistic additions of white, pushing toward the viewer with a kind of aggressive intimacy. Over the years, he has a list of themes that have driven the work: Profiles, Copy Cats, Doors, Artist’s Studios, Modern Life, Rough Terrain, American History, and Wilderness.  Bosman was born in Madras, India, in 1944 and raised in Egypt and Australia. He studied at the Byam Shaw School of Painting and Drawing in London from 1965 – 69 and at the New York Studio School from 1969 – 71. Bosman is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, and his work has been exhibited extensively, including solo shows at numerous international galleries, as well as in group exhibitions at venues including the Museum of Modern Art, the Walker Art Center, the Whitney Museum, and the Brooklyn Museum. The artist lives and works in New York City and Esopus, NY.

Hunt Slonem (American) Lucky Charm, 3-color screenprint,  41″ x 28.5″, 1997

Since 1977, Hunt Slonem has had more than 350 exhibitions at prestigious galleries and museums internationally. His work, Lucky Charm, is just a part of his many portraits of exotic birds, insects, and a variety of animals executed in a loose and expressionistic style that often includes the repetition of bright, colorful images with black outlines. His Neo-Expressionistic paintings of rabbits and tropical birds may be based on his personal aviary.  Slonem says. “But I’m more interested in doing it in the sense of prayer, with repetition… It’s really a form of worship.”  He studied painting at Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture in Scowhegan, ME; of Painting & Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN; and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the Tulane University of Louisiana. Slonem’s works can be found in the permanent collections of 250 museums internationally, including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the New Orleans Museum of Art and the Joan Miro’ Foundation.

Those who specialize in printmaking, understand that there is a close collaboration that is required between an artist and a printer in realizing any print, of course with an occasional artist who works entirely alone based on a specialized set of circumstances. Stewart’s approach is a balance between his own sensibility and that of the artist supporting the creative thought and conception with the technical sequence required by the process.  The outcome is a paradoxical blend of formal and non-formal elements that the viewer reads simultaneously. The appearance of around the clock ease masks the strenuous work, complex technical skill, and long hours that actually define the activities of the artists.  Stewart, often accompanied by assistants, has brought hundreds of new editions and monoprints, into being for the last forty years.

For a partnership in printmaking that has endured for forty years, it is important to recognize Norman and Susan Stewart and their steadfast years of work.  Both were born in Detroit, and attended the University of Michigan for their undergraduate work. Norm’s graduate work at the  University of Michigan and Cranbrook Academy of Art, and Susan’s graduate work at the University of Michigan provided the base for their success. It is a relationship where each skill set has complimented the other to produce a world class collaboration of art, design, and master printmaking.

Stewart & Stewart has published an on-line catalog:  Collaboration in Print, now available at StewartStewart.com to read and/or download for later reference.

Each artist name in this exhibition and catalog has a link to his/her images and biography.

Jack Beal, Richard Bosman, Judy McReynolds Bowman, Nancy Campbell, Susan Crile, Martha Diamond, Connor Everts, Janet Fish, Sondra Freckelton, John Glick
Jane E. Goldman, C. Dennis Guastella, Keiko Hara, John Himmelfarb, Sue Hirtzel, Sidney Hurwitz, Yvonne Jacquette, Hugh Kepets,  Catherine Kernan,  Clinton Kuopus, Daniel Lang, Ann Mikolowski, Jim Nawara, Lucille Procter Nawara, Don Nice,  Mary Prince, Mel Rosas, Jonathan Santlofer, Jeanette Pasin Sloan, Hunt Slonem, Steven Sorman, Norman Stewart, Paul Stewart, Richard Treaster, Titus Welliver

The  Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center’s exhibition  Glimpse, produced by Stewart & Stewart now runs through June 18, 2020 by appointment.  Simply call the BBAC at 248.644.0866 in advance of your planned visit.