Review: Free Wet Hugz | 94th Annual All Media Exhibition



Free Wet Hugz the 94th annual all media exhibition is up at the Ann Arbor Art Center's 117 Gallery through Saturday, November 12, 2016.

There's a lot to love and hate in an all media art exhibit.

On the plus side there's plenty to look at and much of it is wonderful. An all media show can provide visitors with a tantalizing array of original ideas and novel approaches to making art. It can be energizing and thought-provoking. On the other hand, it can seem like an all-you-can-eat buffet, and feelings after a visit can feel like aesthetic indigestion from an overdose of visual sensation.

Paul Kotula, this year's juror for Free Wet Hugz, the 94th annual all media show at Ann Arbor Art Center's 117 Gallery, has spared us an art bellyache with his judicious editing and careful arrangement of the works on display. This exhibit features about a third fewer entries than last year's, with the result that the art that's included has room to breathe.

Kotula has chosen to put his emphasis on abstract painting, and this is some of the strongest work in that medium I've seen locally in quite some time.

I have always liked John McLaughlin's small drawings, but had reservations about his larger paintings, which seemed busy and disorganized to me. With Drawing a Blank, McLaughlin seems to have resolved the question of how much visual incident to include in this larger format. His abstract but referential fragments feel comfortable on the picture plane and just right.

Drawing a Blank by John McLaughlin (top left), Night Demonstration by Rocco DePietro (top right),<br />
Exist, Co-Exist: Harmony 2 by Yuling Chuang (bottom left), Embrace by Haena Kang (bottom right).

Drawing a Blank by John McLaughlin (top left), Night Demonstration by Rocco DePietro (top right), Exist, Co-Exist: Harmony 2 by Yuling Chuang (bottom left), Embrace by Haena Kang (bottom right).

Rocco DePietro's Night Demonstration, with its horses, helmeted men and gas masked central figure puts me in mind of German expressionism of the early 20th century, and it’s his best painting to date.

And there is also plenty of wonderful work by artists who are new to me. A dreamy painting by Yuling Chuang entitled Exist, Co-Exist: Harmony 2, is composed along the lines of a traditional Chinese map. Diminutive line drawings of toy-like cities share the landscape with tiny white ghost figures.

Also impressive are two paintings by Haena Kang. In Boundless and Embrace she employs pattern painting to create the impression of undulating seascapes, or perhaps kelp beds.

Let's Dance by Chia-Yi Huang, Scenario by Jack St. John, and the ambitiously scaled Abstraction #14 (Meltdown) by Dennis Jones are terrific examples of abstract painterly painting. In a more figurative vein, Chaos in Captivity by Jean-Paul Aboudib and No Fear by Nathan Margoni are powerful and disturbing.

There were fewer works of photography and sculpture than in years past, but they, too show the result of careful curation. Most of the sculpture consists of simple assemblage like Folded Drawing 5 and Folded Drawing 8 by Ruth Koelewyn, edging over into installation with In Memorium by Gloria Pritschett and Loraine Lynn’s glass, wood and brick construction, 85 Hours. Bruce Giffin, a gifted photographer who is well-known for his pictures of Detroit and its residents presents us with Bill and His Chihuahuas. A small, remarkable photo, Conduct Becoming: Surveys #3 and #4, by CJ Breil, tells the entire life story of an elder couple in a single image.

On the basis of the paintings alone, Free Wet Hugz deserves a visit and when you add in the small but choice selection from other media, it's a no-brainer.

K.A. Letts is an artist and art blogger. She has shown her work regionally and nationally and in 2015 won the Toledo Federation of Art Societies Purchase Award while participating in the TAAE95 Exhibit at the Toledo Museum of Art. You can find more of her work at
Free Wet Hugz: 94th Annual All Media Exhibition is on display through Saturday, November 12, 2016 at the Ann Arbor Art Center, 117 W. Liberty St., Ann Arbor, MI. 48104.. More information about the exhibit can be found at the Art Center's website.