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“Notes from the Quarantimes” @ Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum

Five-hundred-year floods, particularly in the midst of a pandemic, don’t ordinarily generate intriguing art shows, but that’s precisely the origin story of “Notes from the Quarantimes” at the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum in Saginaw through Jan. 15, 2022.

Following a seven-inch deluge in May 2020, the Edenville Dam north of Midland crumbled, disgorging, according to the “Quarantimes’” program with the artist statements, 22.5 billion gallons of Wixom Lake that gushed downstream, in minutes scooping out the original route of the Tittabawassee River, uprooting houses and fully grown trees alike. One of the homes near the dam, damaged but not destroyed, has been owned by artist Andrew Krieger’s family since 1955.

“Notes from the Quarantimes” is up at the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum on the Saginaw Valley State University campus through Jan. 15, 2022

“It was nutty,” Krieger said of the day the waters rose. “A Consumer’s Power guy who was nearby said our house was going to float away any minute” — but perhaps miraculously, it did not.  That said, things were nip and tuck for a while, but the Kriegers essentially lucked out. Their basement was submerged and ended up with a foot of muck at the bottom, but the waters stopped eight inches short of their first floor. The wooded area around the house, however, was turned into a veritable moonscape in a matter of hours, with craters where entire root systems of giant trees had been wrenched free. Krieger figures they lost about 100 trees, many planted by his father; his brother says 200. In any case, the clean-up task was herculean. The day after the flood, an exhausted Krieger texted five of his best art buddies: “I need help. Overwhelmed and sad.”’

They all rallied. In short order, Mitch Cope, Scott Hocking, Michael McGillis, Clinton Snider and Graem Whyte were all at the house, and each of them would continue to return on a regular basis over the next year, a nice testament to the quality of the friendships involved.

Krieger says the group had already been talking pre-flood about doing an exhibition together but hadn’t yet hit on a concept. “I think,” he added, “it was Graem Whyte who said, ‘This is the show. It’s about us coming up and helping you, and Edenville, and this pandemic.’” The result is a good-looking, spirited exhibition of considerable artistic diversity that reflects both the Sturm und Drang involved in simultaneously coping with a vicious virus and the cataclysmic consequences of climate change.

Clinton Snider “After the Flood,” Oil on panel, 2021

Clinton Snider’s “After the Flood” tackles the catastrophe head-on, with a melancholy portrait of the six friends surveying a ravaged landscape, with Krieger himself at center standing on a rock surrounded by the newly trenched stream. Like so many of Snider’s paintings, the light is muted and sepulchral – the artist says he favors early dawn light. In tone and feel, “After the Flood” evokes much the same mournful vibe as Snider’s 2005 portrait, “Studebaker Razed,” which captured the abandoned Detroit factory the morning after its catastrophic fire.

Another compelling visual statement directly tied to the dam disaster is Whyte’s amusingly titled “Batten Down the Hatches.” This large installation, lying prone on the gallery floor, stars a debris pile bound together with yellow ratchet straps. Among its disparate elements are a toppled ornamental lamp post – its five globes still lit, in a nice touch – and a tree-length log with long, carved toes, as if Treebeard, the walking, talking, tree-like “ent” in “Lord of the Rings,” had lost a limb.

Graem Whyte, “Batten Down the Hatches,” Maple, found lamp post, cast aluminum, wheel, paint on wood, ratchet straps, 2021

And don’t miss – well, really you can’t miss – Whyte’s “Vortex of Janus” smack in the center of the gallery. This mechanical construction on wheels is very big, maybe five feet tall, or so – a tapering, octagonal, open-ended kaleidoscope. The interior metal sides appear to be swirling, a nice optical illusion created by a pattern of clean, sharp-edged parallelograms and the occasional through-line in vivid hues. Besides creating an intriguingly kinetic visual – you immediately see how water forced through the vortex would rush out the smaller end with multiplied force – this is an elegant, absorbing color study dominated by shades of green, black, and surprising bursts of orange and lavender.

