Robert Schefman @ David Klein Gallery

Robert Schefman, Installation image, David Klein Gallery, 2019

In his first solo exhibition with David Klein Gallery, Robert Schefman presents a series of works exploring the hidden world of secrets. Via social media, Schefman asked followers to send him one personal secret, no names attached. Protected under a cloak of anonymity, Schefman coaxed quite a few people out of their shame and guilt to reveal the darkest of grave-destined secrets. These confessions became the framework for this series. The paintings are allegorical visual poems inviting the viewer to peer into the subjects’ private space glimpsing their angst or discomfort. Particularly striking is “On the Edge of the Moon,” wherein a woman seated alone on the beach in an ordinary kitchen chair, faces out toward the gloom. She appears to be contemplating her circumstances while the rhythm of the surf calms and comforts. A vital component of this painting is scale. At 78 x 120”, the viewer can mentally walk right into this scene illuminated only by the headlights from a waiting car.

Robert Schefman, “On the Edge of the Moon,” oil on canvas 78 x 120″ 2019

Visually poignant is “In Love with My Best Friend.” Unable to declare his love, possibly at the expense of a valued friendship, the unrequited lover sits amongst tokens of lovelorn and childhood toys, possibly symbolizing the length of the relationship. A bare light bulb harkens to harsh interrogation, coercing the admirer to give up his ghost and confess. His head is slightly bent toward his chest, implying the burden he carries on his broad but heartbroken shoulders.

Robert Schefman,  “In Love with My Best Friend,” oil on canvas 72 x 56″ 2019

Using our familiarity with texting and Twitter, the laser cut words-only pieces, devoid of a supplied visual reference, allows the viewer to consider their secrets. As a painter, reading “Someone Else Did One of My Paintings and I Signed My Name” caused my left eyebrow to rise in Scarlett O’Hara judgment. Identifying with an author makes the show somewhat participatory and taps into empathy on shared common ground. #metoo

Robert Schefman, “I Prefer My Mom’s Company Now That She Has Alzheimer’s,” laser-cut paper 16 x 20″

Robert Schefman,  “I Can’t Admit to All of the Drugs and Alcohol I Constantly Use to Get High” laser-cut paper 16 x 20″

Technology lends to speed and convenience. It made collecting this subject matter considerably easier. What makes this show genuinely compelling is mindful, patient execution. Schefman deftly wields his paintbrush with the best of the Renaissance Italians, masterfully telling dramatic stories through light and shadow. Throw in a side of Dutch trompe l’oeil, and the illusion is astonishing. Upon close inspection, however, it is surprising and delightful to discover the brushstrokes are looser than anticipated affording a soupçon of personal expression. A very relatable image is “Secrets.” In an attempt to silence his torment, this secretary seeks to ‘bury the evidence literally. I get that this image is metaphorical, but the idea of a thief on the precipice of capture, hastily disposing of material that will surely convict him, is far more romantic.

Robert Schefman, “Secrets” oil on canvas 44 x 30″  2017

 

KF: Assuming the models aren’t the confessors, why are most of the subjects’ backs turned?

RBS: Point of view is a valuable element in the narrative, with implications for both content and visible form. It accomplishes a number of goals. The back of a figure gives the viewer an easier opportunity to project themselves into a subject, rather than an encounter a specific person. In “The Edge Of The Moon,” point of view was used to keep the viewer isolated from the figure on the beach, and still experience the intersection of earth, water, sky, and self.

KF: Your genre has historically been an illusionist narrative via sculpture and painting. Why spell it out now with the text-only/no image pieces?

RBS: So much of the “Secrets Project” was generated by words that I wanted to honor the written word with pieces that focused on them. I have a long history of making paper sculpture as well as 2-dimensional work, and developing an idea with these elements resolved itself in a pointed way.

KF: What about your secrets? Are they lurking somewhere in this series unidentified?

RBS: Most of the secrets fell into categories; experiences, fears, and obsessions that we all share, myself included, but the rule of the project is anonymity, so my secrets remain.

Technology has permeated just about every aspect of our lives. From the comfort of our sofa, we command our smart devices to deliver groceries or name a state capitol. (I shudder to think what’s being recorded.) Many people are using social media channels as a crowdsourcing confessional, looking for validation from strangers as often as from people they actually know. It’s getting harder to maintain personal privacy while we demand transparency from public figures. Some feel relieved when they finally clear the slate. What about the participants in this project? Did this action unburden the keepers and free them from their prison? Ask Alexa.

