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American Icons' in Spotlight: From Sailor Jack to Michael Jackson at Gallery Project

By John Carlos Cantu

Ann Arbor News Special Writer, Sunday, January 29, 2006


"American Icons'' are holding court at Ann Arbor's Gallery Project.

One of two exhibits this season focusing on iconography, this display, like the Ypsilanti Riverside Center Gallery's "Adam and Eve,'' illustrates the use artists make of materials that are meant to be visually "read'' by the audience.


The exhibits are autonomous and, with the exception of a couple of artists who have contributed work to both shows, have little in common. "Adam and Eve'' is disciplined by the 9- by 12-inch vertical format of the individual pieces. The show features more than a hundred interpretations of the Biblical creation parable. What's interesting is how each artist interprets this singular topic.


By contrast, "American Icons'' is all over the creative map. Not only do the artists not agree on anything more than their generalized topic, they don't even necessarily agree on what constitutes an icon. The result is a display that's postmodern in every sense.


This freedom suits the 18 contributing artists just fine. For Gallery Project has, in one year, already defined itself as a cutting-edge arts venue. "American Icons'' does nothing to curb the trend. Its politics and social mores might seem a bit raw, arbitrary or combative in other quarters, but the pointed artistry is quite comfortable here. Consumerism mingles with celebrity. What may have once been kitsch (or even, in some instances, dreck) becomes dignified on its own terms.


Detroiters Scott Hocking and Clinton Snider carry one end of this sensibility forth with 16 assemblage boxes drawn from their seemingly endless "Relics'' series. Hocking and Snider are masters at recycling found objects, and their "Relics'' deal with iconic mass-media materials. Each "Relic'' accents the often ephemeral nature of fame.


Jack Summers' mixed-media tableau "Peaceable NeverNever Land,'' on the other hand, plays images off each other. Ironies abound as pop-culture icons like Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny and even Glinda, the Good Witch of Oz, are set in contrast to others, like Michael Jackson. Summers' knack for color and design dazzles the eye while these signifiers tease the intellect.


Leave it to curator Judith Jacobs to sum up the display. Her "Crackerjack Turns On'' digital print continues her study of this seminal advertising icon. Jacobs has appropriated this classic image in a variety of ways; Sailor Jack lives on as her chosen American icon.


"American Icons'' continues through Feb. 12 at Gallery Project, 215 S. Fourth Ave. Gallery hours are noon-6 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; noon-9 p.m. Friday-Saturday; and noon- 4 p.m. Sunday. 734-997-7012.