Review: Abstraction and Reality in Seibren Versteeg's 'Like II' at UMMA


Review: Seibren Versteeg's Like II at UMMA.

Siebren Versteeg, LIKE 2014, 2014, Internet-connected computer painting program with real-time recursive image search, © Siebren Versteeg. Image courtesy of the artist.

A new exhibit at the University of Michigan Museum of Art is deceptively simple at first. As viewers enter the media room to see Siebren Versteeg’s Like II, all that one sees are three screens propped against the far wall. A computer generated algorithm slowly adds color to the screen on the far right. Stay in the room long enough, and the two screens on the left will change from a blank white to display an image. What’s going on here, exactly?

Brooklyn-based Versteeg created Like II to explore the concept of abstraction, but in the reverse of the sense that we usually explore it. As the computer “paints” an abstract image on the right, that image is uploaded every 60 seconds to Google’s “search by image” feature, and images that most closely match what has been created by the computer are displayed on the left two screens. Sometimes, they match shockingly well. Other times, it takes viewers a few moments to pick out what from the original piece made Google choose the images that are on display—maybe it was a splash of red in the upper right-hand corner, or a bright green area along the bottom of the frame. So, reality is being found through an image search that results from the abstraction of a code painting a random image.

Review: Seibren Versteeg's Like II at UMMA.

Siebren Versteeg, LIKE 2014, 2014, Internet-connected computer painting program with real-time recursive image search, © Siebren Versteeg. Image courtesy of the artist.

This piece is interesting because it is never the same: sure, sometimes the Google image search pulls the same images from the depths of the Internet a few rounds in a row, but throughout this the algorithm has been adding subtle changes to the original piece. There is truly constant motion. It’s especially fascinating because Versteeg really has little to do with what people actually see: he created the concept for this art piece, but, as he says, “As the nature of the images presented by the work is random, the artist assumes both all and no responsibility for the presence and content.”

Although Like II is technically a single piece of art, it’s one that visitors to the museum can spend a lot of time viewing without losing interest… and can even revisit more than once to see what has changed.


Elizabeth Pearce is a Library Technician at the Ann Arbor District Library.


This unique installment is a treat to have here in Ann Arbor and is on view at the University of Michigan Museum of Art's Media Gallery through July 24, 2016.

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Review: Leisure & Luxury at the Kelsey Museum


Leisure & Luxury exhibition images

Landing Nike/Victory [mid-1st c. AD/pentelic marble] (left), double-pearl-pendant earrings [1st c. AD/gold and pearl] (top right), Strongbox [3rd-1st c. BC/iron, silver, bronze, copper] (bottom right) / Images courtesy of the U-M Kelsey Museum of Anthropology.

The University of Michigan Kelsey Museum of Anthropology’s Leisure & Luxury in the Age of Nero: The Villas of Oplontis near Pompeii has everything going for it that a supremely superior museology project can have going for it. It’s a remarkable detective story thousands of years in the making, complete with bona fide top-notch investigators. And, not the least, it is a visual feast for the gallery browser who is willing to take the time to investigate the proceedings at hand.

As Kelsey Curator Elaine K. Gazda tells us, the exhibit “explores the lavish lifestyle and economic interests of ancient Rome’s wealthiest citizens from the time of Julius Caesar (around 50 BC) to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius AD 79. On view are spectacular marble sculptures and wall paintings from an enormous luxury villa that may once have belonged to the Roman empress Poppaea, second wife of Nero."

“In contrast,” continues Gazda, “objects from a nearby commercial complex show how wine is bottled and traded. It was also here that 54 people died during the eruption, several of them carrying gold jewelry and coins. Disparities of wealth and social class evident in these two establishments raise questions about the life of leisure and luxury in ancient Pompeii—questions that were as vital in antiquity as they are today.”

This succinct synopsis pretty much covers the territory of the exhibition, but it’s the hard-earned work on display that makes this such an exceptional museological project. These artifacts give the exhibit a previously uncirculated authenticity that’s quite exciting—as well as illuminating of this ancient period of history.

