Detroit Art Review

Critical art reviews of Detroit galleries and museums weekly

Vincent van Gogh @ DIA 

The Detroit Institute of Arts presents Van Gogh in America

Installation image, Van Gogh in America, Detroit Institute of Arts, 2022

The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) presents a landmark exhibition, Van Gogh in America, that features 74 works of art that opened on October 2, 2022, and will run through January 22, 2023. The DIA celebrates being the first museum in the country to purchase a painting by Vincent van Gogh in 1921. The work, Self-Portrait (1887), was purchased at a New York auction by Ralph Booth, then the President of the City of Detroit Art Commission. There are nine galleries of artwork, and the exhibition includes a section of Van Gogh’s contemporaries, including Paul  Cezanne, Paul Gauguin, Henri Matisse, Raoul Dufy, Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes, and Joseph Stella.

Self-Portrait, Oil on board mounted to wood, 13 x 10″ Detroit Institute of Arts, 1887

Van Gogh painted more than forty self-portraits and loved to scrutinize his features which, unlike those of the 17th century, might be considered disturbing or unattractive. That, in itself, could not be more introspective. Van Gogh could not find or pay for models, so he used his image reflected in a mirror to create an extensive collection of variations of himself: An indication of his introverted nature.

 

Self-Portrait, Oil on Canvas, 16 x 13″, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum, 1887

The director of the DIA, Salvador Salort-Pons, says, “One hundred years after the DIA made the bold decision to purchase a van Gogh painting, we are honored to present Van Gogh in America. This unique exhibition includes numerous works that are rarely on public view in the United States and tells the story – for the first time – of how Van Gogh took shape in the hearts and minds of Americans during the last century.”

The works of Van Gogh and his images are ubiquitous in the United States, the Western world, and beyond. There was the novel by Irving Stone, Lust for Life (1934), followed by Vincente Minnelli’s film adaptation, starring Kirk Douglas, which shaped the artist’s popularity. In the mid-1970s, Leonard Nimoy starred in a one-person play called Vincent that he’d adapted from the play Van Gogh by Phillip Stephens. That set the stage for the songs by Don McClean’s Vincent and  Starry, Starry Night, and numerous films and theater presentations like Loving Vincent, the world’s first hand-painted, animated feature film, in 2017. Recently there has been the Immersive Van Gogh, a light show based on his imagery, and I would be remiss if I did not mention the book cover of Gardner’s Art Through the Ages was printed from the image of the painting Starry, Starry Night. And these mentions are only a few of the different ways Van Gogh’s work has been used artistically in our culture.

For readers of this review, an easy way to explore the life of Vincent van Gogh is this video produced by the Van Gogh Museum.  It may set the stage.

Courtesy of the Van Gogh Museum –   4:50 Minutes

When Van Gogh lived and worked in Paris for two years, he made friends with many artists who were part of the new impressionism that differed from the highly respected artists of the Hague School, sometimes known as the Barbizon School, working exclusively in the tradition of realism.

One of his favorite painters was the French artist Jean-Francois Millet (1814-1875), who featured peasants and rural settings in the countryside. The common themes were waterways, seascapes with boats, windmills, and canals. Millet’s work may have lingered in his mind, but along came this small stroke of paint with variations of color that would come to dominate many of the spaces in his compositions. Clearly, Van Gogh wanted to use color for its expressive value rather than make faithful replicas of the images received by the eye in realism.

It took six years and a team of professionals to create this exhibition. Scheduled to open earlier in 2020, that opening was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. This exhibition is part of the Bonnie Ann Larson Modern European Artist Series. The curatorial effort was led by Dr. Jill Shaw, Head of the James Duffy Department of Modern and Contemporary Art, and Rebecca A. Boylan and Thomas W. Sidlik of European Art, 1850–1970 at the DIA. In her statement, Dr. Shaw says, “Van Gogh in America examines the landmark moments and trajectory of the artist becoming fully integrated within the American collective imagination, even though he never set foot in the United States.”

Van Gogh’s Chair, Oil on Canvas, 36 x 28″, The National Gallery London, 1888.

The DIA exhibition of these 74 works of art opens with The Chair as a welcoming image to the show’s first gallery. Painted in December of 1888, when the relationship between Gauguin and Van Gogh had become strained, Van Gogh paints two chairs, the second being Gauguin’s, as his dream of sharing a studio with his close friend was rapidly disintegrating. Van Gogh’s simple chair sits empty, absent of its owner, and is an infinitely lonely image. It is an extraordinary instance of propelling a most familiar object beyond the realm of still life so that it comes to represent the artist himself.

