AADL 2020 STAFF PICKS: BOOKS, MUSIC, MOVIES & MORE

2020 Staff Picks

Normally, you might come into the library, talk to someone on staff, get some recommendations, perhaps share a few of your own, and we'd go on our merry ways, content we could engage in a positive social interaction while discussing whatever book, movie, TV show, music, or more that came up.

Art is life and life is people.

But we've not seen most of you since March 13, the last time the Ann Arbor District Library was fully open to the public—and to the staff. While many AADL staffers have returned to the buildings to do important behind-the-scenes work since the summer, many others have been working from home since the closure. And we miss being able to share what we're currently loving not just with patrons but also with each other.

So, to staffers and patrons alike, these are the movies, TV shows, music, books, and more that helped the AADL crew get through 2020. 

Raqs Media Collective's "The Pandemic Circle" explores how artists share and create during quarantine

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Stills from videos in The Pandemic Circle exhibit

Top: video still from Why do they call the answer to a question, a solution? (12 minutes, video, spoken word), 2020.
Bottom: video still from twentyfourbyseven (7 mins, video, calligraphy, text, animation), 2020.

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. 

Objects of Veneration: "Sacred Hands" and other online exhibits at the University of Michigan Library

VISUAL ART WRITTEN WORD

Pages from Hebrew and Coptic manuscripts

Left: This page belongs to a 10th-century manuscript of the Torah or Pentateuch. The Masorah (a set of rules of pronunciation, spelling, and intonation designed to transmit the text accurately) is written in a mashait hand (formal cursive script) and added in the margins and between the columns. Parchment, fols. 151, 210 x 180 mm.
Right: Parchment fragment. Verso. Book of Jeremiah. Sahidic Dialect. White Monastery, Sohag (Egypt), 10th century. Fragments of the same manuscript are kept in London, Manchester, Paris, and Vienna. The images of birds and fish are fairly common in these Coptic manuscripts as exemplified in the decoration accompanying the initial "T" on the left margin of this page. Parchment, 365 x 278 mm.

The introduction to Sacred Hands, a new online exhibit by the University of Michigan Library featuring ancient manuscripts for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, sums up why objects of veneration such as these are important even if none of those religions apply to you:

It seems appropriate to use the term "sacred" to describe the hands that copied the manuscripts containing the texts of the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. However, the meaning of this word transcends the conventional limits of the religious sphere. "Sacred" can also designate what is unique, exclusive, and venerable.

Additionally, so much of our current social and philosophical climate is generated from these old texts that it's impossible to understand the present without studying the past.

Map of the Interior: Sarah Rose Sharp’s "Results or Roses" at U-M Institute of the Humanities Gallery

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Sarah Rose Sharp's Hand of Fate
Hand of Fate, 2019, screen print by Too x Nail, fabric, embroidery thread, charms, beads, etc., 11.5” x 6” x 2.5

During these Covid times, visual artists’ exhibitions have migrated to online locations, with mixed results. For some whose work is photographic or text-based in nature, the effect is hardly noticeable. But for artists making very tactile or three-dimensional work, like the artworks in Detroit artist Sarah Rose Sharp’s Results or Roses at U-M Institute of the Humanities Gallery, much is lost in translation. I felt some guilty delight when the gallery curator, Amanda Krugliak, consented to open the gallery (now temporarily closed to the public during the pandemic) for my visit, but you can still view the exhibit online

Sharp employs traditional needlework and sewing techniques to create a diaristic map of her interior life. The intimately scaled artworks illustrate several different trains of the artist’s thought and share the walls of the gallery and an adjacent vitrine, providing a virtual tour of the artist’s memories, observations, and preoccupations. The overarching intention of the work seems to be located somewhere in the psychic territory between nostalgia and satire. 

U-M's Institute for the Humanities Gallery offers two new exhibits by Detroit artists

VISUAL ART

Sydney G. James and Sarah Rose Sharp

Top: Sydney G. James poses next to her new mural in U-M's Modern Languages Building; next to that image is a portrait from her Watch Me Work exhibition.
Bottom: Sarah Rose Sharp, Target, 2020, fabric, handkerchief, t-shirt salvage, beads, sequins, etc. 10” x 7.5” (unframed, hung from 29” arrow).

Two new exhibits organized by U-M's Institute for the Humanities Gallery don't share much in common other than Sydney G. James and Sarah Rose Sharp are both artists from Detroit. James is a painter and a muralist; Sharp makes fiber-based works.

But when I read James' artist statement, I realized that even though she and Sharp don't share similarities artistically, they both have the need to work through this pandemic, to continue to create in the face of daily challenges that are determined to knock us on our asses. We're all facing this, artist or not. As James writes:

Open Your Eyes: Jaume Plensa's "Behind the Walls" finds a new home at UMMA

VISUAL ART

Jaume Plensa, Behind the Walls

About a month agoShang, the giant metal sculpture by Mark di Suvero, was removed from the entrance area of the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA). It was deinstalled after a 12-year run at UMMA because a private collector bought the on-loan sculpture.

But collectors also giveth, not just taketh away, and J. Ira and Nicki Harris have giventh a sculptureth to UMMAeth to replaceeth Shang.