As anyone who has visited the ruins of this area with the still-smoldering Vesuvius in the background can tell you, the distances depicted in Leisure & Luxury are far shorter geographically than the imagination might lead us to believe. Situated in the hills off the Bay of Naples, the city of Pompeii took the brunt of the two events on August 24-25, 79 AD—a first day of gas and volcanic ash extending high into the stratosphere that produced a pumice rain southward of the cone that built up to depths of nine feet, followed by another day of gas and hot rock that buried the city in two flows and engulfed the bay of Naples. But equally devastated were the coastal cities of Herculaneum (to the northwest across the bay) and Oplontis (situated three miles away slightly northwest on the coastline).

And this is where the detective story begins in earnest. The excavation of some public baths in 1834 identified the long lost city of Oplontis as a middle-sized town with wealthy villas and a well-developed residential community. But it took systematic excavations between 1964 and 1984 to unearth several important villas, most notably “Villa B,” a house that is now known as the Villa of Lucius Crassius Tertius, where more than 50 bodies were found. Inside, excavators found piles of jars that indicated the villa was a business center where wine, oil, and other agricultural products were manufactured, processed, and sold.

Yet as archeologically important as this "Villa B” has proven to be, the arguably more sensational excavation is the now-called “Villa A” of Poppaea Sabina, named after emperor Nero’s second wife, which was situated on the coastline between Naples and Sorrento. This luxurious villa, buried under 28 feet of pumiced ash, was first discovered during the construction of the 18th century Sarno Canal at the modern city of Torre Annunziata, when plundering mid-19th century French excavators removed several paintings from the villa and uncovered its lavish peristyle garden.

Flash forward to the late-20th century through the present and one encounters the work of University of Texas Art Historian John R. Clarke, who with colleagues founded the Oplontis Project. Housed in that university’s Department of Art and Art History, the project was founded with private funds, University of Texas Funds, and the National Endowment for the Humanities through special permission by the Italian Ministry of Culture with the cooperation of the Archaeological Superintendency of Pompeii. The current result is a handsome recounting of this history, edited by the U-M’s Gazda and Clarke and now on view at the Kelsey Museum.

Leisure & Luxury fragment images

Small Fragment with Ionic Column and Architrave [50 BC/fresco on plaster] (left), Fragment of a Figure of Eros [45-79 AD/fresco on plaster] (center), Fourth Style Ceiling Fragment with Hippocamp [45-79 AD/fresco on plaster] (right) / Images courtesy of the U-M Kelsey Museum of Anthropology.

And what riches are on display: architectural components such as a mid-First century Corinthian capital with a ring of eight acanthus leaves at the bottom, lately excavated in a storage place that decorated (or was meant to decorate) a wing of "Villa A" that was undergoing renovation at the time of Vesuvius’ blast. Likewise, there are wide ranges of painting fragments uncovered from the now-called Atrium Five, with reconstruction renderings that indicate where these frescos would have been situated at the original site. Of commercial importance are first-century silver spoons, earrings, bracelets, a gold necklace, double pearl-pendant earrings, and a variety of recently minted first-century coins.

Yet of all these treasures, among the most poignant is a delicately rendered, re-pieced-from-fragments, first-century BC, white marble “Aphrodite/Venus,” whose left foot is raised above a diminutive standing Eros, and whose left hand holds an apple resting on a smaller female statue. Oddly enough, a slight disfiguration of this Aphrodite’s nose completes her rescue from oblivion.

We cannot know for certain if this is a depiction of the goddess. As Gazda writes, “It is not clear who is represented in the sculptural support, and there are no parallels that might identify her.” As such, the statue may be a play in time as well as in meaning, a folding of fate from within both idolatry and mythology through the conceit of all-too-familiar vanity—as unexpectedly undone by nature.

But that was then—and this is now. As Leisure & Luxury whole-heartedly shows us, there’s so much more we can—and must—learn from what little past we have. We’ve literally just scraped the surface. As “Aphrodite/Venus” might tell us if she could speak, there’s a fantastic world beneath our contemporary world awaiting excavation. And this is the exhibit’s most enduring legacy.


John Carlos Cantú has written extensively on our community's visual arts in a number of different periodicals.


