Valerie Hegarty's "American Berserk" exhibit deconstructs the gloss of U.S. history

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Valerie Hegarty, Watermelon Tongue 2, 2016, glazed ceramics

Valerie Hegarty, Watermelon Tongue 2, 2016, glazed ceramics.

Brooklyn-based artist Valerie Hegarty is known for site-specific installations. For her American Berserk exhibit in the University of Michigan’s Institute for the Humanities Gallery, Hegarty created a rotting watermelon -- which isn't to say she saw the space and thought, "Hmm, this room screams, 'EXPIRED FRUIT.'" Rather, Amanda Krugliak, curator for Institute for the Humanities, suggests Hegarty’s works “speak to the morass, the schism, the cracked facade, and fruit rotten, the flowers drooping.” The tradition of representing fruit on the brink of putrefaction is long established.

Krugliak has also included a variety of sculptures by Hegarty that engage with American iconography, calling it into question and raising suspicions about the stories America tells about its past.

U-M’s event announcement suggests Hegarty has consistently engaged with “fundamental themes of American history and particularly the legacy of 19th-century American art, addressing topics such as colonization, slavery, Manifest Destiny, nationalism and environmental degradation.” Hegarty frequently employs images of George Washington, a symbol of American values, and an excellent example of how American history often glosses over unsavory aspects of its founding fathers’ lives.

The interesting thing about Hegarty’s vision, as Krugliak points out, is that “each work feels steeped in a brew of our collective history, an archive of distorted, iconic American imagery.” While Hegarty’s work represents this familiar American imagery, the icon is always altered. Krugliak gives the example of this alteration, stating that Hegarty’s “seashells and clipper ships begin to morph, strangely animat'ed, sliding to the floor.” The warped seashells are reminiscent of Salvador Dali's work, but as Krugliak suggests, these works are in context of “modern-day folly.”

In her artist’s statement, Hegarty labels the installation process a form of “reverse archaeology,” in which the gallery is transformed by adding and subtracting layers of paint, paper, and epoxy to create a “material memory of a space.” Material memory in relation to space within a museum or gallery setting is already implicit: it is shifting constantly. Hegarty’s frequent employment of stylistic references to early American art in her installations frankly reference and destroy the illusion of reality portrayed by museums, particularly in display practices of American art.

Valerie Hegarty, Watermelon Tongue 2, 2016, glazed ceramics

Valerie Hegarty, Watermelon Head with Banana Smile, 2016, glazed ceramics.

Hegarty employs a multitude of materials in the creation of her sculptures and installations. She has used ceramics (much of the work in the Humanities Gallery is ceramic), wood, paper, and epoxy. One of Hegarty’s signatures is playing with dimensionality and the discrepancy between a flat surface and a 3-D or 2-D object. This generally starts with the idea of the “flat” painting being projected forward into space, sliding off the wall, or apparently melting. In the Humanities’ Gallery, the most striking example of Hegarty’s signature installations is the jutting, 3-D, site-specific sculpture representing George Washington. George is also found represented in modestly sized ceramic topiaries, in which his features are distorted yet recognizable.

Hegarty's title of the show, American Berserk, is a nod to Philip Roth’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, American Pastoral. Roth defines the Berserk as the inverse of the American pastoral ideology. This installation is a “restaging” of the original show that contained these works, held at Burning in Water Gallery in New York, 2016. On her website, many of the works can be seen as they were in the 2016 installation. These images on her website illustrate the differences in each site-specific work. For example, in both 2016 and 2017 she created the George Washington painting, which a tree branch extending from the wall is impaling. The branch simultaneously punctures the “canvas” and becomes an extended nose, referencing Pinocchio, the liar, suggesting the iconic founding father’s wrongdoings.

Additionally, the installation at the University of Michigan’s Humanities Gallery differs from the original in that it appears more dramatic, the branches appearing to have done more damage to the wall. Though the artist’s intervention in the space is not as grand as some of her past installations, the work of art disrupts the normative gallery space. This, paired with the unsettling nature of the works themselves, creates a critique not only of American history and early American art but the practices continuously embraced by museums in displaying these works of art.


Elizabeth Smith is an AADL staff member and is interested in art history and visual culture.


Valerie Hegarty's "American Berserk" is on display at University of Michigan’s Institute for the Humanities Gallery, 202 S. Thayer, through Dec. 21. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday 9 am to 5 pm. Free. For more information, visit ns.umich.edu.