Robert Schefman, Any Particular Secret” 54×36″ oil on canvas 2017

 

“Robert Schefman: Secrets” remains on view through December 21, 2019 at the David Klein Gallery

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.

 

 

 

BBAC opens Fall Exhibitions with Fanfare

The Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center has three new exhibitions that are complementary

Iris Eichenberg, Alberte Tranberg, Shelly McMahon, Emergence Property, Installation courtesy of DAR

Having just returned from New York City and viewed the OPEN CALL exhibition at the new museum in Hudson Yards, The Shed, where it afforded me the opportunity to experience 22 art installations that were juried and funded for a group of New York Artists. Now back in Detroit, it has given me some context to view and experience the new art installation at the BBAC, Emergence Property, largely conceived by the artist Iris Eichenberg.  This nearly all steel structure takes up the entire floor space in the Robinson Gallery, leaving only a 30″– 46″- 26″ path around the perimeter only to stop before it meets the first leg of the rectangle.

The installation is a collaboration of three artists, Iris Eichenberg, Shelly McMahon, and Alberte Tranberg whose work consumes the floor of the gallery, with one end of the space housing a pool of light, while the other end gradually ascends to a platform with delicate charcoal sculptures reaching upward, accompanied by a variety of flat rectangular screens of smoked glass varying in size.  In addition, and not to be understated, the regular 2 x 4 ceiling tiles have been removed so as to reflect a grid that conforms to the layout of these steel weathered steel plates on the floor.  There are several light bulbs hanging down from the ceiling in what appears to be random locations.

Iris Eichenberg, Alberte Tranberg, Shelly McMahon, Emergence Property, Installation image courtesy of DAR

This is not a group show, but a collaboration and they say in their statement that Emergence Property represents “the phenomena of collective behaviors by bodies larger than oneself. It is most commonly associated with flocks of birds whose movements in unison are executed unrehearsed and close proximity. Often these are evasive maneuvers which are transferred among the flock.  This collective property begins with one, whose slight adjustment results in a rippling effect, shifting behavior on a large scale.”

I assume the artists refer to what is called murmuration, (large groups of birds flying in exact formation) and because that analogy was not clear to me, I asked Eichenberg to elaborate on the art installation.

Ron Scott   What was your inspiration for the art installation and is it your first?

Iris Eichenberg    It’s not my first. I would not call it inspiration but a shared interest in space , process and materiality to start with. We took on the grid of the ceiling as an external architectural and physical obstacle and rather than ignore it, we embraced it.  We took the grid as a given as you can see on the floor. The patina of the floor might be a sky or the sea. As our conversation about emergence properties included the murmer of birds ….a simplification of what you see is the collapsing murmur of birds in the sky. But then again there is so much more going on which emerged through the interdependent process. I find space in limitations. That ceiling was restrictive, dominant and limiting. We turned the room upside down and then moved in.

RS   Is this art installation a collaboration of ideas by three artists or were the other two artists on board for their expertise?

IE   It is a collaboration of kindred minds who found their voice together. I cannot answer for them, but to me they were on board for the different sounds we make, for the mind which is not my own and foreign to me but getting sometimes closer to my intent than I might be able to by myself. The working process was one of trust and ego management. An ongoing unfolding of adding, deleting and change of course. The work for sure is the result of a collaboration on various levels, taking each other’s material to a different place, opening space for each other but also ending each other’s sentences.

RS   Could you explain the idea of limited space around the perimeter for the viewer to walk or stand?

IE  Exclusion is an effective tool to raise attention to those who assume to be included. The space is dark yet beautiful. The push and pull of seduction and exclusion complicates the relationship. Being pushed to the margins of the work, reduced to voyeurism, the viewer is not part of but outside and alone. That loneliness of the observer plays into the worldview of the piece. The awkwardness made people stay rather than leave.

RS  In your statement, you refer to the phenomena of collective behaviors by bodies larger than oneself, so how does that relate to these metal plates and structures on the floor?

IE  The work  or the material is not an illustration of that thought but the process of picking up on one’s energy, enabling each other. Appropriating the potential of the other allowed for decisions none of us would have made. That is the phenomena we are talking about in the text. The metal plates are the vernacular of one of us. What they become in combination with the other elements is a dynamic energy and ultimately a force beyond the individual participation.

RS  What was your thinking about the need to remove ceiling tiles?

IE  We did not remove them. We found the voided ceiling, the void is what we embraced in shape, material and matter. It was the restriction we took on the unavoidable we accepted as a basic condition and, rather than ignoring it, we allowed it to define the mirrored ground space. In more than the grid we reversed ceiling and floor. The mirrors even fuse/confuse the identical grid.

