Critical art reviews of Detroit galleries and museums weekly

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New Work, NYC @ MET, Whitney Biennial, The Shed

Installation image, Say It Loud, Image courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC, 2019

 

When I experienced the Say It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City it reminded me of the Art of the Motorcycle exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in 1998 and more  recently at the Detroit Institute of Arts with the Star Wars and the Power of Costume exhibition 2018.  These exhibitions speak to a broad interpretation of what belongs in an institutional art museum and I think the broader, the better. The ever expanding role of our art museums provides the viewers with opportunities never before possible. The Say it Loud exhibition was literally packed on a hot weekday afternoon, with young people of all ages (notably young men) and included families of all sizes.

This exhibition was the first dedicated to the iconic instruments of rock and roll that opened April 8, 2019. Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll is co-organized by Jayson Kerr Dobney, Frederick P. Rose, Curator in Charge of the Department of Musical Instruments at The Met, and Craig J. Inciardi, Curator and Director of Acquisitions of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

General atmosphere at the opening reception for “Play It Loud: Instruments Of Rock & Roll” exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on April 01, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images)

Through more than 130 instruments dating from 1939 to 2017—played by artists such as Chuck Berry, Eric Clapton, Sheryl Crow, Bob Dylan, Don Felder, Lady Gaga, Kim Gordon, George Harrison, Jimi Hendrix, James Hetfield, Wanda Jackson, Joan Jett, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Steve Miller, Joni Mitchell, Jimmy Page, Kate Pierson, Elvis Presley, Prince, Keith Richards, Patti Smith, Bruce Springsteen, Ringo Starr, Eddie Van Halen, St. Vincent, Tina Weymouth, Nancy Wilson, and others—Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll explores one of the most influential artistic movements of the 20th century and the objects that made the music possible.

Chuck Berry, Musician, B&W Image, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

The exhibition includes an array of videos where famous artists talk to the audience and perform popular sections of hit songs from the 60s, 70s, and 90s where Chuck Berry’s electric guitar ES-35OT (1957) his primary guitar from 1957 was used to record “Johnny B. Goode.”  Jayson Kerr Dobney and Frederick P. Rose, Curators in Charge of the Department of Musical Instruments, commented: “Instruments are some of the most personal objects connected to musicians, but as audience members we are primarily used to seeing them from far away, up on a stage in performance. This exhibition will provide a rare opportunity to examine some of rock and roll’s most iconic objects up close.”

Up close is Lady Gaga’s custom-designed piano, which she used in her performance of “ARTPOP” on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon in 2014; Steve Miller’s electric guitar that was painted with psychedelic designs by artist Bob Cantrell by 1973; Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Number One” composite Stratocaster, which was his main instrument throughout his career;

Keith Richards’s  guitar known to have been used when the Rolling Stones appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1966 and later hand-painted by Richards; and Jimmy Page’s dragon-embroidered costume (Los Angeles, 1975)—the elaborately hand-embroidered suit took over a year to complete and Page wore it during Led Zeppelin’s live performances from 1975 to 1977.

Keith Richards’s  guitar known to have been used when the Rolling Stones appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1966 and later hand-painted

 

In case you did not know, the Gibson Guitar Corporation has its home in Kalamazoo, Michigan and shown here, painted by Keith Richards. Les Paul Custom electric guitar, 1957; painted 1968.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is home to one of the world’s most diverse and important collections of musical instruments. With over 5,000 examples from six continents, it is unsurpassed in its scope and includes instruments from nearly all cultures and eras. This exhibition will travel to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in November, 2019.

The exhibition is made possible by the John Pritzker Family Fund, the Estate of Ralph L. Riehle, the William Randolph Hearst Foundation, Diane Carol Brandt, the Paul L. Wattis Foundation, Kenneth and Anna Zankel, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

 

The Whitney Biennial 2019

Installation image, Eric Mack, Proposition for Wet Gee’s Bend & Quilts fo replace the American Flag. Whitney Biennal 2019

 

Time flies, as it was just two years ago I wrote about four Detroit artists in the 2017 Whitney Biennial, and here we are two years later with Sam Green and his live documentary who now lives in NYC, and Matthew Angelo Harrison and his grouping of spear-like objects made of resin, who currently lives and has a studio in Detroit. One can’t help notice the differences. This year the content reflects an undeniably intense and polarized time in the country, as demonstrated in Eric Mack’s version of a replacement of the American Flag in this installation image.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wCxSwDWJ8_Y