Look Deep: John Lilley's “Wandering Around … in black and white” at Kerrytown Concert House

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John Lilley

John Lilley, Sand Dunes, Early Morning: Great Sand Dunes NP, Colorado, black and white photograph on archival paper.

We last saw John Lilley’s photography at the Kerrytown Concert House in June 2012. His John Lilley Photographs exhibition found the Dexter photographer using digital color notable for its exhilarating chromaticity as well as its remarkable penchant for detail.

“Simply put,” said Lilley at that time, “I make photographs because I see photographs.”

But as he later tellingly added in that statement, “I’m rarely attracted to the 'big picture.' Rather, my vision is almost unconsciously drawn to distinct designs, textures, and forms that occur as small subsets of the broader landscape. I’m fascinated by the myriad possibilities for abstract composition that exist in our world.”

All of which is to say that Lilley’s current Wandering Around … in black and white shows us that his monochromatic photography is easily the equal of his color work. Indeed, if anything, Lilley’s photographic self-discipline is as much (if not more) vivid than his color art.

The work in this exhibit dates back to the 1970s, from using old-school analog photographic technology right up through contemporary digital work recently executed. None of the photos are dated, which creates a chronological ambiguity that forces the viewer to focus on the art rather than try to trace Lilley’s artful development. This strategy effectively makes each work an equal among equals.

As he says in his most recent gallery statement:

The American Road Trip is, for me, the activity of simply wandering from place to place. I’m not sure if the road trip is an excuse for photography, or if photography is my excuse for the road trip. Whichever it is, the traveling about is an opportunity to see what’s out there, to discover new places and the things that inhabit those places and spaces. When I’m on the road with my cameras I’m totally focused on the undivided landscape. I try to see into that landscape as deeply as I can.

Right said: What’s best about this self-description is that this “seeing” is precisely what Lilley does best. And how he sees -- as much as what he sees -- is what makes his exhibition a superior display of art.

This may be because black and white images tend to appear ageless. There’s often a subtle chiaroscuro tincture that ironically reveals more nuance than the color we would normally see around us. This monochromic shading makes it difficult to date the work because of the composition’s play of light and shadow.

As such, black and white photography is often more dramatic than color photography because of this psychological remove. There’s a nebulous gravity running through the photographs in Wandering Around in Black and White that contrast heartily to the vibrant color patterns of Lilley’s color photos.

John Lilley

Left, Devils Lake, North Dakota; right, Wires: Concordia, Kansas. Both photos by John Lilley, printed on archival paper.

Likewise, it’s interesting that one of the more stunning works in the 25 photographs on display is magnificently large-scale if there ever was a “large-scale.” Because for someone who says he’s not looking for the “big picture,” Lilley’s Devils Lake, North Dakota sure looks big enough.

Photographing an aged building next to a silo, Lilley’s Devils Lake is simultaneously a big picture and nuanced study. Shrewdly referencing a touch of early 20th century American Precisionism, the aged architectural structures in the photograph have a gritty integrity that can’t be missed. Lilley expertly captures these structures rectilinear façade with its complex horizontal and diagonal gradation to illustrate each striated scuff that marks its history.

On the other hand, Lilley statement implicitly references “road trips” and other such places --
and what could be more other than landscape photography? His Sand Dunes, Early Morning: Great Sand Dunes NP, Colorado certainly fits this bill. A striking crosswise depiction of nature in its harsh environment, his depiction of this national park is surprisingly serene for such a terrain.

The vista is grandly impressive -- and there can be no denying this fact -- yet Lilley’s judgment softens the environment’s austerity through the adroit manipulation of light and shadow. Really no more than a series of receding sand dunes whose alternation of light and dark creates an internal harmony of visual alliteration, Sand Dunes, Early Morning's interspersed rhythmic contemplation carries the viewer’s eye well beyond the desert horizon.

Yet perhaps the hardest trick for any art photographer using black and white is to craft silhouettes of such a sharp disparity that the precise tonal juxtaposition supplies the entire information one needs to take the measure of the composition. Lilley’s Wires: Concordia, Kansas is easily the masterwork in the exhibit for this reason.

