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.

 

Art Basel Miami @ Detroit Art Review

Miami Art week, the mammoth fine art fair comprised of Art Basel Miami Beach plus twenty satellite fairs, events and parties, salted around the city like raisins in a fruitcake,  has just ended.   It was an all-you-can see buffet of contemporary art, much of it excellent. It’s impossible to see it all without developing a serious case of esthetic indigestion. But my project to see the art coming from the Great Lakes region, and Detroit in particular, made the task more manageable.

A string of fairs located in lavish oversize tents, Scope, Pulse, Untitled, Context and Art Miami, were lined up along the beach and interspersed with large public art works exposed to the sun and air.   Art Miami, at 30, which predates Art Basel and is the oldest and one of the most respected  fairs,  is where I found David Klein Gallery’s booth. This year, the gallery showcased a  collection of Detroit artists who will be familiar to anyone who’s been paying attention, as well as a couple of talented newcomers.

David Klein Booth at Art Miami, Photo by K.A. Letts 2019

Gallerist David Klein told me that the gallery opened its first booth at Art Miami 11 years ago, during the height of the Great Recession, and that they’ve been coming every year since.  The booth was anchored by Kelly Reemtsen’s monumental Rise Up.The warm Miami air seemed to billow the voluminous taffeta skirt of her genteel but assertive debutante, and the light in the heavy white  impasto surrounding the figure felt a little different on the beach in Miami than it had when I saw the piece in Detroit.

Rosalind Tallmadge and Marianna Olague, two recent graduates of Cranbrook Art Academy, were represented by David Klein in Miami this year. Klein described Cranbrook as “…a great resource for us. Rosalind we met when she was in the painting program [there] and Marianna Olague is also a very recent Cranbrook grad.” Artworks by the two seemed to respond to the ambient Florida sunshine, though in different ways.  Tallmadge’s formal mica, glass bead and metal leaf-encrusted artworks, which seem more the product of geology than of art, shimmered, while Marianna Olague’s self-contained and pensive young women occupied a pictorial space suffused with the warm light of her native El Paso.

Marianna Olague, Here Lies Toro, 2019, David Klein Gallery, Art Miami, 2019

Mario Moore, The Visit, 2019, David Klein Gallery, Art Miami, photo courtesy David Klein Gallery

David Klein Gallery has routinely shown the work of African American artists, but suddenly at Art Basel Miami Beach 2019, there was a notable increase in artists of color prominently displayed throughout all the fairs. Mario Moore’s large single-subject portraits were exactly on trend.  The self-possessed, casually dressed inhabitants in Moore’s paintings, situated comfortably in their everyday  environments, projected confidence and understated dignity.

The highest concentration of Detroit representation was at NADA (New Art Dealers Alliance), which bodes well for the future of the art scene in Detroit.  This fair shows work by up-and-coming galleries and artists (and famously provides a hunting ground for more established galleries hoping to poach promising young artists.) Held in the Ice Palace Studios, Nada’s relaxed atmosphere, with some artworks scattered around the grounds and hammocks and picnic blankets provided for physically exhausted and/or visually overstimulated fairgoers, was a welcome change from the more aggressively commercial fairs.

Detroit was represented in the main exhibitors’ section by Simone DeSousa Gallery and Reyes/Finn. And in the NADA Projects section–a sort of junior NADA–I encountered Detroit Presents, a collection of Islamic prayer rug-inspired collages by Anthony Giannini presented by Detroit Art Week.

This was the second year that that Simone DeSousa has represented artists at NADA. She chose to exhibit the work of two Detroit-based creatives, Veha Nedpathak and Iris Eichenberg. NedPathak’s richly colored, freeform process-derived paper tapestries, created by her self-invented ritualistic practice, contrasted nicely with Eichenberg’s light absorbing, idiosyncratic black objects.

Neha Vedpathak, So many stars in the sky some for me and some for them, 2018, Simone DeSousa Gallery, NADA (photo courtesy of Simone DeSousa Gallery)

Iris Eichenberg, Untitled, Simone DeSousa Gallery, NADA, photo by K.A. Letts

When I asked DeSousa about her plans for future art fairs, she pointed out that there is considerable expense involved in participating, but the Nada fair makes the most sense for the gallery, and so far it has proved to be a good showcase for the artists and for her. It’s likely that she will to present artists from her gallery there in future.

A more conceptual vibe prevailed at Reyes/Finn, where the frosty glow of Detroit-born Maya Stovall’s hermetic neon signs referred to year dates significant to the artist and referenced coincident meaningful cultural touchstones. These gnomic objects, though compelling in themselves, represent only a small portion of Stovall’s work in performance, installation and video. Co-exhibitor Nick Doyle celebrated common man-made objects raised to monumental scale–a giant wall outlet, a huge, discarded coffee cup–rendered in denim-blue, a color both common and cool.

Maya Stovall, 1959 from 1526 (NASDAQ:FAANG) series, 2019, photo by K.A. Letts

Nick Doyle, Shutter, 2019, Reyes/Finn Gallery, NADA, photo by K.A. Letts

The street art esthetic that is so prevalent in Detroit was noticeably absent from the established fairs, with the exception of Scope, where I saw a pair of Chicago galleries, Vertical and Line Dot Editions, that carried the flag for that way of thinking and making.   The Mana Wynwood neighborhood is the place to see that esthetic expressed. A lot of the art is on the street, and it’s rude and risky.  Some of the most impressive work that I saw in this vein wasn’t in a fair at all, but at Mana Contemporary, where Miami’s indigenous art community has a home. There, I saw work that hasn’t (yet) made it into the mainstream unless you count a small piece by Karl Wirsum that I glimpsed in the back room at Corbett vs. Dempsey in their Art Basel Miami Beach exhibit. And Detroit/Brooklyn-based SaveArtSpace.org  engaged in its usual end run around the establishment, with three street-side bus stop ads featuring the work of Chris Pyrate, Brian Cattelle and Peat “EYEZ” Wolleager.

Keya Tama, Love Trap, Mana Contemporary, Wynwood neighborhood, photo by K.A. Letts

Peat “EYEZ” Walleager, EYE Want You by, SaveArtSpace.org, (photo courtesy of SaveArtSpace.org)

A visit to Miami Art Week is probably the most efficient way to take the pulse of the art scene now, in all its diversity and variety, even though you may come away troubled, as I did. I found that the art world is just another part of the real world, where the .1 percent, by virtue of its vast resources, decides how art is defined and commodified. And lingering in the distance like a thundercloud is climate change, a looming presence that’s hard to ignore while looking at art on a vulnerable beach.

Miami Art Basel, December 2019

 

 

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