Matthew Angelo Harrison and his grouping of spear-like objects made of resin, Whitney Biennal 2019

 

The Whitney Biennial is an unmissable event for anyone interested in finding out what’s happening in art today. Curators Jane Panetta and Rujeko Hockley have been visiting artists over the past year in search of the most important and relevant work. Featuring seventy-five artists and collectives working in painting, sculpture, installation, film and video, photography, performance, and sound, the 2019 Biennial takes the pulse of the contemporary artistic moment. Introduced by the Museum’s founder Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney in 1932, the Biennial is the longest-running exhibition in the country to chart the latest developments in American art. Here are a few picks from the show comprised of 75 artists.

Jennifer Packer, Untitled, Oil on Canvas, 2019 Whitney Biennal 2019

 

Jennifer Packer creates expressionist portraits, interior scenes, and still lifes that suggest a casual intimacy. Packer views her works as the result of an authentic encounter and exchange. The models for her portraits—commonly friends or family members—are relaxed and seemingly unaware of the artist’s or viewer’s gaze.

Packer’s paintings are rendered in loose line and brush stroke using a limited color palette, often to the extent that her subject merges with or retreats into the background. Suggesting an emotional and psychological depth, her work is enigmatic, avoiding a straightforward reading. “I think about images that resist, that attempt to retain their secrets or maintain their composure, that put you to work,” she explains. “I hope to make works that suggest how dynamic and complex our lives and relationships really are.”

Born in 1984 in Philadelphia, Jennifer Packer earned her BFA from the Tyler University School of Art at Temple University in 2007, and her MFA from Yale University School of Art in 2012. She was the 2012-2013 Artist-in-Residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem, and a Visual Arts Fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA. Packer currently lives and works in New York and is an assistant professor in the painting department at Rhode Island School of Design..

Robert Bittenbender, Sister Carrie, Steel, wire, glass, wood, miscellaneous hardware, 2017

 

Robert Bittenbender constructs dense reliefs using traditional art materials such as paint and graphite, but also includes cheap found objects. Each individual element has been meticulously incorporated into the whole.  The overall effect is one of improvisation. Bittenbender treats everything as a potential source of inspiration, so that a wire hanger carries as much potential as paint. His assemblage aesthetic suggests the influence of an artist who came to prominence in the 1960s, including Bruce Conner and Lee Bontecou, both of whom used refuse and rubbish in three-dimensional works that hang on the wall and protrude; not so different from the Detroit Artist, Gordon Newton in 1971. Bittenbender earned his BFA from Cooper Union.

Keegan Monaghan,  Outside, Oil on Canvas, 2019  Image courtesy of DAR

 

With his tactile, heavily worked surfaces and emphasis on subjective points of view, this painting by Monaghan delivers an aspect of Impressionist painting. Monaghan employs visual tricks to make small items appear disproportionately large, skewing the perspective. Keegan Monaghan is a young artist who was born in 1986. His work plays on a sense of inclusion and exclusion, positioning the viewer as a voyeur peering at a scene through a peephole.  It is not always clear in Monaghan’s work whether the viewer is looking out or looking in, excluded or implicated. The work was featured in several exhibitions at key galleries and museums, including the Whitney Museum of American Art and the James Fuentes.

Tomashi Jackson, Hometown Buffet – Two Blues, 2019

 

Tomashi Jackson’s deeply layered abstractions feature found materials, paper bags, food wrappers, vinyl insulation strips, and storefront awnings – many of them with specific autobiographical references.  Jackson’ wide-raging sources also intersect with art-historical, legal and social histories, often using color materially to encourage meditations on painful subjects.  Her three paintings on view focus on housing displacement in New York City by exploring parallels between the history of Seneca Village – which was founded in Manhattan in 1825 by free Black laborers and razed in 1857 to make way for Central Park.  The city’s current government program designed to seize paid-for properties in rapidly gentrifying communities across the city, regardless of mortgage status. Jackson creates dynamic passages of clashing complementary hues and lights her surfaces to resemble stained glass. Tomashi Jackson was born in Houston, TX, and lives and works in New York City.  She earned her MFA from Yale School of Art in 2016 and is an adjunct professor at The Cooper Union. http://tomashijackson.com/

There was an unusual event that occurred at the Whitney Biennal this year when  eight artists asked the Whitney Museum of American Art to remove their works from this year’s Biennial, citing what they describe as the museum’s lack of response to calls for the resignation of a board member with ties to the sale of military supplies, including tear gas.  Warren B. Kanders, the vice chair of the Whitney Museum in New York, said that he will resign from his position after more than half a year of protests against his ownership of Safariland, a company that produces tear-gas canisters and other supplies used by the military and law enforcement. The news was first reported by the New York Times.

