Detroit Art Review

Critical art reviews of Detroit galleries and museums weekly

Abstraction @ the Detroit Artists Market


Abstraction Installation Entrace Onward

Detroit Artist Market – Installation Photo – Courtesy of DAM

On May 1st, the Detroit Artists Market opened the exhibit Abstraction: Artist /Viewer /Dialog. The exhibit runs through May 30th and brings together 38 visual artists who work in the field of abstraction. Juried by Lester Johnson, a native Detroiter who just recently retired as a full professor from the College for Creative Studies, said, “Abstraction is improvisational with layers of meaning and a search for truth; A Lyrical blending of connected memory and interpretive thoughts. Listening to your inner voice makes abstraction your reality.”

As an art form, abstraction has been with us dating back to the turn of the century and the Russian artist Vasily Kandinsky (1866-1944) when the Bauhaus artist segues into abstraction in 1909 with his painting Landscape near Murnau with Locomotive and follows up in 1911 with Composition V. From there, movements such as Cubism, Dada, Surrealism, and Abstract Expressionism have all come under the abstract umbrella and, as demonstrated in the DAM exhibition, are alive and well today. Abstraction like other art forms, is a genre, not having a beginning, middle, and an end, but exists on a continuum. There are new movements today such as performance, installation and new media that present us with new forms, but this does not negate previous forms from co-existing as the art world moves forward, and as demonstrated in music, drama, and literature. The DAM exhibition is a good mix of painting, sculpture, textile, and photography.

Aimee Cameron, Garden

The Garden 49 X 82 Plaster on Fabric, Courtesy of DAM

Aimee Cameron’s work, The Garden, presents the viewer with a horizontal piece of fabric that is folded and arranged using layers of plaster followed by the application of color. She describes her work as, “My fascination with the relationship between materials, form, layers, and process, has played an essential role in the development of my current collection of work. The plaster and fabric base is created with a fast, intuitively uncontrolled process while the surface work is carefully composed in reaction to the base, revealing all the subtle substructures and complicated textual patterns.”

I would not hesitate to describe Ms. Cameron’s work as a form of Abstract Expressionism, and what is interesting to this viewer is both the material and her use of color that pulls the eye towards the center with a dance that works against the folds of fabric. The Garden presented here is ripe.

Bruce Giffin, Blackboard Jungle

Black Board Jungle 16 X 22 Color Print on Watercolor Paper, Courtesy of DAM

Bruce Giffin’s photograph, Black Board Jungle, does a good job reflecting his interest in capturing abstraction. Known for his years of commercial and editorial photography in Detroit where he has created a multitude of covers for the Metro Times, his wealth of personal photography is beautifully portrayed in the 16 X 22 color print, Blackboard Jungle, on watercolor paper where light floods a room creating an interplay of shape and form. The combination of object and shadow presented in an informal composition produces an attractive and mysterious moment for this viewer. “Minor White said it takes 20 years to become a good photographer,” Giffin says. “Twenty-five years later and after having a few good things happen to me, I’m still not good enough. Photography is an evil mistress.”

Janet Hamrick, Littoral Drift

Littoral Drift 24 X 30 Oil on Canvas, Courtesy of DAM

Janet Hamrick, painter and printmaker, delivers an oil painting on canvas that provides the viewer with a quiet execution of line and color in an exchange that is set up formally by dividing the composition using three vertical rectangles. In Littoral Drift, she presents something that could be described as pure abstraction where she creates a non-representational reality that effectively delivers a subtle background pattern. Working out of the Blue Spruce Studio and having exhibited with the Lemberg Gallery, Ms. Hamrick says, “My paintings are meditations found in my life, visually or musically. Littoral Drift comes from the subtle visual formation of ridges or lines in the movement of water.”