Behind the Walls, a 25-foot-tall sculpture made of polyester resin and marble dust by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, will now greet visitors at UMMA's entrance. 

Visual Arts Roundup: Catching up with UMMA, Stamps Gallery, Michigan Art Gallery, WSG Gallery, Ann Arbor Art Center, Gutman Gallery, Eat More Tea, Ann Arbor Women Artists, and Riverside Arts Center

VISUAL ART

Shang deinstall at UMMA

Images courtesy of UMMA.

For 12 years, going through UMMA's front entrance was the second thing you did when you arrived at the museum. The first thing was to swing on Shang, the giant metal sculpture by Mark di Suvero.  But a private collector bought the piece and it was deinstalled in early October. UMMA is encouraging folks to share photos of themselves on the swing with the hashtag #GoodbyeShang. Click here to read a great letter from an anonymous visitor who left a laminated letter attached to Shang with magnets; let's hope your experience on the swing has half as revelatory as it was for this fan.

WSG Gallery offers virtual exhibitions and one in-person show at Ann Arbor Art Center

VISUAL ART

WSG exhibit at Ann Arbor Art Center

Ann Arbor Art Center is hosting an exhibition of WSG Gallery artists through Dec. 31. Photo courtesy A2AC.

WSG Gallery's transformation from a Main Street attraction to an online art house continues apace—with some timely dips into physical spaces, too.

The collective created a small pop-up gallery at 401 N. Ann Arbor St. in Saline (Sept. 25- Oct. 2), which was a warm-up to taking over the second floor of the Ann Arbor Art Center from Oct. 6- Dec. 31. This a multi-artist show and the featured works will rotate at Thanksgiving.

But WSG's two most recent virtual exhibitions focus on single artists.

Painter Sara Adlerstein's Not for Sale: My Private Collection exhibition officially ran Aug. 18 to Sept. 28, but WSG is doing the smart thing and keeping all its virtual exhibitions online permanently. The current exhibition is sculptor Francesc Burgos' Recent Work (Sept. 29 to Nov. 7).

UMMA opens three new exhibitions online featuring works from its collection

VISUAL ART

Titus Kaphar's painting Flay (James Madison)

Titus Kaphar, Flay (James Madison), 2019, oil on canvas with nails. Museum purchase made possible by Joseph and Annette Allen. 2019/2.184. From the UMMA exhibition Unsettling Histories: Legacies of Slavery and Colonialism.

Like a lot of museums, the University of Michigan Museum of Art shifted exhibitions online as it became evident the pandemic would be dragging on for the foreseeable future. But versions of both exhibits UMMA posted had already been produced for its galleries: Take Your Pick: Collecting Found Photographs, which ran in Fall 2019 (Pulp review), and Cullen Washington Jr.'s The Public Square, which ran from January 25, 2020, to March 13 when all of Michigan shut down.

And because the coronavirus crisis looks to drag on ad infinitum thanks to the federal government's gross abdication of responsibility, UMMA just moved ahead and produced its fall exhibitions with both online and in-person versions in mind. While there are no in-person opening dates for the three exhibits -- UMMA is working on some kind of staggered, socially distanced protocol that it will announce later -- you can check out all of them right now at umma.umich.edu.

The three exhibits:

Please Don't Yell at David Zinn

VISUAL ART

Sidewalk chalk drawing of Sluggo the frog with Nadine the mouse sitting on his head.

Photo by Rich Retyi.

Interesting things learned during two hours of socially-distanced outdoor conversation with acclaimed illustrator and street artist David Zinn while he created Nadine Hypnotizes a Frog on a commercial property in an undisclosed location within the city limits of Ann Arbor.

PEOPLE YELL AT DAVID ZINN
In our pre-interview text exchange, Zinn revealed that people yell at him sometimes when he’s doing his thing. I think yell might be a strong word for the reaction a security guard or stickler-for-the-rules public servant or art-loathing property owner might throw his way. What’s the word for when someone locks eyes with you after staring curiously at you doing strange stuff on a sidewalk accompanied by a mysterious wooden case full of colorful things and a long pole next to you?

“Having a name on the internet doesn’t mean anything when I’m crouching on the ground,” says Zinn, whose work has been shared throughout social media and covered by Huffington Post, Graffiti Art Magazine, Bored Panda, and more. “I’m lucky a lot of people have a blind spot for weird things happening.”

What Zinn does is technically graffiti. But when it’s done on Ann Arbor city sidewalks, it’s completely legal.

Chapter 106 of Ann Arbor’s city ordinances titled NUISANCES mentions graffiti, along with outdoor storage, trash, dangerous structures, abandoned refrigerators, and parking in a drive-thru lane without making a purchase.

But there’s a sweet, sweet caveat:

“Any mark or marks on any surface or structure made without the prior permission of the property owner and made in any manner, including but not limited to, writing, inscribing, drawing, tagging, sketching, spray-painting, painting, etching, scratching, carving, engraving, scraping, or attaching. Chalk marks on sidewalks are NOT graffiti.” (ALL CAPS mine)

Zinn says Ann Arbor’s specific absolution for chalk is pretty unique. Still, technically, graffiti—and I feel like we’re damn near outlaws.