Ann Arbor Art Center's "The Instructor Show" showcases the talents who nurture future talents

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Beth Billups, A La Mode, oil and cold wax, 2018

Beth Billups, A La Mode, oil and cold wax, 2018.

Befitting an exhibition made up of works from 18 of its teachers, The Instructor Show at the Ann Arbor Art Center offers a diverse range of media, including painting, sculpture, jewelry, printmaking, drawing, fiber arts, and encaustic. The exhibit is a fine display of the talent behind the multitude of programs, events, and classes the Art Center offers.

Jennifer Belair-Sakarian is an artist who was raised and educated in the Midwest. Her works often center on stream of consciousness, featuring imagery related to natural environments, relationships, and human emotions. Belair-Sakarian employs collage, printmaking, painting, and drawing in her practice. Two works in the gallery represent the range of media in her repertoire, including a mixed-media monoprint and a watercolor with gloss gel medium. Belair-Sakarian is inspired by moments from everyday life, where she later synthesizes real and imagined spaces into her visual work.

Gifts of Art's summer exhibitions offer meditative comfort at University Hospital

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Laurie LeBreton, Cool Fire

Laurie LeBreton, Cool Fire, handmade abaca and cotton paper, felt marker, acrylic paint 36” x 36”

This summer's Gifts of Art at the University of Michigan Hospital, on display through September 6, features the works of a multitude of local and non-local artists in nine gallery spaces that offer multi-media artworks and a historical display by the Yankee Air Museum.

The Gifts of Art program's rotating gallery spaces benefit patients, artists, the hospital system, and the community. These public galleries are at the center of a thriving medical community and “are viewed by approximately 10,000 people each day,” making them “some of the most widely visited indoor, non-museum exhibit spaces in Michigan,” according to Gifts of Art.

Though art might not be the top priority of many hospital-goers, these spaces offer a meditative and even comforting environment -- such as through artist Kate Lebowsky's plush dolls that are currently on display -- amidst an often-chaotic landscape.

Of Skin and Dirt: Ann Arbor Art Center's "Earthbody" explores the human frame's relationship to its habitat

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Eric Wakeland's photo Untitled, 2019

Erin Wakeland, Untitled, 2019

The Ann Arbor Art Center’s Earthbody features works from 11 artists whose works explore, in some aspect, the relationship between the body and the environment. The exhibit focuses on works of current and recent students at the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design at the University of Michigan.

The Earthbody exhibition text is short and to the point: “How does our understanding of our bodies as earthly objects affect our ability to perceive and engage with the environment? Earthbody explores these relationships between body, self, and environment.”

As is typical of the group shows at the Art Center, there are a variety of approaches that engage with the subject of the exhibition. From imagery that appears grotesque or unsettling to those works portraying a sense of serenity, the artists pull from personal and shared histories to delve into the broad topics of the body and the environment. 

Sonic Resistance in the Motor City: "Call & Response" at U-M's Penny W. Stamps Gallery

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Tylonn Sawyer, 3 Graces: Nina, 2015

Tylonn Sawyer, 3 Graces: Nina, 2015

In keeping with recent exhibition themes at the Penny W. Stamps Gallery, its most recent show asks audiences to imagine a better future through the works of innovative and iconic contemporary artists. 

Call & Response brings together diverse works and combines elements of the traditional exhibition space, a performance space, and a soundstage. Featuring the works of Romare Bearden, Chakaia Booker, Tony Cokes, Saffell Gardner, Allie McGhee, and Tylonn Sawyer, the gallery asks visitors to consider “sonic resistance in Detroit and beyond” through visual art, sound, and a restored historical stage from jazz-era Detroit. The central hub of the exhibition starts with the refurbished Blue Bird Inn stage and includes representational and abstract artworks responding to the cultural music scene of Detroit and beyond. 

The glittering Blue Bird Inn stage was recently rescued from obscurity by Detroit Sound Conservancy. Opening in the late 1930s, the Inn was located on Tireman Street, Detroit’s “Jim Crow line.” In the 1940s, the bar’s owner, Clarence Eddins, used the space as a jazz club until the early 2000s. The exhibit notes that the stage is an “iconic example of African-American mid-century vernacular art and design,” and it's easy to imagine iconic musicians such as Miles Davis and John Coltrane standing on it and playing jazz to bustling audiences in Detroit.