Guastella, Carnival-Garden of Plenty

Carnival, 48 X 50 Acrylic on Board, Courtesy of DAM

Carnival, the abstraction by Dennis Guastella captures a field of personal hieroglyphics defined by a grid that could be an Egyptian code or an aerial view of a festive part of Mexico City. The macro view illuminates sections of defined color located informally in the field. He says in a recent statement, “For several years I have integrated a systemic patterning of small beads and thin lines of paint in geometric formations. These patterns allude to woven girders or a framework in an explosion of color and supercharged cubist space.”   The abstraction in Carnival is executed with a kind of crisp precision of brush stroke applied in layers, uses a large color palette and resonates best as it invites contemplation.

Dorchen, Graffiti

Graffiti, 40 X 60 Oil Enamel on Canvas, Courtesy of DAM

Graffiti, the two connected gray panels, in Barbra Dorchen’s enamel oil on canvas, provide the viewer with an understated representation of abstract spaces, one that relies heavily on a field of underdrawn pencil and crayon; the other a red area near the bottom of the painting that hints at a relic of landscape gone by. She says, “My work is an ongoing exploration of imagery, inspired by remnants of past and present cultures. The process involves combining or layering a variety of media, including pages from old books, transfer images, paint, tar, wax, found objects, photographs on paper, wood and installation. My intention is to express a tactile manifestation of form and surface in works that evoke a sense of timeless mystery.”

Brian Pitman, Untitlled

Untitled, 18 X 9 X 14, Limestone, Wood, and Bronze, Courtesy of DAM

Abstraction has deep roots in sculpture. Think about Marcel Duchamp’s R.Mutt, in 1917. Brian Pittman delivers his three-dimensional work, Untitled, made of limestone, wood, and bronze. The symbolism can go in a variety of directions and would seem to intentionally ask the viewer for an interpretation. The heavy wooden base opens to a split piece of shaped limestone, where a bronze, tooth-like shape emerges. The strength comes from a contrast of the material as it works its way upward in this mysterious, abstract form. Mr. Pitman say in his statement, “My work is inspired by my life long investigation of nature and my place within. I explore thoughts on infinity, natural cycles and the balance of conscious and unconscious.
I like to create a personal connection to the material with the repetitive and meditative action of hand tools which also gives sensitivity to the essence of the form.”

A group exhibition of this size can be uneven in terms of quality, and I would submit that has much to do with the jurying process. When the juror makes selections from JPEGs (short for Joint Photographic Experts Group), there is a gap between the real and the digitally photographed image. As Robert Hughes, long-time critic for Time magazine says in his book, Nothing if Not Critical, “Art requires a long look. It is its own physical object, with its own scale and density as a thing in the world. Art is more… than an image of itself.” Across the board, all large juried exhibitions use JPEG images for their juried process, and more than likely, that is not going to change. Perhaps there should be two steps: One screening based on images, and the final selection requiring the real art to be present.

Detroit Artist Market Feature Artist – Catherine Peet

Catherine Peet Entrance

For more than a year now and with each new exhibition,  the Detroit Artists Market has been using the back wall near the desk, as a place for a featured artist. Catherine Peet is an artist whose body of work features a collection of intriguing creative constructs. She combines painting with assemblage to create imagery that incorporates ideas that she derives from mythology, nature, and spirituality. She blends the two techniques together to make political, religious, and pervasive cultural statements in her work.

Abstraction: Artist / Viewer / Dialogue    –  May 1 – 30, 2015

4719 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48201

(313) 832-8540


Tom Phardel @ Popps Packing


Installation-Courtesy of the Artist, Photo – Ron Scott

Popps Packing on the northeast side of Hamtramck is a gallery that describes itself as an experimental arts venue. April 25 through May 17, 2015, it hosts an exhibition, Inner-Core, with sculpture by Tom Phardel. The building has been converted from a 1930’s meat packing plant to a cookie factory and now a gallery that has an artist residency as part of its purpose. The large space serves to function as studio practice, architectural interventions, and alternative systems projects. Founded in 2007 by Graem Whyte and his wife, Faina Lerman, the upper portion of the structure also serves as their residence.