Funny and tragic both is Michael McGillis’ “Poseidon’s Throne” that blends a reference to cottage life with ugly reality. In his artist’s statement, McGillis says he’s always been interested in landscape and human scale, and with “Throne” he’s sculpted a convincing diorama of a bend in a new stream that’s clearly raked its way through a now-barren landscape. At one end, as if to underline the absurdity of it all, a cheerful, orange Adirondack chair sits mostly submerged, already acquiring a green, river-scum patina below the waterline.

Michael McGillis, “Poseidon’s Throne” (detail), Mixed media, 2021

Dominating the far wall as you walk in is Scott Hocking’s sizable installation, “Woodsmun of the Forest,” as well as one of two videos the artist made while kayaking around both the Edenville disaster and waterways in the Detroit area. Sparingly narrated by Hocking, the videos — in particular “Kayaking through the Quarantimes” — are mesmerizing, pretty gorgeous and, on occasion downright funny.

HOCKING VIDEO: “Kayaking through the Quarantimes” 19 Minutes

For its part, “Woodsmun” is a triptych comprised of large tree parts that were either submerged almost 100 years ago when the Edenville Dam was erected or else fell or washed in sometime over recent decades. The central element is a huge, distressed trunk partly suspended from the ceiling, framed by smaller, sculptural wood forms. In a puckish touch mostly on the backside of the installation, Hocking’s integrated man-made artifacts – some would say trash – that he retrieved from the drained lake, including a rope, rusted beer cans, and a large ornamental daisy that’s got “1970s perky bad taste” written all over it.

For his part, Krieger has mounted a number of color photographs of what remains of the dam, as well as landscapes including “Tittabawassee Sunset #1.” That image fills up a clear, cylindrical container rather like a scientific specimen, or last year’s preserved tomatoes. But the artist’s biggest crowd-pleaser is likely to be “Last Day on Earth,” an off-white ceramic sculpture of a hopeless fellow maybe two feet tall with a sign wrapped around his midriff that proclaims “DOOM,” and adds, just to make sure passers-by get the point, “Our last day on earth and the end of human existence.”

Andrew Krieger, “Last Day on Earth,” Ceramic, 2021

But apocalypse or no, this being America, as you read down you realize the sign’s actually an ad urging you to “enjoy” your last meal at Howie’s Soda Bar with its celebrated “good food” and “reasonable prices.” Because even in the midst of apocalypse, you want value for your money, right?

Finally, standing somewhat apart in tone and size are Mitch Cope’s three colored-pencil water lily studies. Each of these large, square canvases also invokes one of three planets in a somewhat cryptic fashion – specifically the moon, Saturn and Jupiter. They’re handsome, restful works. In a show devoted to destruction, Cope’s vividly colored drawings radiate hopeful calm and underline the healing power of looking closely at nature. The three are a lovely balance to the sharper narratives on display all around them.

Mitch Cope, “Water Lili #1 Jupiter,” Colored pencil on paper, 2021

Clinton Snider, Tree of Eden, 2021, 53 sec.

“Notes from the Quarantimes” is on display at  Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum through January 15, 2022.

 

 

 

 

Nanette Carter & Contemporaries @ N’Namdi

The work of Nanette Carter is joined by Al Loving, Sam Gilliam, and Gregory Coates at N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art

A Survey, Thirty Years of work by Nanette Carter, Install Image courtesy of DAR

The new exhibition at N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art centers on the artwork of Nanette Carter and three of her contemporaries. All the work is based on various ways to approach the depth and variety of abstraction. The exhibition surveys thirty years of work going back to 1983 when N’Namdi first exhibited the work of Nanette Carter. The video below gives the reader an in-depth explanation of her artwork where she talks about using oil paint on mylar and then cutting up and arranging forms, shapes, color, and line to express a unique composition.  Here, she takes the viewer through her process that begins with a small drawing.

Nanette Carter, Bouquet for Loving #17, Oils on Mylar, 57 x 50″ 2011

Carter has developed a painting style that consists of abstract designs and effects superimposed on top of each other in ways that emphasize chance but often reflect a theme as in the artwork Bouquet For Loving #17.  Carter does not precisely follow a particular tradition, and that’s evident in each of her works, which are stand-alone concepts to which she brings materials such as fabric into her oil paint on mylar world.