Unmasking Herstory: Nastassja E. Swift's "she was here, once" at U-M's Lane Hall

VISUAL ART REVIEW

she-was-here-once-masks.jpg

Nastassja E. Swift wants to know what's behind the mask. 

The Virginia-based artist's exhibit at Lane Hall, the home of the LSA Women’s Studies program at the University of Michigan, is part of a larger performance piece, titled she was here, once. Swift, in her artist statement, expands upon the intent behind her work:

Circling within conversations of marginalization, use of the black body and otherness, my work incorporates the idea of masking as a metaphorical tool to explore what it means to cover one’s face with another, questioning who’s being hidden and who’s being amplified. The mask themselves often acting as vessels of stories told through movement and in form, depicting the faces of our ancestral mothers as a way of demanding space for her and retrieving her power in the form of visibility of homage. Through fusing these larger-than-life size felted wool portraits with dance, I am able to shape experiences through storytelling and articulate self-identities in relation to ancestry.

 

Lane Hall’s gallery space is filled with various components of the project. Originally enacted by Swift and a group of eight women in the summer of 2018. The performance took place in Swift’s home city, Richmond, Virginia. First, the artist has suspended three of the large sculptural, white fiber masks worn and made by the women in the project from the ceiling in the main hall. Second, photographic stills from the initial performance line the walls of the gallery space. Finally, two television screens play both a mini-documentary and short film about Swift’s project on a loop.

Jason DeMarte's "Garden of Artificial Delights" examines modern excess via fake still-lifes

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Jason DeMarte, Placid Propagation, 2018, pigment print. Courtesy the artist

Jason DeMarte, Placid Propagation, 2018, pigment print. Courtesy the artist.

Jason DeMarte's intimate solo show Garden of Artificial Delights mixes the domestic, the “natural,” and the artificial to create a room-sized simulacrum of a still-life at the University of Michigan Museum of Art.

DeMarte takes over the space with his take on classic floral wallpaper, a foreboding gray background with a warm foreground containing peonies, poppies, and female cardinals. The stage of the exhibition is the entire ArtGym, a relatively cozy gallery space that houses DeMarte’s room-sized adhesive wallpaper, and six framed photographs. Each photograph is digitally manipulated and portrays what appears to be at first glance a traditional still life. The color palette and inclusion of floral elements in each photograph echo the wallpaper, with a gray, dreary fog contrasting against vibrant flora and fauna.

Except, it isn’t always flora and fauna featured in the frames of these photographs.

Instead, multi-colored candy floats through the dreary atmosphere, paint drips over a peony and covers a bird entirely, or perhaps canned whipped cream covers wilting flowers from which butterflies are attempting to feast. In the center of the gallery space, there is a square black bench that viewers may utilize in order to absorb the 360-degree immersive experience created by the wallpaper. 

Each photograph is a digital photomontage comprised of multiple images, edited to appear “hyperreal,” as UMMA’s Assistant Curator of Photography Jennifer M. Friess observes. The resulting works of art are seductive, pulling us into the dismal yet confusingly bright and vibrant world of the birds and their candy.

Ann Arbor Art Center's "Peripheral Technologies" juxtaposes modern techniques with classic craft

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Ryan Molloy's Extremity

Ann Arbor artist Ryan Molloy hand prints each color in his asynchronous idiom series of complex letterpress works.

With Peripheral Technologies, curated by Thea Augustina Eck, the Ann Arbor Art Center continues its trend of bringing together a diverse group of voices who ask us, through their works, to reconsider the limits of fine art in an era when we are constantly being asked to do so.

The types of technology employed by the 12 artists -- and how they can be adapted for the creation of art -- are numerous, among them CNC (computer numerical control) machining, image scanning, computer-generated algorithms, and drone photography. Many artists pair emergent technologies with traditional or natural materials such as wood. These pairings create intriguing juxtapositions that ask viewers to consider our current technological moment in relation to manufacturing methods of the recent past. The artists come up with a different conclusion through methods, materials, and their finished works.

Contemporary Collage: "Odds & Ends" at the Ann Arbor Art Center

VISUAL ART REVIEW

John Gutoskey

Juror and artist John Gutoskey at the opening reception for Odds & Ends. Photo courtesy Ann Arbor Art Center.

Ann Arbor Art Center’s latest juried exhibition centers on the art of collage. Aptly named Odds & Ends, the show brings together an array of works that represent contemporary artists’ engagement with the tradition. From mixed media to digital collage, Odds & Ends offers a diverse collection of accomplished works.

