WSG Gallery's "The World Turns With and Without People" and "Silence and Breezes" explore nature and, sometimes, humans

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Cathryn Amidei, Permission to Exit IV

Cathryn Amidei, Permission to Exit IV, handwoven with cotton, rayon, and polyester threads

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. 

Theatre Nova’s Zoom play series continues with "Mortal Fools" by Ann Arbor playwright Catherine Zudak

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Theatre Nova, Zoom Play of the Month graphic

The Goldilocks Principle, though not regularly cited in reference to storytelling, can nonetheless be maddening for those who build narratives.

For how does a writer determine, in each scene, what’s too much information (thus bogging things down and killing suspense) and what’s too little (leaving audiences confused and frustrated)? How do you consistently land upon what feels “just right”?

It’s a notoriously tough needle to thread—particularly within the tight parameters of a 30-minute Zoom play—and this notion was something I thought about often while watching the third and newest entry in Theatre Nova’s Play of the Month series, Mortal Fools, by Ann Arbor-based playwright Catherine Zudak. (The live performance recording of Fools may be viewed—along with the first two entries in Theatre Nova’s Zoom play series, Jacquelyn Priskorn’s Whatcha Doin? and Ron Riekki’s 4 Genres—with the purchase of a $30 series pass, which also covers admission for the fourth and final play in the series, Morgan Breon’s The W.I.T.C.H., scheduled to be performed April 28 at 8 pm) 

Yasmine Nasser Diaz's "For Your Eyes Only" invites viewers to wrestle with our public-private lives in the Digital Age

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Yasmine Nasser Diaz's "For Your Eyes Only"

Photo by Juliet Hinely, U-M Institute for the Humanities.

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.”

UMS's stage-film hybrid production of "Some Old Black Man" explores race and generational conflict

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Wendell Pierce and Charlie Robinson in UMS's Some Old Black Man. Photo by Doug Coombe.

Wendell Pierce and Charlie Robinson in UMS's production of Some Old Black Man. Photo by Doug Coombe.

This review originally ran on January 19, 2021. We're featuring it again because UMS is streaming "Some Old Black Man" for free March 1-12, 2021, but you have to register for the screening here.

The closer we are to someone, the more likely we are to engage in picayune arguments that quietly scratch at, and chafe against, far deeper issues.

Which is to say, a family clash about what to eat for breakfast—a conflict that kicks off early in the recently streamed University Musical Society theater production of James Anthony Tyler’s two-hander Some Old Black Man—is often about something else entirely.

In the case of NYU literature professor Calvin Jones (Wendell Pierce) and his ailing, 82-year-old father, Donald (Charlie Robinson)—who’s just been relocated from his home in small-town Mississippi to Calvin’s posh Harlem penthouse—a conflict about a yogurt parfait strikes notes of really being about control, and conflicting generational perspectives, and blackness, and ego, and masculinity.

That is an awful lot for a soupy bowl of granola and fruit to carry.

But Tyler understands that to mine down to the heavy, hard-to-face stuff, humans inevitably have to start the process by hacking away at nonsense for a while—with absurdly tiny pickaxes.

Misfortune & No Wealth: Soul band The 24-Carat Black was discovered in Ann Arbor and recorded its 1973 underground classic in Ypsi

MUSIC WRITTEN WORD REVIEW

The 24 Carat's Ghetto: Misfortune's Wealth album cover

The long-running 33 1/3 book series devotes each volume to the study of one classic album’s creation, impact and essence, and recent entry number 152 concerns an album made in Ypsilanti nearly 50 years ago. Author Zach Schonfeld relates the messy tale of quixotic ambition that birthed an album unknown but not unheard, commercially unsuccessful but the backbone of big hits for other artists: The 24-Carat Black's Ghetto: Misfortune’s Wealth.

Released by Stax Records in 1973, the album was the brainchild of Detroit native Dale Warren, a classically trained violinist who began his career arranging songs for Motown before migrating south to the funkier climes of Memphis. Employed by Stax, Warren’s talent for conducting helped build the lush, string-cushioned vibes of Isaac Hayes’ most iconic works along with other classic records of the R&B/soul label’s late era.

Warren composed his own ambitious set of socially conscious songs with the aim of producing a concept album about inner-city poverty, so he scouted for talent. At a University of Michigan frat party he discovered a nine-piece band of high school kids from Ohio with chops beyond their years. The band was re-christened The 24-Carat Black, an album deal was secured from Stax, and they headed for the legendary Morgan Sound studio in Ypsilanti to make a record.

