Detroit Collects @ Detroit Institute of Arts

Salvador Salort-Pons, Director of the Detroit Institute of Art, at the media preview introducing Detroit Collects.

Detroit Collects: Selections of African-American Art from Private Collections

I knew the DIA was working on an exhibition of African American Art that was scheduled to open in mid-November, 2019. Still, I did not know anything about the curation process. This exhibition of sixty works of art with a range of media is on loan and is comprised of nineteen local Detroit collectors. In all my experience, just the concept was interesting, intriguing and unique.

At the media preview, from the moment DIA Director Salvador Salort-Pons took the podium to introduce the exhibition, it was clear this project was personal.  He said,” When I became the director of the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), it was immediately clear to me that the museum needed to acknowledge an extraordinary effort to connect with these communities of art lovers, tell their stories and show in our galleries the fruit of their long-standing passion.”

Not since I bought my first DIA poster in 1972 of a traveling Matisse Exhibition had I ever seen or heard of a museum taking this approach to curating from local collectors. That morning, Director Salort-Pons talked about how he and his wife Alex, after many years of living outside the city, quickly recognized the need to connect and acknowledge the art by recognizing artists living in a  city community that was 80% African American. He mentioned a memory he had of the gatherings of artists and writers called “tertulias” which used to take place in the local cafes of Spain in the late 19th and early 20th century that were the cultural  engines of the time. Over the past three years, along with his curator, Valerie J. Mercer, the General Motors curator for African American art since 2000, they began to support and execute a new vision, drawn from the many dinners, breakfast meetings and lunches to identify artists and collectors of African American art in Detroit.

“The DIA’s General Motors Center for African American Art is the first curatorial department dedicated to African American art in the U.S.,” said Salort-Pons. “This exhibition builds on our history of collecting and displaying African American art and creates a new opportunity for our visitors to see themselves reflected in the museum’s galleries.”

Robert S. Duncanson, Flight of the Eagle, Oil on Canvas, 1856

The artist Robert S. Duncanson was prevented from any kind of formal art training because of the institutional racism that existed in the 19th century. Yet, this forested landscape, Flight of the Eagle, completed in 1856, could be compared to the work of William Mason Brown or Frederic Edwin Church. At the center a soaring eagle, the U.S. National bird, has flown from its mate on the branch of a dead tree. Duncanson was born in Seneca County, New York, in 1821 to an African-American mother and Scottish-Canadian father, who sent his son to Canadian schools during his youth. In 1841 Duncanson and his mother moved to Mt. Healthy, Ohio, near Cincinnati. His biography says that in 1849, Duncanson established a studio in Detroit where he had been active as early as 1846. His artistic activities were favorably noted in both Cincinnati and Detroit, where he worked throughout his career supported by abolitionists who commissioned his work. For the Detroit Collects exhibition, this work is on loan from the collection of Walter O. and Linda Evans.

Beauford Delaney, Greenwich Village, Oil on Canvas, 1945

Beauford Delaney was born December 30, 1901, in Knoxville, Tennessee where his parents were prominent and respected members of Knoxville’s African-American community. His father Samuel was both a barber and a Methodist minister, but he is remembered for his work with the Harlem Renaissance in the 1930s. In his work, Greenwich Village, Delaney depicts the illuminated streets of New York City’s Greenwich Village where the artist settled in the mid-1930s. Having a studio in Greenwich Village, he became part of a gay bohemian circle of friends. He established himself as part of the NYC art scene, which included artists such as Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe, and the young writer James Baldwin. For the Detroit Collects exhibition, this work is on loan from the collection of Mary Anne and Eugene A. Gargaro Jr.

Walter J. Williams Jr., Children at Play, Oil on Canvas, 1975

Children at Play, by Walter J. Williams Jr., is a touching figure painting that conveys the innocence of childhood while boys play without a worry in the world. The composition contrasts six figures with soft and translucent oil paint colors while they explore the simplest of abstract shapes. The idyllic and peaceful setting draws the viewer into a place where everyone would want their child to live and learn. Williams enrolled at the Brooklyn Museum Art School in 1951, where he was scholarly and was said to have paid close attention to his lessons. In the summer of 1953, he studied at the Skowhegan School of Art in Maine and participated in his first major group show, the Whitney’s 1953 Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting. For the Detroit Collects exhibition, this work is on loan from the collection of Darnell and Shirley A. Kaigler.