Nanette Carter, Aqueous #49, Oil Collage on Mylar, 46 x 53″ 2008

An example is a work Aqueous #49 where Carter elegantly composes a circular composition using her mylar collage on an expansive surface of textures based on an organic color palette. The random placement of patterned designs within the paintings, along with their slightly free-form outlines, establishes Carter’s desire to work both inside and outside the conventions of her genre.

Nanette Carter earned her B.A. at Oberlin College where she majored in Art and Art History.

Al Loving, Red Hook #1, Mixed Media on Board, 38 x 28″

Born in Detroit in 1935, Al Loving studied painting at the University of Michigan–Ann Arbor. After graduation, he relocated to New York where he found himself among a social group that included artists Robert Duran and Sam Gillian. In 1969, Loving famously became the first Black artist to have a one-person show at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

In the work Red Hook, Loving showcases his traditional spiral shapes creating a more organic abstraction.  A kind of shaped canvas relief on the wall, the mixed media piece draws primary colors together in a collage-type construction. His work became known for using geometric shapes and shaped canvases where he was drawn to corrugated cardboard and rag paper.

 

Sam Gilliam, In The Fog, Relief, hand-sewn, acrylic on hand-made paper, 36 x 48″, 2010

The color field painter is recognized for representing the United States at the Venice Biennale in 2017.  Gilliam was born in 1933 in Tupelo, Mississippi, and grew up in Louisville, Kentucky. The Black painter and lyrical abstractionist artist are associated with the Washington Color School, a group of Washington, D.C.-area artists who developed abstract art from color field painting in the 1950s and 1960s.

His works have also been described as belonging to abstract expressionism and often a more lyrical abstraction. He works on stretched, draped, and wrapped canvas and adds sculptural 3D elements. He is recognized as the first artist to introduce the idea of a draped, painted canvas hanging without stretcher bars around 1965, and this was a major contribution to the Color Field School.

Gilliam has worked with polypropylene, computer-generated imaging, metallic and iridescent acrylics, handmade paper, aluminum, steel, plywood, and plastic in his more recent work.  Sam Gilliam earned a B.A. and his M.A. at the University of Louisville.

 

Gregory Coates, I Made It, Mixed Media on Wood, 48 x 45″

Gregory Coates was born in Washington D.C. in 1961 and grew up in the northeast part of the district. He is a Black artist known for working in the realm of social abstraction. In this exhibition, the work I Made It is a composition of concentric circles of various sizes on an orange-red background.

Gregory Coates attended the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C., from 1980-1982 and later the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in 1990.

George N’Namdi founded G. R. N’Namdi Galleries in 1982 in Detroit, Michigan. It is one of the oldest commercial galleries in the United States and features works of contemporary abstract artists. The gallery has established its reputation as the leader in educating and inspiring new and seasoned collectors.  They have worked hard at building art collections around Metro Detroit and beyond. Works from the gallery are featured in some of the most prominent public and private collections worldwide.

Nanette Carter & Contemporaries @ N’Namdi is on display through December 31, 2021

 

 

Art + Labor & The Long Goodbye @ MSU Broad

24/7: Art + Labor Around the Clock installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2021. Photo: Aaron Word/MSU Broad.

COVID-19 had a dramatic impact on how we work; even as we return to normalcy, it remains unclear if the workplace will ever fully return to how things were in pre-pandemic years.  An intimate, single-gallery exhibit at the MSU Broad offers an ensemble of works which explore labor as depicted in art, with a particular focus placed on the ambiguity between domestic vs. work spaces. Anyone who has worked from home this past year will immediately relate to the contents of 24/7: Art + Labor Around the Clock.

This is a show which brings together an eclectic ensemble of photography and works on paper which span just over a hundred years.  Together, these works speak to the notion of work beyond the boundaries of the 9 to 5 workday. COVID forced many of us to work from home, but for many people in certain lines of work this was historically the normative experience.  A trio of anonymous photographs shows workers in telecommunications, textile, and agriculture, all industries which once were performed principally in domestic settings (telephone operators once had switchboards in their homes, for example, so they could be on call day and night).

