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Accomplished Display of Assemblage 'Image + Object' Includes Work by Local, State, and National Artists

By John Carlos Cantu

Ann Arbor News Special Writer, Sunday, November 6, 2005

ANN ARBOR -- Assemblage - the process of combining unrelated objects or scraps of objects into a single work of art - is often considered the most confusing of all modernisms because of its mischievous creativity.

Gallery Project's "Image + Object: Assemblage Art in the 21st Century'' isn't going to do anything to entice the non-enthusiast. But for those who like their aesthetics quite nearly out of control -- and where the only thing missing is a kitchen sink (although there might be one buried around here somewhere) -- this exhibit is a satisfactory antidote to the more sedate arts found in other contemporary galleries.


In fact, "Image + Object" is easily the single most accomplished display of assemblage Ann Arbor has seen recently. And maybe ever.


The lineup is noteworthy for the neo-Dada talent on display. Local specialists include Ann Arbor's John Gutoskey, Frank Pahl and Graceann Warn. Detroit's art scene is represented by Scott Hocking and Clinton Snider. And artists from outside of Michigan are Charlotte, N.C.-based Paul Andrews and Winter Park, Fla.'s John Whipple.


Pahl, whose assemblage last summer was a highlight of the Gallery Project's "Heigh Ho, Hi-Lo: Art You Can Play With,'' returns with nine mechanistic artworks that are melodiously inclined. These assemblages come tunefully alive with a human touch; each Pahl creation is a modified musical instrument.


Andrews, Warn and John Whipple are calm by comparison, but this is only because their work more closely conforms to typical gallery art. These artists subtly mingle their elements in cleverly crafted works that fall somewhere between three-dimensional art and mixed-media painting. Each artist's vision is haunting in its unique way.


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.


Gutoskey's assemblage is glorious with a streak of profundity that repays careful study. "The Metamorphosis of Faith'' consists of 30 boxes filled with odds and ends reflecting theological themes. The nine other Gutoskey assemblages on hand merely confirm that he's one of the most accomplished local artists currently working.


Hocking and Snider's "The Relics Installation'' -- 207 stacked boxes lining the far wall of the gallery -- are stuffed with more dramatic detritus of differing colors, textures, and recycled materials than would seem possible.


From exhaust vents to oversized globes to forgotten children's toys, "Relics'' is grand art on an exhilarating scale. It's also one assemblage of art that should not be missed.


"Image + Object: Assemblage Art in the 21st Century'' will continue through Nov. 23 at Gallery Project, 215 S. Fourth Ave. Gallery hours are noon-9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and noon-4 p.m., Sunday. For information, call (734) 997-7012.

© 2005 Ann Arbor News. Used with permission