Alvin Loving, untitled Triptych, Oil and Collage on Canvas, 1981

Al Loving was born in Detroit in 1935 and is one of the best known national artist whose work grew from his interest in the work of Josef Albers. Loving earned a BFA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1963 and an MFA from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.  In 1969, Loving famously became the first African-American to have a one-person show at the Whitney Museum of American Art. In the work Untitled Triptych, Loving’s abstraction knocks the viewer off their feet with this vast array of shape, line, color, and depth of space. I was familiar with much of Al Loving’s work, but not this magical triptych that keeps the viewer spellbound. For the Detroit Collects exhibition, this work is on loan from the collection of Roy and Maureen Roberts.

Martin Puryear, Reliqary, Gessoed Pine, 1980

Martin Puryear was born in 1941 in Washington, D.C., and began exploring traditional craft methods in his youth, making tools, boats, musical instruments and furniture. After receiving a B.A. in Fine Art from the Catholic University of America in 1963, Puryear spent two years as a Peace volunteer in Sierra Leone, where he learned local woodworking techniques. In the work Reliquary, one could see something spiritual as in a tombstone-like object made of pine planks with dovetail joints, but the field of holes covered in a translucent gesso coating suggests otherwise. Over his lifetime, this work has remained visibly complex, both organic and geometric, where he falls into both areas of Minimalism and Formalistic sculpture. Puryear earned his MFA from Yale and began teaching at Fisk University in Nashville and at the University of Maryland in College Park. In 1977, following a devastating fire in his Brooklyn studio, Puryear had a solo show at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. For the Detroit Collects exhibition, this work is on loan from the collection of Gayle and Andrew Camden.

Aaron F. Henderson, Stomp It Down, Gouache, 2015

Aaron F. Henderson, a native of Birmingham, Alabama, has been an artist all his life. The self-proclaimed narrative artist has always loved to draw and paint. He works mainly in oils and gouache on canvas, linen and 100% cotton paper using bold, vibrant colors in his artwork that is showcased in exhibits, museums and corporations and private homes around the world. Henderson’s style has been influenced by such legendary artists as Elizabeth Catlett, William H. Johnson, Charles White and Jacob Lawrence. The woman in Stomp It Down is so beautifully and realistically rendered that she seems to emerge from the paper. The work is part of a series that visualizes the spirituals sung by enslaved people of African descent as an act of defiance and self-expression. The song called “Stomp It Down” refers to the injustices that will be eradicated once freedom is achieved. For the Detroit Collects exhibition, this work is on loan from the collection of David and Linda Whitaker.

Hughie Lee-Smith, Girl Fleeing, Oil on Canvas, 1959

Hughie Lee-Smith was an African American artist and teacher whose surreal paintings often featured distant figures under vast skies and desolate urban settings. In 1958 Lee-Smith moved to New York City and taught at the Art Students League for 15 years.  Holland Cotter of the New York Times wrote, “Mr. Lee-Smith’s paintings usually have spare settings suggestive of theater stages or bleak urban or seaside landscapes. Walls stretch out under gray skies. Men and women, as lithe as dancers, seem frozen in place. Most are dressed in street clothes; some wear exotic masks. Children frequently appear, as do props reminiscent of circuses. The work has an air of mystery associated with the paintings of Giorgio and Edward Hopper.” In the painting Girl Fleeing, the young girl is escaping from the factory without explanation, reminiscent of the woman in Andrew Wyeth’s “Christina’s World.” For the Detroit Collects exhibition, this work is on loan from the collection of Jerome Watson and Deborah Ford.

Sam Gilliam, Wave Composition, Acrylic, 1979

Sam Gilliam was raised in Louisville, Kentucky, where he received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Louisville in 1955, served in the Army from 1956-58, returned to Louisville, and completed his MFA in 1961. Gilliam has dramatically influenced the direction of American Art. He is particularly known for his innovation in draping the canvas stained with a large variety of colors providing a multidimensional and sculptural quality to the work. The work Wave Composition was created in 1979 as a study for a large drape painting commissioned for the Detroit Receiving Hospital, where it has been on display since 1980. In 1972 Sam Gillian became the first African American artist to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale, and in 2017, his work was included in its prestigious Central Pavilion. Sam Gillian lives and works in Washington D.C. For the Detroit Collects exhibition, this work is on loan from the collection of Jerome Watson and Deborah Ford.