On a fundamental level, Mr. Phardel’s work could be described as modern, contemporary, and even conventional in comparison to installations that use waste material and found objects as their medium. All of the work in the exhibition would qualify as made-by-hand objects that vary in material from stoneware clay to fabricated steel. Mr. Phardel’s work in this exhibition is modest in size, and influences that come to mind are Ellsworth Kelly and John Duff. There are both reliefs and stand-alone pieces that do not radically break away from tradition, but rather find themselves on an evolving continuum of recognized work, accompanied by a high level of technical execution. The ceramic work is complex but accessible, but in pieces where the steel fabrication process is used, it goes beyond a layperson’s understanding. One might picture an object-mold made of plastic, plaster or wood being used as a form that provides the uniformity of shape. But the technical accomplishment of Mr. Phardel’s sculpture stands second to the conceptual ideas he presents. Duality of form, earth-like surfaces, and at times a sense of spirituality, provide the audience with a feeling that is old and new, organic and industrial, ancient, yet modern.

In a statement, Mr. Phardel says, “In my artwork I try to distill universal forms and experiences to their core essence. There are portals exposing hidden interior spaces, surfaces that have acquired a visual language of usage, time and ephemeral translucent elements that transmit only the essential outlines of form and color. These elements tell the human story, a yearning to understand the unknown. The work selected for this show, both new and old, are all based on the concept of revealing an inner essence of forms, the Inner-Core. I hope the pure love of making objects comes through clearly as well as the need to communicate deeper experiential thoughts within a simplified framework. ”

Red Bindu, Fabricated Steel 16 X 28














Red Bindu, Fabricated Steel  16 X 28, Courtesy of the Artist  Photo – Ron Scott

An example of duality is the steel fabricated piece with two holes vertically placed and the surface spray-painted and sanded many times to produce the radiant red. The title Red Bindu could refer to the gateway to the Himalayan Yoga tradition where people hunger for connection to the core of life through meditation. These Yoga Meditations combine philosophy, practice, and oral instructions passed on through time. Whether or not this is accurate, when experiencing the relief, we converge on an attractive meditation that takes us to a place that resonates. A place we understand.

Do I like some of these objects better than others? Sure, but it reminds me that we all bring our own experience and sensibility to the art experience, and the end result is different for everyone. In the case of Tom Phardel’s work, we get originality, exploration of form, unusual and sophisticated use of material, and at times a spiritual presence.

Golden Plateau, Salt fired black stoneware, Maple









Golden Plateau, Salt Fired black Stone, Courtesy of the Artist

Popps Packing

12138 Saint Aubin, Hamtramck, MI 48212    313-733-6793

Marcia Freedman @ the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center


On the Piano, 28 X 120 Oil on Canvas – Courtesy of the Artist

Marcia Freedman’s one-person exhibition, Memory & Observation opened April 10, 2015 at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center in the Robinson Gallery. It introduces the audience to twelve oil paintings with an underpinning of the figure in some paintings and objects in others. Ms. Freedman’s work, a style that could be aptly described as Abstract Expressionism,  is part of the art movement that developed in New York City during the mid-1940. These paintings are rooted in the 1950’s work by Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, and Joan Mitchell, and Freedman continues in that genre much like a composer of classical music continues to compose after the work of Beethoven, a jazz musician inventing music in the style of Miles Davis, or a writer composing a sonnet after Shakespeare and Frost.















Baby It’s Cold Outside 72 X 48 Oil on Canvas – Courtesy of the Artist

The painting Baby It’s Cold Outside  leaves behind any reference to the figure and divides up the vertical composition using color, form, and gesture. The muted color palette and probing brush gesture is intuitively sophisticated. An audience will immediately sense the spontaneity of execution and wonder how these expressions manifest themselves. The answer starts with the title of the exhibition, Memory & Observation. The critics Clement Greenburg and Harold Rosenberg wrote extensively about this post-war, Abstract Expressionism movement, where they describe the artist mannerisms after moving on and away from representational painting. They explain that the myriad of gesture that reveals itself in an abstract expression is unconscious feelings that result from a life experience. For the Abstract Expressionist painter, the canvas is an extension of the artist’s mind where they explore issues of personal and social identity.