A protest at the Whitney in May over a trustee, Warren B. Kanders, the owner of a company that produces military supplies, including tear gas. Credit: Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

There is an old saying; “There is no such thing as bad publicity.”

The 2019 Whitney Biennial is organized by Jane Panetta, associate curator, and Rujeko Hockley, assistant curator, with Ramsay Kolber, curatorial project assistant.

 

NYC, The Shed @ Brooklyn Yards

Installation, The Shed, Open Call 2 signage, 2019

 

In New York City, Hudson Yards’ the new museum, The Shed,  has dedicated a portion of its space and energy to supporting emerging artists in NYC through its Open Call program. More than 900 artists submitted proposals to be included, and 52 from various disciplines have been selected for the Open Call inaugural season. The artists represented receive funding, resources and support to exhibit their works in one of The Shed’s spaces. The Shed convened six different panels of outside experts to find the talent for “Open Call.” According to Tamara McCaw, the chief civic program officer, “We’re always thinking about what it means to be a civic institution, and located on city-owned land”—in other words, The Shed has taken on the responsibility of representing all of New York.

Early concept illustration of The Shed at Brooklyn Yards, 2018

 

Construction on The Shed started in 2015, using a design from lead architect Diller Scofidio + Renfro and collaborating architect Rockwell Group. The Shed features several architectural features, including a retractable shell that creates a space, named The McCourt, for large-scale performances, installations and events. Senior curator Emma Enderby points out that the exhibition will be a noteworthy complement to the concurrent Biennial, with its more established artists. “Our approach is completely grassroots,” she says, noting that they did everything from post on LinkedIn to contacting the Asian American Arts Alliance to tap into unheralded talent.

Hugh Hayden,  Hedges, 2019. Sculpted wood, lumber, hardware, mirror, carpet. Photo: Stan Narten.

 

Hayden’s sculptural installation Hedges is situated inside three mirrored walls to create the illusion of an infinite row of houses.  Hayden says in his statement, “I conflate an idyllic suburban house with a bird’s nest and challenges the illusion of social and economic inclusivity in the context of the American Dream.” Hayden lives in Harlem and works in the Bronx. He creates sculptures primarily in wood in addition to hosting culinary installations. His work explores ideas of belonging to a social landscape through a lens of camouflage and natural materials.

Hugh Hayden was born in Dallas, Texas in 1983 and lives and works in New York City. He earned an MFA from Columbia University and a Bachelor of Architecture from Cornell University.  https://hughhayden.com/

Gabriela Corretjer-Contreras, Llevatelo To’ No Me Deje Na, 2019. Mixed media: textiles, fabric, fiber, found objects. Photo: Courtesy of DAR

 

Llevatelo To’ No Me Deje Na is an interactive installation set in the bedroom of Nena Corretjer-Contreras’s alter ego. In her statement the artist says, “By juxtaposing the various personal experiences of performing to colonial expectations of Puerto Rican identity while living in the diaspora, the installation explores the history of invasion and exploitation of Puerto Rico. Participants can perform the role of both colonized and colonizer by trying on clothes and masks. In wearing Nena’s clothes and occupying Nena’s space, participants invade both Nena’s bedroom and identity. Through the use of clothing in the installation, memories are used to reconstruct an absent history and identity.”

Gabriela María Corretjer-Contreras is an artist living in Washington Heights, Manhattan, who works in clothing, textiles, installation and performance. Gabriela María Corretjer-Contreras was born 1995 in Puerto Rico and now is a New York-based artist who utilizes textiles and performance as a way of imagining a future for a society with an “identity crisis.” She recently earned her BFA at Parsons The New School for Design, and has begun a comprehensive body of work that encompasses different aspects of the same imaginary universe through bold colors and vibrant clashing prints. INSTAGRAM:GABBAHABBLABABBA

Analisa Bien Teachworth, The Tribute Pallet, shack-like scaffolding construction made of metal, wood, plastic and glass. 2019

