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"God Show" Presents Varying Points of View

By Roger Green

Booth Arts Writer, Tuesday, September 13, 2005

ANN ARBOR -- Nothing could be more today. The "God Show" arrives at a moment when social and global change threaten many Americans, who couch their longing for sustaining values in conceptions of an omnipotent being.


Many such conceptions find timely expression in the "God Show," a thought-provoking exhibit of works by 24 Michigan and out-of-state artists, at Gallery Project through Oct. 9. Many media -- painting, sculpture, drawing, photography, video and installation art -- are represented in the exhibit. So are conflicting responses to traditional belief systems, from challenging to celebratory.


Unsurprisingly, the deity most artists address is Christian. However, at least one competing religion gets attention, in works that condense the exhibit's opposed points of view. Painter Ed Fraga's "Buddha" is a tranquil landscape including a beatific Gautama Buddha. Sculptor Mike Sivak's "Boodha Bunny" features an enthroned, gold Buddha who evokes Bugs Bunny, with exaggeratedly long, up-pointing ears.


Just what response Spivak means to elicit is unclear. Is his sculpture intentionally blasphemous? Does it poke gentle fun? His "Boodha Bunny" can, along with many works, be variously understood. Like Scripture, itself mired in metaphor, they can mean many things.


Probably the most ambiguous work is Silvia Lucas' photograph "A Flower for a Prayer." In it, a young girl with outstretched arms stands before an altar. The look on her face suggests both religious ecstasy and dementia such as Diane Arbus' portraits often record. Perhaps they're the same?


Ambiguity also colors paintings by Dick Goody and Adrian Hatfield. Goody's "Levitation" appears initially at least to be unserious; using broad, black outlines to describe robotic figures, it suggests a comic-book panel or animated-cartoon still. However, deeper meaning attaches to the central image of a computer user striking keys and causing a recumbent figure to rise. The painting might critique technology for lacking soul, or religious beliefs for having technological explications.


Hatfield's "Transition" combines the painted image of a pre-historic looking bird with a studied arrangement of collage elements -- snippets of printed paper that, cut into graceful shapes and combined, evoke the bird in distilled, decorative form. Scrutiny shows that the snippets come from the Book of Genesis ("In the beginning ..."). So ought the viewer understand "Transition" as a put-down of creationism as truth? In his artist's statement, Hatfield describes his attraction to wallpaper design such as the curvy collage elements reproduce, on the grounds that it simplifies chaotic nature into repeatable patterns.


Other works are unambiguous celebrations of Christian faith. Some artists, among them painters Warren Hecht and Renata Palubinskas, treat traditional subjects. Hecht, a Roman Catholic deacon, portrays "St. Michael Guards the Gates of Eden" in an urgent, faux-naive style, with thick, ribbed applications of paint. Palubinskas' "Adam and Eve" triptych is, by contrast, thinly and meticulously painted in the manner of Northern Renaissance art.


Meticulous, too, are pencil portraits by Armin Mersmann, whose near-photographic rendering of hair and wizened skin is uncanny. Of note is his "Occasional Angel," who might be an aged biker save for his wings and kind, penetrating eyes.


The apparent point here, as in other works on view, is that God is omnipresent. God's presence is also evoked in Rocco De Pietro's "My Juju," a collection of stones gorgeously patterned with mineral streaks, and in Gloria Pritschet's "Evidence of the Impossibility of the Fall," a color photograph of a morning glory.


Two additional works, by Joelle Spencer-Gilchrist and Joel Pelletier, unambiguously affirm Christian values. Spencer-Gilchrist's "Martyrdom" is an outsize jigsaw puzzle whose wooden pieces, assembled, portray bloodied, religious martyrs cast into a fire. The rear of each removable piece is lettered with the daunting challenge, "Would You Die for Your Beliefs?"


Pelletier's accusatory painting, "American Fundamentalists: Christ's Entry into Washington in 2008," actually is more political than religious. It updates the Belgian painter James Ensor's phantasmogorical "Christ's Entry Into Brussels in 1889," but more pointedly identifies individuals Pelletier sees as contemporary, American betrayers of Christ's teachings.


A sea of identifiable portraits fills the foreground of the painting which, in the artist's words, "depicts current American religious, corporate and political fundamentalists and their lackeys ..." The red "nuclear" sky and the presence of snipers evoke New Orleans.

© 2005 Ann Arbor News. Used with permission