The Bedroom, Oil on Canvas, 29 x 36″, Art Institute of Chicago, 1889.

Van Gogh painted this interior three times while he stayed in the Yellow House in Arles, France, as he was particularly pleased with the bedroom where he had a bed, a small table, and two chairs. This moment marked the first time the artist had a home of his own.

He wrote to his brother, Theo, “It amused me enormously doing this bare interior. With a simplicity à la Seurat. In flat tints, but coarsely brushed in full impasto, the walls pale lilac, the floor in a broken and faded red, the chairs and the bed chrome yellow, the pillows and the sheet very pale lemon green, the bedspread blood-red, the dressing-table orange, the washbasin blue, the window green. I had wished to express utter repose with all these very different tones.”

Portrait of Postman Roulin, 32 x 25”,  Oil on Canvas, Detroit Institute of Arts, 1888.

Van Gogh painted Joseph Roulin and his family several times each, and the painting here is the second version painted in early August 1888. There were at least seven portraits of Roulin, as he befriended not only the man but his entire family. He found affordability in the work of the Roulin family, for which he made several images of each person. In exchange, Van Gogh gave the Roulins one painting for each family member. One cannot imagine how the strokes of color in his beard appealed to van Gogh and this relatively new application of oil paint. The painting was acquired in 1935 by Edsel and Eleanor Ford as a gift to the DIA.

Fishing Boats on the Beach at les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, Oil on Canvas, 25 x 32, Van Gogh Museum.

It was in February of 1888 that Van Gogh was living in Arles and would take excursions to Provence and the village of Les Saintes-Marie-de-la-Mer.  Van Gogh would have liked to have made this painting on the beach, but the fishermen would put out to sea every morning, so he would make his drawings early and finish the painting in his apartment studio. In doing so, he could control his choice of color to his liking, using primary color juxtaposed with secondary color in the boat composition.

Starry Night (Starry Night Over the Rhone), Oil on Canvas, 28 x 36″, Musee d’ Orsay, 1888.

The DIA takes the visitor out of the exhibition with Starry Night Over the Rhone, which is just what this review will do. Just a two-minute walk from the Yellow House, painted in 1988, the subject is the night light and its effects on the river Rhone. The view from the east turn in the river towards the western shore of rocks is where Arles was built. After spending his days in the sunny fields of flowers and crops, the idea of painting at night must have intrigued Van Gogh. Here the gas lights from the town are complemented by the formation of the stars. Van Gogh writes to his brother Theo, “This morning I saw the countryside from my window a long time before sunrise with nothing but the morning star, which looked very big.” As it turns out, The Starry Night is one of the most recognizable paintings in western art.

On March 17, 1901, 71 of Van Gogh’s paintings were displayed at a show in Paris, and his fame grew enormously. Van Gogh’s sister-in-law, Johanna, had collected as many of Van Gogh’s paintings as she could but discovered that many had been destroyed or lost as Van Gogh’s mother had thrown away crates full of his art. His mother lived long enough to see her son hailed as an artistic genius.

Today, Vincent van Gogh is considered one of the greatest artists in human history.

I would like to distinguish between experiencing all the places one sees the remnants of Van Gogh’s artwork versus observing the original artwork up close in the DIA. That is one of the purposes of the museum. Educators and researchers refer to this experience as being in the presence of a “primary source.” Primary sources are what remains from the past. Aside from human memory and the unrecorded passing down of information from generation to generation, experiencing original paintings are the only way current generations can hope to understand what an authentic Van Gogh painting looks and, more importantly, feels like. In my later years, and over time, I have seen Vincent van Gogh paintings in various museums, but I never saw 74 artworks in one place. From so much that was written about him, Vincent van Gogh was a fragile and sensitive man burdened with poor health. As an artist, he became an instant soul mate to many. He was dependent and vulnerable but always willing to make himself available to his audience.

Take advantage of this opportunity to spend quality time at the Detroit Institute of Arts and join family and friends to view this extraordinary exhibition Van Gogh in America.

Installation image Van Gogh in America, Detroit Institute of Arts

Van Gogh in America celebrates the DIA’s status as the first public museum in the United States to purchase a painting by Vincent van Gogh, his Self-Portrait (1887). On the 100th anniversary of its acquisition, experience 74 authentic Van Gogh works from around the world and discover the fascinating story of America’s introduction to this iconic artist in an exhibition only at the DIA.