Richard Mayhew, Transition II, Acrylic on Canvas, 2013

Richard Mayhew, born April 3, 1924, is an Afro-Native American landscape painter and arts educator. His abstract, brightly colored landscapes are informed by his experiences as an African American/Native American musician. He studied at the Art Students League of New York and later attended the Brooklyn Museum Art School. In his work,Transition, his fluorescent depictions of the American countryside tackle ideas surrounding African-American identity, jazz music and Abstract Expressionism. “Landscape has no space, no identity,” he once said. His body of work is based on his extensive travels throughout the United States, and he was notably a member of the black painters’ collective “Spiral,” which included other members such as Romare Bearden and Hale Woodruff.  For the Detroit Collects exhibition, this work is on loan from the collection of Lorna Thomas, M.D.

Mario Moore, Mom Says I’m Her Sun, Oil on Copper, 2015

The youngest artist in the Detroit Collects exhibition is Mario Moore with his painting Mom Says. Moore is a source of pride for the Detroit art community and is represented by the David Klein Gallery. His mother is Sabrina Nelson, a long-time studio teacher at the Detroit Institute of Arts, where Moore has been surrounded by the Detroit African American art community for most of his life. He earned his BFA from CCS and his MFA from Yale University and for a figurative artist there is an extraordinary quality about not only his technical ability but his choice of subjects. Recently Moore has spent his time as a Hodder Fellow at Princeton University, depicting large-scale paintings of black men and women who work around the campus in blue-collar jobs. When I think about the work of Mario Moore, there is a message of social justice that reminds me of Kehinde Wiley, who addresses the issue of inequality in the selection of the figurative subjects in paintings of the past.  For the Detroit Collects exhibition, this work is on loan from the collection of David and Linda Whitaker.

The are many other institutions that have contributed to the development and exhibitions of artists with African American roots. The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History was founded in 1965 to explore and celebrate African American Art, History, and Culture. The N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, under the ownership of George N’Namdi who has furthered the careers of prominent and emerging African American artists since 1981. The Detroit Fine Arts Breakfast Club co-founded by Harold Braggs and Henry Harper has been meeting since 2009, attracting artists, collectors, and art enthusiasts who discuss, sell, and purchase African American Art. The Detroit Artist Market played a pioneering role in curating exhibitions that furthered the work and careers of many African American Detroit artists.

Collectors in the exhibition include long-time supporters of the DIA, such as Maureen and Roy Roberts — a contemporary African American gallery bears their names in recognition of a generous contribution to the museum. Other collectors include Nettie Seabrooks, the first African American woman executive at General Motors and deputy mayor, chief of staff and COO of the City of Detroit during the administration of Mayor Dennis Archer; and Rhonda D. Welburn, practicing attorney and former board member of the DIA who serves on the board of many nonprofit and charitable organizations such as the DMC Foundation and the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation.  Published in conjunction with Detroit Collects: Selections of African American Art from Private Collections is a 136 color catalog by Valerie J. Mercer.

Detroit Collects: Selections of African-American Art from Private Collections is free to all residents living in Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties through March 15, 2020.

 

Kylie Lockwood:  Becoming a Sculpture @ Simone DeSousa Gallery

Kylie Lockwood, Installation image, Gallery opening, image courtesy of DAR

I was first introduced to work by Kylie Lockwood during Landlord Colors, last summer‘s blockbuster survey of Detroit artists on the world stage at the Cranbrook Museum of Art.  Her small, yet monumental sculpture Porcelain Legs in the Posture of David, stood quietly in the center of the gallery, dominating and animating the surrounding space, whetting my appetite for more. And now I have more. Lockwood’s solo exhibit, Becoming a Sculpture, is currently on view through December 21st at Simone DeSousa Gallery. It does not disappoint.

In Becoming a Sculpture, Lockwood is engaged in a project to “reconcile the experience of living in a female body with the history of sculpture.” She subverts art history’s unhealthy preoccupation with the female form as an object of desire by re-performing, with her own imperfect body, idealized poses from Greek and Roman antiquity.  She imitates and holds these poses while she casts portions of her anatomy–a leg, a hand, a torso–then re-assembles the bits and pieces of milky-white porcelain into a new kind of archetype: the female form as subject, not object.

