It is no secret that the American prison system is harsh, socially isolating, and unequal in its treatment of minorities and the poor. For most of us, that uncomfortable acknowledgment is followed by an awkward pause and a polite change of subject.
But visual artist and activist Janie Paul decided 24 years ago that she wasn't having it. Along with her husband, fellow activist and writer Buzz Alexander, she helped found the Prison Creative Arts Program, an ongoing project that connects men and women incarcerated in the Michigan prison system to the outside world through art. The 24th Annual PCAP Art Show, with original artworks by prison artists, opened March 20 at University of Michigan's Duderstadt Center Gallery.
Art exhibits get organized for lots of reasons. In the case of Inner Fragments, a traveling exhibit of 16 young Iranian women artists that landed recently (and briefly) in the University of Michigan’s Duderstadt Gallery, the organizers aim to correct what they see as some misperceptions in the West about contemporary art and artists in Iran.
Their work, varied in style and tone and featuring media from painting to sculpture to video, suggests that Iranian women artists share more with their Western sisters than the sum of their differences might suggest.
The spirit of the Renaissance's Cabinets of Curiosity is alive and well and on display in the University of Michigan’s NCRC galleries through May, courtesy of a mother-and-son artist duo. Two separate exhibits, Ecological Fiction by Karen Anne Klein and Hidden Ubiquity: Celebrating the Tiny Majority by Barrett Klein, delineate and illustrate nature’s inhabitants and habitats, from the cosmic to the minute.
We live in a world of things. Each chair, cup, table, door, and car in our built environment is the product of human ingenuity, from concept to execution. Works in Progress, an exhibit on view now at the Ann Arbor Art Center, celebrates the creativity of 24 international and domestic designers, at varying stages in their careers, who bring functional works to life through fashion, graphic design, furniture, architecture, and industrial design.
Many of the products and designs on display feature high tech materials and methods not usually associated with what we normally think of as “craft.” The centerpiece for this non-analog approach is You Are the Ocean, a video installation by Ozge Smanci and Gabriel Caniglia, which takes up about a third of the entry room in Gallery 117. It’s not an object at all, but documentation of a computer-assisted visualization of how the mind can alter an image via computer, unmediated by the human hand or real-world material. Using the Unity Game Engine, the designers wrote code that creates a synthesized, uninhabited, and turbulent seascape. Clouds roll and waves crest in response to the subject’s brain waves in various states of concentration or relaxation. The resulting scene is both bleak and beautiful, exhilarating and disturbing. I can imagine that this is the kind of art our cyborg descendants will find beautiful, and it gave me a profound sense of my own obsolescence.
The cosmologist Carl Sagan once said, “A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.” His comment admirably describes the lively spirit that animates Beyond Words: A Celebration of Book Arts in 2018 at WSG Gallery through November 24. The exhibit, curated by Ann Arbor artist Barbara Brown, continues an ongoing series -- this is its eighth iteration -- devoted to the art and craft of book-making by artists in the Great Lakes region.
Beyond Words is a noisy little show. The gallery’s atmosphere brings to mind a lively coffee shop filled with convivial patrons rather than the dusky silence of a library. These books have a lot to say, they are saying it out loud and no one is saying, “Shhhh!” There are tunnel books, books with video components, boxed scrolls, tiny suitcase books, books set to music. There’s even a book of poetry made of old tires. Brown says, “I feel like I’ve created an impromptu happening because the works have sound and light and movement.”
"I love red!” Elizabeth Schwartz exclaims -- and the artist clearly means what she says. RED, her solo exhibit at WSG Gallery, explores and celebrates a powerful hue freighted with cultural and emotional significance. In her most recent series of 11 abstract acrylic paintings on canvas, she shows herself to be a spontaneous colorist who’s not afraid to tackle the contradictory connotations of a color that can project courage, passion, sexuality, danger, aggression, and love.
Fine art is a second career for Schwartz, whose first profession was the law. “I started as a criminal appellate attorney in Detroit and became the deputy director of that office. Then I worked for the [Michigan] Public Service Commission and then the state Attorney General’s office. [Later] I came to Ann Arbor as City Attorney before being appointed an administrative law judge." She continues, “I started painting while I was [still] lawyering … a friend of mine, Fred Horowitz, taught [art] at Washtenaw [Community College]. He was a longtime friend and I was growing weary of law practice. He just changed my life. He said, ‘Take my class -- I may not teach you how to draw, but I can teach you how to see.’ It was magic."
Donita Simpson is racing to record and archive images of the Detroit art scene’s most important and enduring artists as she writes the first draft of the city’s contemporary art history. A generous selection from the award-winning portrait photographer’s years-long project is on view in Context Is Everything at Connections gallery in the University of Michigan's North Campus Research Complex.
Paintings and public sculptures by prominent contemporary artist Allie McGhee abound throughout Detroit. His elegantly gestural Night Rhythms (1991) can be seen at the Detroit Institute of Art. The Michigan-Cass Avenue stop on the People Mover features his work, and right now, a small but exquisite sliver of his decades-long body of work, Cosmic Images 2000, is on view at the Rotunda Gallery in Building 18 of University of Michigan's North Campus Research Center in Ann Arbor through August 31.
McGhee was born in Charleston, W.V., but soon moved to Detroit, where he attended Cass Technical High school. He completed his undergraduate work at Eastern Michigan University in 1965. His early paintings and sculptures were figurative and even as he has moved toward abstraction, his work has retained the gestural sweep of his unseen arm.
“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.
With over 70 photographs on view in locations throughout Ann Arbor, In Transit is a lively, four-headed monster of an exhibition. From the back hall of the City Council Chambers to The Session Room on Jackson Avenue, to the buses (inside and outside) of TheRide, this collection of photos by current and former photography students at Washtenaw County Community College will be all over town for the next three months.
But the best place to see all these photographs celebrating the local places and people of southeastern Michigan is right now through September 30 in Gallery 117 of the Ann Arbor Art Center.