“Matter, Matter, Object, Wall” @ Ann Arbor Art Center

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.

Advertisements

Nancy Mitchnick & Ryan Debolski @ the Center for Visual Arts

Painting and photography are two different (and at one point competing) media with the same objective: to capture a moment. Nancy Mitchnick and Ryan Debolski, who both have work on display at the Center for Visual Art’s galleries, capture moments of disruption, decay, and formation.

Mitchnick depicts images of domestic structures in various states, showing landscapes both constructed and natural. Debolski uses the camera to capture images of isolation and vulnerability that are unmistakably masculine, though they embody the opposite of what we’ve been conditioned to consider as such. These separate shows share a connection through the histories of their chosen methods and also through ideas of transition.

Mitchnick’s large scale paintings focus on houses, using muted tones that are extremely pleasing and evoke feelings that are reminiscent of David Lynch’s signature unsettling 1950’s aesthetic. That nagging feeling that something lies beneath even though all appears fine on the surface. Large swatches of pinks, blues, and expressive brush strokes only add to this eerily calm aura.

IMG_5328
Triptych of paintings, Nancy Mitchnick

The paintings as a whole can be seen as linear, there is a before, during, and after. Starting with a scene of nature and ending with a house in a state of irreversible wreckage. The triptych of trees, abundant with brush-y marks and greens gives us a scene that nature regularly intervenes on – think of the change of the seasons. We don’t give this a second thought because it’s expected. This acts as a contrast to the disruptions occurring in the other paintings where the changes don’t seem all that predictable.

Flux is a constant state in life and both Mitchnick and Debolski confront us with this truth in their work. While Mitchnick shows us a break down in structures, Ryan Debolski’s series of photographs present us with the formation and construction of relationships, both personal and environmental.

Construction sites and building materials, rendered in black and white, give a sense of potential and also a sense of static; the disruption of construction zones is well known to many commuters. Compositions in several of the works are arranged so that attention is on the giant pieces of machinery, the extensions of the workers hands that form the sites as they dig, lift, and roll. Raw materials and machinery carry baggage, but at the same time also carry a universal meaning due to the people who control them and the structures they end up erecting.

IMG_5333
Set of four photographs, Ryan Debolski

In contrast to the cold machinery and materials are scenes of men, most likely workers, enjoying themselves on a beach. Images of bodies interacting – despite being dragged about – evoke a tender feeling, complimented by the image of a snake being released from a plastic water bottle. An ubiquitous masculine symbol being affected by a simple act of kindness. The emphasis in these works isn’t on the energy, movement, or symbols, but on ideas of isolation and the formation of relationships.

These two artists’ works are about shifting focus to what lies beneath, to give us insight on what is not always apparent at first glance. When thought about together the tension between photography and painting is unavoidable, adding another layer of complexity to these two separate bodies of work. Both these artists succeed in pausing life’s constant movement and allow us a moment to contemplate it.

 

Nancy Mitchnick’s work is on view in the CVA’s Main Gallery until October 6th. Ryan Debolski’s Break is on view in the Clement Gallery until October 31st. There will be a reception during the Third Thursday Loop on September 21st from 6-8PM. For more information please visit http://www.utoledo.edu/al/svpa/art/galleries/.

“Nature Morte,” Joanna Manousis @ River House Arts

In contemporary society the argument of what is real and what is fake focuses primarily on technology. Are we talking to a real person or a computer generated bot? Is that a hologram or an actual performer on the stage? Joanna Manousis explores this classic dichotomy through sculptures made of cast glass, bronze, and mixed media.

Glass is a material that defies many assumptions and occupies dual spaces; it is both a liquid and a solid, at times hard and at other times malleable. Nature Morte presents us with dualities that range from nature versus artifice and copy versus original in order to challenge the viewer to consider whether they’re actually seeing or just merely looking.

Reflection is a recurring aspect in the work. The use of reflective surfaces that shine and images of mirrors drive home the idea of image and vanity, whether it’s a literal reflection of the viewer’s image or the idea of cultivating and manicuring an identity. Is what we see actually what’s really there? Real/Artifice consists of seemingly identical mirrors that offer two different reflections while Veil, an ornate mirrored shield form, offers a fragmented look at ourselves and the surrounding space.

There’s always a barrier between the viewer and the work. The two hand mirrors can’t be held, a taxidermy peacock is settled behind the bars of a cage, and even glass pears hang suspended in bottles. The work is beautiful, displaying a level of finish and craft that inspires a sense of awe and ethereality. These aspects bring forth a lushness that is also echoed in the objects used within the work: a peacock, glass cut and polished to resemble diamonds, and clean natural wooden stands. The high level of craftsmanship is repeated in metaphor through Reaching an Ulterior Realm, which features mirrored glass balloons that pass for the cheap mylar ones seen in every “get well” basket. The balloons appear to be deflated and are accompanied by arrows. There’s a suggestion of archery, a feat that requires precision and practice, that never actually happened but was staged. Everything is meticulously placed but succeeds in luring the viewer to believe it’s been plucked from the wild, natural world and not created by an artist’s hand.

IMG_4856
Reaching an Ulterior Realm, Glass, bronze

This is what makes the work interesting – it comes so close to looking like the thing it’s mimicking. In the end that doesn’t matter because it’s not about fooling the viewer into thinking they’re looking at glittering gems or actual pears and pigs’ feet, it’s about offering a chance for contemplation on what these objects mean outside of their original context: are you just looking at it or are you actually seeing what is there?

 

Nature Morte is on view at River House Arts until June 17th. For more information on the artist and their work visit www.joannamanousis.com. Please visit http://river-house-arts.com/ for more information on this and upcoming exhibitions.