University of Michigan Kelsey Museum of Anthropology: “Leisure & Luxury in the Age of Nero: The Villas of Oplontis near Pompeii” will run through May 15, 2016. The U-M Kelsey Museum Meader Gallery, Second Floor of the Upjohn Exhibit Wing is located at 434 S. State Street. The Kelsey Museum is open Tuesday-Friday 9 a.m.–4 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 1–4 p.m. For information, call 734-764-9304.

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Preview: The Westside Art Hop


Preview: Westside Art Hop on May 14.

Art by Lisse Williams (top left), Lee Vanderwalker (top right), Kim Ensch (bottom left), and Tim Marsh (bottom right) will be only a hop, skip, and a jump away in May.

It's almost time for the May edition of the Westside Art Hop, a one-day day art walk around the Old West Side of Ann Arbor! This is the 8th iteration of this event, a neighborhood sale of art in homes, studios, porches, and yards, held in May and December.

It's an opportunity to find interesting handmade arts and crafts, while enjoying the neighborhood bordered by Liberty S., 7th St., Pauline St., and Eberwhite Woods. Participating artists specialize in painting, photography, glass, metal and wood sculpture, jewelry, cards, mosaics, and fiber arts.


Sara Wedell is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.


The 8th Westside Art Hop takes place Saturday, May 14, 2016 from 11-5 pm in the Old West Side of Ann Arbor. Free parking is available on the street and at Eberwhite School. Keep an eye out for Art Hop lawn signs to direct you to participating locations.

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Review: ART NOW: New Directions in Contemporary Photography


Art Now: Photography 2016 at the Ann Arbor Art Center.

Art Now: New Directions in Contemporary Photography at the Ann Arbor Art Center. Detail of Brittany Denham’s Western Vestige (right).

On a recent Saturday afternoon, I had Ann Arbor Art Center’s 117 Gallery to myself. Between the FestiFools events and the arrival of the first real spring-like weather of the season, it was a perfect quiet time to take in some new art. I was at the gallery to see ART NOW: New Directions in Contemporary Photography—and I could view it at my own pace and in a space that allowed me freedom to see the work up close and from far away.

In hindsight, it was serendipitous that I was there on Eadward Muybridge’s birthday. Born almost 200 years ago, he was a pioneer in photography and used technology in new and exciting ways— perhaps most famously for using still photography to capture and convey motion and to reveal hidden realities.

Photography is the focus of this exhibit, juried by Wayne State University photography instructor Millie Tibbs, but many of the artists featured have combined traditional photography with other techniques, creating abstractions that conceal the methods with which they were made. These artists explore and overlay techniques, experiment with texture and color, and use visual elements that shift the scale in the mind of the viewer.

Maybe it’s my background in landscape architecture, but I was particularly intrigued by two pieces by photographer and U-M professor Seder Burns. Both "Suburban Camouflage Detection" #5 and #7 convey a sense of artificiality. The tree canopy shifted to an otherworldly red—conveying a sense that there is something inherently wrong. In "Suburban Camouflage Detection #7" (which was awarded second place in this exhibit), cookie-cutter beige architecture is organized in a relentless pattern in a space between water towers and a playground. Though this is entirely a man-made landscape, there are no humans to be seen, leaving the viewer with an uneasy feeling.

"DreamStart", a photograph by Horace Kerr II, appears from a distance as an alien industrial landscape or an experiment in postmodern architecture. The color palette of sickening orange and fluorescent green jumps off the wall and recalls imagery from a 1960s science fiction film. These colors draw the viewer closer to investigate. Only when seen at close range do the assembled objects in the photograph become clear in an unusual still life of a fluffy pillow and an upright egg.

John Sanderson’s Perspectives (Interior and Exterior).

John Sanderson’s Perspectives (Interior and Exterior) (left). Brittany Denham's Western Vestige (right).

John Sanderson’s "Perspectives (Interior and Exterior)" was named Best in Show for this photograph of a country road framed by an opening of trees and overlain with a smaller instant photograph of the interior of a bowling alley. The two images together in one composition contrast one another in a way that is at once jarring and harmonious. Though the perspective is the same, the photograph of the road reaches from darkness into light and the bowling alley transitions from light into darkness.