The Hidden World Collection, (Picture of women working at a telephone switchboard). MSU purchase, Eli and Edythe Broad Fund for the Acquisition of Modern and Contemporary Art.

Two works approach this theme with tongue-in-cheek humor.  In a wry parody of the classic children’s book Goodnight Moon, Krithika Varagur and Eric Macomber give us Good Night Zoom; its imagery, color palette, and style echoes that of the original classic, but now our beloved rabbit protagonist is wishing goodnight to the things which have become fixtures of our pandemic-era lives (“Goodnight screens,” for example).  Also approaching the subject with humor is the animated film El Empleo (The Employee) by Santiago Grasso and Patricio Plaza, in which there’s no boundary between work and domestic spaces, and humans are paid to perform the roles of functional, inanimate objects.  The redundant, joyless lives of the film’s characters echo the pulverizing tedium of the fictional worlds envisioned in the absurdist plays of Samuel Beckett.

El Empleo (The Employee), Santiago Grasso and Patricio Plaza, 2008.

Some of these works are visually mesmerizing, such as Michael Kenna’s moody, backlit photographs of Dearborn’s Ford Rouge Complex, which manage to turn the factory into something that verges on the sublime and the surreal.  Together, these images seem to suggest that this complex is a living, breathing behemoth that never truly shuts down.

Michael Kenna, The Rouge, Study #1, 1992. MSU purchase, partially funded by an anonymous donor.

Jenny Kendler: The Long Goodbye installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2021. Photo: Eat Pomegranate Photography.

Concurrent with (but unrelated to) 24/7: Art + Work Around the Clock, a second gallery space explores the human impact on the planet’s biodiversity.  The Long Goodbye is a considered ensemble of sculptural work by multimedia artist Jenny Kendler, who tactfully integrates the media she uses with the message she delivers. Although inhabiting a comparatively small space, the visual impact of this exhibit is striking.

Nearly filling the length of one of the gallery walls is Whale Bells, a collaborative project by Kendler and glass artist Andrew Bearnot.  This is an ensemble of two dozen functional glass bells.  The ropes for each bell incorporate traditional sailor’s knots, and the clappers are actual fossilized ear bones from Miocene-epoch rorqual whales, the ancestors of today’s humpback.  Kendler makes the point that 5-20 million years ago, these now-extinct whales, equipped with the ability to create music, were once very likely the most culturally advanced entities on earth. Here, the bones that once allowed these whales to perceive sound are now employed as the literal instruments which project sound. The environmental commentary here is understated, but the installation invites us to consider that today’s humpback whale was once an endangered species before it became the center of one of the first international environmental campaigns (Save the Whales) in the 1970s.  Through this installation’s use of sound, we’re also reminded that in recent years noise pollution caused by human commercial activity in the ocean (tand he oil industry in particular) has had a detrimental effect on whales’ migration patterns and mating activity.

Jenny Kendler: The Long Goodbye installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2021. Photo: Eat Pomegranate Photography.

The literal centerpiece of this exhibition space is Amber Archive, a circular table on which are displayed approximately 130 fragments from different plant and animal species which are vulnerable to extinction as the direct result of human activity.  Each specimen is individually encased in a glowing orb of amber resin.  These include (among many other things) fragments of bird feathers, whale baleen, and snakeskin.  This installation is visually striking, but it also serves as a sort of DNA time-capsule, not unlike the world’s seed-vaults which aim to preserve and protect Earth’s biodiversity.

Jenny Kendler: The Long Goodbye installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2021. Photo: Eat Pomegranate Photography.

Each of these two exhibits nicely supplement the Broad’s current lead exhibitions.  Interstates of Mind, with its focus on Michigan’s automotive industry, certainly parallels much of the content of Art + Labor, particularly Michael Kenna’s photographic series on the Rouge automotive plant.  And Kendler’s work certainly underscores Seeds of Resistance in her emphasis on preserving biodiversity.  Taken together, this quartet of exhibitions prompts us to consider the relationship between industry and the environment, and how our commercial pursuits have lasting ecological consequences.

