Helicon Haus is a student-run organization associated with the History of Art Undergraduate Society at the University of Michigan. The group hosts annual pop-up art exhibits, publishes writings, and creates arts-related world travel opportunities for its members. But for Helicon Haus' annual art exhibition, anyone may enter.
This year’s call took place in April 2021 and resulted in the online exhibition Into the Abyss, which is the second year in which the submissions were presented a virtual format.
For photosensitive viewers, there is a warning: “This website features flashing images.”
The title Into the Abyss is derived from the French term “mise-en-abîme,” which means “placing into the abyss.” Though each finished work suggests its own interpretation of the abyss, the Helicon Haus collective outlines their definition of the abyss in their “Thoughts on the Abyss.” The Abyss refers to nesting heraldic imagery or the “image within the image.” Artists “dove into the abyss of digital space to create their synergistic works. Displayed virtually, these works are placed into the abyss themselves.” The internet and virtual spaces are defined as an abyss within the parameters of the project. Visually, the concept of the abyss is reinforced with the inclusion of the “black hole” portals on the exhibit homepage.
Riverside Arts Center’s "Present: An Online Exhibit" offers an egalitarian collection of creative endeavors
Art is essential, whether or not it is created for public display.
All art, whether fine art or craft, is worthy of representation.
Though these two statements seem straightforward, they might be considered controversial in the fine art universe.
Riverside Arts Center’s recent online exhibit, Present, pushes the boundaries of public art in online spaces by eliminating the jurying process and allowing anyone to submit artwork with the expectation that it will be placed in the show. The exhibit's homepage displays a gallery of thumbnail images with brief descriptions of the submissions, which range from regular exhibitors in the Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor area to crafts and Lego projects made among groups of family members. This egalitarian approach offers a fresh perspective on what it means to create art, who this art is for, and what value creativity has when the world no longer resembles the one we know.
Riverside Art Center’s call for submissions asks for work regardless of whether or not the creator is a working artist, and this cosmopolitan approach yielded eclectic results that give viewers a chance to see what creative projects community members have produced during an unprecedented time. The call for art reads:
WSG Gallery's "The World Turns With and Without People" and "Silence and Breezes" explore nature and, sometimes, humans
The artists at WSG Gallery are experts at creating impressive responses to themed prompts. For March's exhibit, Silences and Breezes, WSG artists created selections that range from action paintings influenced by music to calming and atmospheric representations of the natural world. April's theme is The World Turns With and Without People, but like March's show, many of the selected works seem to buzz with anticipation for warm weather.
WSG Gallery continues exhibiting virtually on its website—where past shows can also be seen—and in the 117 Gallery at Ann Arbor Art Center, which is where The World Turns With and Without People will be through May 3.
Yasmine Nasser Diaz's "For Your Eyes Only" invites viewers to wrestle with our public-private lives in the Digital Age
Over the course of the past year, art spaces have shifted from in-person to primarily online, marking an enormous—and sometimes challenging—shift in the experience of an exhibition. Though many galleries and museums have now reopened at least partially, one artist’s recent exhibit bypasses concerns about whether to invite bodies into enclosed spaces. In fact, artist Yasmine Nasser Diaz created a space that's intended to be viewed from outside. Her latest exhibition, For Your Eyes Only, featured in the University of Michigan Institute for the Humanities Gallery through April 16, questions the boundaries of public and private space through the inaccessible, room-sized installation, which can be viewed from the street outside the gallery.
With the weather warming, now might be a better time to visit the exhibit than when I first attended in mid-February, when I rushed over on opening day. I was eager to participate voyeuristically, as both someone who has avoided public and private spaces during the pandemic, and a fan of installations that mimic a now-foreign “normal life.”
Since its launch in late May, WSG’s online gallery has hosted seven exhibits, six of which are technically “over."
But they are all still available for viewing on the online exhibitions information page, a benefit not available to latecomers to the gallery's offerings when it had a physical space at 306 S Main Street, which was shuttered in May 2020 when WSG lost its lease.
WSG Gallery's three most recent exhibits offer meditative spaces, addressing the color blue, winter, and light as themes.
Blue, the exhibit featured from November to December 2020, presented works of 14 WSG Gallery Artists and is described on the website as ranging from:
Ann Arbor has innumerable large- and small-scale murals already, but they have new company as the result of a crowdfunded project to bring art to walls and alleys around town.
In July, the Ann Arbor Art Center (A2AC) raised more than $50,000 to commission 10 murals around the city. The fundraiser was through Patronicity, and once the goal was met, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) matched the donations to double the money available to the mural artists. At the onset of the project, 10 artists paired with local business owners on the sites of their future murals. In October, two additional murals were announced, raising the total to 12. This initiative is part of the ongoing A2AC Art in Public program that aims to make art “accessible and equitable to everyone,” relying on community-based donations.
Since the Art Center helped crowdfund two other public murals in the recent past, those have been added to the A2AC Murals Map, which features a walking tour of all the works. Currently, 13 murals are finished, with the 14th debuting sometime in 2021.