 

Analisa Bien Teachworth (full disclosure, my daughter) is a digital media and installation artist from Detroit Metro,  living and working in New York City whose practice encompasses a wide range of digital and physical mediums. In her statement the artist says, “The Tribute Pallet is a multimedia installation that invites the audience into a shack-like scaffolding construction made of metal, wood, plastic and glass. At the center of the space on a table, glass jars hold candy for the audience’s consumption. This free offering of candy evokes sugar’s history as one of the most valuable commodities over past centuries, as well as its connections to the transatlantic slave trade which supported its cultivation. Three animated figures representing the ancestors are projected in the space on the interior walls and recite a hymn over a musical score. The multisensory installation explores histories and possible futures of work and labor.”

Teachworth earned her BFA from School of the Art Institute of Chicago, is part owner of 4Real, http://4real.io and works out of her studio in The Clemente, http://www.theclementecenter.org   on the lower east side of Manhattan. http://analisateachworth.net

Open Call is The Shed’s large-scale commissioning program dedicated to developing and presenting new works from artists based in New York City who have not yet received major institutional support. Panels of leaders in a wide range of disciplines—from the visual arts to digital media to theater and dance—reviewed more than 900 proposals for Open Call. They selected 52 emerging artists and collectives to receive support, space, and resources to develop their trailblazing projects at The Shed.

Organized by Tamara McCaw, Chief Civic Program Officer, Emma Enderby, Senior Curator, and Solana Chehtman, Director of Civic Programs, with Jesse Firestone, Open Call Assistant, and Alessandra Gomez, Curatorial and Program Assistant.  Audiences can view these works free of charge throughout the program through August 25, 2019.

If you are traveling to New York City this summer, these exhibitions would be good to see at these museums. The MET has other exhibitions, the Whitney Biennial 2019 has 75 artists from all parts of the United States, and The Shed is a new museum that is innovative in its design and multidisciplinary mission.

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

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

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

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

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

Life is a Highway, Installation image, TMA 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everything is Rhythm, Installation, TMA 2019

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

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

Mirrors and Intersections @ Grand Rapids Art Museum

Anila Quayyum Agha (American, b. Pakistan 1965). Intersections, 2013. Laser-cut wood, 6.5 x 6.5 x 6.5 feet. Courtesy of the Artist.

Anila Quayyum Agha’s ethereal sculptural installation Intersections is likely the most photographed work of art in Grand Rapids at the moment, surpassing even the city’s iconic, blazing-red Calder.  At Artprize 2014 (the city’s annual public-art festival), Intersections won both the People’s Choice and Judges’ Choice awards, and now, through the end of Summer, it returns to the Grand Rapids Art Museum where it made its auspicious debut.  It was a work calculatedly fashioned to appeal across social and cultural demographics, and if Instagramability is a worthy criterion of a work’s public appeal, then the artist certainly succeeded.

The work is the star of a pair of closely related solo exhibitions on view in adjacent gallery spaces, one showcasing Agha, and the other featuring Iranian artist Monir Shaharoudy Farmanfarmaian. There’s a thematic continuity between their distinctive styles that make the pairing work almost as a single show. Both artists apply sophisticated tessellations and kaleidoscopic patters so characteristic of visual culture in the pan-Arab world, and both artists explore the visual possibilities of reflected light and cast shadow.  Their works are also both—to some degree– participatory and interactive.

Monir Shaharoudy Farmanfarmaian, Installation image, Courtesy of the Grand Rapids Art Museum

The first exhibition space contains Mirror Variations, Farmanfarmaian’s luminous glass sculptures which represent an inventive fusion of traditional Persian art mixed with the American abstraction the artist encountered during her formative years in New York between 1945 and 1957, where she met art-world luminaries like Willem de Kooning and Louise Nevelson.  (In 2015 her work came full circle; New York’s Guggenheim awarded the artist her first solo American show—perhaps a curiously late honor for an artist and socialite of such import that she and her husband once played host to President John and Jackie Kennedy in Tehran.)

Inspired both by Arabic architecture and by principles of Sufi geometry, Farmanfarmaian’s work applies repetition and progression of simple shapes.  Like mosaics in 3D, her sculptures comprise tens of thousands of individual glass components which reflect light, diffusing fragmented geometric shapes across the gallery walls, ceiling, and floor.   One pentagonal sculpture—though prohibitively stowed behind glass on a pedestal—reflects light onto the ceiling and into the viewer’s space, directly involving the GRAM’s architecture into her work.  The lack of artisans in the United States able to help execute such detailed cut-glass work as this is partly why the artist eventually returned to her home country in 2004 after over 20 years of exile initiated by the Iranian Revolution.

