Ordinary People: UMMA's "Take Your Pick: Collecting Found Photographs" asks us to help curate the everyday

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Photos from UMMA's Take Your Pick exhibit

This review was originally published October 8, 2019. We're rerunning it because UMMA just launched a virtual version of this exhibit featuring 250 photographs that visitors selected to enter the museum's permanent collection. View the online exhibit and learn about the history of snap photography here.

In the University of Michigan Museum of Art’s latest photographic exhibit, Take Your Pick, viewers are asked to participate in the selection of images to be added to the permanent collection. UMMA asks us to head to the gallery and look at the 1,000 amateur photographs collected by Peter J. Cohen and decide on our 20 personal favorites. Ballots are available at the entrance of the gallery, with 20 slots to vote for your favorite photographs. On the exhibit's webpage, potential visitors are asked to “Come help build [UMMA's] collection of ‘ordinary’ American 20th-century photographs.” With an emphasis on the word ordinary, the curatorial team is asking viewers to consider how “ordinary” photographs of the 20th century may be reconsidered as objects worthy of preservation and study. 

The photographs on display are part of a larger collection of 60,000 snapshots collected by Peter J. Cohen. Cohen acquired his collection by searching through flea markets and buying online. The majority of the images portray candid American life, distilled imagery of private family life: birthday parties, family vacations, school portraits. 

Gutman Gallery reopens, features artists who were supposed to be in the Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair

VISUAL ART

Gutman Gallery exterior

Photo courtesy of the Gutman Gallery.

The Gutman Gallery opened just in time to close.

The Guild of Artists & Artisans’ showcase spot at 118 N. 4th Avenue in Ann Arbor debuted in mid-February with the Amor: Looking Through the Eyes of Love exhibition, highlighting its creative members' takes on all things lovey-dovey.

A month later, the Gutman Gallery closed like everything else due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The Guild that runs Gutman Gallery also produces the Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair, which is canceled this summer. So the group is opening its doors three days a week with limited hours to display works from 38 of the jury-selected 2020 Art Fair artists.

The Gutman Gallery has an online shop and offers virtual art classes, but the Art Fair show is its first physical exhibition since the shutdown.

Below are the participating artists and some examples of their creations.

Open Your Eyes: SculptureWalk Chelsea trusts viewers to cut through the clutter and take in the art

VISUAL ART REVIEW

sankofa-m-saffell-gardner

M. Saffell Gardner, Sankofa, steel, 12’ x 8’ x 4. Photo by Christopher Porter.

The 12th annual SculptureWalk Chelsea launched recently, and I spent a steamy Friday afternoon strolling through the downtown in search of not just art but a sense of calm and normalcy in a year that’s been anything but.

I’ve been in Michigan for almost four years, and I’ve been to Chelsea before, but I never made it to SculptureWalk. Or more accurately, since the sculpture is on display for a year, I never noticed there was sculpture on my walks.

This is a common thing with public art installations: they blend into the areas in which they’re placed, becoming part of the background with the trees and buildings. This doesn’t devalue these creations, or the communities who put in the work, time, and money to commission and display these pieces of art; it’s just a fact and one that must be overcome with purposeful viewings.

As I walked around Chelsea, I spent several minutes with the 14 creations featured in the 2020-2021 SculptureWalk, first considering them against their backgrounds -- whether a building, telephone, or the Jiffy plant -- and then narrowed my vision to the pieces themselves, ultimately finishing by focusing on the smaller details in each work.

But my mind kept returning to considering how the sculptures related to their backdrops and their placements along the walk, which stretches from M. Saffell Gardner’s Sankofa next to the Mobile Station at the corner of Main Street and Van Buren to Jeff Bohl’s Early Bird near the parking lot at Main and Buchanan Street, with several side-road stops along the way.

I guess I was less concerned about evaluating all of the sculptures -- which, reductively speaking, range from pleasant to excellent -- but rather my reactions to purposefully looking at the works after the three previous years of not even noticing them. These are some of the sculptures and scenes that stood out to me the most.

Ann Arbor's WSG Gallery lost its lease on Main Street and upped its online offerings

VISUAL ART INTERVIEW

Pulp received an email on May 7 from representatives of WSG Gallery, the longstanding Ann Arbor artist collective that had space at 306 S. Main St., saying, "Our landlord notified us that he has already contracted with construction people to dismantle walls and etc from the interior of the gallery on 5/27. He plans to put a 'FOR RENT' sign in the front window."