Attempting Accroupie, by Kylie Lockwood, porcelain and nail polish, 2019 Image courtesy of Simone DeSousa Gallery

Lockwood makes a point of imperfection in her execution, avoiding over-determination of the figure. The delicate pores and subtle flaws that are apparent on the surface of the cast body parts contrast with the rough edges at the joins and painfully jagged, broken margins. Folds, cracks and tears in the porcelain draw attention to the hollow space within. She makes full use of the fleshy, skin-like texture of the porcelain, and adds life-like sheen to the nails of hands and feet by sly application of pearly nail polish.

The most formally ambitious of the nine artworks in Becoming a Sculpture is Attempting Accroupie, a nearly full-body recapitulation and reimagination of a much-copied Hellenistic sculpture. The subject of Venus surprised in her bath can be traced to an original version by Doidalses of Bithynia in 300  B.C., but the frequency with which the image has been repeated throughout art history, in all media and by artists as diverse as Bouguereau, Corot, and Picasso, speaks of its continued relevance to the prurient (male) artist’s gaze.  Lockwood has chosen her subject well.

The psychological poignancy of this Venus owes quite a lot to the broken and re-assembled features, perfect within themselves, but worked on by gravity and the considerable technical hazards of firing porcelain. The artist is engaged in a kind of ad hoc self-creation here, the undeniable beauty of the cast parts juxtaposed with agonized breaks within the body.

Elsewhere in the gallery, a number of the artworks seem to be concerned specifically with weightbearing and the physics of creating a three-dimensional object from clay. Load bearing leg in the posture of Crouching Venus delivers a strong sense of the implied weight of the body that rests invisibly above it. More painfully, Back in forward lean with fractures from bearing weight unevenly conveys a sharp sense of damage.

Thighs in slight Contrapposto, by Kylie Lockwood, porcelain and unfired clay, 2019 Image courtesy of Simone DeSousa Gallery

Near the back of the gallery, Lockwood has created a piece that is more modern in its affect and effect. Unlike her more classically derived pieces, Thighs in slight Contrapposto conveys, in its awkward stance, a palpable sense of the artist’s physical presence.  Though the piece is less elegant than the other  artworks, its loss in grace is redeemed by its augmented emotional eloquence.

Lockwood’s Torso in non-classical harmony is a less successful departure from her more complete pieces; this pairing seemed to me a little too flat and inert. By contrast, her sprightly Left hand and leg positioned at rest, as well as her Left foot poised between movement and repose, and Left foot firmly planted in an archaistic stance with hand draped across it in mutual support,retain, in fragmented form, all of the energy and animation of Attempting Accroupie.

Though Lockwood critiques a patriarchy that was ancient long before the Roman era, she seems to have an affinity, even a love, for the archaic and discarded. Her work retains some of the poignancy of recently excavated sculptures from antiquity, damaged yet recognizable to the modern eye. Or to quote the artist’s statement, ”To empathize with the ancient is to identify with the fragment, to feel the pressure entropy through an abbreviated form … which time has chipped away.”

Kylie Lockwood, Becoming a sculpture, archival inkjet prints, single edition, 2019 Image courtesy of Simone DeSousa Gallery

Becoming a Sculpture shows Lockwood at her most thoughtful.  Her recent work is perfectly imperfect, delivering a satisfying combination of conceptual rigor and visual pleasure.  She is in possession of the technical means to realize her vision and appears to be sure of her artistic mission: to transform our art historical preconceptions of beauty and agency in the female body.

Becoming a Sculpture is now on exhibition at the Simone DeSousa Gallery through December 21, 2019 

 

 

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

 

Jim Shrosbree @ Paul Kotula Projects

The title of this new exhibition of work by artist Jim Shrosbree, “thinking/still,” is evocative of Irish playwright, poet and novelist Samuel Beckett who in his novel Molloy (1951), wrote “To restore silence is the role of objects.” Indeed, the objects of Jim Shrosbree are imbued with the capacity to distill and render the space they occupy with a thoughtful silence. “thinking/still” also suggests two different states of being, one seemingly active and one inactive, that are both the same. The oblique slanting punctuation mark separating the italicized action of “thinking” and the upright “still,” serves to both divide and join these two states. To be thinking is to be still. Stillness and thought are complimentary to one another, allowing for a new space to emerge.