Monir Farmanfarmaian (Iranian, b. 1924). Tir (Convertible Series), 2015. Mirror, reverse-glass painting, plaster on wood, 63 x 63 x 6 inches

These stately, ordered sculptures might seem the polar opposite of the often noisy, raucous world of the Postwar New York School, but some of her hanging sculptures invite a certain relinquishment of control that seems to parallel the likes of Robert Rauschenberg—particularly his playfully interactive Synapsis Shuffle (incidentally, a series of paintings which the GRAM exhibited in this very room back in 2012). Her Convertible series explores the myriad of varying geometric possibilities that can be created with a set of identical, interlocking shapes.  Each polygonic component is a fairly complex work in its own right, but the specific way they are arranged on the wall remains entirely fluid, ever-changing wherever they happen to be installed.

The second major gallery space is entirely devoted to Agha’s Intersections.  The work is a suspended black cube (about 7 feet square) crafted out of laser-cut wood, and inside a high-power bulb blasts the form’s intricate geometric shadows onto the gallery’s walls, ceiling, and floor, transforming every cubic millimeter of the space.  Its patterns derive from architectural elements of Spain’s Alhambra,the famed 14thcentury Nasarid dynasty palace and fortress.   It’s visually striking, but the work is conceptual as well.  Agha states that growing up in Pakistan as a female, she was not allowed to enter mosques, and with Intersections, wished to create a work which was open and accessible across all demographics.  Indeed, there’s something democratic and participatory about seeing yourself silhouetted on the gallery wall alongside the shadows of other visitors, all invariably with phones drawn, ready to share the moment on social media.

Video interview with Agha

In an auxiliary exhibition space, viewers confront a final bit of shadowplay.  A circular sculpture comprising  hundreds of identical triangular shapes is affixed from a wall and tactfully illuminated from three different angles.  The shadows it casts resemble a mash-up of a Venn-diagram and a series of tessellations by M.C. Escher.

Together, Mirror Variations and Intersections both manage to tactfully translate centuries-old Arabic visual culture into the language of 21stCentury abstraction.  And both artists manipulate light to transform a gallery space, creating works that transcend the beautiful and perhaps approach the sublime.  Their works slow us down—even in an art museum, after all, one is tempted to rush through to take everything in, spending, according to one study, less than 30 seconds in front of each painting.  But here the artists invite us to linger, and these exhibitions suppress our impulse to hurriedly move on the next thing.

Grand Rapids Museum  – through August 26, 2018

NAIAS @ Cobo Hall, Detroit, Michigan, USA

Floor View of NAIAS

So last year, I wandered out onto the farthest fringe of the fine art community and made a decision to write about the 2017 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS). At the time I declared it to be an exhibition in the Detroit metro area worthy of our time and effort. Now, the new 2018 review comes on the heels of writing a review of Monet: Framing Life, an exhibition now at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

In my 2017 Auto Show review, I gave recognition to the Eyes on Design competition and to the College for Creative Studies for their exemplary Transportation Design Program. In addition, I acknowledged all the fine artists who worked in the automotive design process by day, and do their own personal and private fine art work in their home studios on weekends and by night. I did this review based on attending the 2017 public viewing of the auto show, packed with a widely diverse audience of families and individuals from all walks of life. When the review was published, I did get positive feedback from NAIAS officials as they recommended that in 2018, I should apply for a press credential. For the 2017 Detroit Art Review, I went about my business and selected a luxury production car, the 2017 Lincoln Continental, as having the highest level of overall aesthetic appeal, followed up by my reasons for the selection and why.

There were critics, of course, both writers and artists who thought I had lost my mind by comparing the design elements of a car to the exhibition of paintings by Van Gogh or Edward Hopper, but many more could easily see the connection between the artisans who work in the automobile design departments and their personal artistic talent, of which many men and women exhibit in galleries, museums, and fine art competitions right here in Detroit.