The email went on to discuss surprise and dismay on behalf of the WSG artists, and I asked some follow-up and clarifying questions in order to write a post. But after saying they would discuss my questions and get back to me, I never heard back from WSG.

But that's not because anything had changed with WSG's sudden eviction; it's because the gallery decided to press ahead with its new life online.

"At this point we are dedicated to moving forward," wrote WSG Gallery president Valerie Mann in a June 18 email. "We are out of our old space and busting our tails with our online gallery.  We are having great success with sales so far and are really pleased!  Our strength is really in our people.  I mean, I have 83 year olds learning how to build web pages!!!"

T'onna Clemons' painting at the West Park bandshell is an extension of her political pop-art style

VISUAL ART INTERVIEW

T'onna Clemons' West Park mural

T'onna Clemons' painting at West Park in Ann Arbor. Photo courtesy of T'onna Clemons.

The woman is in a red shirt, white sneakers, and blue shorts, her outfit unintentionally matching the colors of the American flag. She's on the West Park bandshell in Ann Arbor, painting on a large white sheet taped to the wall between the stage-left doors.

The first thing she writes on the sheet is "Black Lives Matter" in blue.

The time-lapse video she later posted to YouTube shows her fleshing out the mural with protestors presented in a stencil-style, the BLM slogan crafted into pixelated form, and the old rising-sun flag of the Imperial Japanese Army painted behind everything.

Ann Arbor artist T'onna Clemons is the person who created this graffiti-inspired piece and it just about encompasses everything in her style: politics and pop-art mixing with Japanese imagery and the African-American experience.

Detroit Center for Design + Technology's climate change exhibit and symposium features five Ann Arbor artists

VISUAL ART

Brenda Miller, Carbon Neutrality and Turtle Island

Brenda Miller, Carbon Neutrality, paper collage 18"x24"; Turtle Island, paper collage 18"x24".

The Lawrence Technological University's Detroit Center for Design + Technology has launched a free online art exhibit and symposium on climate change, and five artists from Ann Arbor are featured.

The project is called Yeah, What Lester Said, is named for Lester Brown, a pioneering environmentalist pioneer who was one of the first people to sound the alarm about global climate change. “Saving civilization is not a spectator sport," Brown said -- and the artists in this exhibition are anything but spectators.

Yeah, What Lester Said, which runs June 1 to August 15, explores climate-change impacts through architecture and built environments, exploring how the art and design worlds are addressing the issue. It was supposed to be held at the Detroit Center for Design + Technology but was moved online due to Covid-19.

The Ann Arbor artists exhibiting in Yeah, What Lester Said include exhibit co-curator Leslie Sobel, Paul Hickman, Brenda Miller, Margaret Parker, and Dominique Chastenet de Géry. Here's a sampling of some of their work in the exhibition:

Quarantine Binge: The wonderful world of webcomics

VISUAL ART WRITTEN WORD COVID-19

webcomics collage

Perhaps you’re finding that you have watched all the TV and movies that you can and you’ve read all your books. What to do? I suggest the eminently bingeable genre of webcomics, which are pretty much just like regular comics but just posted online. For free.

Even if you generally don't read comics and graphic novels, I suggest looking through a few webcomics and seeing if you like them -- most are very different from traditional superhero comics. And, hey, this pandemic is leading a lot of people to try something new. I tried savory oatmeal because I ran out of bagels and found out that it was great, so maybe you’ll get sucked into the fantastic art and stories that these comics have to offer.

You can split webcomics into roughly two categories: daily strips and graphic novels. Certainly, there are a lot of comics that don’t fit into either category, but a lot of popular webcomics like XKCD, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, Strange Planet, and Dinosaur Comics feature one-pagers frequently. These are like popcorn and you can easily spend a day or two reading the massive backlog of these comics. But the comics I’m going to feature here are mostly of the graphic novel variety. They are long stories in which each page contributes to an over-arching plot. 

This is just a teeny sampling of the webcomics out there and those linked below are my personal favorites. When it comes to webcomics, there really is something for everyone and a growing diversity amongst stories and creators. Comic artists are generally very generous about promoting each others' work, so if you find an artist you like, see whose work they recommend. 