The twenty six works in the exhibition, consisting of the sculptural, the drawn and the painted, form a thoughtful installation attentively harmonized to the intimate space of Paul Kotula Projects. The scale of Shrosbree’s objects recall the work of Swiss artist Paul Klee (1879-1940) in their seemingly modest presence—in a time when unabashed, leaden spectacle is the go to in art, Shrosbree accomplishes so much more by downshifting the scale of our immediate experience and necessitating a deeper dive into the details for a prolonged experience. The cumulative effect on the gallery environment is that of quieting down the space for subtle equations to unfold, establishing the necessary stillness to patiently enter into the smaller spaces contained within each object. It is an environment that reverberates with possibility where one is gently guided from one situation to another and then back, from slow to quiet to a state of revelation.

Jim Shrosbree, “CAD Y (fluer)”, 2016, ceramic, suede flocking, acrylic, graphite, 8 x 10 x 4 inches

CAD Y (fluer) (2016) is a work hiding in plain sight like some sulfur covered arthropod that has scuttled into position between two windows  just below the ceiling of the gallery. It is anchored into a geometric zone of yellow enameled onto the wall within drawn graphite edges. It is as if the form shed itself onto the wall to reinforce the necessity of its being there.

Many of the objects can be viewed as situational chamber pieces with a set of circumstances that chart a series of relationships. They are small, formal narratives or event mechanisms in which Shrosbree unfolds a circuit of experiences to set off a string of associations. At the root of his practice is the act of drawing as thinking, and this translates into the intuitive path making found in the objects.

Jim Shrosbree,  “My Ship (paradise)”, 2019, acrylic, wood, string, collage, 41 x 38.5 inches

In My Ship (paradise) (2019), a painting is augmented with a string containing a little knot, held in place by a bit of tape and attached to a wooden stick. Things have been happening here as if an industrious child dreamer has constructed a rig with a secret intent. A string dangles humorously and the whole affair appears to be tentatively keeping itself together. Alternately absurd and poetic, the piece invites wonder with a minimum of means.

There is a hint of the absurd throughout Shrosbree’s work, with forms that are simultaneously graceful/clumsy, present/not present, full/empty. Akin to twittering organs rather than machines, the tentative nature of the forms and the situations they occupy, lend them a sense of ridiculousness and incongruity, and yet they also seem to transcend their nature the longer one spends with them. His titles indicate a humorous reconsideration of language through abbreviation, fragmentation, and an emphasis on spoken sounds. There is a play with words that echoes the formal play in the objects, as the texts are succinct yet also vague. With his use of color, Shrosbree tends to keep things simple on the surface of it all: yellow, red, blue, white, black, with forays into an orange or a green, however this serves as a means to softly beckon us into a deeper, more complex set of formal considerations.

Jim shrosbree, “RO (coco)”, 2019, ceramic, nylon, enamel, wire, graphite, 7.25 x 19 x 5.75 inches

With  RO (coco)  (2019), Shrosbree breathes complex life into what at first read is a misshapen pouch or bag in an unlikely union with the wall behind it. A large expanse of white space surrounds the piece, beckoning the viewer to move in closer for a proper examination. The irony of the title lay in its reference to the elaborately ornamental, which in this case is comprised of the smallest shifts and gestures that guide our investigation of its construction. The piece appears beneath a yellow shell which in fact is not a shell. It’s skin appears soft, pliable, stretched, yet passages are hardened with enamel. A limp nylon tail trails beneath with a small wire emerging from it. Follow the wire and it disappears with an absurdist flourish into a tiny hole bored into the wall. Beneath this hole, another hole. Perhaps a first attempt at wire insertion. From this second hole, a graphite line is drawn horizontally to a vertical line that eventually forms a frame around the piece with a ground of yellow enamel applied within it to merge the form to the wall. Figure/ground as one. On even closer inspection, at the forensic level, little bits of pink eraser droppings dust the baseboard beneath the piece—evidence of Shrosbree’s process of working the graphite lines further.

Jim Shrosbree, “UB (leng)”, 2017, ceramic, nylon, hair, wool, cloth, paint, ink, wood shelf, 6.5 x 23 x 7 inches (with shelf)

Likewise, a detailed examination of UB (leng) (2017), reveals a small mess of dog hairs gathered on a wool “muzzle” capping one end of a blue ceramic truncheon, resting on a rag stained with blue ink and lashed to a hunk of lumber. Unlike the work of artist Richard Tuttle, who employs a play between wall and form, drawing and the minimal manipulation of modest materials, Shrosbree’s work does not exist in a state of fragility. Despite its tentative nature, there is a kind of guileless presence that nevertheless insists on being there.