Brittany Denham’s "Western Vestige" is a striking composition that at first appears as though it is a piece of glitch art. Upon closer inspection, it is actually composed through the careful selection and placement of fragments from other landscape photographs. Using just the right colors and textures, Denham has invented a wholly new landscape that evokes the long views and big sky of the Great Plains.

Dean Kessmann’s Details #1-6 (Nature's Promise Organic Vegetable Broth) and detail.

Dean Kessmann’s Details #1-6 (Nature's Promise Organic Vegetable Broth) (left) and detail (right)..

Dean Kessmann’s "Details #1-6 (Nature’s Promise Organic Vegetable Broth)" is a series of inkjet prints, created in the spirit of his works of “Utilitarian Abstraction.” The viewer is confronted with six identical bold shapes of overlapping rough circles of primary colors with a large black organic shape at the center. When viewed closely, the edges are blurred and undefined. This work recalls aspects of the Color Field Movement in the work of Louis Morris or Helen Frankenthaler. Yet the use of primary colors also feels very much like Pop Art—especially when the viewer realizes that this particular pattern of colors has been dramatically enlarged from the printer’s marks on a label from Nature’s Promise Organic Vegetable Broth, made clear by the name of the work.

The bold simplicity of Steven Edson’s "Road Paint" is striking. The highly-textured black and white shapes are well balanced in their imperfection. The photograph recalls the work of abstract expressionist Robert Motherwell and his use of oversize black and white strokes. Again, closer investigation is required to fully grasp that this not a painting, but an image that captures roads and their markings as infrastructure.

The variety of scale, subject, and point of view in this exhibit and the ways in which the artists push the boundaries of a traditional medium, made the viewing this show an experience beyond what might be expected in a photography exhibit. This exhibition runs through May 14, so there’s still time to get over to the Ann Arbor Art Center to check it out.


Amanda Szot is a graphic designer in AADL's Community Relations & Marketing department.


"ART NOW: New Directions in Contemporary Photography" runs through May 14, 2016 at the Ann Arbor Art Center's 117 Gallery (117 W. Washington in downtown Ann Arbor). The gallery is open Monday–Friday from 10 am until 7 pm, Saturdays 10 am–6 pm, and Sundays noon–6 pm. Note: the 117 Gallery will be closed for private events on Tuesday, May 3 (closing at 4:30 pm); Saturday, May 7 (closing at 2 pm); and Saturday, May 14 (closing at 5 pm).

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Preview: Totally Awesome Fest

A few of the BILLIONS of performers at Totally Awesome Fest XII (clockwise from top left): Dear Darkness, Bevlove, Stef Chura, Fangs and Twang, Autumn Wetli, and Annie Palmer.

A few of the BILLIONS of performers at Totally Awesome Fest XII (clockwise from top left): Dear Darkness, Bevlove, Stef Chura, Fangs and Twang, Autumn Wetli, and Annie Palmer.

Every spring in Ypsilanti, a beautiful community event blossoms. For 12 years now, Totally Awesome Festival has marked the true beginning of spring in Ypsilanti. Totally Awesome Festival is an annual celebration of music, arts, fashion, and pancakes.

The event traces its roots back to Totally Awesome House, once located at 724 N. Main St. in Ann Arbor (now demolished), which hosted the Totally Awesome Supper Club in 2004 and 2005, where one could see local and touring acts and dig into with great potluck food. When theTotally Awesome House-mates were told they couldn’t renew their lease, they threw a festival, the first ever Totally Awesome Festival, to celebrate the music and the spirit of the house, one where anything was possible.

The next year, Totally Awesome Festival II was held to commemorate the first festival and it has been going on ever since.

Most often falling on the last weekend of April, and with venues sprinkled among backyards, puppet theaters, riversides, and other dreamy locations, Totally Awesome Festival is a chance to enjoy the great music that happens all around Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor, and Detroit. It is always free, and open to all ages, and all species. For the 10th Totally Awesome Festival, the festivities ran for a whole week. For the 11th Totally Awesome Festival, events ran for 55 continuous hours. This year, the festival goes international, with some of the acts performing in Bangalore, India.