Wires features a black and white contrast that’s startlingly pure in its monochrome articulation. As inspired as it is spare, two supporting triangles (of whatever origin) suspend a tangle of irregularly coiled curvilinear wire through an eye hook bolt in what amounts to a compositional limbo. Lilley dispenses with any semblance of depth in favor of a paradoxical black and white curvilinear and rectilinear abstraction whose precise difference lets the work’s geometric elements hover on the photograph’s foreground. It’s a satisfying inner tension that allows his viewer’s eye to wander as restlessly as does his camera.


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


John Lilley's “Wandering Around … in black and white” runs through Dec. 3 at Kerrytown Concert House, 415 N. 4th Ave, Ann Arbor. The exhibit is available 9:30 am-5 pm, Monday-Friday, during public concerts, and by appointment. For information, call 734-769-2999 or visit kerrytownconcerthouse.com.

Pop-Up Patriarchy: "WORLD LEADERS" exhibition by Chanel Von Habsburg-Lothringen

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Chanel Von Habsburg-Lothringen, Skin suits and saddle shoes makes a mamma want to rage, 2017, inkjet print on vinyl banner

Chanel Von Habsburg-Lothringen, Skin suits and saddle shoes makes a mamma want to rage, 2017, inkjet print on vinyl banner.

The University of Michigan Institute for the Humanities’ pop-up exhibition WORLD LEADERS showcases the work of photographer Chanel Von Habsburg-Lothringen. She has an MFA in photography from Cranbrook Academy of Art and a BA in social science and history of art from the University of Michigan. Currently based in Los Angeles, Von Habsburg-Lothringen has curated projects at Los Angeles Museum of Art, Detroit Design Festival, the Mike Kelley Mobile Homestead, and Cranbrook Museum of Art.

The exhibit consists of one large photograph, printed on a vinyl banner, and hung on the back wall of the common room, adjacent to three small, framed still-life photographs of presumably designer clothing. The exhibition announcement states that Von Habsburg-Lothringen’s newest series, Conditions, “continues to examine the position of the woman in neo-liberal society as both object and agent. It reflects on the slippage between aspiration and desperation in the face of the vanishing American Dream.”

trustArt Gallery's "Studio Works" exhibit encourages community engagement

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Studio Works at trustArt Gallery

Pyramid power: Eight artists are combining their talents for the Studio Works exhibition at trustArt Gallery in Ann Arbor.

The trustArt Gallery's Studio Works exhibition (Nov. 11-19) will display multi-media works by artists and designers who work in rented studios at the venue. The exhibit features works by Larry Cressman, Liz Davis, Elizabeth Barick Fall, Rose E. Gomez, Barbara Hohmann, Allen Samuels, Laura Shope, and Lissie Williams, and it also offers an intimate look into the studio space and how it relates to the artists’ practices and everyday environments.

In addition to the more common gallery exhibition, the added opportunity to see the artists’ studios and working spaces aims to create community engagement with the arts, according to trustArt Gallery's statement: “We are connected through our location and environment as we pass through the shared open space of our gallery: it provides an opportunity to intersect; to cross paths; a place for our studio works to be shared and reflected upon; a chance to interact with each other and the community.”

The opening-up of studios to the community will allow for many people to interact with art and art making in an expanded capacity. It allows unique insight into aspects of the creative process and creates a chance for discussion and dialogue between the artist and the community.

Featured artists/designers:

Just Say Yes! ypsiGLOW is all about the affirmative

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ypsiGLOW 2017

WonderFool organized a month of creative workshops, which culminated in the second annual street party ypsiGLOW on Oct. 27. Photos by Sherlonya Turner.

It turns out that if you make a large, wave-shaped luminary that complements your shiny green mermaid costume, a lot of people are going to stop you and ask whether you’ll take a picture with them.

When you set out specifically to participate in a unique community event, sometimes, you just say, "Yes."

It was a luminary-making workshop that made me add ypsiGlow to my calendar. In the weeks leading up to the downtown Ypsilanti light-up dance party, Wonderfool Productions hosted drop-in GLOWorkshops at the Riverside Arts Center where community members were invited to come make luminaries and or costumes for the Oct. 27 event.

A sucker for learning new skills, I had attended one of the workshops simply interested in learning how to make a luminary. One of the artists asked me what I wanted to make as I began familiarizing myself with the materials and observing other workshop attendees. That’s when I told her; it was the first "yes" of this experience.