A full-length, illustrated catalog with essays by the exhibition curator and Van Gogh scholars will accompany the exhibition. The Detroit Institute of Arts is the exclusive venue for this exhibition.

Tickets are $7-$29 for adults; discounted prices are for residents in Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties. The DIA exhibition Van Gogh in America will run through January 22, 2022

 

 

 

Confluent @ WSU Elaine L. Jacobs Gallery

Elaine L. Jacobs Gallery Installation

The exhibition Confluent, now at the Elaine L. Jacobs Gallery until December 9, combines pieces from the Wayne State University Art Collection with artists creating work in Detroit now, many of whom have current or historical relationships with the university.    It’s a reunion of sorts, and quite a party.

Over the past 50 years, Wayne State has been the repository of the University Art Collection, an ever- growing assortment of works by many significant artists who have lived and worked in Detroit.  Some were here for a time and left, often going on to success in art scenes on the east and west coasts. Others have stayed put, finding in the frayed edges and vacant spaces of the city a congenial home for their talent. Confluent re-unites artists working here now with a Detroit diaspora.

Jeanne Bieri, The Dance, 2022, army blanket, silver lame’, rayon, wool silk, cotton, army suture cotton from Korean police action lined with repurposed dyed quilt.

 

Ellen Phelan, Untitled (Shield) 1971, acrylic on cut canvas, photos: K.A. Letts

For the purposes of Confluent, an eclectic group of artists chosen by the collection’s curator, Grace Serra, has been invited to select a work—or several–from the collection that corresponds in some way to their own art practice. Three of the artists, Darryl DeAngelo Terrel, Mary Fortuna and John Rizzo, have chosen to make work specifically for this exhibition. Part of the fun of a visit to the gallery now is to be found in tracing the similarities and contrasts among the artists and their chosen pairings and in making connections of our own.

Sandra Osip, Pop-Pop, 2022, fabric, wood, flocking, acrylic paint, foam board, photo K.A. Letts

Upon entering the gallery’s main floor, we find Sandra Osip’s colorful vegetal constructions. She has chosen to pair her work with two pieces from the collection, Douglas James’s decorous oil paintings, both from 1973, Stalked Tomatoes and Untitled (Stalked Tomatoes).  While the thematic connection is apparent, Osip’s three-dimensional, shocking pink and aggressively feminine Pop-Pop seems also to be engaged in a little side flirtation with Tom Pyrzewski’s nearby louche and bulbous wall-mounted Birth, Re-birth and Moving Parts (2021).  Pyrzewski has partnered himself with a beautiful and dignified mixed media wall relief Copernican Communication-Molecular Systems (1983) by Gordon Newton (1948-2019.)

Tom Pyrzewski, Birth, Rebirth and Moving Parts, 2021, mixed media, photo courtesy of the artist.

 

 

Gordon Newton Copernican Communications- Molecular Systems, 1983, wood construction, photo: K.A. Letts

Across the gallery, Jeanne Bieri’s improbably beautiful mashup of silver lame’ and old army blankets, The Dance (2022), fits comfortably on the wall with Ellen Phelan’s 1971 Untitled (Shield), a triangular, fringed canvas tapestry.

John Rizzo’s tall, skinny Jenga-like wooden obelisk Ascending (2022) points the way to the upper gallery where more discoveries await. At the top of the stairs, Rizzo–there he is again—modestly frames a tiny piece by Judy Pfaff, Al’s(1974) with his nicely crafted and subtly colored hoop sculpture Contemplative View (2022.)

John Rizzo, Contemplative View, 2022, maple, poplar, paint, lacquer.  And Judy Pfaff, Al’s, 1974, wood, tin, oil paint on wood, photo courtesy of John Rizzo

Donita Simpson’s intimate portraits of Detroit’s artists and other cultural figures sit side-by-side with Kurt Novak’s (1945-2019) prankish scanner photographs. The contrast in the bodies of work by these two artists is a reminder of the infinite variety within the medium of photography. Simpson’s dignified portrait of arts writer and Wayne State educator Dennis Nawrocki, backed by his collection of vintage ceramics, Literary Artist Dennis Nawrocki (2017), is a foil to Novak’s comic image of the same writer’s (much younger) face smashed up against the glass of a scanner, Dennis Nawrocki (Detroit Portrait Series, 2003-2005). Both say something true, though different, about the subject.

Donita Simpson, Literary Artist Dennis Nawrocki, 2017, courtesy of artist.

 

Kurt Novak, Dennis Nawrocki (Detroit Portrait Series), 2003-2005, archival pigment print on cotton.