This year’s lineup of performers looks incredible and includes, Stef Chura (whose new album is coming out soon), Avery F, Bevlove, and Dykehouse. Totally Awesome Festival’s acts features singer/songwriters, punk, freak folk, neo soul, performance art, poetry, and of course, the annual Totally Awesome Take Home Fashion Show, an outpouring of free clothing curated from Ypsilanti Ann Arbor/Detroit fashion icons. Keep an eye on the public Facebook event as the schedule may change slightly.

So bring your family, bring your friends, bring your goldfish, bring anyone who is interested in music and art and community to this exciting annual event that is unlike any other. Take home some memories and take home some fashion and become part of this Ypsilanti ritual!


Shoshannah Ruth Wechter is a librarian living in Ypsilanti, and views Totally Awesome Fest as an annual holiday that is not to be missed.


The 12th annual Totally Awesome Festival kicks off Friday, April 29, 2016, at 12 pm and runs through the evening of Sunday, May 1, 2016, at venues throughout downtown Ypsilanti.

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Review: Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra's The Planets was Out of this World


Review: Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra's The Planets was Out of this World

A2SO's The Planets revolved around music that celebrates our solar system.

Last Saturday, April 9th, the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra presented an excellent selection of music to a sold out Michigan Theater.

The evening opened with "The Tall-Eared Fox and the Wild-Eyed Man," a piece written by Ann Arbor composer Evan Chambers. Inspired by traditional jigs, the strings section started with a jaunty tone and then transitioned into different breakdowns of the music, ending with an experimental section that pushed the boundaries of the jig into a more traditional and modern place.

A2SO's The Planets.

Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64, featuring guest violinist Jinjoo Cho, was the second entry in the night’s concert. I was completely caught off guard by Cho’s tremendous performance, which was both technically complex but also emotionally packed. Her playing was simply astounding, breathtaking in the depth of emotion conveyed even as control of the instrument was maintained. I honestly don’t have the words to convey how absolutely delightful and absorbing Cho’s playing was. If Cho ever happens to visit Ann Arbor again, I would highly recommend attending. I will certainly be following her career with avid interest.

Jinjoo Cho

Jinjoo Cho (left) takes a bow.

After a short intermission, the orchestra returned to perform Gustav Holst’s The Planets. Composed in 1917, this piece explores the character of each of the planets of the solar system, excluding Earth. Each character sketch is relatively quick, resulting in a piece that progresses quickly and holds the interest of even those unfamiliar with classical music. Even if you’ve never heard of The Planets, you’ve probably heard some clip of this influential and popular composition playing in the background of some piece of media.

A2SO's The Planets.

The performance by the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra was a joy to attend. The Planets is a fun suite of music to start with, and the orchestra was clearly up to the challenges presented by the piece. Since the character of each planet is so distinct, I can only praise the A2 Orchestra for conveying a spectrum of emotions and concepts. From the jaunty "Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity," to the strident and somehow playful "Uranus, the Magician," the A2 Orchestra rose to the occasion and delivered an exceptional range of musical experiences. I was familiar with The Planets going into the concert, and I was surprised at how much of a difference there was between the recordings I’ve listened to and hearing the music in person. There’s a bit of personality or a depth of emotion that recordings just can’t capture. The journey the music takes you on through the solar system seems somehow more real when you’re sitting in the same room as the musicians.

The visualizations paired with the music made for an interesting experience, slightly reminiscent of Disney’s Fantasia. Visual artist Adrian M Wyard created the accompaniment using both NASA images and digital recreations of the planets. Pairing the music with images added a layer to the performance that certainly captured your attention, but that could sometimes border on distracting. I was surprised at how well Holst managed to capture the essence of the planets, particularly those closer to Earth, in 1917, when our knowledge of the solar system was so much more limited than it is today.


Audrey Huggett is a Public Library Associate at the Ann Arbor District Library.

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Review: Winteractive: The Art of Video Games


Winteractive exhibition logo

Winteractive: The Art of Video Games is on display in the Hatcher Graduate Library Gallery through Friday, April 15. Image on the left is from Proteus, on the right is from Ballpoint Universe

Despite what Roger Ebert once said, video games can be art. Art is anything that conveys a universal truth and, as psychologist Daniel J. Levity says, “if successful, will continue to move and to touch people even as contexts, societies, and cultures change.” The exhibit Winteractive: The Art of Video Games, currently on display in the University of Michigan Hatcher Gallery, has some great examples of games that do just that.

