Concerns and concepts of space are compelling topics in art, especially with the advent of social practice and activism as forms of expression. Taking art outside of institutions isn’t anything new, the interrogation of the “white cube” gallery space became popular in the 1960’s with the rise of Minimalism. Works were no longer restricted to the wall, they migrated to new spaces and demanded a deeper interaction with the audience. The curatorial foundation of Matter, Matter, Object, Wall is inspired by this decades old premise, presenting works that deal with these familiar concerns that are just as relevant now as they were when they were first explored.
The Minimalist idea of stripping away expressive excess and letting the materials and space evoke a moving experience for the audience is recapitulated in this body of work by various artists — all Cranbrook alumni. The pieces are highly formal and consist primarily of industrial materials, some having an intimate feel to them that plays well off the more impersonal pieces. Investigations of space span from architectural to personal with works that reference domestic space, designed space, and furniture.
Shelly McMahon’s grouping of various pieces takes inspiration from the Design Museum’s 1993 exhibition, Ideal Home. The concept of “good design” is explored through sculptures that come together to mimic a maquette, creating a space where the viewer can enter but never really find a sense of comfort. McMahon’s interest in one’s emotional dependence or bond with a space is evident through hand-constructed items found throughout the staging: an ashtray, sleeping bag, necklace, and a lamp. All the makings of home are present, though that notion is subverted through an alienation of the viewer and even the objects themselves.
While McMahon’s works explore connection with a space, Ruth Koelewyn does the opposite by referencing objects and places that create a feeling of disconnect. Blue Triangles consists of repeating prints of windows that are bathed in the neon blue light of Sky Shape, an accompanying neon sculpture. The prints are aligned in a grid formation, a favored tactic of Sol Lewitt. The repetition of the work is calming and familiar – like home – while at the same time giving off the cold, lonely feel of a cityscape enveloped in the light of signage.
Nadege Roscoe-Rumjahn’s work uses a dialed-down grid structure while retaining a personal, softer edge. Materials and processes often used in fiber are paramount in Roscoe-Rumjahn’s work. They evoke the idea of craft and the human hand, referencing Post-minimalism and its rebellion against the machismo that was inherent in most Minimalist works. North American Wildflowers emphasizes nature and tenderness through imagery of botanicals and techniques of hand-cutting and sewing.
The works of Sophie Eisner also carry on this sentiment. Soft and Heavy (Vignette #5) acts as a hybrid between sculpture and furniture, constructed of fiberboard and fleshy silicone. The modular formation of the silicone component harkens to the works of Eva Hesse, who was known for her material studies. The choice of materials and techniques throughout the show bring to mind ideas of craft and its position in the realm of fine art (which is always a hot, and at this point, worn out debate).
Victoria Bulgakova’s база (baza) elegantly rides the line between craft and fine art with a series of emotionally evocative works. база, translated means “base,” which leads the conversation to ideas of foundation and where one comes from. The objects appear to be manipulated thoroughly by hand, giving them a fragility that isn’t typically attributed to copper. This series encapsulates an idea of what it means to belong, concisely summarizing an overarching concept of the exhibition: what are the roots of creating and viewing art works and how have they, as well as their space, evolved throughout time?
Ideas of privileged space within art are being challenged with happenings such as coalitions rallying against galleries gentrifying neighborhoods (https://hyperallergic.com/314086/anti-gentrification-coalition-calls-for-galleries-to-leave-las-boyle-heights/ ) and museums being called to own up to their exclusionary histories (https://hyperallergic.com/446082/museum-protests-attacks-op-ed/). Is it enough to safely reference past concerns and interrogate them in a safe space? Perhaps it’s time to move beyond the dilemma of the “white cube,” or at least figure out what that has evolved to be in contemporary art.
Artistic engagement can always be more and there’s demand for it to be more (however you wish to interpret that). Matter, Matter, Object, Wall is a fantastic introduction to these ideas of the politics of space and interaction, but in the contemporary artistic climate, it becomes just an echo of the concerns of the 1960’s, which comes off as an overdone, but beautiful gesture.
Visit https://www.annarborartcenter.org/exhibitions/matter-matter-object-wall/ for more information about the curator and artists.