Ann Arbor artist John Gutoskey juried this exhibition. Gutoskey works as a designer, printmaker, and collector. He currently owns JG Studio and the A2 Print Studio in Ann Arbor. The Ann Arbor Art Center describes Gutoskey’s style of producing art and collecting by saying: 

In the 1990s, John returned to his studio with a newfound interest in making art on his own terms, and it resulted in an outpouring of new work. Exploring the media of assemblage (through found objects), collage, printmaking, and installation, he was inspired by the works of Joseph Cornell, Betye Saar, Lucas Samaras, outsider art, Art Brut, and religious art to evolve his own unmistakable style: a perfect mirror for his gregarious, highly animated personality. The obsessive collector in Gutoskey met the trained visual artist half-way.

Gutoskey’s background in assemblage and collage is a perfect match for the content of this exhibition, which includes 2-D collage work, sculpture, mixed media works, and assemblage. Gutoskey selected winners for Best in Show, Second Place, Third Place, and three honorable mentions:

Bloodstained Economics: "Wang Qingsong / Detroit / Beijing" at UMMA explores class conflict in China and the U.S.

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Wang Qingsong, The Bloodstained Shirt

Wang Qingsong, The Bloodstained Shirt, 2018. Courtesy the artist. © Wang Qingsong.

Wang Qingsong is interested in the effects of “rapid change in contemporary Chinese society.” He also sees a parallel in U.S. society, especially when it comes to the discrepancy between the haves and the have-nots, which is made clear in Wang Qingsong/Detroit/Beijing, his new exhibit at the University of Michigan Museum of Art,

Wang Qingsong restages the large-scale drawing The Bloodstained Shirt (1959) by Wang Shikuo, an iconic work of Socialist Realist art and one that celebrates land reforms in China after Communist victory in 1949. The original drawing depicts the peasant uprising against their cruel landlord and the subsequent reclaiming of the land.

In Wang Qingsong/Detroit/Beijing, Wang Shikuo's drawing forms the basis for a photo reenactment, shot in front of an abandoned Sanders candy factory in Highland Park, a city in Detroit. Wang Qingsong’s February 2018 restaging in Detroit raises questions about land use in the city while simultaneously commenting on current issues in China, which UMMA's curators note have shifted dramatically since the idealistic Wang Shikuo image was made. The curators also write that the artist originally intended to work in Beijing, where land redistribution suffers in favor of real estate developers’ interests.

Similarly, Wang Qingsong noticed that Southeast Michigan is driven by “private speculation on and the rebuilding of abandoned properties in Detroit and Highland Park that ignore the needs of most residents.” UMMA curators also note that the re-enacted The Bloodstained Shirt (2018) was intended by the artist to be shown both in China and the United States, but it is banned in China.

Across the Campus-verse: U-M's "Bookmarks: Speculating the Futures of the Book and Library" exhibit takes viewers on a trip

VISUAL ART REVIEW

In Search of Pale Blue Spin and Scheherazade

Left: Image representing In Search of the Pale Blue Spin, an audiowalk by Stephanie Rowden and Jennifer Metsker.
Right: Scheherazade 2.0 (prototype) by Osman Khan

The ambitious, expansive, multi-venue exhibition Bookmarks: Speculating the Futures of the Book and Library is currently displayed in three libraries across the University of Michigan’s campus. If you plan to see everything, expect to spend the day tracking them down through various academic libraries in Ann Arbor.

Many of the installations are true “pop-up” style, with the spaces being utilized by busy students. The exhibition, curated by Guna Nadarajan, dean of the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design at the University of Michigan, includes work by University students, faculty, and staff. The work can be viewed in three places: Hatcher Graduate Library, Art, Architecture & Engineering Library, and Shapiro Undergraduate Library.

The Bookmarks exhibition addresses two questions. First, many works engage with the shift from printed books to digital formats, the displacement of the book as a form, and shifting functions and perceptions of functions of the library.  Second, artists question what these shifts in form mean for the institutions housing information. The exhibition asks: “What is the future of the library? What is the future of the book?” Each performance piece, artwork, or installation comment on speculative futures for books, libraries, or shifting technologies in unique ways.

In all, there are 14 site-specific installations and exhibits. Two of these require a cell phone or electronic device in order to experience the entire work.

Below, each work is listed under the library it is shown in, with specific instructions to find it.