Abstract painters Anita Bates and Marcia Freedman have paired their work with Ron Weill (1945-2019) and Don Willett (1928-1985) respectively, but there is a case to be made that their similarly scaled artworks, installed opposite each other, make for interesting gallery companions on another level. Bates’s painting From Way Up High (2022) is all surface and translucence, shimmering metallics and dense blacks that seem to have arrived on the painting’s surface by some kind of alchemy rather than through the prosaic application of paint. By contrast, Freeman’s painting Cuz(2022) sets up a dark and mysterious fictive space within which a glow like that of a blast furnace pulses.

Anita Bates, From Way Up High, 2022, mixed media, photo courtesy Elaine L Jacob Gallery

Around the corner, a monumental, welded steel sculpture Sentinel for Martin (2022) by M. Saffell Gardner, is paired with a small painted steel saw blade Untitled: Happy Birthday Jim (1973) by John Egner (1940-2021). Egner was a teacher and mentor to Gardner and in spite of the disparity in scale, the two pieces share a sense of connection with the larger community that resonates.

Marcia Freedman, Cuz, 2012, oil on canvas, photo: K.A. Letts

Three humorously improvisational assemblages by Mariam Ezzat, Nothing Lasts Forever, Saint Sophia; Nothing Lasts forever Except you: Animus Possession and Nothing Lasts Forever Except You: Earth Angel (2022) play well with The Offering (1983) an arresting early painting of comic menace by Brenda Goodman.  The work of these two artists, though created 40 years apart, expresses a spirit of irreverence and experimentation—an attitude of what-the-hell and why not?–that is very Detroit.

Brenda Goodman, The Offering, 1983, oil on canvas, courtesy of Elaine L. Jacob Galley.

 

Mariam Ezzat, Nothing Lasts Forever, Saint Sophia; Nothing Lasts Forever, Except you: Animus Possession; Nothing Lasts Forever, Except You: Earth Angel (all 2022) mixed media.

The artworks from the University Collection, shown alongside the recent output of Detroit artists, begins to bring the unique creative spirit of the city into focus–improvisational and often cheeky, but serious and hard-working too.  As Curator Grace Serra says in her exhibition statement, “The collection is special and unique; I believe it is the only collection that directly mirrors the diverse styles and artists of the community, capturing the depth and breadth of the cultural landscape.” Her bold claim is backed up by the diversity and quality of the work in Confluent and it’s a powerful argument for keeping  the collection on permanent public display to provide context and inspiration for artists working in Detroit now, while honoring and preserving the city’s shared art history.

Saffell Gardner, Sentinel for Martin, 2022, welded steel.

 

John Egner, Untitled (Happy Birthday Jim) 1973, oil on the circular saw blade, photos: K.A. Letts

Artists in Confluent:

Anita Bates, Jeanne Bieri, Darryl Deangelo Terrell, Sergio De Giusti, Mariam Ezzat, Mary Fortuna, Marcia Freedman, M. Saffell Gardner, Laura Makar, Sandra Osip, Tom Pyrzewski, John Rizzo, Donita Simpson, Diane Carr, John Egner, Brenda Goodman, Susan Hauptman, Douglas James, Gordon Newton, Kurt Novak, Judy Pfaff, Ellen Phelan, Robert Quigley, Ron Weil, Robert Wilbert, Don Willett

The exhibition Confluent, now at the WSU’s Elaine L. Jacobs Gallery until December 9, 2022

Exposure @ Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum

Installation shot of Exposure: Native Art and Political Ecology, which will be at the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum in University Center north of Saginaw through Dec. 10. Courtesy Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum.

In contemplating the after-effects associated with mining uranium and testing the resulting nuclear devices, Geoffe Haney probably speaks for all of us when he admits he had no idea what a large operation it all is, even today.

“When I thought about atomic testing,” said Haney, collections manager at the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum north of Saginaw, “I thought about the Marshall Islands or Nevada. I thought, ‘OK, we learned our lesson, and everything worked out.’ But,” he added, “it’s all ongoing, and the amount of uranium mining is insane.”

A traveling show at the museum on the Saginaw Valley State University campus, Exposure: Native Art and Political Ecology, underlines the wide range of countries that still have working mines. (The trade association for the nuclear industry, the World Nuclear Association, reports active mining in 20 countries.) The exhibition also points to the uncomfortable fact that most of the mines seem to be on the land of, or adjacent to, indigenous communities, whether in New Mexico, South Australia, Arizona, Saskatchewan or Hawaii – all of which contributed works for this colorful, ultimately disturbing show.