Flower

Flower is a video game developed by Thatgamecompany and published by Sony Computer Entertainment.

In Flower, you are the wind, controlling the movement of a single flower petal through the air. Though no words are involved, the game follows a narrative arc that explores finding balance between nature and a constructed environment.

The Unfinished Swan

The Unfinished Swan was developed by Giant Sparrow for the PlayStation 3, released in October 2012 through the PlayStation Network.

The Unfinished Swan is an existential exploration into the equivalent of a Jackson Pollock painting. You, as the player, are a young boy chasing after a swan who has wandered out of a painting and into a surreal, unfinished kingdom. The game begins in a completely white space where you get to throw paint to reveal the world around you and venture into the unknown.

Passage

Passage is a 2007 experimental video game developed by Jason Rohrer.

Passage is a metaphor for the human condition that explores the poetry of experiences and consequences. Each play-through is a five minute "poem" in which you get to experience an entire human lifespan. Passage asks you to choose which goals are most important and demonstrates how pursuing one goal can make the pursuit of others more difficult. Do you seek companionship, treasure, distance? It's up to you, and your early choices alter your eventual experience.

Winteractive is a hands-on exhibition. Eight games in total are set up for you to play at demo stations throughout the Hatcher Graduate Library Gallery.

Video games, just like writing and painting, are a creative medium. Early language existed as a means to communicate danger. Writing originated as bookkeeping. Painting began as an attempt to capture the reality of nature as seen by the human eye. It takes time to change the perception of an audience – sometimes many generations' worth.

Games can educate and often provide a means to escape your reality, but some can also touch your heart and connect you to the universe. Some games are art, as this exhibition clearly demonstrates.


Anne Drozd is a Production Librarian at AADL.


Winteractive: The Art of Video Games is on display through Friday, April 15 at the University of Michigan Hatcher Graduate Library Gallery, located at 913 S. University Avenue, Ann Arbor, MI 48109. This exhibit was a collaboration between the Ann Arbor District Library and the University of Michigan Library Computer & Video Game Archive.

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Preview: Triumph of the Wool - Ann Arbor's Fiber Expo


The Imaginary Invalid presented by the U-M SMTD Dept. of Theatre & Drama.

This expo is sure to be stringy, but full of fiber.

For anyone in Ann Arbor who likes to work with yarn, the Fiber Expo is a highlight to the year. The Fiber Expo brings together local artisans, shopkeepers, and farmers. Walking through the expo can bring you into contact with anything from angora rabbits to hand dyed yarn to looms and spinning wheels. The expo always bustles with life and energy as friends move from stall to stall, looking at different yarns and shawl pins, envisioning what they can make with the wealth of raw materials before them.

Though vendors are a major offering of the Fiber Expo, it’s not just about buying yarn and roving (unspun wool). The expo is about meeting other fiber enthusiasts from the area, meeting the people who are growing their own fiber, and seeing what other people are creating with fiber. Each expo also features a strong offering of classes that cover a range of skills. The goals of the Fiber Expo are to get natural fibers into people’s hands and to spread knowledge about how to work with fiber. Ultimately, the Fiber Expo is a place for discovery and creativity for anyone who works with or has an interest in fiber.


Audrey Huggett is a Public Library Associate at AADL and can't get enough wool.


The Fiber Expo is April 9th and 10th, at the Washtenaw Farm Council Grounds on Ann Arbor Saline Road. Tickets are $4 for one day or $6 for the weekend.

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Review: Larry Cressman's Land Lines


Shift by Larry Cressman [daylily stalks, graphite, matte medium, glue]

Shift by Larry Cressman [daylily stalks, graphite, matte medium, glue]. Image courtesy of the artist through the U-M North Campus Research Complex.

There’s not much question that someday University of Michigan's emeritus art professor Larry Cressman is going to have his requisite career retrospective—many of them, in fact. But Land Lines at the University of Michigan's Rotunda Gallery is going to have to serve this purpose in the short term.