But that was last year. In December of 2017, I contemplated a new review of 2018 NAIAS. Should I do another?  I began by applying for a press credential and was rejected and then rejected again on appeal. Then I approached the Chairman of the CCS Transportation Design program by email and asked for his input. He said he supported the idea whole-heartedly, but soon his emails stopped and he could not be reached. After the rejection by NAIAS for press access, they suggested that I should simply attend one of the Industry Preview Days. I did that and paid dearly for the, um, privilege. $110 for the ticket, $15 for parking and $4 to hang up my coat, all in a good effort to provide publicity and good will to the auto industry. (I am happy to report that using the men’s room is still free.)

Audi V-10 R8 Coupe convertible

The first thing I bumped into on the showroom floor was the new Audi R8 V-10 sports coupe powered by a 10-cylinder gas guzzling engine with a 14mpg (they may have fudged on the mileage). Considering the price tag of $175,000, that seemed like enough money and cylinders for four cars.

I moseyed up to a high platform where the view consisted of thousands of white men, aged 30-60 years old, in dull slacks, dress shirts, short hair, and glasses. Many were clustered in groups and held an itemized pad for notes and iPhones for taking pictures.

Several times I asked those working the show what was meant by Industry Preview Day. Their responses varied greatly. “Mostly engineers…looking at the competition,” or “VIPs from headquarters” or “today is for the auto designers and their teams,” or “it’s mostly a perk for suppliers or dealers.” My guess is they all were provided with a free ticket.

Bluntly, it was a sea of Caucasian men as far as I could see. I did see an African American security guard in a red coat, and an African American cleaning lady, in that same red coat. To be fair, there might have been one or two women there, probably VIP spouses, and a few Asian engineers. Notable were several undercover police officers with sniffer dogs, and at each entrance, African American security guards (in their red coats) doing body scans with an electronic wand. Well, good. I felt safe, but there was a new experience ahead.

As you might recall or imagine, the Cobo exhibition hall is a large, circular space filled, in this case, with very expensive sets are individually designed and assigned to each automobile manufacturer. What I didn’t expect to see was a section devoted to automotive suppliers. I guess that means more revenue for NAIAS and Cobo Hall.

The first supplier exhibit I came across was Aramco Transport Technologies, which provides technology that improves mileage, emissions, and efficiency. I asked a representative where their headquarters were, and they said, Novi, Michigan. Apparently, they are also located in other parts of the world, like Paris, France. When pressed, they said they were a division of Saudi Aramco in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, the state-owned oil company that is the world’s top exporter of oil and natural gas.

To be fair, Aramco has developed a Mobile Carbon Capture technology that captures the Co2 before it leaves the car, which is then stored and unloaded for reuse. Although there were electric cars, like Volkswagen’s concept car, in most of the displays, but I did not see a supplier of passive energy sources for automotive use.

There was Denso North America, leaders in corrosion prevention and sealant technology, headquartered in Kariya, Japan. There was a large display by Aisin Group that specialized in powertrain components, also head quartered in Japan, but I asked myself; who is coming to NAIAS to look into the technical parts of a car or cross-sections of a transmission? Are they lobbyists? I would be remiss if I did not mention the Michelin Tire Display, fudge from Kyba’s Mackinaw Island and the candied almond vendor.

2018 Lincoln Continental

But back to my mission to find a car that has the highest level of overall aesthetic appeal, which leads me to another revelation: The design of production cars changes very slowly, as this year’s models demonstrated. I was drawn back inexorably to the Lincoln Continental. The understatement of line, shape, and proportion still provides the viewer with a feeling of strength and security. The lines curve down and inward, an aesthetic sometimes seen in European sports cars. The repetition of roundness is soothing. Stylish elements abound, like the way the E-latch door handles provide a graceful inset in the side door, and five LED lamps create a slender design to what used to be a larger headlamp.

2018 Lincoln Continental Grill Detail

The front grill is refined, delicate and proportionate to the front profile, while the small openings in the grill repeat a similar shape of the car logo. A sleek console serves to open up the cabin, while the sophisticated push-button gearshift integrates seamlessly with classic knobs and buttons. The leather-wrapped, hand-stitched steering wheel is mounted ahead of a 12.3-inch fully configurable digital instrument cluster that displays easy-to-read driver information clearly. Sitting in the car, looking closely at its design elements, I was left with what I experienced last year, which is that the Lincoln Motor Company, the luxury automotive brand of Ford Motor Company, is committed to creating an exquisitely designed vehicle that places itself above their competitors.