Exposure will be up through Dec. 10, 2022.

Organized by the IAIA Contemporary Museum of Native Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the exhibition – which heads to Los Angeles next – is both engaging and politically astute.

For example, a text panel instructs us there are over 500 abandoned uranium mines and mills on Navajo Nation and Pueblo lands, “and most of them are unmarked.” Until 60 years ago, Native American miners worked in the uranium mines “without any protective equipment and lived in houses constructed from contaminated material.” Many were claimed by uranium-related illnesses and unknowingly seeded birth defects and cancer that have spread through succeeding generations.

Bolatta Silis Høegh, Outside (from the Lights On, Lights Off series), 2015.

This suggestion of genetic tragedy gets a nice treatment by the Greenlandic Inuit artist, Bolatta Silis Høegh, who now practices in Copenhagen. Outside, a self-portrait from her 2015 “Lights On, Lights Off” series, presents a naked figure, rendered in crude, choppy, gray strokes. The woman is surrounded by a black landscape both lurid and elegant, and where her head ought to be there sits instead a bloody cow’s skull, gazing off to the right, as if it’d just heard something.

Is this a mask? Hard to tell, but it somehow doesn’t feel likely. All in all, Høegh conjures up a powerfully despairing portrait with an edge of anger.

Visually amusing but no less hopeless in its way is Adrian Stimson’s Fuse 3 from 2010. The member of the Canadian Blackfoot nation gives us a beige, beach-like desert landscape under a heavy gray and black sky. At the left horizon, a diminutive mushroom cloud comprised of black, salmon-pink and dark yellow is rising into the sky, its blast apparently causing the mustard-colored bison who dominates the canvas to jump in alarm.

The treatment of objects and landscape alike is interesting. The mushroom cloud reads a bit like a cartoon, gaudy and almost cute, but the buffalo is rendered with sympathetic precision. And there’s surprising beauty and technique in both the menacing sky and milky-beige sand in the foreground.

Adrian Stimson, Fuse 3 (Series of three paintings), Oil and graphite on canvas, 2010. Courtesy Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Garden.

Between 1956 and 1963, the United Kingdom conducted seven nuclear tests at the Maralinga site in South Australia. At first blush, with its exuberant circles and parallel curves in a rainbow of colors, “Maralinga Bomb” looks almost playful. But Karrika Belle Davidson, an Aboriginal woman who was near one of those tests with her young son when it detonated, has embedded this acrylic abstract, so cheerful on the surface, with hard-to-decipher representations of the dead and dying, and the hundreds of spot fires that burned long after the explosion had mostly cleared.

Kunmanara (Karrika Belle) Davidson, Maralinga Bomb, Acrylic on canvas, 2016.

With Sitting Bull and Einstein, Ojibway printmaker and artist Carl Beam pairs the legendary Native leader with the scientist whose genius led to the most frightening destructiveness man has ever wielded. Here the Saskatchewan native, who influenced an entire generation of First Nations artists before his 2005 death, lines up a half dozen lookalike pictures of Einstein in profile along the bottom of this black-ink etching, topped by three larger images of Sitting Bull. Calm and august, he looks straight out at the viewer. There’s a little playing with what academics might call the standard hierarchies of power here, with the world-acclaimed scientist overshadowed by the mythic Native American.

Carl Beam, Sitting Bull and Einstein (From the series The Columbus Suite), Etching in black ink on paper, ca. 1990. Courtesy Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Garden.

 Some prospects – wholesale obliteration or lingering death, say — are too ghastly to dwell on without pause, which is doubtless why the art of catastrophe and doom often includes a side of black humor.

Greenlandic Inuit artist Ivinguak Stork Høegh invokes this cockeyed tradition with his funny, deeply odd, Sussa Manna Aserrungikkaluarutsigu (We Do Not Have to Destroy This Area), which stars an exploding mountaintop and, looming in the foreground, two dorky kids. Both taken from period photographs, one boy is wearing literal, rose-colored glasses. It’s only when you look close and get past the general jokiness that you realize the child’s face is twisted in a hideous grimace – as appropriate response to nuclear contamination and ruin as one can imagine.

Ivinguak Stork Høegh, Sussa Manna Aserrungikkaluarutsigu (We Do Not Have to Destroy This Area), Digital photograph, 2020. Courtesy Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Garden.

Exposure: Native Art and Political Ecology will be at the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum at Saginaw Valley State University through Dec. 10, 2022.