Jim Shrosbree “UB (VLoon)”, 2019, ceramic, fabric, string, cloth, tack, enamel, ink, acrylic, 14 x 16.5 x 3.5 inches

Jim Shrosbree, “Uno yuno”, 2019, ceramic, steel, paint, 49 x 15 x 16.5 inches

 

UB (VLoon) (2019) further elucidates Shrosbree’s interest in dichotomies: emptiness and fullness, the animate and the inanimate, the interior and the exterior. The flaccid and drooping painted nylon sack of the piece appears spent, yet it is attached to a form that appears ripe and full. Uno yuno (2019) is elegantly displayed on a steel plinth supported by a slender rod. Such refined stability is offset by the primary form: a seed-like entity suggesting an organic pouch plump with activity as sluggish tendrils emerge from either end. However on closer inspection, there is only the illusion of fullness within the cavity of the body. Its inflation has been implied.

Jim Shrosbree, “SAN (bdroop)”, 2019, ceramic, cloth, ink, acrylic, 15 x 12 x 4.25 inches

This embrace of illusion, of what is implied rather than shown, is central to the experience of Shrosbree’s work. In SAN (bdroop)(2019), a suspended ceramic cloth recalls the time-honored stage magic act of horizontally levitating a body beneath a sheet that conceals a platform or hidden wires. New Way (home) (2012) is a small painted relief with a wood flap seemingly supported by string, concealing the origin of a single humorous drip that emerges from under it.

In what is arguably one of the more consistently unique rooms in Paul Kotula Projects, a small chamber at the left of the hallway one enters from, there is, nestled in a corner, a piece titled Tandroop (2019). It consists of three stacked ceramic forms, each resembling sausages or baguettes or extrusions—take your pick, but it may be best to simply ignore the impulse to impose such obvious comparisons—atop a rectangular patch of folded cloth, all of which is held aloft on a painted red plinth and support shaft. The top form has been stuffed into a nylon stocking, it’s open end drooping down like some distended, tired mouth. And then there is the absurd grace note: a length of black string resembling a shoelace, perhaps four inches long, has been carefully laid atop the nylon encased form. To examine all of this closely, the viewer must crowd closer into the corner of the small room, perhaps even positioning oneself atop the low platform beside it. The very act of adjusting one’s body in proximity to this piece, lends the work a vaguely carnal presence. It is passive and yet unavoidable all the same. Humorous and yet sad. A lonely figure in a small room conjuring a whisper to come closer.

Jim “Tandroop”, 2019, ceramic, nylon, cloth, gesso, enamel, steel, 46 x 15 x 7 inches

Within the tiny universe Shrosbree has constructed in the gallery, he allows us to gaze into little models of the shifting, liminal nature of consciousness. The French philosopher Georges Bataille (1897-1962) in positing his notion of form/formless, wrote in his essay “L’inform” (“Formless”, 1929): “A dictionary begins when it no longer gives the meaning of words, but their tasks. Thus formless is not only an adjective having a given meaning, but a term that serves to bring things down in the world, generally requiring that each thing have its form. What it designates has no rights in any sense and gets itself squashed everywhere, like a spider or an earthworm. In fact, for academic men to be happy, the universe would have to take shape. All of philosophy has no other goal: it is a matter of giving a frock coat to what is. A mathematical frock coat. On the other hand, affirming that the universe resembles nothing and is only formless amounts to saying that the universe is something like a spider or spit.”

Shrosbree allows for the formless to unfold as it will. Utilizing intuition as process, guided by a sharpened awareness, he places the viewer into a state of learning in which the formlessness of universal consciousness has within it connections, pathways, threads, associations. He constructs open, circumstantial spaces that provide meditative attunement; microcosmic narratives that gently unfold in multiple iterations depending upon how we, as investigators, follow the evidence and gather our experience together in pursuit of clarity. That he achieves this without a hint of overplaying his hand and allowing us the freedom to discover our own truths, is no small feat.

thinking/still is on view at Paul Kotula Projects through October 19, 2019

Art Week Exhibition @ N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art

I, Too, Am Detroit, Exhibition at the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, Installation image, Courtesy of DAR

During these dog days of summer, and in coordination with the celebration of Detroit Art Week, the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art has on exhibition I, Too, Am Detroit,  in its main Gallery, featuring over twenty local Detroit Artists. Inspired by Langston Hughes poem I, Too, Am, America the exhibition seeks to spotlight the artists in Detroit and their influence building the creative community throughout the world. I, too, am, Detroit is an exhibition that focuses on diversity and inclusion within the culture of Detroit and beyond.