In her artist statement, Ms. Freedman explains, “My intention is to allow the painting process to lead the way opening up the work to wider questions, political and social….The physicality of the paint joined with resultant symbols creates a narrative and dialog between self and materials, revealing a personal history that remains ambiguous. The resultant images are mostly abstract, but, in fact, are based on the constant inquiry into the reality of life experience.”


He Said, She Said  72 X 90 Oil on Canvas – Courtesy of the Artist

In the large two-sectioned painting, He Said, She Said, Ms. Freedman juxtaposes complementary colors in a type of imagery where the foreground and backgrounds are reversed. The textured surface using a blue pattern invites the viewer for closer inspection, questioning where there is an object present. The opposing forces create a tension that provides the viewer with its power and intrigue. Ms. Freedman describes her work as ambiguous, and there in lies the meaning…different for each viewer.

Marcia Freedman holds an MFA from Wayne State University and has been exhibiting in the Detroit Metro area since the mid-1980. Her work is part of numerous public and private collections.

Memories & Observations   – April 10 – June 5, 2015


Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo @ the Detroit Institute of Arts


Rivera & Frida Kiss

Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo kiss on the scaffolding of Rivera’s mural Detroit Industry, at the Detroit Institute of Arts.Photo: W.J. Stettler 1932-1933 / Detroit Institute of Arts


When Director Graham W. J. Beal took the podium to introduce the opening of the new Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Detroit exhibition, he reflected on how long the show was in the planning. It had been nearly ten years. He reflected on this accomplishment in bringing this exhibition to Detroit.

“Rivera considered Detroit Industry, recently designated a national historical landmark, as his finest mural cycle. It shows the artist at the height of his powers. For Frida Kahlo, on the other hand, the works she produced while in Detroit can be seen as the beginning of her development as a mature artist with her own distinct—and distinctive—style.”[1]

After his introduction and within minutes of completing his remarks, he stood and watched Juan Coronel Rivera, grandson of the famous artist deliver his remarks with a feeling of respect and accomplishment. Rivera talked about his grandfather’s mural work, both in the United States and Mexico.

RIvera Granson & G.Beal

Graham W. J. Beal & Juan Coronel at the DIA opening photo courtesy of Ron Scott

The exhibition chronicles Rivera and Kahlo’s year spent in Detroit (1932-33) living at the new Wardell Hotel on Kirby Street across from the Detroit Institute of Arts. The building has now been transformed into the Park Shelton Condominiums, and on the list of the National Register of Historic Places. The couple had just married in Mexico in 1929 after a yearlong courtship where Rivera began traveling to the Kahlo house in Coyoacan, a suburb of Mexico City. Coincidently, it was the same year that the Mexican Communist Party removed Rivera as a member. It was also a year of turmoil for Mexico as northern generals raised armies to revolt against the government. But Rivera always seemed to place art above politics and positioned Frida Kahlo prominently in his mural panel, The Arsenal, at the Ministry of Education in Mexico City in an attempt to promote national pride and culture. In 1931 Frida Kahlo painted a double portrait of herself and Diego in San Francisco commemorating their wedding.

Frieda and Diego Rivera - Frida (Frieda) Kahlo 2

Frieda and Diego Rivera – Frida Kahlo, 1931, 24 X 36 Oil on Canvas


Diego Rivera was lured to Detroit by William Valentiner, the then director of the Detroit Institute for the Arts, who had met Rivera and his wife at the Pacific Stock Exchange Luncheon, in San Francisco in 1931. They were both invited to a dinner at the home of Helen Willis Moody who had just modeled for Rivera as he completed the Stock Exchange mural that year and it was there Valentiner had met the couple. He envisioned murals in the garden courtyard at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

“As soon as I returned to Detroit, I proposed to the Art Commission that we bring Diego to Detroit, knowing that the courtyard had the only plastered walls in the museum.”[2]

After being hospitalized for acute tendonitis in her right leg, it was November 1931, when the couple set sail for New York City where Diego Rivera was having a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. He was honored to follow artist Henri Matisse by the new museum. From there, they would travel to Detroit, where Rivera had secured a commission to paint two frescos capturing the automotive industry of Detroit. The relationship with Detroit began in March 1931 with Valentiner and his assistant director E.P. Richardson, when they curated an exhibition of Rivera’s drawings and watercolors to build enthusiasm for his work. It was with the financial support of Edsel Ford who was then serving as the Chairman of the Arts Commission that Rivera’s contract was consummated, and preliminary drawings were accepted.


