East Meets West
By Roger Green
Ann Arbor News Bureau, Sunday, May 08, 2005
The group exhibit "Eastside/Westside" brings together works by artists active in the eastern and western parts of the state - the Detroit and Grand Rapids areas, to be exact. Since the exhibit is framed by that distinction, visitors might expect a face-off based on regional differences, with local concerns arrayed on opposite sides of a divide.
But no such dichotomy marks "Eastside/Westside," the inaugural presentation at Ann Arbor's new Gallery Project, continuing through June 6. Most of the 16 participating artists give expression to independent concerns, outwardly unaffected by place. Many of the works are challenging, even impenetrable. But technical handling is uniformly first-rate, and the artists address rousing ideas.
Gallery Project defines itself as "a fine arts collaborative (whose) mission is to provide a venue for contemporary at that is culturally aware, courageous and thought-provoking."
Managed by 10 core members, the collaborative plans to mount regularly scheduled shows of cutting-edge art. The inaugural exhibit was co-curated by Kristen Beaver and Dan Gay (east side) and Ben Van Dyke (west side).
Of the participating artists, only Grand Rapids painter Stephen Duren - easily the best-known contributor - is exhibiting works specifically tied to place. His naturalistic landscapes and phosphorescent abstractions suggesting landscapes largely draw inspiration from western Michigan
Works by another Grand Rapidian, Michael Pfleghaar, are responses to personal changes in the artist's life. "In the past few years I have taken leaps physically, mentally and emotionally," Pfleghaar writes in his artist's statement. Those anxious leaps find surprisingly strong expression in his highly simplified, somewhat storybook-like oil paintings on paper and board.
Another westside artist, Michelle Bowers, specializes professionally in custom typesetting and publication work. Not surprisingly, she addresses and solves formal problems in two-dimensional constructions. To create her works, Bowers first cut out, then pasted together parts of photos from magazines. The results are elegant and, since the photos sometimes record perspective depth, animated by engaging spatial ambiguities.
Kevin Ewing, representing the east side, probes a conflict in human nature: that between instinctive attraction to elevating, visual beauty and what French people call nostalgia for the mud. Ewing's wall-hung "Pet Helskin" is a sophisticated, minimalist composition, balancing a black and a white rectangle. But each of the rectangles is composed of tacky faux fur - yuk! Viewers might alternately understand the work as contrasting human aspirations with what consumer society affords.
Social criticism is more blatant in the work of Ann Arbor artist Monte (Jacob Montelongo Martinez). His installation "American Addiction" is a scathing indictment of a value system that privileges unilateralism and violence, and that many perceive as the root cause of America's troubles. The installation comprises a number of metal shelves attached to a gallery wall. Lining the shelves are syringes and other emblematic items, among them a football, a flag, family photos, a ski mask and a crucified GI Joe doll. Aligned on the floor are suitcases that may hold explosives.
Subtler and in their way more chilling are enigmatic, mixed-media constructions by east sider Brian Nelson. "Tears for Emily & Cole" is a wheeled, stainless-steel cart. Overspreading its topmost surface are a glass tube of white powder labeled "mother" and seven white cylinders carved from rock salt, each inscribed with the number "18." The work remains a puzzle - and gains expressive strength from openness to multiple readings.
In the end, then, "Eastside/Westside" reveals that, far from taking cues from geography, Michigan artists are gripped by independent concerns, and are pursuing disparate goals. Thank Gallery Project, a welcome addition to Michigan's cultural landscape, for showcasing that diversity.
Gallery Project is at 215 S. Fourth Ave. Hours are noon-5 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, noon-9 p.m. Friday-Saturday, and noon-4 p.m. Sunday. For more information, call (734) 997-7012 or access www.thegalleryproject.com
© 2005 Ann Arbor News. Used with permission