24/7: Art + Work Around the Clock is on view through August 22.

The Long Goodbye is one view through June 27, 2021 at the East Lansing Broad Museum.

WSU 2020 Art Faculty – Virtual Exhibition

The James Pearson Duffy Department of Art and Art History, Wayne State University, presents the 2020 WSU Faculty Exhibition, a virtual exhibition that opened November 19, 2020.

The Art Department Faculty Exhibition at Wayne State University began as an installation in the Community Arts Gallery but quickly became virtual in mid-November 2020 to conform with university Covid-19 requirements. Faculty members from the department who advance the study and practice of art history, design and fine art come together to reflect the university’s full spectrum of area disciplines.  Click on this link, and you’ll find these images above are links to each faculty member’s work here: https://www.waynestategalleries.org/2020-faculty-exhibition-2

Adrian Hatfield, If this isn’t nice, what is?, 2019 oil and acrylic on canvas 48” x 36”

The painting and sculpture of Adrian Hatfield remind this writer of the term magical realism, more often referred to in literature, but that may apply here.  The term magical realism was introduced by Franz Roh, a German art critic in 1925. When Roh coined the term, he meant it to create an art category that strayed from the strict guidelines of realism, which Hatfield’s collage-like work conveys. Hatfield’s work recombines art historical imagery from the industrial revolution and the Romantic era with imagery from current and environmental concerns. In the work, he creates a black & white drawn universe, juxtaposed to these full colored floating dimensional shapes and landscape, part of a dualism that plays with the viewer’s process.

In his statement, he says, “As I explore this dualistic theme through the remodeling of art-historical and scientific imagery, the resultant pieces are mournful, unnerving, and yet oddly hopeful.”  Adrian Clark Hatfield earned his B.F.A. from Ohio State University and his M.F.A. from Ohio University.   https://www.adrianhatfield.com/

Margi Weir, Caution Guardrail, 2020 India ink, Sumi ink, watercolor

Patterns are a large dominating part of Margi Weir’s oeuvre, as illustrated here in this work, Caution Guard Rail, 2020. She uses this technique she describes as Snap Line when she dips cotton twine into thinned acrylic paint or ink and snaps a taut line onto a supporting surface. The spray from the line often begins the process for the composition. Weir’s body of work is expansive and includes paintings, drawings, prints, and installations. The paintings and prints are dominated by a highly developed geometric and colorful pattern. There is a theme reflected somewhere in the pattern, often in the border, where she stitches together multiple symbols to make them visually appealing.

She says in her statement, “In one body of my work, I use a computer (a non-traditional painter’s tool) to repeat images that I stitch together visually in order to make an appealing pattern, often resulting in tapestry-like, spatially flattened compositions.  This references pre-Renaissance and/or non-western methods of pictorial organization, for storytelling purposes, that were used in textiles, ceramics, and architectural decoration.  This particular use of juxtaposed images, stacked and repeated, is a unique addition to the visual language of painting in the 21st century.”

Ms. Weir earned her MFA in painting from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA); her MA in painting from New Mexico State University. She also holds a BFA in painting from San Francisco Art Institute and BA in art history from Wheaton College.   https://margiweir.weebly.com/

Millee Tibbs, Transfrontalier, 2018 Gelatin Silver Print + Custom Frame

To describe Millee Tibbs’s work as landscape photography would not be complete, although she is using a camera and capturing images of mountainous terrain. Instead, that would be the starting point for various manipulations; whether it be the entire shape of the image or the overlay of a second geometric shape on the terrain, there is an astute variety in how these images are presented.  The artwork derives from Tibbs’s interest in photography’s ubiquity and the tension inherent in manipulating reality. Sometimes it is in the overlay of a geometric shape on the mountainside; other times it includes the shape of the image, mat, and frame. It’s as if the mountain terrain becomes the backdrop for an artist interested in what I might call a shaped canvas work: Frank Stella, 1965; Ellsworth Kelly, 1970, or Elizabeth Murray, 2006.

