"Ruth Gruber, Photojournalist" exhibit celebrates the brilliant trailblazer


Ruth Gruber

In her 105 years on the planet, Ruth Gruber didn't half step anything. 

Born in Brooklyn in 1911, Gruber earned a Ph.D. at age 20 from the University of Cologne in German Philosophy, Modern English Literature, and Art History -- the youngest person in the world at that time to complete a doctorate.

By age 24, she was an international foreign correspondent and photojournalist whose life reads like an adventure book. 

Nairobi Nyatiti: Kamba Nane at Ziggy's in Ypsilanti


Kamba Nane

Ziggy's is a cafe, performance space, and arcade in downtown Ypsilanti that has hosted an appealing wide range of concerts ever since it opened in August 2017, from experimental jazz to hip-hop and indie rock. Most of the performers have been local, but on Friday, Feb. 2, Ziggy's goes international with Kenyan musician Kamba Nane.

Nane plays an eight-string nyatiti, a plucked lyre associated with the Luo people of Kenya. Traditionally the nyatiti is played alone, accompanied only by the player's singing and percussion items attached to his feet. But the Nairobi-raised Nane takes a modern approach to the instrument, playing in groups of all sorts, from jazz to electronica. At Ziggy's, Nane will be accompanied by the RAKA Ensemble, featuring Dave Sharp on bass and percussionists Abbas Camara and Lamine Souma.

Below is a short documentary on Nane and some of his music on Soundcloud:

Black Lives Matter: Ebony G. Patterson's "Of 72" & "...and babies too..."


Ebony G. Patterson's Of 72 & ...and babies too...

Ebony G. Patterson's complementary works at U-M Institute for the Humanities address violence, identity, and the forgotten. Foreground: …and babies too… (mixed media, 120" x 58" x 10", 2016). Background: Of 72 (mixed media on paper, 19" x 13", 2011). Photo by Christopher Porter.

On May 23, 2010, Jamaican police and military entered the impoverished Kingston neighborhood Tivoli Gardens, a stronghold of drug lord Christopher Coke, leader of the infamous Shower Posse. The United States had ordered the extradition of the now-convicted Coke, and at least 73 civilians were killed by security forces as they searched for the man more commonly known as Dudus. (He wasn’t captured until June 23.)

Ebony G. Patterson’s Of 72 installation, on view at U-M’s Institute for the Humanities through Feb. 9, addresses this “state-sponsored mini-Armageddon,” as writer Annie Paul called it, and it also explores the complexities of black identity as a whole.

Tangled Dreams: Jim Cherewick exhibition at Ferndale Library


Jim Cherewick, two paintings

Some art exhibitions are carefully curated to represent a theme or mark a period of time in an artist's working life. Other exhibitions are based on practicalities, such as Ypsilanti artist Jim Cherewick's show at the Ferndale Area District Library.

The paintings there are "whatever I haven’t sold yet or to show before the owner buys it," he said via email. "Mostly watercolor and ink drawings I’ve been painting lately."

Crayons are another medium in the exhibition, with neither an oil or acrylic painting in sight.

Lift Every Voice: "Out of the Silence" honors African-American classical artists


Out of the Silence collage

Clockwise from top left: William Grant Still's music will be played by pianist Leah Claiborne, Ivalas Quartet, and harpist Patricia Terry-Ross.

William Grant Still didn't write his three-part suite "Ennanga" in 1956 to be performed on the Ugandan harp for which it's named. But it's telling that Grant, one of the most important African-American classical composers of the 20th century, chose to name this gorgeous piece after an instrument from the motherland but have it performed on the more common European harp, alongside piano and a string quartet. He was blending musical inspirations from two far-away continents into a uniquely American sound.

"Ennanga" is just one of the pieces that will be performed at Out of the Silence at UMMA on Jan. 26 as part of a "narrated concert to honor black classical musicians of the past." But the composition is illustrative as an example of the two worlds African-American artists inhabit as they navigate the primarily white classical-music universe.

Surreal Songs Say So Much: Platonic Boyfriends


Platonic Boyfriends

Left to right: Isaac Levine, Noor, and Klayton Dawson are Platonic Boyfriends.

Have you ever heard a band and just been confused?

That's the effect Ann Arbor's Platonic Boyfriends had on me the first time I listened to the trio's debut album, Pee on These Hands.

That confusion stayed through the second listen. And the third. And it's continued unabated through subsequent spins. But I keep listening, and listening, and listening, which is a testament to Platonic Boyfriends' puzzling uniqueness.

Noor (bass), Klayton Dawson (guitar), and Isaac Levine (drums, lead vocals) create a kind of countrified, performance-art-inspired, lo-fi indie rock that is smart, surreal, funny, disjointed, and sui generis. My simple brain wants to put Platonic Boyfriends in a genre box for easy categorization, but Pee on These Hands doesn't allow it.