In this last decade Cressman has held only three local exhibits: Installation Drawings: Dogbane at the U-M East Quad Art Gallery in October 2016; Material Matters in conjunction with ceramicist Susan Crowell at Chelsea’s River Gallery in November 2009; and his Ground Cover/Covering Ground Drawings at the River Gallery in April 2014.

Yet through this period, he’s also had exhibits at the Dennos Museum in Traverse City; the Detroit Institute of Arts; the Hewlett Gallery in Pennsylvania; the Nelson Gallery at the University of California-Davis; the Hill Gallery in Birmingham, MI; and the Richard M. Ross Museum in Ohio.

What these far-flung locales have seen is Cressman’s remarkable work at its minimalist best. His work is comprised of the patient accumulation of hundreds of sticks and twigs in intricate patterns that both delight and defy the viewer’s eye.

It’s one of those modernist artforms that some might say is common enough for anyone to produce—until one actually tries. It becomes apparent soon enough that it takes a thoroughly uncommon attention to detail and a patient aesthetic to piece these works together in their exceptional equilibrium.

These “line drawings” sit somewhere between the three-dimensional form and the nearly infinitesimal two-dimensional line. It is, of course, merely the coarseness of our vision that insists on differentiating between these two dimensions because they are ultimately only a matter of physical degree.

As Cressman says in his artist’s statement to the exhibit:

“A line drawing released from the flatness of paper can exist anywhere. It can venture into our space. It can be kinetic. It can cast its own shadow. The scale of the drawing is only restricted by the architectural space in which it is placed. Work that is temporary allows an additional freedom—any ephemeral material is possible—glass, rubber, electrical wire, plastic, sound, sticks—all materials I have used in my installations over time.

"Most recently I have focused on the use of sticks and twigs—specifically raspberry cane, dogbane, daylily and prairie dock. Gathering this material from fields near my home has become a part of the drawing process. The gestural quality of each plant and the physical nature of the material (density, weight and brittleness) all play a role in my installation drawings as I explore work that is reflective of both the structure and randomness of the environment.”

It’s this drawing with physical form that makes Cressman’s art so uncommonly compelling. The variable line of shadow in conjunction with the often nearly imperceptible flow of air coursing through the site cause the twigs and sticks to sway against the gallery wall—and these investigations into almost indiscernible elevated space make the installation’s stunning forays into multiple dimensionality all the more marvelous.

It’s possible—and indeed preferable—to spend an extended period of time visually tracing Cressman’s line through his varied stems and twigs. Each work features a strikingly different configuration and pattern. What they do share is a focus that makes them readily recognizable as Cressman’s handiwork.

Perhaps the signal artwork of the Rotunda Gallery exhibit is 2015’s magnificently oversized eleven by six by three foot “Shift” installation. This daylily stalk, graphite, matte medium and glue tour de force is an unquestionable masterwork that illustrates Cressman’s art at its most accomplished.

His three-dimensional etched line has been released from its flat surface as modulated diagonal stems protrude from the work’s vertical limbs crafting a heady, disruptive spur to its otherwise sublime symmetry. Each horizontally mounted twig has its own distinct integrity as no two stems exactly resemble each other, even as each has the same individuating appearance.

There is, therefore, an internal harmony to the stray disorderly offshoots in “Shift” that most certainly highlights the similarities and differences of Cressman’s artistry. And it’s this keenly rendered gestalt that rewards our attention.

Centerline by Larry Cressman [raspberry cane, graphite, matte medium, pins]

Centerline by Larry Cressman [raspberry cane, graphite, matte medium, pins]. Image courtesy of the artist through the U-M North Campus Research Complex.

Among other Cressman works, 2015’s “Centerline I” carries this theme with its binary horizontal rows of raspberry cane, graphite, matte medium, and pins hovering against the gallery wall—as opposed to the similar yet overlapping rows of raspberry cane, graphite, matte medium and pins in 2015’s “Centerline.” Cressman carries his folding of materials together in the latter work with as much regularity as in the former strictly constructed drawing.