She says in her statement, “My work has evolved into an investigation of idealized landscape imagery – the kind that is easily consumable and often commodified. I am fascinated with the landscape genre and its language, the aesthetic imposed onto the land through photographic framing, and the historical rhetoric inherent in these images that justified Manifest Destiny and conquest through what is left out—namely inhabitants.”

Millee Tibbs earned her B.A. from Vassar College and her M.F.A. from Rhode Island School of Design (RISD)    https://www.milleetibbs.com/

Sheryl Oring, “I Wish to Say” Video, 5:13 minutes

The video work of Sherl Oring investigates social issues through projects that incorporate on-camera interviews that examine public opinion. In “I Wish to Say”, Oring sets up a portable office where woman in secretarial costume interview individuals at large about the state-0f-affairs in the U.S. and documents their comments using a typewriter, intending to main a postcard to the White House.  To date, nearly 4000 postcards were mailed.

Having worked in educational television, it is important to say the standards and caliber of production in these short videos are of the highest quality: the recording of imagery and audio and the direction and editing of these videos are highly produced.  The “I Wish to Say” project has a companion book from the University of  Chicago Press, Activating Democracy, a result of helping people from across the United States voice their political concerns.

From the Public Art Review, “Sheryl Oring’s multiyear, ongoing I Wish to Say project—in which she sets up a desk with a typewriter and invites people to dictate a letter to the President or a presidential candidate, which she types and sends—is a catalyst for a deeper look at artists’ intersection with public policy.”

Sheryl A. Oring earned her B.S. in Journalism at the University of Colorado and her M.F.A. from the University of California.  http://www.sheryloring.org/

Works by the following full and part-time faculty are featured in the exhibition: Maria Bologna, Kiley Brandt, Betty Brownlee, Allana Clarke, Pamela DeLaura, Jessika Edgar, Laura Foxman, David Stephan Graves, Richard Haley, Adrian Hatfield, Margaret Hull, Lauren Kalman, Deborah Kingery, Ruth Koelewyn, Brian Kritzman, Claas Kuhnen, Evan Larson-Voltz, Heather Macali, Katie MacDonald, Heather Mawson, Judith A. Moldenhauer, Carole Morisseau, Sheryl Oring, Kathyrose Pizzo, Tom Pyrzewski, Kyle Sharkey, Rebekah Sweda, Andrea Thurston-Shaine, Millee Tibbs, Maureen Vachon, Margi Weir, and Golsa Yaghoobi.

Wayne State University,  2020 Faculty Exhibition, a virtual exhibition opened November 19, 2020, and runs through January 8, 2021.

 

 

InterStates of Mind @ MSU Broad

InterStates of Mind: Rewriting the Map of the United States in the Age of the Automobile installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2020. Photo: Eat Pomegranate Photography.

In 1928, Ford Motor Company acquired 2.5 million acres of forest in the middle of the Brazilian Amazon with the intent of supplying the company’s Michigan factories with a reliable supply of cheap rubber. Here it erected Fordlandia, a pop-up town populated by locals who, coaxed by competitive wages, worked in the employ of Ford Motors. Ford aggressively pushed American culture onto the workers, mandating, among other things, required poetry readings (in English), community sing-alongs, and American cuisine. In 1930, the workers revolted, and the Brazilian army had to restore order.  The endeavor was a failure.  The region wasn’t sufficiently conducive to growing rubber trees, and by 1934, the project was abandoned; however,  Fordlandia’s buildings still stand, and the town attained immortality as a major inspiration for Aldous Huxley’s dystopian Brave New World.  Fordlandia is just one of many examples of the automotive industry’s influence on culture presented in the MSU Broad’s excellent exhibition InterStates of Mind: Rewriting the Map of the United States in the Age of the Automobile.

This large exhibition fills the entirety of the Broad’s second floor gallery suite with a multimedia selection of art and ephemera largely (though not entirely) selected from its own collection. While it sometimes addresses the automobile industry in broad strokes, the exhibition also addresses how the automotive industry shaped Lansing in particular. InterStates of Mind gives special attention to some of the economic, environmental, and social problems exacerbated—if not always directly caused—by the automotive industry.