2018 Lincoln Continental fron interior

 

Everything I experienced with the cars themselves remains the same, particularly when it came to recognizing the designers who work hard at deserving their much-earned success around the world. As I mentioned, NAIAS has its own Eyes on Design program, and this year they gave the KIA Stinger their choice for Best Production Car award. (South Korea is hosting this years Winter Olympics) If you’re curious, the awards are decided on by four chief judges, and thirty-two regular judges who must work together on a process that I cannot imagine, but it is their official program, highly honored and celebrated. Congratulations! But as for my experience with NAIAS 2018 Industry Preview Day, it was enlightening and disappointing. The cars were sleek and shiny, the crowd was bland, and the diversity of people packed into Cobo Hall on this day…was racially offensive.

NAIAS 2018 @ Cobo Hall, Detroit

 

 

 

 

NAIAS 2017 @ Cobo Hall, Detroit

2017 Charity Preview

2017 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) Charity Preview Event

What is now known as the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) began as an event in 1899. The first official Detroit Auto Show was held in 1907 at Beller’s Beer Garden in Riverview Park, where a total of 33 new motor vehicles were shown by 17 vendors, and spectator admission was 50 cents.

So, you wonder, why are you reading about a car exhibition in the Detroit Art Review? We’ll answer that question with a question: How many people who are responsible for the creation of an automobile attended art school? Plenty, as it turns out.

Every week, we at the Detroit Art Review explore the work of artists in galleries and museums in the Detroit Metro Area, but we’ve never tipped our hats to the men and women who contribute to the aesthetics of an automobile. Because we are doing our work here in Detroit, the home of the automobile and most of the automotive industry, it seems fitting to mention an annual event that contributes $500 million to our local economy. More than 800,000 attendees last year and press from all around the world gathered to see the new cars produced that provide a basic staple of American culture: Individualized Transportation. NAIAS has displayed the wares of the automotive industry, a million square feet of it, at Cobo Hall since 1967.

Not to take away from the prestige of the event over all, but the design work that goes into an automobile is recognized by EyesOn Design Awards, which are the sine qua non design awards in the industry, sponsored by the Henry Ford Health System, Department of Ophthalmology. As proof of design excellence, consider a production car that rises to the top in terms of aesthetic appeal: the 2017 Lincoln Continental.

Lincoln_Approach_Detection_2017_Continental

Ford Motor Company, Lincoln Continental, 2017

The understatement of line, shape and proportion provides the viewer with a feeling of strength and security. It is not a pointed, aggressive look, but a mature profile in its approach to visual stability. The lines curve down and inward, an aesthetic seen sometimes in European sports cars. The repetition of roundness is soothing. Stylish elements abound, like the way the E-latch door handles provide a graceful inset in the side door, and five LED lamps create a slender design to what used to be a larger headlamp. The front grill is refined, delicate and proportionate to the front profile, unlike the majority of cars these days that feature a sweeping, forward design with pointed grills, like the V-Motion Nissan sports look, something you might see on a Star Trek movie set, or the Lexus grill that reaches down so low to the street it seems designed to collect debris.

Ford Motor Company, Lincoln Continental, 2017

Growing up and now working in Detroit, I was always acutely aware of the design and engineering sensibility in the metro area that dominated our psyche. For instance, the Sunday New York Times relegates automobile coverage to the business section, while there are two sections devoted entirely to the Arts. In Detroit, there has always been an Auto section in the Sunday Detroit newspapers and no Arts section. Yet the people of Detroit and the tri-county area supported a millage to keep the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) intact. They knew intrinsically that the fine arts were important to our quality of life, and voters made a substantial ten-year commitment to help support the DIA in a time when bankruptcy threatens our city. The Center for Creative Studies has developed an extraordinary Transportation Design program that works closely with the automotive industry to help prepare young designers to meet the technological needs of a changing work force. I know clay sculptors who form the full-scale prototypes at the General Motors Technology Center, and they often exhibit their hand thrown pottery at local art exhibitions.

So at the beginning of each year, the North American International Auto Show displays the new products of an American industry in which artistic design elements, both interior, and exterior, play a vital role. I, for one, am proud to be from Detroit and active in its art community, which includes all the men and women who work to design beautiful products. For those who attend the show or see the Lincoln Continental on the road, take a close look at the design elements and how they personify the rich aesthetics of a luxury car, and remember the Continental was made by artists and engineers here in Detroit.

 

 

 

 

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