Each of the 15 Cressman artworks in this exhibit traverses this intricate divide between dimensions—abiding silently both trace and shadow—to draw our attention to the world that lies in-between. His subtle asymmetry keeps us off balance even as the artwork's paradoxical equilibrium holds our attention in balance.


John Carlos Cantú has written extensively on our community's visual arts in a number of different periodicals.


University of Michigan North Campus Research Complex: “Larry Cressman: Land Lines” will run through April 29, 2016. The NCRC Building 18 Rotunda Gallery is located at 2800 Plymouth Road. The NCRC is open Monday-Friday 8 am–6 pm For information, call 734-936-3326.

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Preview: FoolMoon and Festifools


Festifools is sure to be a wonderfool time again this year.

Festifools is sure to be a wonderfool time again this year.

Every spring in Ann Arbor, there are telltale signs that things are going to change, bloom, and get warmer: dirty piles of snow & leftover grit, giant potholes, crocuses poking from the soil, Hash Bash attendees filling the Diag with plumes of smoke, and a weekend of April Fools fun! Mark your calendars for Friday, April 1 and Sunday, April 3 for two of the most anticipated, dynamic, and artful events in town: FoolMoon and Festifools!

Friday’s FoolMoon is the newer of the two events with a slightly edgier feel, if only because it happens at night and beer can be consumed. The fun starts at three gathering places (Kerrytown Farmers Market, University of Michigan Art Museum, and Slauson Middle School) where revelers can assemble with their carefully crafted illuminated sculptures. The crowds at each stop march through town, proudly displaying their handiwork, to gather at Washington St. & Ashley St. for a lighted street party with a beer tent, music, glowing puppets, wild and luminous costumes, movies & images projected on buildings and moonlit, shining sights. From dusk 'til midnight, people of all ages dance, play, and marvel at all of the illuminated art. This year’s theme is Metamor-FOOL-sis!

AADL always has a tent at FoolMoon and we’ll be hosting rousing games of Johann Sebastian Joust, an all ages, no-graphics, digitally enabled playground game using illuminated motion-sensitive controllers. Attendees can play with our lighted hula-hoops and other fun digital instruments and tools that can be checked out from the library.

FoolMoon is always an illuminating experience!

FoolMoon is always an illuminating experience!

Festifools is celebrating 10 years of foolishness this year with the annual event happening on Sunday from 4-5 pm on Main St. between William St. and Washington St. - parking is free on Sundays! This year’s theme is Rev-FOOL-ution! Community members and U-M students work for months to create the large, wild, colorful, and frequently topical papier-mâché puppets that will be marched, pranced, danced, and displayed during Festifools. In addition to the puppets there's music, joyful noise, drumming, and an enthusiastic crowd of all ages!

As has also become tradition, the library hosts an annual Robot Making event on Saturday, April 2 from 2-3:30 pm for families to come and make their own robot costume to wear and then march in during the Festifools parade on Sunday!

Festifools puppets and people engage in some good old-fashioned tomfoolery.

Festifools puppets and people engage in some good old-fashioned tomfoolery.

The origins of these special events start with Mark Tucker, Arts Director at the University of Michigan Lloyd Hall Scholars Program, who began his professional artistic career as Art Director for the Michigan Thanksgiving Parade. While in this role, Mark traveled to Europe to learn the fine art of cartapesta (papier mâché) from esteemed float builders in Viareggio, Italy. If you’re familiar with New York City's Superior Concept Monsters, then you may have an inkling of the FestiFools vibe.

Inspired by the magnificent, huge, bizarre, politically incorrect, human-powered, and fully animated floats, Mark decided to see if this kind of creative energy could find an audience back home.

FoolMoon and Festifools are produced by WonderFool Productions, a nonprofit organization dedicated to engaging communities in dynamic, educational, collaborative and entertaining public art experiences.


Erin Helmrich is a librarian at AADL, and she'll be smothering her sadness at missing this year's festivities with margaritas in Mexico.


FoolMoon is Friday, April 1, from dusk 'til midnight in downtown Ann Arbor (Washington & Ashley) and Festifools is Sunday, April 3 from 4-5 pm in downtown Ann Arbor on Main St. between William and Washington.

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