In the year-long exhibition Abstraction, Color, and Politics in the Early 1970s, the University of Michigan Museum of Art asks, “Can abstract art be about politics?”
The exhibition asks audiences to consider the once hotly debated status of abstract art almost 50 years later. Despite the gallery exhibiting only four pieces, the exhibition proves the abstract art of the 1970s has an ability to engage with major political themes then and now.
The move toward abstraction in art accelerated in the 1970s, and many artists turned to it in lieu of representational art. As UMMA points out, some were criticized for turning away from traditional means of representation. Critics suggested that abstract art could not be political, therefore believing artists to be intentionally disengaging with politics. At the same time, minority artists were challenging tenets of art history and institutions that promoted a specific set of standards in determining what “great art” was. Though some argued that abstraction was unable to convey political messages, the movement itself became political by deconstructing the status quo.
Expected Greatness: UMMA's "The Power Family Program for Inuit Art: Tillirnanngittuq" shows Ann Arbor's role in popularizing indigenous Arctic art
The influx of Inuit art in Ann Arbor began with Ann Arbor’s Eugene Power and Canadian artist James Houston. Power, a friend of Houston, became interested in the art and culture of Inuit peoples following his friend Houston’s research there, beginning in 1948. A decade later, Eugene Power and his son Philip founded a non-profit organization called Eskimo Art Inc. in Ann Arbor that operated as a wholesale distribution center for artworks imported from Kinngait (known then as Cape Dorset) Hudson Bay and Baffin Island. The organization sent profits to artists, funded art supplies, and organized artist training, including Japanese printmaking techniques. Inuit art continued to remain popular in the area, with Eskimo Art Inc. remaining open through 1994.
The Power Family Program for Inuit Art: Tillirnanngittuq exhibition includes many works that date to the beginning of the Power Family’s involvement with Inuit art and the subsequent creation of Eskimo Art Inc. Currently being shown at the University of Michigan Museum of Arts, the exhibition “celebrat[es] the exceptional gift of 20th-century Inuit art to the Museum by the Power family.” The exhibit features 58 works from the collection, which were promised as a gift to the museum in 2018. The title of the exhibition, Tillirnanngittuq, is the Inuktitut word for “unexpected,” referencing the tremendously positive public response to Canadian Inuit Art in Ann Arbor, and globally, beginning in the mid-20th century.
The State of the Art of Surveillance: "Blind House: Utopia and Dystopia in the Age of Radical Transparency"
The Institute for Humanities Gallery is currently housing "Blind House: Utopia and Dystopia in the Age of Radical Transparency," a collaborative installation by artists Paloma Muñoz and Walter Martin. Along the walls are digitally altered photographs of the architectural exteriors of houses and in the center of the room a miniature glass house. There is a school desk in the center of the glass house, on top of which sits a red typewriter.
Visitors are free to enter the space, grab a blank sheet of paper from under the chair, and try to create their own utopia on paper. On the desk there are instructions for the visitor in English and Spanish: “1. Read and throw the existing utopia in the garbage. 2. Write your own utopia and leave it on the typewriter for the next participant. Please feel free to look through the garbage.”
In front of the desk, there is a trash can, which was filled with crumpled up, discarded utopias, demonstrating the past participation of gallery visitors in the work.
With Full CareForce: Marisa Morán Jahn's "The Mighty and the Mythic" at Stamps Gallery explores interactive, social-activist art
The Stamps Gallery's The Mighty and the Mythic is an interactive exhibit featuring the multi-faceted work of social activist and artist Marisa Morán Jahn. Curated by Srimoyee Mitra, this exhibition is an expansive collection with examples from three of Jahn’s ongoing projects. If you visit, make sure to give yourself plenty of time to view the many videos playing on TV screens around the gallery.
The three projects on display are CareForce (2012 to present), Biblobandido (2010 to present), and MIRROR | MASK (2017 to present). Though these are the artist’s solo projects, Jahn relies on the participation of her collaborators, who are often immigrants, domestic workers, and youths. Stamps Gallery notes that the work is infused with play and humor in order to portray her subjects’ lives with dignity, the ability to critique power, and to “build momentum within their communit[ies].” Jahn bases her practice on her own experiences as the child of first-generation Chinese and Ecuadorian immigrants.
The Institute for Humanities at the University of Michigan launched its Year of Humanities and Environments with the exhibition Paved With Good Intentions by David Opdyke. The show consists of a full wall-sized installation of altered vintage postcards, two animated short videos, and two video channels rotating quotes by politicians. The three media serve to address similar subject matter: the current political climate in America. Climate is an operative word, as Opdyke’s work focuses in on the environment and climate change. His pieces criticize not only American culture but also inaction and stagnancy due to an unwillingness to find common ground. Using iconic, even nostalgic imagery on old postcards as a backdrop, our ideal of “America the Great” is challenged in numerous ways with Opdyke’s artistic interventions.
The gallery wall text, written by Institute for Humanities curator Amanda Krugliak, states, "David Opdyke’s installation Paved With Good Intentions up-ends any snapshots of family vacations, destination spots, and America the Beautiful still in our pockets.” Opdyke’s statement is printed below Krugliak’s and expands on the project. The massive work, titled This Land , was created with 528 postcards from “all across the United States" -- views of local and national parks, cities, rivers, bridges, lakes, landmarks, farms and wilderness -- assembled into a vast gridded landscape beset by environmental chaos.