 

Mario Moore @ David Klein Gallery

An installation view of Midnight and Canaan at the David Klein Gallery in Detroit, up through Nov. 5, 2022

Mario Moore’s solo show, Midnight and Canaan, which just opened at Detroit’s David Klein Gallery, is well worth going way out of your way to catch. The figurative oil paintings in front and the three silverpoint-on-paper works in the back room are mesmerizing, particularly when you get the story behind them.  Midnight and Canaan will be up through Nov. 5.

Moore, a College for Creative Studies grad with an MFA from Yale, has taken a sober, admiring look at Black leaders who worked the last stretch of the Underground Railroad in Michigan – names that would be unfamiliar to most people. In his Artist’s Statement, Moore notes that he learned a lot about the Great Migration in school, which brought African-Americans from the deep south to northern cities, but almost nothing about Black abolitionists before the Civil War, who deserve to be honored for their persistence and unfathomable courage, given all that they were up against.

As for the title, “Midnight” and “Canaan” were code words for Detroit and Canada, respectively, that abolitionists employed.

The operation of the Underground Railroad was both sophisticated and practical. Moore quotes from an 1886 Detroit Tribune interview with a William Lambert, who explains how they’d transport individuals fleeing slavery in “tin-peddling wagons with false bottoms, large enough to hold three men, traveling through the South.”

Lambert himself gets an affectionate shout-out with Moore’s large, silverpoint portrait. As with the other two silverpoint works of Sojourner Truth and George DeBaptiste, lines stitched onto the fabric by Moore’s mother, Detroit artist and Kresge Artist Fellow Sabrina Nelson, delineate the routes the three took while working for the Underground Railroad, whether to Battle Creek, Port Huron, Detroit or Amherstburg, Ontario.

Laid down with actual gold thread, the lines take the shape of branching railroad tracks. In all three cases, Nelson’s linear needlework frames the individual in question, hovering above their heads a bit like angular halos, at the same time that the lines all reach toward the right – i.e., the east – to Canada and freedom. As for the gentleman himself, Lambert — handsomely dressed in frock coat and tie — stares out at the viewer with determined, undeceived eyes. So too does Sojourner Truth on the facing wall.

Mario Moore, Sojourner Truth, 2022, Silverpoint on prepared paper, Gold Thread, Embroidery by Sabrina Nelson, 74.5 x 47.5 inches, Courtesy David Klein Gallery.

What may not be apparent as you walk into the gallery is that the entire show, in one way or another, is a tribute to the Underground Railroad and those hardy souls it ushered to freedom in Canaan – even the contemporary pieces at the front of the gallery.

Reading through “A Fluid Frontier: Slavery, Resistance and the Underground Railroad in the Detroit River Borderland” from Wayne State University Press (edited by Karolyn Smardz Frost and Veta Smith Tucker), Moore stumbled upon a married couple – Thornton and Lucie Blackburn — who escaped slavery in Kentucky and finally settled and prospered in Toronto. The artist calls their story a “cornerstone in my understanding of Detroit’s Black militancy,” and little wonder.

The Canadian Encyclopedia notes that the Blackburns made a dramatic escape from Kentucky in 1831, only to be recaptured in Detroit two years later. Miraculously, somehow the two were spirited from their cells and across the waters where they were re-arrested and threatened with being sent back to the United States. That prospect sparked riots on both sides of the border, and ultimately, a change in Canadian law to admit political refugees.

Rather than portraying the pair in historic garb, as Moore’s done with the silverpoint portraits, they’re a sexy, 21st-century couple lounging in bathing suits along the Detroit riverfront – a flight of fancy that somehow helps us see these intrepid souls more clearly than we might if they were outfitted in historically accurate, if distancing, petticoats and trousers.

Thornton and Lucie Blackburn in Canaan shows the recumbent Blackburns apparently enjoying a hot evening in safety along the Windsor riverfront, with Detroit looming – and erupting in flames – behind them. Lucie’s gazing up at the stars, while Thornton, hand on her hip, stares straight out into the Ontario night.

Mario Moore, Thornton and Lucie Blackburn in Canaan, 2022, Oil on linen, 63 x 90 inches, Courtesy David Klein Gallery.

Social and political themes underlie much of Moore’s artwork, as with these heroes of the Underground Railroad. In 2018, when he was the Hodder Fellowship artist-in-residence at Princeton University, he produced “The Work of Several Lifetimes” — painting the college’s African-American service workers in the style ordinarily accorded to the great and famous.

