Dennis Jones’ Candyland at the University of Michigan North Campus Research Complex Rotunda is for those who like to have a little contact high to go along with their art.
A 2014-2018 14 masterwork concoction crafted by this adjunct faculty at Detroit’s College for Creative Studies, Candyland is a full-throttled exploration of post-painterly art whose graffiti-inspired abstraction is more than enough to push your glucose level beyond its prescribed limit.
The cosmologist Carl Sagan once said, “A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.” His comment admirably describes the lively spirit that animates Beyond Words: A Celebration of Book Arts in 2018 at WSG Gallery through November 24. The exhibit, curated by Ann Arbor artist Barbara Brown, continues an ongoing series -- this is its eighth iteration -- devoted to the art and craft of book-making by artists in the Great Lakes region.
Beyond Words is a noisy little show. The gallery’s atmosphere brings to mind a lively coffee shop filled with convivial patrons rather than the dusky silence of a library. These books have a lot to say, they are saying it out loud and no one is saying, “Shhhh!” There are tunnel books, books with video components, boxed scrolls, tiny suitcase books, books set to music. There’s even a book of poetry made of old tires. Brown says, “I feel like I’ve created an impromptu happening because the works have sound and light and movement.”
The offbeat, thoughtful, melodic, and often hilarious music of They Might Be Giants clearly suits a town like Ann Arbor, and the band seemed to treat Wednesday’s show as a bit of a homecoming.
“We are super excited to be back at the beautiful Michigan Theater, our home away from home here in Ann Arbor,” co-leader John Flansburgh said early in the show. “I’m a little disappointed that like nine-tenths of the used bookstores have closed.” After wondering aloud about a possible Wikipedia edit and noting someone in the audience would probably make the change before the night was out, he added, “I have a sneaking suspicion we are performing for some of the highest-SAT-scoring individuals among our fan base.”
The flattery was hardly necessary, as the adoring crowd was fully engaged for every note of the nearly three-hour show. Flansburgh and co-leader John Linnell have always made a great partnership, with complementary personalities and voices that blend in a perfectly geeky harmony.
Love Has a Thousand Shapes is an intimate look at the works of five artists, curated by Andrew Thompson. In the exhibition announcement, the exhibition’s inspiration is cited as having come from Virginia Woolf’s character Lily Briscoe in To the Lighthouse. The name of the exhibition draws from the text itself, in which the phrase described her art-making was an act of love itself. The exhibition, a partnership between Literati Bookstore and the Ann Arbor Art Center, draws inspiration from literary allegories, the announcement also referencing Kurt Vonnegut’s Bluebeard in which a character creates “his final painting, a masterwork of love.” The work in the exhibit explores love “between lovers, friends, family, and with pets, places, and the past. The act of making artwork can be considered an act of love in and of itself.”
With the selection of only five artists, viewers are allowed a more in-depth look at a single artists’ work.
UMMA’s exhibition Beyond Borders: Global Africa extends a conversation recently addressed in Unrecorded: Reimagining Artist Identities in Africa. The newer exhibit asks the audience to consider the roles of contemporary artists, as the subtitle Global Africa suggests, along with a reconceptualization of previously narrow definitions of “African art” or “African artists.” UMMA director Christina Olsen states that the pieces on display, many of which belong to UMMA, “ask questions about what it means to be an ‘African’ artist and make ‘African’ art.” Included in the show are photographs, paintings, installations, and sculptures. This exhibition includes “approximately 40 works of art drawn from UMMA's African art collection and from private and public holdings around the world, including the eminent Contemporary African Art Collection assembled by Jean Pigozzi of Geneva, Switzerland.”
Theatre Nova continues a season of World and Michigan premieres with the first Michigan staging of Shem Bitterman’s meditation on creativity, ambition, and aging, The Stone Witch.
The title refers to a children’s book by a young but struggling children’s book author and illustrator. Peter Chandler has the talent but is unable to sell himself or his cherished first book, based on an old folktale told by his mother.
