Expected Greatness: UMMA's "The Power Family Program for Inuit Art: Tillirnanngittuq​" shows Ann Arbor's role in popularizing indigenous Arctic art

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Lucy Qinnuayuak, Large Bear

Lucy Qinnuayuak, Large Bear, Cape Dorset, 1961, stonecut and stencil. © Dorset Fine Arts. Promised gift of Philip and Kathy Power. Photography: Charlie Edwards

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"

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Blind House

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. 

Everything flows at Argus Museum's photography exhibit “Water Is Life”

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Beutler's photo Fogged In

Frederick J. Beutler's Fogged In

Leave it to a museum in a city nestled in a state surrounded in three directions by water to appreciate that Water Is Life. For water is most definitely the topic in display in this expansive photographic exhibit winding its way through the Washtenaw County Historical Society's Argus Museum gallery space.

As curator Cheryl Chidester’s exhibit statement pithily tells us, “Five artists from the Ann Arbor Women Artists used their cameras to capture images that show the diversity, beauty and wonder of water” -- and do they ever.

Local photographers Frederick J. Beutler, Travis Erby, Daniela Gobetti, Sophie Grillet, and Sally Silvennoinen bring a special proficiency to their work at the Argus Museum. By way of professional expression and expertise, each of these talented photographers crafts artistry that’s as unique as a visual fingerprint marking their work as uniquely his or hers.

"Guardians of Detroit: Architectural Sculpture in the Motor City" documents the artistry and symbolism during the city's golden age

VISUAL ART WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW

Guardians of Detroit

A collection of guardian faces from various Detroit buildings.

Due to a fortunate confluence of water, geography and entrepreneurial vision, Detroit at the end of the 19th century was poised to experience unprecedented growth. Even before the Ford Motor Company was established in 1903, Detroit was a major industrial center and transportation hub. All this commercial activity and prosperity led to a building boom of incredible proportions at a time when the most popular architectural styles were Beaux Arts, Gothic Revival, Classical Revival, and Art Deco. Each of these styles typically required extensive ornamentation and because of this, Detroit became a treasure trove of architectural sculpture. 

Jeff Morrison’s new book for Wayne State University PressGuardians of Detroit: Architectural Sculpture in the Motor City, documents these incredible features in a city that began as a small frontier fort and quickly grew to become a major metropolis and industrial titan. Morrison will be at Ann Arbor District Library's downtown location on Wednesday, March 27, at 7 pm for a presentation where he'll share more than 100 spectacular close-up pictures of architectural sculpture from throughout the city of Detroit. You will also learn about the symbolism behind the ornamentation and hear some of the untold stories of the artists, artisans, and architects involved in its creation, all drawn from the book. 

Below is a sneak peek of 10 photos from Guardians of Detroit: Architectural Sculpture in the Motor City:

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.

Representation, Now: “Art Now 2019: Painting” at Ann Arbor Art Center

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Judith Bemis' painting Waiting for His Grace

Judith Bemis, Waiting for His Grace, oil on canvas, 60" x 48". Roula David and Judith Bemis at the opening night for Ann Arbor Art Center's “Art Now 2019: Painting” exhibit. Images courtesy Ann Arbor Art Center.

Continuing with the fifth installation of its semi-annual exhibition themes, the Ann Arbor Art Center’s Art Now 2019: Painting illustrates the vitality of this perennial art form in our contemporary arts.

Given the dramatic permutations that some art mediums have experienced in the last century -- fabrics and ceramics come readily to mind -- the transitions that painting underwent are seemingly under the radar. But this statement, of course, is not the case.

After all, it was only a little more than one brief century ago that the fury of expressionism was beginning to be felt in European art. Ultimately, various abstractions were going to rule the cutting-edge roost for all intent and purposes through mid-century to be supplanted by the playful shock of Neo-Dada in the 1950s and then branch into the various -isms that would amaze audiences through the balance of the 20th century.

Representation -- expressive or otherwise -- was always a predominant force in painting that worked itself around these flashier kinds of headliner aesthetics. And as the Art Center’s Art Now 2019: Painting heartily shows us, representations -- expressive or otherwise; particularly portraiture -- are still front and center in the visual arts same as it ever was. 

Joe Bauer's "Robots vs. Aliens" is a multimedia art project, concept album, and mailed mystery tale

MUSIC VISUAL ART PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Robots vs. Aliens

It may sound like a movie title ripe for a Mystery Science Theater 3000 show, but Robots vs. Aliens is the name of a new multimedia art project by Joe Bauer, an Ann Arbor-based musician and co-founder of the North Coast Modular Collective

Produced under Bauer's stage name, Verzerren, Robots vs. Aliens is comprised of a concept album featuring modular synthesizers, illustrations, mailed letters and postcards, and performances at Riverside Arts Center in conjunction with the new exhibition Towards/Past the Future, which explores "technology, society, and identity through the lens of science fiction."

Set 100 years into the future, Robots vs. Aliens tells the story of humans and cyborgs living together, but their equilibrium is disrupted when peaceful dispatches from extraterrestrials are misinterpreted. The robots revolt, aliens invade, at the Earth is devastated. But the remaining humans have a chance at redemption when intercepted messages are sent back in time in hopes that people will read them and make different choices to induce an alternative future. This is where the postcards and letters by Bauer and artist Aaron Graff come into play: participants will receive these documents in the mail over a two-week period with the object of piecing together the story and solving the mystery of how humanity can save itself.

I asked Bauer some questions over email about the inspirations and ideas behind Robots vs. Aliens, which you can also listen to below.

Influence & Appropriation: Carrie Mae Weems at the Michigan Theater

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Carrie Mae Weems photo from her Kitchen Table Series

Carrie Mae Weems in a photo from her Kitchen Table Series. Photo courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago.

“Sometimes we remodel because we’ve been left out.” --Carrie Mae Weems

I guess I would call myself superstitious. At least that’s how I think about it in those moments when I feel like the universe is pushing me in one direction or another.

I went to see Carrie Mae Weems speak on February 14 as a part of the Penny W. Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series. This was my second time in the Michigan Theater in the space of one week and for someone who sees herself as a person of somewhat nerdily pedestrian interests, I find myself off-kilter when I frequent what I think of as a higher-brow spot. I’m more Netflix than Michigan Theater.

Weems, though, is a name that I have come to know through encountering her work here and there -- and then having an I-have-to-know-more-about-this-artist moment, finding again, I am looking at Weems’ work.

Recombinant Tales: Ruth Crowe’s “Storytelling with Photo Infusion and Encaustic” at Gifts of Art

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Ruth Crowe, Storytelling images

Ruth Crowe, clockwise from upper left: Notorious RBG, photo encaustic/image fusion; A Different Kind of Cowboy, encaustic/image fusion; Let's Ride Sister - Put the Fun Between Your Legs, encaustic/image transfer/plaster.

Taken separately, photo fusion and encaustic are interestingly differing forms of art. Taken together, they reflect local artist Ruth Crowe’s wry multimedia Storytelling with Photo Fusion and Encaustic exhibit at the Gifts of Art Gallery in the University of Michigan Hospital main corridor.

Crowe definitely has views she wants to communicate in her art, yet she’s not a polemicist. Rather, she allows for her work to speak for itself. It’s a brave strategy -- and it’s this subliminal perspective that speaks volumes of her views.