“We have to be very conscious and purposeful in making a holistic and diverse community. And, that’s why I think our three exhibitions are so important because it allows for our local artist and the diversity of the City to be highlighted during Detroit Art Week,” said Dr. George R. N’Namdi.

Shirley Woodson-Reid, Sisters 2, Acrylic on Canvas, 51 x 57″ 1991

Detroit artist Shirley Woodson Reid portrays one of her many acrylics on canvas to produce an expressionistic figurative landscape Sisters Two, a style she perfected over the many years making of art in Detroit.

Shirley Woodson Reid was born in 1936, from a small town in Tennessee. An Artist and educator Shirley Woodson studied painting and art education at Wayne State University, receiving a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and her graduate studies were begun at The Art Institute of Chicago with a concentration in painting and art history. As a part of her independent studies she traveled to nine countries in Europe, visiting galleries, museums and historical sites. Woodson completed her graduate work at Wayne State University and received a Masters of Arts degree in painting.

Gary Kulak, Untitled, Welded Steel, 72 x 10 x 10, 2005

Known for his ever-evolving chair work, this untitled welded steel sculpture painted with a high gloss enamel yellow reminds us of a serialist approach to an idea grounded in an ordinary object.  The variations on a chair theme has been seen in a large variety of galleries in and around Detroit dating back to early 1980’s.  Kulak earned his MFA from Hunter College, NYC and continues to work with metals and industrial materials.

Diana Alva, Super Mercado, Tempura & Encaustic on Canvas, 72 x 48″

These tempura and encaustic crowded people portraits on a flat picture plane of the artist Diana Alva, feel like abstraction with a heavy emphasis on a black outline. The artist describes her paintings, largely done in acrylics, as “toothy.” She uses a “push-pull” technique, applying paint with brushes, cardboard or sticks, to create a “structural thicket” with textured lines reminiscent of calligraphy.  A native Detroiter, Alva attended Henry Ford Community College and Wayne State University.

Charles McGee, Patches of Time V, Mixed Media Collage on Masonite, 32 x 20″, 1990

One of the most revered artists in Detroit is Charles McGee and to see a collage, Patches of Time V, Mixed media collage on Masonite from 1990 is both interesting and reflectively refreshing. The design elements imbedded are clearly indicators of work to come, from the painting in the Detroit Institute of Arts, Noah’s Ark: Genesis, to his recent sculpture at the Charles Wright Museum, United We Stand, his work has left his sense of design like a branding process.  Born in 1924, from a family of sharecroppers, McGee did not start his schooling until he moved to Detroit at the age of 10 years old.

He says in his statement, “I’m delighted that nature gave me this propensity to share the little information it has given me. And that is the motor that drives me into tomorrow, thinking about what I can do to help humanity if indeed I can contribute.”

His works are on permanent display at Museum of African American History in Washington, DC, and  has shown at the Brooklyn Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Hampton Art Lovers Presents: “Ebony Broadsides, Celebration of the Masters”, a poster art exhibition featuring original signed exhibition posters

In addition in the Black Box at NCCA, Hampton Art Lovers Presents: “Ebony Broadsides, Celebration of the Masters”, a poster art exhibition featuring original signed exhibition posters of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jacob Lawrence, Faith Ringgold, Betye Saar, John Biggers, Lois Malou Jones, Gordon Parks, Roy DeCarava, Oliver Johnson, Bob Thompson and Ed Clark. The show also includes original signed poster art of Elizabeth Catlett, Romare Bearden, Samella Lewis, James Denmark and Basil Watson. With special artist proof and studies of poster art by Ernie Barnes and A.C. Hollingsworth.

The N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art opened with the sole purpose of introducing the community to art and its ability to inspire, edify and delight. George R. N’Namdi, believed in Detroit long before the resurgence post-bankruptcy and the new millennial demographic that has taken to our great city. NCCA has paved the way to bring art, education and opportunity for artists to exhibit and sell their work.