Diego Rivera, Portrait of Edsel Ford, 1932, Oil on Canvas

While in art school in Mexico City, Rivera studied with Santiago Rebull where he learned to model the figure with smooth continuous shading. He realized the influence he experienced in Europe, both in Spain and Paris. It is well documented that Rivera spent ten years, 1909-1921, in the company of Picasso, Braque, Juan Gris, Seurat and above all Cezanne. He was drawn to the mathematical construction using the ‘golden section’ but by the time he left Europe, he was thinking about public art, which Cubism never intended to be.

He remembered, “Gone was the doubt and inner conflict that tormented me in Europe. I painted as naturally as I breathed, spoke or perspired.”[3]

Although Rivera had completed a large number of easel paintings, it was the art of fresco painting that dominated his interest during this period. It was his early study of Giotto while visiting Italy, more than any other fresco painter, that we see him at his best. In his murals the density and economy of the massive figures evoke Giotto’s Stations of the Cross in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Italy.

Detroit Industry, south wall

Detroit Industry, South Wall, 1932, Rivera Court, Detroit Institute of Arts

Included in the exhibition are the life size drawings on paper, referred to as ‘cartoons’ and are displayed in the second large room of the exhibition. These ‘cartoons’ were created on draftsman paper to fit the actual size of the fresco panel.

Cartoons DIA

Detroit Institute of Art – Cartoons Displayed at Exhibition, 2015   Courtesy Ron Scott

The outlines on the ‘cartoons’ were perforated with small holes while pinned to the panel. A cheesecloth pouch, filled with pigment, was pounced through the holes of the paper leaving a line-work of dots. These dots would become the guideline for the final plaster coat containing pigment. Because fresco painting has not been used much in recent decades, and for many people the fresco process would be unfamiliar. Essentially, distilled water is added to lime powder and sand which chemically raises the mixture to somewhere near the boiling point. After two coats of plaster are applied, the finish coat called intonaco, made of thoroughly slaked lime and finely ground marble dust, are combined with pigment. As this hardens, the chemical process makes the pigment one with the plaster.

Frida Painting HF

Frida Kahlo, Henry Ford Hospital, 1932, 16 X 24 Oil on Canvas

Frida Kahlo’s work in the exhibition includes some early paintings and drawings, but the focus is on her paintings created in Detroit. The centerpiece painting is Henry Ford Hospital depicting her condition in the wake of a miscarriage in July 1932 where she presents herself on a bloodstained hospital bed that alludes to the various aspects of experiencing the trauma of a miscarriage. Introverted and introspective, Kahlo made nearly fifty self-portraits in her lifetime’s body of work. However, it would not be until the 1970’s, primarily in the United States, where many artists and historians saw the modernism in her work, a combination of obsessive surrealism, Mexican folk-art, and feminism. Throughout the exhibition, the photographs of Kahlo are abundant and documented in videos. She confronts her audience in traditional Mexican dress, hair high on her head, single eye-browed and often having a subtle mustache. It was an expression that during her time was rarely seen in the work of women artists.

Diego Rivera, Flowered Canoe, 1932, 68 X 80, Oil on Canvas


Diego Rivera was a giant among artists of his time. He was an accomplished painter with murals that dominated both North and Central America during the first half of the twentieth century. There were two hundred paintings produced during his ten years in Europe, studying the Cubist movement that produced scores of easel paintings, drawings, and prints. In 1986, the Detroit Institute of Arts, organized a large retrospective of Rivera’s work, largely based on the discovery in 1978-79 unpublished material including the full-scale cartoons. The Detroit Industry murals witnessed by visitors from all parts of the world when visiting the courtyard, find that Diego Rivera was an extraordinary artist with a sophisticated, allegorical power that transcends time.