Platonic Boyfriends will celebrate the release of Pee on These Hands (CD, cassette, Bandcamp) with a record-release show on Friday, Jan. 26, at a secret location (that you can find on the band's Facebook page). I emailed with Ahmad and Levine about the band's origins, influences, and the serious message behind their song "Don't Move."

UMMA's smaller exhibitions still make a big impact


UMMA's Japanese posters

Left: Shigeo Fukuda, Kyogen, 1981, offset print. University of Michigan Museum of Art, Gift of DNP Foundation for Cultural Promotion, 2017/2.88. © Shigeo Fukuda, 2017. Right: Kazumasa Nagai, Ueno Zoo, 1993, silkscreen. University of Michigan Museum of Art, Gift of DNP Foundation for Cultural Promotion, 2017/2.71. © Kazumasa Nagai, 2017.

The main draw at the University of Michigan Museum of Art right now is Matisse Drawings: Curated by Ellsworth Kelly from The Pierre and Tana Matisse Foundation Collection.

And rightfully so since it features little-seen works by two masters. (John Cantu raved about the exhibition in his Pulp review.)

Meanwhile, Aftermath: Landscapes of Devastation is a breathtaking collection of "images of the aftermath of events spanning over 2,000 years of human history -- from ancient Pompeii to September 11, 2001."

But there are several other UMMA displays worth your time, even if there's not enough there there for a full review. 

Here's a look at some of the smaller exhibits currently at UMMA.

Resistance Paintings: Juliet Seignious' "Over/Come(ing)" at AADL


Juliet Seignious, Overcoming - Injustice painting

Juliet Seignious' Over/Come(ing) #16, mixed media on tarpaper, 21.5" x 11"

In 1958, Juliet Seignious was a founding member of the Alvin Ailey Dance Company. It was during her time in this groundbreaking modernist dance troupe that Seignious started to explore her African-American heritage, which stretched from the Harlem of her youth to her parents’ roots in Edisto Island, S.C., which was a frequent landing spot for slave ships and, eventually, the home of escaped former slaves.

Once her dance career was over, Seignious turned her attention to another form of artistic expression: painting. But her desire to delve into African-American history continued unabated. A 1990 exploratory visit to Edisto Island inspired Journeys, which is comprised of 15 brightly colored but mysterious acrylic paintings and one pastel drawing.

Remake, Remodel: The State Theatre rises once again


State Theatre, grand opening, March 1942

The State Theatre's grand opening, March 1942. Eck Stanger/Ann Arbor News photo from oldnews.aadl.org.

The March 17, 1942, edition of The Ann Arbor News was mental about the State. The paper’s entire second section was dedicated to the first movie theater to open in Ann Arbor since the Michigan Theater flung open its doors Jan. 5, 1928. “ABLAZE WITH RADIANT BEAUTY” trumpeted the all-caps headline above a glowing black-and-white photo of the State Theatre’s gorgeous marquee. At least 18 stories were published about the State (“New Local Theater Most Modern Found in Michigan”), its owners (“Butterfield Theaters, Inc. Now Operating 114 Houses”), and other film-related tales, including “Opening Of New Theater Revives Memories Here Of Student Riot In 1908,” which destroyed Ann Arbor’s original movie house, The Star. And the section was filled with congratulatory advertising, including one headlined “The New Pride of Ann Arbor,” purchased by the George W. Auch Co., the State Theatre’s general contractor, though 35 different firms worked on the build. That edition of the newspaper was a full-on love letter to the State Theatre, and The Michigan Daily was similarly smitten, dedicating six pages to movie-house-related stories. There’s akin ardor in today’s digital-media realm about the venerated movie house’s latest reinvention, which opens its doors to members on Friday, Dec. 8 and to the public on Saturday, Dec. 9.

Sonic Sculpture: Adam Shead's "Adiaphora Music," a master's recital


Adam Shead

Adam Shead's mix of punk, free jazz, and university-trained music gives his compositions a combination of raw grit and deep study.

As someone with a bachelor's of music in percussion performance from Columbia College Chicago and, soon, a master's degree in improvisation from the University of Michigan, drummer Adam Shead sounds like an academic. But while growing up in South Bend, Indiana, it was hardcore punk that first informed Shead's attitude and artistic aesthetic. That combination of academic rigor and raw energy is what makes Shead's drumming such a potent force, which he'll get demonstrate live on Friday, Dec. 8, at U-M's Duderstadt Video Studio when he presents his master's recital, Adiaphora Music. The seven-part suite features 11 musicians along with Shead exploring his influences, which run from Chicago visionaries AACM, Ken Vandermark, and Tim Daisy to South Africa's Dudu Pukwana, and contemporary classical giants Morton Feldman and John Luther Adams to H.R., lead singer of the groundbreaking punk band Bad Brains. We talked to Shead about his philosophy, sound, and the meaning of Adiaphora Music.