Photographer Nina Hauser dreams of India in her new WSG Gallery show

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Nina Hauser, Expressing the Inexpressible

Nina Hauser's Expressing the Inexpressible, part of The Real World Is Not the Only World -- India Dreams at WSG Gallery.

The last time we saw Nina Hauser’s iPhone photography at the WSG Gallery was in May 2013. I was keenly struck at that time how her display illustrated the fundamental principle that the human element cannot be taken out of art irrespective of the technology used to make the work. The 22 photographs in that exhibit were marked by a remarkable technique and skill -- with both artful elements reflecting the “eye” implicit in the photographic image.

Hauser’s current exhibit at that same gallery, The Real World Is Not the Only World -- India Dreams, finds this local photographer immersed in her fascination with the culture of the Asian subcontinent -- and certainly sufficiently enough as to revolutionize her aesthetic.

Ann Arbor Art Center's "Millennial Pink" explores a generation through color

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Millennial Pink

Pretty in pink: Chelsea Lee’s Kim Kardashian Mini Face Pillows and Carson Davis Brown’s photograph Mass_012 are part of Ann Arbor Art Center's Millennial Pink exhbitition.

What, exactly, is “millennial pink”?

This term is now used to identify the aesthetic of an entire generation, the often-reviled millennial. This generation is defined as being born between 1981 and 2001. Whether you love or hate millennials, the color pink, or the term “millennial pink,” this exhibition delves into many issues at the forefront of contemporary cultural discussion.

The Millennial Pink exhibition is comprised of multi-media arts and will be on display at the Ann Arbor Art Center through Nov. 4. Artists in the show explore a variety of themes, including “gender identity, pop culture, sexuality, politics, and shades of Pantone pink.”

Technological Delineation: "Moving Image: Portraiture" at UMMA

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Towards An Architect by Hannu Karjalainen at UMMA

Hannu Karjalainen, Towards an Architect, 2010, HD video, edition of 2/5+2AP. Borusan Contemporary, Istanbul. Photo courtesy of Galerie Nikolaus Ruzicska and Hannu Karjalainen.

Moving Image: Portraiture at the University of Michigan Museum of Art aims to address portraiture through the lens of contemporary media. As the third and final component of a series drawn from the Borusan Contemporary collection in Istanbul, including Moving Image: Landscape and Moving Image: Performance, each of the three artists included in this small exhibition uses technology to convey complex ideas, not only about the history of portraiture and representation but how technology can change our ideas of what constitutes portraiture.

All Wrapped Up: Christo at the Michigan Theater

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Christo at the Michigan Theater by Adrian Deva

U-M Stamps School of Art & Design hosted mega-famous artist Christo at the Michigan Theater; he told the crowd, "All our projects are totally useless!" Photo by Adrian Deva.

On Thursday evening, world-renowned sculptor Christo, 82, told a huge crowd -- packed into the Michigan Theater to see him -- what might be the best, most succinct courtship story of all time.

Of his longtime partnership with Jeanne-Claude, with whom he collaborated on his massive art installations (and who died in 2009), Christo said, with a shrug, “I was very young, we make love, and we like each other. That’s all.” Moments later, he added, “She was very pretty.”

But Christo -- dressed in dark slacks, a collared white shirt, and a big-pocketed beige jacket that hung off his lean frame -- initially kicked off his Penny Stamps Speaker Series lecture with a few parameters: “I will answer all questions, but I will not talk about politics, religion, and certainly not about other artists. I talk about myself, my work, and anything that I can tell you about my work.”

Colorful & Comical: Adnan Charara's "Constructs (Noun)" exhibition

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Adnan Charara's Constructs (Noun)

Adnan Charara's Constructs (Noun) exhibit includes these Munch-inspired canvases.

“Human identity is built upon strong currents that are constantly changing, [over] ... a well-traveled riverbed of history.”

Detroit artist, gallerist, and thinker Adnan Charara knows a thing or two about art and about history, and in Constructs (Noun), a colorful and comical exhibit of his recent paintings, he shows himself an able architect of identity, using bits and pieces of art history to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Twelve large acrylic paintings from two different, but related, bodies of work form the substance of this beautifully installed exhibit, on view at the Rotunda Gallery in Building 18 of the University of Michigan’s North Campus Research Center until December 18.