The postcard collage creates an overall landscape, but upon close examination, there are many smaller dramas (or in this case, disasters) at play. As the grid reaches the bottom of the wall, postcards are falling in disarray, some having landed on the floor. Those that are on the floor reveal handwritten notes by their original owners, creating an eerie connection to people of the past, even as Opdyke’s overall project suggests a future plagued by increased disaster and chaos.
Plugged In: UMMA's "Art in the Age of the Internet, 1989 to Today" examines creativity in the Digital Age
The traveling exhibition Art in the Age of the Internet, 1989 to Today is on loan to UMMA from the Institute of Contemporary Art of Boston, curated by Eva Respini and Barbara Lee (chief curators) with Jeffrey De Blois (assistant curator). The exhibition premiered in Boston on February 7, 2018, and will next travel to New Orleans Museum of Art in mid-April 2019.
The significance of technology’s impact on lived experience is noted the exhibition announcement on UMMA’s website, stating: “The internet has changed every aspect of contemporary life -- from how we interact with each other to how we work and play. Art in the Age of the Internet, 1989 to Today examines the radical impact of internet culture on visual art since the invention of the web in 1989. This exhibition presents more than forty works across a variety of media -- painting, performance, photography, sculpture, video, and web-based projects.”
Some of the influential artists featured in the gallery are Cory Arcangel, Judith Barry, Juliana Huxtable, Pierre Huyghe, Josh Kline, Laura Owens, Trevor Paglen, Seth Price, Cindy Sherman, Frances Stark, and Martine Syms. Many of the artists have worked with ever-changing technology for decades, but curators cite the year 1989 as a marker for the current global interconnectedness we experience as a result of new technologies. In addition, 1989 was the year of the first satellite that allows us to have the now-ubiquitous GPS, the year the World Wide Web was invented, the year the Berlin Wall came down, and protests in Tiananmen Square. Since social movements and identity politics have become more visible and accessible than ever before.
Riverside Arts Center's YpsiNow: Intersections asks this question in its announcement: “What is Ypsi, right now? Its paths, connections, struggles, and joy all interweaving to create the tapestry of Ypsilanti.”
For this second annual iteration of the exhibit -- juried by RckBny, Gary Horton, and Rey Jeong -- the question is answered by Ypsilanti High School students and adult residents working in a variety of media.
The high school students’ photography, collage, paint, ink, and written-word works are clustered on one wall, illustrating the diversity of approach among the teenagers, which is reflective of the overall approach to the exhibition. The adult Ypsilanti artists fill the rest of the gallery with sculptures, installations, and 2D works.
Proof: The Ryoichi Excavations presents artist Patrick Nagatani’s series of staged, minutely detailed photographs of fictional archeological excavations. The University of Michigan University of Art's exhibition announcement summarizes the content of the exhibit, in which Nagatani uses photographs to present “artifacts” from the life of Nagatani’s alter ego, an explorer named Ryoichi:
Nagatani presents a narrative of Ryoichi’s archeological work, supported by images of excavation sites, unearthed artifacts, and Ryoichi’s own journal pages. According to the photographs, Ryoichi discovered evidence of an automobile culture buried at sites across several continents: Stonehenge, the Grand Canyon, and a necropolis in China.
The photographs represent the various facets of the Ryoichi Excavations project, with photographs of journal pages in Japanese, video stills, photographic representations of the excavations, and curatorial wall text explaining the contents of the images. Some of these are displayed in standing glass cases in addition to the gallery walls. Nagatani’s dedication to creating a playful illusion of an archaeological project questions the assumption that photography is a means to convey unaltered, factual images.
Love Has a Thousand Shapes is an intimate look at the works of five artists, curated by Andrew Thompson. In the exhibition announcement, the exhibition’s inspiration is cited as having come from Virginia Woolf’s character Lily Briscoe in To the Lighthouse. The name of the exhibition draws from the text itself, in which the phrase described her art-making was an act of love itself. The exhibition, a partnership between Literati Bookstore and the Ann Arbor Art Center, draws inspiration from literary allegories, the announcement also referencing Kurt Vonnegut’s Bluebeard in which a character creates “his final painting, a masterwork of love.” The work in the exhibit explores love “between lovers, friends, family, and with pets, places, and the past. The act of making artwork can be considered an act of love in and of itself.”
With the selection of only five artists, viewers are allowed a more in-depth look at a single artists’ work.
UMMA’s exhibition Beyond Borders: Global Africa extends a conversation recently addressed in Unrecorded: Reimagining Artist Identities in Africa. The newer exhibit asks the audience to consider the roles of contemporary artists, as the subtitle Global Africa suggests, along with a reconceptualization of previously narrow definitions of “African art” or “African artists.” UMMA director Christina Olsen states that the pieces on display, many of which belong to UMMA, “ask questions about what it means to be an ‘African’ artist and make ‘African’ art.” Included in the show are photographs, paintings, installations, and sculptures. This exhibition includes “approximately 40 works of art drawn from UMMA's African art collection and from private and public holdings around the world, including the eminent Contemporary African Art Collection assembled by Jean Pigozzi of Geneva, Switzerland.”