With Midnight and Canaan, Moore tips his hat to “Black pioneers” in contemporary Detroit as well, singling out Detroit artists like the much-respected Allie McGhee and metalworker Tiff Massey, who was also a Kresge Artist Fellow. His portrait of her, Tiff Like Granite, What Up Doe, is especially compelling. Standing defiantly on rocks by the riverside in long black cloak, aviator glasses and red slacks tucked into boots, Massey looks, for all the world, a bit like a Revolutionary War war hero.

Mario Moore, Tiff Like Granite, What Up Doe, 2022, Oil on linen, 72 x 48 inches, Courtesy David Klein Gallery.

Rounding out his history of Michigan’s role in helping enslaved persons flee to Canada, Moore also paints two of the institutions – both churches – that played critical roles in the endeavor. His portrait of the Second Baptist Church, which was key to the freedom struggle, is about as heroic as a painting of a building can be. Lit by two outdoor lamps at night, the church positively glows with hope and promise.

Mario Moore, Light in the Darkness, 2022, Oil on linen, 55 x 39 inches, Courtesy David Klein Gallery.

Finally, right at the front of the gallery above the reception desk, you’ll find Keep On Keepin On, Don’t Look Back, which is likely to intrigue and perhaps amuse all but the hard-hearted. Seemingly suspended a hundred feet above the Detroit River, with Renaissance Center and the Ambassador Bridge in the background, a nattily dressed couple – he in top hat and frock coat, she in a long red dress – walk slowly towards the Canadian Canaan, framed by dark wintry clouds.

Mario Moore, Keep On Keepin On, Don’t Look Back, 2022, Oil on linen, 30 x 38 inches, Courtesy David Klein Gallery.

Midnight and Canaan will be up through Nov 5. A reception for the artist will take place on Saturday, September 24, 5 – 8 PM.

 Midnight and Canaan, a solo show by Mario Moore, will be at Detroit’s David Klein Gallery through Nov. 5.

Critical Voices @ Oakland University Art Gallery

Critical Voices: Selections from the Hall Collection at OUAG

Install Image Critical Voices: Selections from the Hall Collection 2022

The Oakland University Art Gallery opened the fall season with Critical Voices: Selections from the Hall Collection on September 9, 2022,  curated by Leo Barnes, the new OUAG Gallery Manager.  This is Barnes’ curatorial debut, but he’s leveraging five years of prior experience working with the Hall Foundation and its highly respected collection of both American and German contemporary art.  He says, “The artworks, collected by Andrew and Christine Hall, present a unique index of the best contemporary art of the late 20th and 21stcenturies. It provides a window onto the complementary social conditions prevailing in two distinct continental spheres: Germany and the United States.

Tony Matelli, Fuck’d, Mixed Media Sculpture, the Hall Collection

Tony Matelli is an American sculptor perhaps best known for his work Sleepwalker. He was born in Chicago and received his MFA from the Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1995. He now lives and works in New York City. He incorporates figurative, botanical, and abstract forms in his sculpture, creating uncanny objects that are both unsettling and comical.  Fuck’d up is a good example of these characteristics as it takes center stage in the OUAG gallery. Mr. Matelli has employed his formula of high-quality craftsmanship and lewd provocation, like the chimp being crucified using garden and household implements. Whatever the message, the artist leaves the viewer to interpret and make sense of the experience based on their own experience.

David Shrigley, Horror, Acrylic on Canvas, 40 x 40″, the Hall Collection

Horror is a kind of pop art with drips.  When you scroll through David Shrigley’s Instagram page, there is a continuous stream of simple, single images of objects, all using bright colors. A maverick and an artist working in multiple disciplines, David Shrigley is now considered one of the most significant figures in contemporary British art.  Making sense seems like nonsense is one way to describe his faux-naif work, which combines sweet childlike renderings with a sour, sardonic tone.   In January 2020, the artist was awarded the decoration of Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE). The British visual artist was born in 1968 and is now living in England after living in Scotland for 27 years.