Also, blanket advisory: with a few exceptions, all of these comics deal with mature themes. If you are in the (very understandable) mood for mindless fluff, this is not the list for you. But if you want to find some stories full of complex characters, adventures, ethical dilemmas, and amazing art, any comic listed here is a great place to start.  If a comic sounds intriguing but you’re worried about disturbing content, you may want to do a bit of research about it first.

The link to each comic goes to the first page of the story.

The Great Michigan Online Art Fair looks to help creators "uncancel" their livelihoods

VISUAL ART PREVIEW INTERVIEW

The Great Michigan Art Fair landing page

Brian Walline's work is instantly recognizable. The Ann Arbor artist creates Michigan scenes in the style of vintage travel posters, using bright colors and bold typography to convey a deep love for his home state.

While Walline takes freelance commissions -- he did the art for AADL's 2019 Summer Game -- a significant part of his income is derived from tabling at art shows across Michigan. But most of the major art shows for the summer have been canceled, and since they all take a while to organize, it's unlikely any will attempt to reopen even in a modified fashion that's in line with the current phase 4 guidelines for the way businesses can operate.

With his fellow artists in mind, Walline took it upon himself to create The Great Michigan Online Art Fair as a virtual way for creators to display their wares in a playful, interactive environment.

"We are trying to uncancel our livelihoods," Walline writes on the art fair's website.

Artists and vendors can apply to be a part of The Great Michigan Online Art Fair through 11:59 p.m. EST on Sunday, June 7. The site will host 31 artists and 16 vendors between June 15 and July 13, and the art fair is also accepting sponsorships.

We emailed with Walline about his creation of The Great Michigan Online Art Fair:

Third Place Living: Marcia Bricker Halperin's photo exhibit "NYC's Vanished Cafeterias: 1975-1985"

VISUAL ART REVIEW

marcia-bricker-halperin-dubrows-1975

The first thing that jumps to mind when I think about New York City cafeterias is Edward Hopper's 1942 painting Nighthawks. In addition to its masterful capturing of manmade lights and nighttime shadows, many interpret the painting as a portrait of big-city loneliness. "The four anonymous and uncommunicative night owls seem as separate and remote from the viewer as they are from one another," states the proprietor of the fansite edwardhopper.net. But to me, it looks like the counter clerk is speaking with the couple, who may have had a great night out on the town based on the way they're smartly dressed, leaving the man with his back to viewers as the lone lonely one -- though the painter referred to him as "dark sinister" in his notes for the painting, not lonely.

These sorts of varied interpretations about what people are doing in eateries went through my mind as I viewed photographer Marcia Bricker Halperin's NYC's Vanished Cafeterias: 1975-1985 exhibition.

Halperin's work was on display at the University of Michigan's Lane Hall Gallery when COVID-19 closed down everything. Organized by The Institute for Research on Women and Gender, the Women’s Studies Department, the Jean and Samuel Frankel Center for Judaic Studies, and the Department of American Culture, it was originally scheduled to run January 16 to July 31, but the exhibit has moved online. The 17 black-and-white photos in the physical exhibit are interspersed with shots of the gallery setting and text panels for the online version, 

While the name NYC's Vanished Cafeterias indicates Halperin went all over the city to photograph, the Brooklyn native shot at two locations, both part of the small, family-run Dubrow's chain. (She has also shot eateries in other places, such as Miami's Concord Cafeteria, not associated with Dubrow's.) As the Institute for Research on Women and Gender website states:

Ann Arbor Art Center offers its "Art Now: Photography" as a virtual exhibit

VISUAL ART

Niki Grangruth and James Kinser Whistler's Mother (after Whistler)

Niki Grangruth and James Kinser's photograph Whistler's Mother (after Whistler).

With the coronavirus quarantine here to stay for the foreseeable future, the Ann Arbor Art Center (A2AC) had a quandary with its sixth annual Art Now: Photography exhibit, which was scheduled to run in its gallery April 3 to May 2: cancel it, delay it, or make it an online exhibit.

A2AC opted for the online choice and launched Art Now: Photography on its original opening date over at annarborartcenter.org.

Juror Eleanor Oakes -- an assistant professor of photography at the College for Creative Studies and founder of Darkroom Detroit -- picked the theme "nothing is clear, nothing is certain" and the 36 photographs by 37 artists explore ambiguity, mental health, gender, and more.

Whether by chance or prescience, one photo stood out due to the way it dovetails with a current trend during the world's stay-at-home status.