Ann Arbor Gallery Crawl: Catching up with recent exhibits and new art spaces
Double Goddess: A Sighting in the Abyss by Ayana V. Jackson at A2AC Gallery. Photo by K.A. Letts.
COVID-19 has wrecked plans and canceled events for nearly two years (and counting). It has sabotaged the momentum and slashed the incomes of Ann Arbor’s small community of visual artists and galleries, leaving a cultural landscape greatly altered in ways large and small.
But the creatives here are nothing if not resourceful and, well, creative.
My recent tour of the art spaces and non-profits in Ann Arbor and environs left me encouraged—and impressed—by the resilience of the city’s art community. Here are some of the changes I came across while reintroducing myself to the local art scene in early December 2021:
WSG Gallery, Ann Arbor’s only commercial gallery, closed its Main Street space to the public at the beginning of the pandemic and went to an exclusively online format. After a guest residency in the former Gallery 117 on the second floor of the Ann Arbor Art Center, artist-owned WSG opened its new location in September 2021. It’s a light and pleasant ground floor space at 111 East Ann St., near Kerrytown Market. This December, the 14 member artists are joined by 10 guests for their annual WSG Holiday Show of small works at affordable prices in a wide range of media.
Just a couple of doors from WSG Gallery at 117 E. Ann St., I discovered a small, newly opened gallery, Chris Nordin Studios. Glass artist Chris Nordin, trained in Murano, Italy, and known for his large-scale commissions for healthcare, corporate, and hospitality venues, has partnered with his wife, Michelle Plucinsky, in a new venture. Their former design office has been repurposed into a cozy, brick-walled fine-art gallery specializing in glass art and figurative painting. The process of designing upcoming programs and events is ongoing and a website specific to the gallery is under construction, but the hours (right now) are Fridays 2 pm-7 pm., Saturdays 11 am-6 pm, and Sundays 12 pm-4 pm. The gallery is closed Monday through Thursday.
Gutman Gallery began offering its first curated shows in the spring of 2020. Located at 118 North 4th Ave., long-time headquarters of the Ann Arbor Guild of Art and Artisans, the gallery expands the nonprofit’s previous mission of support for Guild members’ art-fair participation. The new gallery provides space for artisans to show and sell their work and organizes regularly scheduled group exhibitions. Gutman also offers a varied program of workshops and events open to the community. Until December 23, the entire storefront is devoted to the 2nd Annual Holiday Artists’ Market, which offers a wide variety of locally made, craft-forward objects at accessible prices.
An intriguing new gallery that combines tech with fine art has opened at 309 S. Main St. Cultureverse opened its doors on December 3, with the two-artist exhibition Liminal Landscapes, featuring mixed-media monoprints by John Gutoskey and gestural abstract paintings by Peter Sparling. Cultureverse is a fine arts nonprofit working in collaboration with a new tech company, Saganworks, to design 3D immersive experiences for museums, artists, galleries, art collections, and the like. This cutting-edge business leverages the input of content creators to design new ways of expanding access to visual culture for an online audience. The concept is in development and, consequently, the endpoint is hazy. But watch this space.
Rounding out my tour of fine arts venues in downtown Ann Arbor, we come, inevitably, to the Ann Arbor Art Center. The Art Center has been around since 1909, so it’s no surprise the venerable institution remains an anchor for the arts in Ann Arbor. The big news, though, is that after years of dwindling commitment to professional-level fine art in favor of arts education for youth and grassroots community engagement, the Art Center has launched some groundbreaking public-art initiatives that show a new commitment to collaborative placemaking. With funding from a broad coalition of individuals and businesses, A2AC Art in Public is taking art to the streets with an ambitious mural program. Beginning with a mural by Pat Perry in 2018, large outdoor paintings—15 of them so far—have been popping up all over town at an ever-increasing pace. [Related: "A guide to the Ann Arbor Art Center's Art in Public Places murals project," Pulp, January 6, 2021]
Collaborations that place art in City Hall and on Ann Arbor manhole covers are part of this broad-based project too, as well as temporary outdoor installations and art events. As if that weren’t enough, the Art Center recently opened an elegant gallery on the ground floor of a newly acquired space next to their main building. The first show, Historic Futures, with work by 9 interdisciplinary artists selected by independent Detroit curator Juana Williams, opened on November 12.
One of the most surprising developments during the pandemic has been the expansion of arts venues out of downtown and toward Scio Township along Jackson Road. Chief among these has been the departure of Yourist Pottery from its former location on the north side of Ann Arbor and into a larger space at 6087 Jackson Rd. In an interview, Kay Yourist described how social distancing Covid protocols required the closing of the former in-house gallery to allow space for socially distanced studio classes. After some searching, she found the gallery/studio location on Jackson that is two-and-a-half times larger, with better ventilation and ample parking. Yourist moved there last fall and on December 10 staged its first holiday sale in two years. Yourist Pottery is a hybrid arts operation that provides classes and studio time as well as a gallery for the display and sale of ceramics.
Before and After: High Water and Climate Change in 2020 by Elizabeth Barick Fall. Photo courtesy of the artist.
TrustArt Studios, a low-key artists’ collective located at 7885 Jackson Road, offers five private studio spaces, a shared ceramics studio, and an art gallery which, until the pandemic, was open to the public. Elizabeth Barick Fall, founder and director of TrustArt Studios and an artist in her own right, hopes to re-open the gallery in spring 2022. She is currently in talks with Huron River Art Collective, a diverse grassroots organization of local artists (whose administrative offices are also located on Jackson but which has no permanent exhibition space) for future collaborations.
Necessity, once again, has proved to be the mother of invention for artists and artisans in Ann Arbor. Their resilience and creativity has enabled them survive, and even thrive, in the uniquely challenging pandemic environment. Through online adaptation, including virtual exhibitions and crowd sourced funding, through new collaborations and by moving physical artworks to outdoor and larger venues, Ann Arbor’s artists and arts organizations have discovered, both literally and figuratively, new territory.
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 RustbeltArts.com.