Al Weiwei, Oil Spills, 10 pieces, Porcelain, The Hall Collection

Oil Spills is an early piece by the renowned Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, a visual artist, dissident, and documentarian who is often referred to as the most influential artist of our time. Ai Weiwei was born in 1957 in Beijing. His father, the poet Ai Qing, was labeled a “rightist” in 1958, and Ai and his family were exiled, first to Heilongjiang in northeastern China and then soon after to the deserts of Xinjiang in northwestern China. Mr. Weiwei moved to the United States in 1981, living in New York between 1983 and 1999, where he briefly studied at the Parsons School of Design. His output over the past thirty years explores his ambivalent rapport with Western culture and with the culture of his own country.  Oil Spills is an example of his conceptual art that explores the social issue and the aesthetics of an oil spill. This short video documents his exhibition in New York City in 2017.   https://www.nytimes.com/video/arts/100000005490574/ai-weiwei-puts-up-fences-to-promote-freedom.html

Robert Longo, Icarus Rising, Single Channel video projection, 9 minutes & 44 seconds. The Hall Collection

The video Icarus Rising from the title of the exhibition, Amerika, is the German spelling of America, where Robert Longo references the Franz Kafka novel that traces an immigrant’s journey from Germany to New York.  The nine-minute black and white video splices together images of torn paper and appears to be the artist’s first video work since the 1990s. The film features slowed footage of layers of printed photographic images, tweets, and headlines from news media being torn apart. The recorded incidental sounds of the tearing slowed in synchronization with the visuals, creating a soundtrack of groaning scrapes. The combined effect unsettlingly underscores the force, and often violence, of the actions captured in the images as well as the role the images play in shaping our world.  Sculptor, painter, and draftsman Robert Longo is well known for his bold drawings and sculptural works fusing pop culture and Fine Art. Longo attended the University of North Texas before deciding to study sculpture in New York; he later received a BFA from SUNY Buffalo.

Katherine Bradford, Beautiful Lake, Oil on Canvas, 57×48″, 2009, the Hall Collection

The figurative painter, Katherine Bradford, provides this lush, color-saturated, and metaphorical lake to the Hall Collection. She combines a theatrical sense of light with an oblique narrative. The work here in Beautiful Lake is a kind of romantic realism, whimsical and spacious.  Best known for her irregular grids and rows of dots spread out and around the figures, her representational work is meditative, laconic, and poetic.  Born in 1942 in New York City, she attended Bryn Mawr College and later received her MFA from SUNY Purchase. The artist currently divides her time between Brooklyn, NY, and Brunswick, ME.

Joseph Beuys, The Dictatorship of the Parties Can be Overcome, Printed on a polyethylene shopping bag, 29.6 x 20, the Hall Collection.

Joseph Heinrich Beuys was a German artist, teacher, performance artist, and art theorist whose work reflected concepts of humanism, sociology, and anthroposophy.   He was a founder of a provocative art movement known as Fluxus and was a key figure in the development of Happenings.  The chart How the Dictatorship of the Parties Can Be Overcome was printed on a polyethylene shopping bag. It was produced by the Organization of Non-Voters Free Collective Referendum as a means by which to publicize their policies. The first diagram, which was originally hand drawn by Beuys, urges the replacement of political parties with a process of a direct referendum in German society.   Do you get the idea?  The complexity of his work is too large and long to mention here, but he says, “Only a conception of art revolutionized to this degree can turn into a politically productive force, coursing through each person and shaping history.” Joseph Beuys was born in 1921 in Krefeld, Germany, and died in 1986. After military service and time as a prisoner of war, Beuys studied sculpture at the Kunstacademie in Dusseldorf and served as Professor there from 1961 until 1972.

Derrick Adams, Figure in Urban Landscape, Acrylic paint and mixed media, 25 x 25″ the Hall Collection

In Figure in the Urban Landscape 40, Brooklyn-based Derrick Adams employs the tradition of portraiture to navigate and reimagine life in an urban society. On matte and painterly backgrounds of teal, silver, emerald, and integrated earth tones, two miniature model cars traverse the open, perpendicular blacktop roads that cut the ends of the composition. Adams draws inspiration from pop culture, personal memory, and neighbors; he says, “I pay attention to everything, from store windows to people in cafes talking, to people on the corner communicating. I like to think about surroundings as source materials.” Adams received his MFA from Columbia University and BFA from Pratt Institute.

Critical Voices: Selections from the Hall Collection includes artists:  Derrick Adams, Joseph Beuys, Katherine Bradford, Edward Burtynsky, Naoya Hatakeyama, Georg Herold, Barbara Kruger, Robert Longo, David Maisel, Tony Matelli, Carlos Motta, Robin Rhode, Wilhelm Sasnal, David Shrigley, Ai Weiwei.

For more than 40 years, the Oakland University Art Gallery (OUAG) has delivered diverse, museum-quality art to metro Detroit audiences. From September to May, the OUAG presents four different exhibitions – from cutting-edge contemporary art to projects exploring historical and global themes. The gallery also presents lectures, performances, tours, special events, and more.

The exhibition at OUAG  is open through November 20, 2022.

 

 

 

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