Fright of the Honeybee: "Hive/Mind ii" at 22 North Gallery

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Honeybee by Jesi Evans Murphy

Golden Bee by Jesi Evans Murphy, mixed media embroidery.

The artists in the juried exhibition Hive/Mind ii at 22 North Gallery in Ypsilanti until September 28 have been thinking about honeybees -- a lot. The subject comes up once a year in September. This is the seventh iteration of the citywide Festival of the Honeybee, which includes honey tastings, musical performances, children's activities -- and this exhibition.  

The years since the inauguration of the festival have been eventful -- and not in a good way -- for this most useful and industrious of insects. As colony collapse disorder forces a public discussion of the damage humans can and do inflict on the environment, the artists of Hive/Mind ii creatively contemplate the relationship between human and honeybee as a metaphor for our relationship with the environment. Jurors Jessica Tenbusch, Elize Jekabson, Nan Plummer, and Maggie Spencer have selected artworks that reflect a range of media and conceptual approaches to the subject. 

Upon entering the gallery, visitors will see a richly colored painting by Kentucky-based artist Michele Newby Armstrong that incorporates the hexagonal cells of bees with what appears to be collaged advertising for the suspected culprit of colony collapse disorder, neonicotinoid pesticides. The artist makes extensive use of stencils that repeat the motif of cell and honeybee, resulting in a pleasing artwork that belies the underlying somber theme. Nearby, ceramic artist Jon Van Eck’s honey bee jug is a black-and-yellow presence. His usually comic tone is subdued here, but still cheerful and technically impressive.

"Textures of Detroit" at Concordia University’s Kreft Gallery feels like two exhibitions at once

VISUAL ART REVIEW

An installation at Textures of Detroit exhibit

An installation at Textures of Detroit at Kreft Gallery, Concordia University. Photo by K.A. Letts.

Textures of Detroit, now on exhibit in Concordia University’s Kreft Gallery through October 23, presents the work of six Detroit artists as they respond to their urban environment through the prism of personal experience. It’s an odd, conjoined-twin sort of exhibit. 

There are really two exhibits on view here. In Exhibit A, with Matt Corbin, Ann Smith and Carole Harris, who take their inspiration from the materiality of the city, a time-honored Detroit method recently highlighted in Landlord Colors at Cranbrook Museum of Art. And then there’s Exhibit B: in which Roy Feldman, Carl Wilson, and Peter Bernal observe and report on the human dimensions of Detroit.

Painting the Everyday: Sarah Innes' "Around the Table" at Ann Arbor Art Center focuses on the small moments in life

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Sarah Innes' painting Duncan and Arlo

Duncan and Arlo by Sarah Innes, watercolor on paper.

Ann Arbor artist Sarah Innes is a radical.

The fashion of the day in contemporary art is that we concern ourselves with the Big Issues: gender equality, climate change, gun violence, and the like.

Instead, Innes commits to painting only what she knows, deep in her bones.

She knows that life is precious and brief and consists of moments strung together like pearls on a necklace.  She knows that children are born, make fun and mischief, move away. Parents, friends, colleagues, and significant others visit and dine, celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. Pets appear under the table and nestled in arms. Sometimes there is a death.

Around the Table, a small selection of her intimate paintings, is on view now at the Ann Arbor Art Center through July 23. Innes employs the image of the dining table, both as an organizing compositional device and as a metaphor for her life. Minute changes in the menu, changing seasons and an ever-mutating cast of characters provide a travelogue of her journey through time. 

The abstract paintings of late Detroit artist Gilda Snowden are "Bold & Beautiful" at U-M's Connections Gallery

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Gilda Snowden's Chair 6 painting

Gilda Snowden's Chair 6

I will never meet Gilda Snowden.

I missed my chance when she died suddenly of heart failure on September 9, 2014, just as I was beginning to be dimly aware of her importance as an artist, an archivist of Detroit’s art scene, and a mentor to many of its young creatives. She left a large body of work behind, thousands of paintings and drawings, a few of which are currently on view at Bold & Beautiful at the University of Michigan’s Connections Gallery.

Snowden’s early work features bits and pieces from her collecting activities, collaged onto the surfaces of her paintings as opening gambits for her painting practice.  She credited the influence of her Cass corridor mentors, who also worked in unconventional materials:  leather, chainsaws, shotguns, barbed wire, and the like.  By the time she produced the artworks represented in this exhibit, however, she had left those strategies behind for the more esoteric and protean qualities of pure paint.

Rapid, Radical Change: "The World to Come: Art in the Age of the Anthropocene" at UMMA

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Hiding in the City, No. 95 by Liu-Bolin

Hiding in the City, No. 95, Coal Pile by Liu Bolin, 2010 chromogenic print on plex.

The day after I saw the University of Michigan Museum of Art’s current exhibit The World to Come: Art in the Age of the Anthropocene, I saw this headline on the front page of The New York Times: "Report Details Global Shrink in Biodiversity."  It was accompanied by images of bleached coral and strangled sea turtles. On the same page, I saw a picture of Lady Gaga in black lingerie on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, vamping for the cameras on the occasion of the annual Met Gala. 

I like to think I would have been shocked by this juxtaposition of the catastrophic and the trivial before I saw the exhibit, but I’m not sure. We live in an age of distraction and it’s easy for us humans -- famous for our short attention spans -- to lose sight of the enormous challenge posed by global warming. The World to Come makes the point, devastatingly, incontrovertibly, unforgettably, that we live in an era of rapid, radical, and irrevocable ecological change. 

The show, curated by Kerry Oliver-Smith of the Harn Museum of Art at the University of Florida, hits you right between the eyes with images of humanity’s effect on the natural environment -- and it keeps on hitting.  Sections of the show are broken down into categories such as "Deluge," "Consumption," "Extinction," "Imaginary Futures," and the like, categorizing the environmental outrages to make the enormity of the subject (and the size of the show) comprehensible.  

It’s ironic that an exhibit devoted to destruction and climate disaster should be so very beautiful but ... well, there it is.

Unlocking Creativity: The 24th Annual Prison Creative Art Project Show

VISUAL ART REVIEW INTERVIEW

PCAP art - James Alexander's The Bear and Harvey Pell's Phoenix Fire

Left: Phoenix Fire by Harvey Pell. Right: The Bear by James Alexander.

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.  

Generation Next: "Inner Fragments: Contemporary Art by Iranian Women Artists"

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Elahe Farzi

Solitude Memories by Elahe Farzi, acrylic on canvas, 38” x 60”.

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.

It's a Family Affair: A mother-and-son creative partnership on exhibit at NCRC

VISUAL ART REVIEW INTERVIEW

Karen Anne Klein's Installation and Barrett Klein's Velvet Ant

Karen Anne Klein, Ecological Fiction installation, 2018; Barrett Klein, Velvet Ant, colored pencil on paper 2002

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.  

"Works in Progress" is a celebration of beauty and chaos at Ann Arbor Art Center

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Sarrazin & Sobremesa

One of Natalia Sarrazin's works at the Ann Arbor Art Center's Works in Progress exhibition.

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. 

Working Magic: "Beyond Words" A Celebration of Book Arts in 2018" at WSG Gallery

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Norma Penchansky-Glazer, Seeking the Reflections, cyanoprint, mixed media

Norma Penchansky-Glazer, Seeking the Reflections, cyanoprint, mixed media.

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.”