Catching up with WSG Gallery's "Blue," "Winter Show," and "Something About the Light" exhibits

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Takeshi Takahara, Out of the Mud II

Takeshi Takahara, Out of the Mud II, multiple color intaglio and woodcut with mica printed on Japanese paper. From the WSG Gallery exhibition Something About the Light.

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:

Review: "Story Word Sound Sway" exhibit at Stamps Gallery

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Wes Taylor, Ann Arbor Undercommons

Wes Taylor (BFA ’04), Ann Arbor Undercommons, 2020, Installation detail. Lead Archivist Jamall Bufford with assistance from Athletic Mic League. Photo by Nick Beardslee.

The MFAs and BFAs produced each year by the nation’s academic art programs far exceed the ability of the art establishment—fine art galleries, museums, collectors, and the like—to absorb them.

What happens to all those aspiring and hopeful young creatives upon graduation?

How do contemporary artists pay rent and continue to work in a world that doesn’t reliably support them financially?

The Story Word Sound Sway exhibit at Stamps Gallery from now until February 28 provides a provocative answer of sorts. 

IS/LAND's "In Isolation Pt.1 - SYNODIC" performance video explores the subtleties of change

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

IS/LANDS, still from In Isolation Pt. 1 - SYNODIC

It's fitting that J. Amber Kao is listed as "mover" in the website bio section of IS/LAND, a performance collaborative comprised of Asian Pacific Islander American and Asian artists. Yes, she's a dancer, but as shown in the performance video "In Isolation Pt. 1 - SYNODIC," it's movement that matters most, not a prescribed notion of dance. 

Recorded last year in Saginaw Forest before the leaves changed, Kao and fellow Ann Arborite Chien-An Yuan (aka Jienan Yuan) created this video and soundtrack as a "meditation reflecting on both the passage of time and the nature of change—embodied in the dancer’s movement between, around, and within the changing sunlight."

Accompanied by Yuan's ghostly soundtrack, Kao cuts a hypnotizing figure among the tall trees, her movements so slow and controlled that you might think it's a camera trick. While the choreography is for a solo performer, Kao's active dress makes it a duet. The billowy garment almost looks like a special effect, with its horizontal lines implying a landscape, or even a face, its colors syncing with the washed-out greens and blown-out backlighting. But even when Kao bounces the dress, it looks like she has perfect dominion over the fabric's movement, leading the raiment through the dance like a patient teacher.

Over the course of nearly five minutes, it's easy to be transfixed by Kao and ignore her surroundings, but on subsequent viewings, you'll see how the video's contrast subtly changes. While Kao's movements stay in a tight radius, time slides up the path toward her as the colors move from pale to saturated, the backlight dimming with time, the foreground becoming more and more vibrant. Yuan's quivering drone accompaniment is occasionally punctured by a treated piano chord, which introduces a sharp video edit that indicates the next stage of the forest's evolving hues. 

It's the perfect video for January, when we're huddling inside our homes, hiding away from the season's browns and grays, waiting to glide in tandem with the verdant world once again.

Michigan Art Gallery's "Her Joyful Eye" is a calming exhibition of paintings by late U-M prof Mignonette Yin Cheng

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Mignonette Yin Cheng, #106 Landscape

Mignonette Yin Cheng, #106 Landscape, 40 1/4 x 30 1/4” acrylic and gouache on paper, undated.

If there's ever been a season that’s needed contemplative art, this is it.

Ypsilanti's Michigan Art Gallery has mounted an exhibit that's meant to give us this reflective opportunity.

Mignonette Yin Cheng: Her Joyful Eye, currently on display in-house at the Michigan Gallery—and accessible online—illustrates the fact that contemplation doesn't come by easily. It has to be earned.

As seen in this late University of Michigan art professor emerita's comprehensive retrospective, contemplation took Cheng a lifetime of effort. Based on the evidence at hand, not only was it a matter of artistic discipline but also an iron-clad disposition. There's a cool detachment to Chen's art that focuses her viewer’s eye on the minute observations she makes in her composition.

As the Michigan Gallery's gallery statement tells us, “Born in 1933 near Amoy, China, Cheng received her first training at the Russian Academy of Arts in Shanghai learning traditional Chinese drawing and painting techniques. Arriving in the United States in 1955, her style of painting evolved into a vibrant, gestural expression of her unique background and cultural influence.”

A guide to the Ann Arbor Art Center's Art in Public Places murals project

VISUAL ART REVIEW

A2AC Murals Map

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.