InterStates opens with a trilogy of early, iconic films which emphatically proclaimed an unfettered optimism of the automobile (and in technology in general) to realize an earthly American utopia.  In 1939, for the New York World’s Fair, General Motors constructed an impressively large animated diorama of a city of the future, at the heart of which was the automotive industry and the highway system.  The 23 minute film Futurama slowly pans through this sprawling model (designed by GM’s Norman Bel Geddes) as a narrator envisions a future in which science, technology, and the highway system are harnessed to create an ideal society. Though many of the film’s predictions indeed came true, its flamboyant optimism in a technology-driven utopia certainly rings hollow in retrospect.

Master Hands, a film also produced by General Motors, artfully walks the viewer through the manufacturing process of a 1936 Chevrolet.  Underscored by a triumphant, Wagneresque soundtrack composed by Samuel Benavie and performed by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the film’s visuals really are aesthetically beautiful, and the music engages with action on the assembly line in a perfectly coordinated dance. Master Hands showcases the undeniable ingenuity behind the assembly process.

As a foil to the optimism of these films, InterStates also presents an ensemble of the socially poignant photographs of Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, and other photographers whose work documented the lives of those worst hit by the Great Depression.  “There’s no way like the American way,” a billboard loudly proclaims in a photograph by Arthur Rothstein, though the blighted buildings in the background brutally undercut this cheerful sentiment.  While some of these photographs don’t directly reference the automobile itself, they collectively push against the utopic, concurrent visions of Futurama.  

Arthur Rothstein, Sign, Birmingham, Alabama, 1937, printed 1987. Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, Michigan State University, purchase

Dorothea Lange, Gas station. Kern County, California, 1939, printed 1987. Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, Michigan State University, purchase.

This exhibit gives prominence to an ensemble of eight large photographs by Brazilian artist Clarissa Tossin, whose conceptual project When Two Places Look Alike addresses the overtly colonialist nature of Fordlandia.  Many of the American-style homes built for the workers in Fordlandia still stand, and Tossin’s photographs wittily draw visual parallels between the architecture of Fordlandia’s homes with those of Alberta, Michigan, also a company town established by Ford in the 1930s.

Clarissa Tossin, When two places look alike, 2012. Courtesy the artist, Luisa Strina Gallery São Paulo, and Commonwealth Council, Los Angeles.

Given Lansing’s prominence in the automotive industry, it seems fitting that this show localizes much of its content.  A generous portion of the exhibit explores the social impact of I-496, the expressway which serves as a main artery Eastward and Westward through Lansing, and the construction of which displaced a mostly African-American population from their homes.  A massive enlargement of an aerial photograph shows a stretch of these houses prior to the construction of the expressway, hinting at the many lives that it would seriously interrupt.

While much of this show examines the automobile’s influence through a jaundiced eye, it certainly refrains from being drearily pessimistic.  There’s a whole ensemble of photographs highlighting the phenomena of the roadside attraction.  And some works celebrate the visual potential of the materiality of the automobile itself, such as Chakaia Booker’s rubber sculptures that playfully flaunt the aesthetic potential of used tires, which she manages to cut, sculpt, twist, and manipulate into forms that look almost organic.

InterStates of mind offers a considered and thoughtful re-assessment of the automotive industry’s impact on society.  Though this exhibit is certainly informative (expect to find yourself reading your way through large parts of this exhibit), it’s also visually rewarding, offering visitors a veritable cornucopia of works which snugly make the most of the Broad’s exhibition space.  While these works certainly aren’t disparaging of the automobile’s influence on culture, they collectively approach the subject with an honest ambivalence, and the early 20th Century visions and promises of a technology-driven American utopia, in retrospect, ultimately seem to ring hollow.

InterStates of Mind: Rewriting the Map of the United States in the Age of the Automobile installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2020. Photo: Eat Pomegranate Photography.

 

Video courtesy of the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum
InterStates of Mind is currently on view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, and runs through August 2021.  The exhibition is free, but to ensure a safe experience timed tickets must be ordered in advance.

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