Iris Eichenberg, Alberte Tranberg, Shelly McMahon, Emergence Property, Installation detail. Image courtesy of BBAC

I did learn more about this installation of art from this interview with Eichenberg and, as a result, I perceive it more deeply. Let’s step back and realize that art installation is a relatively new genre of contemporary art and is temporary by nature. The ideas presented tend to be more important than the quality of its medium and largely are site specific, designed to transform the perception of space.  By using the metaphor of a murmur of birds, I was not sure she was referring to the art or the relationship of the artists. Perhaps both. It has not been my own personal experience to be limited, even one might say captive, while viewing art, so with regard to the small and restrictive pathway around the work, this juror is still out.

When I think back to Étant donnés by Marcel Duchamp, or I Like America and America Likes Me by Joseph Beuys, I can easily support the concept of art installation as an important genre, and in the case of Emergence Property, it will likely transform the Metro Detroit area by surprising audiences and engaging viewers in new ways.

Iris Eichenberg earned her university credentials from Gerrit Rietveld Academy, Amsterdam, NL and is the recipient of numerous awards and grants. Alberte Tranbert earned his MFA from Cranbrook Academy in 2018, and Shelly McMahon earned her BFA from the University of Oregon, and her MFA from Cranbrook Academy in 2018.

Gregory Thielker: The Wall

Gregory Thielker, installation, color photographs & objects

It should not surprise anyone that artists are drawn to issues of social justice.  Just look at the headlines from the Whitney Biennial 2019 culminating in the forced resignation of board member Warren B. Kanders, or the uproar over Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family. In the current center gallery at the BBAC is a visual portrait of the border territory between the U.S. and Mexico where the visual artist Gregory Thielker has an exhibition of both black & white, and  color watercolors (and color photos) that depict various views of the border wall, from tall steel barricades to sheet metal fences without containing humans, just the landscape.

He says in his statement, “This is a visual portrait of the border territory between the U.S. and Mexico.  I traveled to different sections of the border region, crisscrossing back and forth, interviewing local community members and documenting the diverse terrain.  The result is a series of black and white watercolor paintings ranging from small, intimate views to a large mural.”

Gregory Thielker, The Wall, watercolor on paper, 96 x 225″

At first glance, you might think you are experiencing photo images, but on closer examination, some of these photo-based paintings are watercolors.  Just the scale of this painting is impressive, divided into five sections and measuring 96 x 225”, the photo realistic watercolor dominates the gallery space. There is a feeling of border patrol presence, just from the number 12 and the structure in the upper right-hand corner. This exhibition evokes the headlines in our daily news where images of people from the southern part of North America are fleeing violence and oppression to seek asylum in the United States.  The collective of these paintings rings in our heads the sonnet by Emma Lazarus, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Gregory Thielker earned his BFA from Williams College, and his MFA from Washington University in St. Louis Missouri, in painting.

Animal Pleasures – Small Etchings by Alan Larkin

Alan Larkin, A Marionette, Etching & Aquatint

I have seen Alan Larkin’s work in the BBAC Fine Art Competition exhibition and was delighted to see more of his printmaking in his small, intimate show in the Ramp Gallery. These etchings bring to mind a neoclassical feel, both in subject and execution.  Larkin, an associate professor at Indiana University for thirty years, taught drawing and printmaking.  In this Etching and Aquatint, “The Marionette,” Larkin provides the viewer with a lush and coherent three dimensional image grounded in composition , subtle  primary colors and engaging design elements.

Larkin says in his statement, “Art should engage people’s interest both immediately and over time. When we stand in front of something it is often because it calls to us from across the room, but when we return to it we should discover something new. Objects that can have this power are not accidents. They are made by thinking people who learn how to connect their intellect with their emotions.”

Alan Larkin, Oberon, Etching

The etchings are small and are executed with 000 needles, often under a microscope, drawn on copper plates and submerged in a Ferric Chloride bath and often go through multiple baths. I submit there is room for this oeuvre in our collecting, much like classical music, literature and photography.  “It can be discussed and understood in a number of different ways: as a design in terms of its color, balance and movement, as a craft, in terms of its mastery, or even as a story, in terms of its emotional impact or its capacity to give us insight.”  Larkin earned his BA in art from Carleton College in Northfield Minnesota in 1975 and his MFA in printmaking from Pennsylvania State University in 1977.

This collection of three exhibitions are complementary and demonstrate how the curation at the BBAC is not about sales, but more about providing the public with thought-provoking aesthetic experiences.

Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center –  The Four Exhibitions will run through October, 10, 2019.