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.”

Spontaneous Hues: Elizabeth Schwartz’s solo show "RED" at WSG Gallery

VISUAL ART INTERVIEW

Elizabeth Schwartz paintings, Celebrating Scarlet and The Power of Red

From left to right: Celebrating Scarlet, 36" x 36"; The Power of Red, 36" x 36".

"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."

The Photography of Art: Donita Simpson’s "Context Is Everything" documents Detroit artists

VISUAL ART REVIEW INTERVIEW

Nancy Mitchnick by Donita Simpson

Picturing Art: Detroit painter Nancy Mitchnick, shown here next to her work in progress. Photo by Donita Simpson.

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.

A Heavenly Gaze: Allie McGhee's "Cosmic Images 2000" at Rotunda Gallery

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Allie McGhee's Cloud Nine

Cloud Nine, 2009.

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.

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.