An editor at a prestige publisher offers Chandler a deal. They’ll consider his book if he can help them encourage their famous star children’s book writer and illustrator to finally break through and end a 12-year-long creative block.
I was in Houghton Lake a few weeks ago with my guy when I turned to him and said, “We should do an apple cider crawl.” And then I trailed off.
I’m used to taking on weird projects alone or dragging along my son who depends on me for food and shelter and has little leverage to say no. I don’t usually involve other adults in my shenanigans. I wasn’t shut down immediately, so I continued, “We could visit the cider mills in Washtenaw County.”
He responded, “That would be more like a marathon.”
The following weekend, we decided to embrace fall by chasing apple cider.
When you put two middle managers together, there is little that unfolds without a plan, so we identified our targets: Dexter Cider Mill; Wiard’s Orchard, Cider Mill, and Pumpkin Farm; Wasem Fruit Farm; Jenny’s Farm Stand and Cider Mill; and Alber Orchard and Cider Mill. We wanted to end our trek close to where we’d land for the evening -- in this case, Ypsilanti -- so we plotted out our route in advance. We wanted our travels orderly.
Friday afternoon we picked my son up from school, planning to hit the road from there. He takes one look at us, “Did you plan that?” He’s looking at our clothes. Realizing that he is the only one not wearing a plaid shirt. He teases us, “Can we stop home so that I can change?” We don’t stop home. We head straight to I-94.
Stamps Gallery’s Have We Met? Dialogues on Memory and Desire explores the artworks of political and social groups that have helped shape Ann Arbor. Curated by Srimoyee Mitra, the large gallery is packed with posters, paintings, digital art, sculptures, installations, video, and spaces for visitors to sit and research social movements and histories represented by the artists. The exhibit takes the gallery space into question, with installations that invite viewers to physically engage with their surroundings throughout the gallery.
The exhibition specifically draws from social movements in Ann Arbor, such as the anti-war and civil rights movements, and the experimental art collective The Once Group. Have We Met? features materials from University of Michigan’s Labadie Collection and the Bentley Library, in addition to “radical artworks by diverse, multigenerational artists and designers whose works are deeply influenced by the ideas of freedom and self-determination; rewriting canonical accounts of history.”
In the summer of 2011, Lauren London, now general counsel at Eastern Michigan University, brought together a troupe of unpretentious and fun-loving thespians who created the Penny Seats Theatre Company. The idea was to offer theater tickets that were about the price of movie tickets, affordable for all, echoing the penny seats available to Elizabethans who came to shows at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre.
After opening its first production at the bandshell in West Park, Penny Seats performed in assorted venues, outdoors and in, including a restaurant, a church, and the rehearsal room of a theater -- but never in a theater. They struggled with imperfect acoustics and limited equipment, becoming more technically savvy each season. And each season, Penny Seats did more and better productions. Now, they do four-show seasons that include summers in the park.
Over the years, the company produced musicals, dramas, comedies, and cabaret shows, including some original works, such as Joseph Zettelmaier’s The Renaissance Man. Horror was on the menu, too, last October, with Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, and in the park last summer with Zettelmaier’s The Gravedigger and the musical based on Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein.
There was no thought of making a habit of horror. Then Zettelmaier had an idea, which he presented to London and the rest of the board.
At one point during Thursday night’s sold out, joyous on-stage conversation with Grammy, Tony, and Oscar award-winning songwriting team Benj Pasek and Justin Paul -- who met and started writing songs together when they were U-M musical theater students (’06) -- surprise guest moderator Darren Criss (Glee) stated what many of us were thinking: “Collectively, we’re a Michigan EGOT.”
Yes, Criss (’09) arrived in Ann Arbor fresh off his Emmy win for The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, while Pasek and Paul came to promote a newly released novelization of their hit Broadway show, Dear Evan Hansen.
But the nearly two-hour event, presented by Literati Bookstore at U-M’s Rackham Auditorium, mostly felt like a chance to crash a reunion of really talented, witty friends who’d also, along the way, perform a few songs and a short reading.