Gallery Project marks its 1st birthday
By Roger Green
Ann Arbor News, Sunday, July 09, 2006
Gallery Project, the downtown Ann Arbor showcase for contemporary art, celebrates its first anniversary with the group exhibit "Experiments,'' featuring works by gallery artists mostly from the Detroit area. Paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs and one conceptual piece fill the lively show, which continues through July 30.
In fact, the conceptual piece, Andrew Thompson's "A Month of Uniforms'' (more on that to come) is the only contribution that might be considered experimental. Still, the exhibit is zealously today. Many works in more traditional media treat provocative, timely ideas. Some presumably unintended dialogues between artists' works further enliven the show.
That's the case with sculptors Brian Nelson and Mike Richison, both of whom contrast what's industrially manufactured with what's alive. Nelson is showing big, machine-perfect constructions of fabricated and welded steel. Respectively, a funnel and a perforated drum constitute "Dysfunctional Theory, swallowing cognition (for Emily Dickenson)'' and "Revisiting McCarthy (ism) (The Death of Charlie, Jim and Joseph).'' Sterile and geometric, the sculptures menacingly evoke weapons and those toxic devices used in hospitals to fight cancer. By omission, the sculptures suggest feeble flesh.
Richison's "Double Vestigial'' is composed of discarded plastic items - baskets, containers, fan casings, toys - colored in the primary hues and black and gray. According to the artist's statement, the "voided usefulness'' of the items explains the title "Vestigial.'' Yet ironically, the interlocking assemblages of plastic parts seem organic, even anthropomorphic.
As would be expected, many works critique society and government policies. Jack Summers' inkjet prints are satirical posters for two made-up films. Rocco DePietro's relief sculpture "Survivors'' pieces together scraps of found metal to portray innocent victims of war. Photographer Gloria Pritschet is showing "The Silenced Heart and Mind that War Requires of Us,'' in memory of Patrick R. Scully, 1944-1968. It's a frieze-like arrangement of more than 100 black-and-white photographs, affording a panoramic view of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington.
Some works recall Salvador Dali's and others' surrealism. Ken Brown's "Ancestors'' are hanging, carved-wood sculptures whose undulating, biomorphic shapes suggest prehistoric birds and fish. Painter Matt Gorden's dreamlike "Physical Marconi'' portrays a golf course peopled with unlikely characters, among them a shapely female in a bikini, Jesus Christ and a male figure in a grotesque monster mask.
"Physical Marconi'' is laden with visual symbolism that's not always accessible. What seems important in light of the title's reference to Gugliemo Marconi - father of wireless communication - is the fact that Gordon's figures avoid each others' eyes, and thus fail to communicate. The device, used to effect by painters such as Balthus and the surrealist Delvaux, contributes to the painting's unreal mood.
Recommending Brown's and Gordon's works is unusually skillful technical handling. That's a quality distinguishing other works, including some with diametrically opposed formal properties. Both Dan Gay's sumi ink and acrylic "Pet'' and Lisa Steichmann's mixed-media "Transition/Don't Go'' - it's a landscape, seemingly enduring an ice storm - are loose and gestural. By contrast, collages by Michelle Bowers and painted plastic boxes by Bobby Campbell and Jim Cogswell are tight and precise.
Finally, Andrew Thompson's conceptual "A Month of Uniforms'' is in a class by itself. Displayed in the basement, the work features two metal racks of men's clothes, accompanied by a screen showing slides of the artist wearing 30 different outfits from the racks, on 30 successive days.
According to Thompson's statement, "A Month of Uniforms'' explores and manipulates how stimuli affect remembering. Because before the first day the outfits had not been worn, they were free of associational baggage - that is, of remembered activities and feelings. Each outfit could thus attract a new set of memories, which in theory at least could be unlocked with re-wearing. Outsiders, aware to varying degrees of the process, were encouraged to explore their own inner/outer parameters.
About the merits of "A Month of Uniforms'' viewers can decide for themselves. But the conceptual project breaks new ground, and that's what Gallery Project is about. Its first anniversary will be followed by many, one hopes.
Gallery Project is at 215 S. Fourth Ave. Hours are noon-9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and noon-4 p.m. Sunday. For information, call 734-997-7012.