A tumultuous year is now behind the DIA that ended in a victory for everyone who escaped the jaws of bankruptcy that had threatened the City of Detroit and it’s beloved Museum.   With this exhibition and the transition to new leadership at the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Museum could begin a new renaissance. That change would embrace new and experimental exhibitions along with past artistic accomplishments, and find new ways to better embrace the vibrant and progressive Detroit artist community.

Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo In Detroit

Detroit Institute of Arts March 15 – July 12

Tickets are timed, entrance on the half-hour.

$14, adult; $9 ages 6-17, Tue.-Fri.

$19, adult; $9 ages 6-17, Sat.-Sun.

Regular museum hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Tue.-Thu., 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri., 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat.-Sun. During exhibition, DIA will remain open until 10 p.m. on Thu., and, starting May 26, until 7 p.m. Sat.-Sun.



[1] DIA Press Release, March 15, 2015

[2] Pete Hamill, Diego Rivera, P. 76

[3] Pete Hamill, Diego Rivera, P. 150

Dick Goody @ N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Arts

By Ron Scott
February 25, 2015

Still Life with Cheese & Ravioli  36 X 36 Oil on Canvas - Courtesy of the artist and N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Arts

Still Life with Cheese & Ravioli 36 X 36 Oil on Canvas – Courtesy of the artist and N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Arts

In the heart of Midtown Detroit, the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, just two blocks from the Detroit Institute of the Arts, is where the owner and curator George N’Namdi opened an exhibition of paintings, The Making of Dauphine, by Dick Goody; both men are stalwart promoters of the arts in Metro Detroit.

Nellie Bandage – 2014  24 X 24  Oil on Canvas - Courtesy of the artist and N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Arts

Nellie Bandage – 2014 24 X 24 Oil on Canvas – Courtesy of the artist and N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Arts

When I first caught a glimpse of the Nellie Bandaged painting, I thought maybe it was an off-color behind the scenes character from The Simpsons. But on closer observation, the surreal character wearing sunglasses and lipstick whose head is wrapped in what looks like leather or cloth mask bandage; the titillating painted image slowly takes on a futuristic iconic stature.

The twenty paintings in the exhibition are the product of 2014 sabbatical leave Goody received from Oakland University.

Goody says “The Making of the Dauphine is a suite of paintings loosely based on The Dauphine, a novella I wrote in 2013 concerning the discovery of an artificial intelligence singularly focused on ridding the world of infamy and excess, but the exhibition is only marginally concerned with this. In short, I would say that it personifies the idea that it’s about how you paint rather than what you’re painting.”

Tweed Leliedwarsstraat No. 6 - 24 X 36   Oil on Canvas  Courtesy of the artist and N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Arts

Tweed Leliedwarsstraat No. 6 – 24 X 36 Oil on Canvas Courtesy of the artist and N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Arts


Many of the paintings are loosely representational and still life where Goody focuses on composition, color, black line, at times reminding this viewer of Matisse when he flattens out the subject. A challenge when observing these paintings is that many contain writing, or words, something I have always had a hard time with because it tends to feel illustrative. There is a school around this “text-based” art, recently exhibited in Los Angeles in 2013 by the Jack Rutberg Gallery, showing the work of Bill Barminski and Mark Greenfield. But the text here is more about shape, color and less about content or meaning.

As an Associate Professor of Art at Oakland University and curator of Oakland University Art Gallery, Dick Goody is many things; curator, writer, painter, and intellectual connoisseur of the arts. In this exhibition, one takes a peek into Goody’s interior world, surreal on the surface, a visionary utopia in its content, and vogue in its use of color and black line.

The Making of the Dauphine February 13 – March 14, 2015
The N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Arts

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