Here's a rundown of all A2AC's mural commissions, starting with the two that were preludes to the larger project.
Raqs Media Collective's "The Pandemic Circle" explores how artists share and create during quarantine
On December 1, Raqs Media Collective premiered two new videos as part of an ongoing project titled The Pandemic Circle. This three-part series, curated by STAMPS Gallery’s Srimoyee Mitra, was commissioned by the University of Michigan Stamps Gallery and the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design as part of EXPO CHICAGO’s online adaptation of its previously in-person discussions and events series. The focus this time is on ways in which those working within the arts are changing and adapting their practices to continue making and sharing art amid the pandemic.
The virtual exhibition includes three short films that explore themes of time, space, and routine, and, more. As described on the exhibition page, the works “grapple with the pervasive and dispersed impact on daily routines and relationships with one another, and beyond, in the age of the Coronavirus." The two new videos are paired with 31 Days, created earlier this summer, three months after the pandemic ushered in sweeping quarantines across the globe and changing the flow of daily life. The follow-up films expand upon the members of the Collective’s response to these changes, broader cultural events, and their own worlds.
Ordinary People: UMMA's "Take Your Pick: Collecting Found Photographs" asks us to help curate the everyday
This review was originally published October 8, 2019. We're rerunning it because UMMA just launched a virtual version of this exhibit featuring 250 photographs that visitors selected to enter the museum's permanent collection. View the online exhibit and learn about the history of snap photography here.
In the University of Michigan Museum of Art’s latest photographic exhibit, Take Your Pick, viewers are asked to participate in the selection of images to be added to the permanent collection. UMMA asks us to head to the gallery and look at the 1,000 amateur photographs collected by Peter J. Cohen and decide on our 20 personal favorites. Ballots are available at the entrance of the gallery, with 20 slots to vote for your favorite photographs. On the exhibit's webpage, potential visitors are asked to “Come help build [UMMA's] collection of ‘ordinary’ American 20th-century photographs.” With an emphasis on the word ordinary, the curatorial team is asking viewers to consider how “ordinary” photographs of the 20th century may be reconsidered as objects worthy of preservation and study.
The photographs on display are part of a larger collection of 60,000 snapshots collected by Peter J. Cohen. Cohen acquired his collection by searching through flea markets and buying online. The majority of the images portray candid American life, distilled imagery of private family life: birthday parties, family vacations, school portraits.
Valery Jung Estabrook's hand-sewn exhibit at U-M's LSA Humanities Gallery re-creates an uncomfortable snapshot of a rural American interior
The LSA Humanities Gallery is known for exhibits that raise uncomfortable questions and featuring provocative artworks that cut to the heart of American culture. With its most recent exhibit, *Hometown Hero (Chink): An American Interior, viewers are invited to explore an installation designed by multidisciplinary artist and Paula and Edwin Sidman Fellow in the Arts recipient Valery Jung Estabrook.
Estabrook’s installation is comprised of a life-sized, hand-sewn re-creation of an American interior, which casually anchors iconography of America’s racist past and present against a backdrop of brown, dreary dimness. Jung bases the recreation on her experiences growing up in rural Southwestern Virginia, though the low-wattage lightbulbs and centrally-placed television are instantly recognizable to me as a person who grew up in the rural Midwest, suggesting that Estabrook’s experiences are not unique to the American South. *Hometown Hero (Chink): An American Interior casually and precisely captures rural American life, from the guns mounted on the wall to the La-Z-Boy-style chair upholstered with a Confederate flag. This familiarity is unsettling.
A Thread of Jewels: The 6X collective's "Mistaken for Strangers" fills the A2 Art Center's Gallery 117 with wearable art
The contemporary jewelry-making collective 6X makes interconnected, wearable artworks. The six-member group of Midwesterners explained their approach as part of its February exhibition at the Ann Arbor Art Center: “Ties, which may not consciously be acknowledged at a simple glance, are visible upon further consideration of approaches to concept, material, and process.” Thus, the title of the A2AC exhibit, Mistaken for Strangers, in its Gallery 117 space references the connectedness of their creative processes, which may not be immediately recognized by viewers.
A2AC moved its Gallery 117 from the second to the first floor, allowing easier access for visitors who may have not been able to use the stairs previously. 6X has created a dynamic installation that emphasizes the collective’s desire to form relationships between their varied works. The group accomplishes its goal to visually connect seemingly disparate formal approaches, with two towers of open white boxes standing in the center floor space, each box containing a piece of jewelry, and additional pieces displayed on top of the boxes.
A quote by Nadeem Aslam prefaces the gallery wall text: “Pull a thread here and you’ll find it’s attached to the rest of the world.” The concept of the threads that connect us is enforced visually not only by exhibiting the artists’ disparate works together but also through a two-part installation of white thread. The loom-like threads are suspended between two walls in one corner of the gallery, and a two-panel installation hangs from the ceiling above a series of pedestals displaying the artworks.