Experiments @ Gallery Project
By Nick Sousanis
June 28, 2006
It’s true, this publication was a bit of a late comer in discovering Gallery Project, but since making that initial visit, we’ve been intrigued by each viewing.
This column hasn’t always ventured out so far, but with all the Detroit artists appearing here, it feels a bit like home. Gallery Project’s sharp, hip space has featured a strong series of thematic group shows, always showing a healthy respect and emphasis on the art first. The mix of artists from different environments and backgrounds, but with a similar level of quality, has made for consistently good viewing. For their one year anniversary, the gallery has brought together a number of artists who participated in some way during the gallery’s first year (though by no means all or even most) under the theme of “Experiments.” It’s a broad enough theme to encompass everything from artists addressing the idea of experimentation to those truly challenging their own boundaries in this work.
“Experiments” is Brian Nelson, whose work in fabricated and welded steel and other materials references the sterile quality of the medical laboratory, as he uses such imagery as metaphors for social commentary. It’s Matt Gordon’s richly detailed landscape with odd, often recognizable inhabitants (like fellow C-Pop exhibitor Renata Palubinskas, also in the show) who feel as if part of some twisted experiment. Gordon goes one further providing 3-D glasses to view one painting adding to its depths quite literally. It’s Ed Fraga loosening up his meticulous painting hand, and playing with symbolism and more primitive figuration.
Experiments is Kristin Beaver, fresh from her solo show at Meadow Brook (and numerous others), offering up a few signature cat paintings, and a new thing – slices of her reference photos mounted under the magnifying glass of found paper weights. A different path for her, but nicely complementary to her more established body of work. No doubt information gained from this will play back into the paintings as well. Nearby sits a single painting by former Detroiter Peter Williams with a cubist like portrait recently on view at his solo show at Paul Kotula Projects.
The gallery has consistently put their basement space to interesting and effective use. This time it’s recent Cranbrook grad Andrew Thompson with a slide show featuring him wearing a different set of clothes which we’re told he constructed each day before going to work. He’s included all thirty outfits as well which all have the utility and non-descript look of resistance fighters in the Matrix when not jacked into the program and their supercool togs. Gallery Project collaborator Gloria Pritschet shares the space with a series of individual photos each documenting a segment of the Vietnam War Memorial. Strung together horizontally along the room, these photos capture the massiveness of the wall and the unthinkable enormity of the loss of life yet the individual, discrete images offer a more intimate experience than taking it all in at once.
Each visit to the gallery has provided some moments of truly striking imagery or novel concept (from Adrian Hatfield’s oceanscape to Rollin Beamish’s cloudscape to Jonathan Keller’s netscape) and this exhibition does not disappoint in this regard as well.
Lisa Steichmann modifies a large print black and white photograph (taken with plastic camera) with paint and sand to great effect to create an image that is at once a quite real and solid depiction of a tangle of tree trunk and at the same time the image is illusory, almost dreamlike, more metaphor than substance. It’s powerful in its stillness.
Ken Brown’s carved wooden forms, hanging mobile-like, are prehistoric bird skeletons, the skull of a baleen whale. Elegant and graceful forms, they appear as something real and ancient and yet fanciful and quite modern compositions. Suspended as such, they make for a delightful presentation.
The gallery’s back space is often devoted to a single installation, and this time Mike Richison gets the nod with two dual constructions made from children’s toys and plastic appliances. They could be seen as organisms – a slithering jabberwocky of many parts or perhaps hover bikes from Star Wars. As such, we might imagine riding on seat or saddle upon this fantastic creation. Handles from the original components serve as landing gear of sorts, and sections of plastic fans become wheels or we might see all of these are legs. The back of a television is a thruster or a rear end. The title of the two forms, “Double Vestigial” speaks to the this aggregation of parts, all of which have lost their original function but remain recognizable for what they once were and carry some connotations along as well. It’s a wildly imaginative chimera, which Richison complements with his series of drawings chronicling the development and evolution of the piece – all an experiment which we the viewer get to be in on.
Finally we come to Dick Goody’s large vertical painting “Sentimental or Ruthless.” (Past words on Goody here.) In a gallery space filled with all sorts of objects large and small on the walls and off the floors, this thing stands out boldly and knocks you over. In his manner of serious cultural critique, one which he never takes too seriously, he’s scrawled upon it the words “real,” “lush,” and “sexy,” and “magical world.” These are excellent descriptors of the vertically split painting, featuring respectively a lush painted female’s top, on top, and umm, bottom, on bottom. Goody’s figuration is simple and loose, yet with enough realism and solidity to be quite convincing. To paint, is to create a magical world on canvas, and Goody pulls it off brilliantly here. Subject matter aside (though with a T&A painting can we really say that?), even in the abstract these compositions of curves are enticing – we can’t help but look – it’s deep-seated survival programming. From Paleolithic fertility figures to Internet porn, a curve of a thigh or a breast strikes a certain, inescapable chord. Additionally Goody brings in grand color, figures drenched in an intense gradation of blue-green that permeates, or perhaps radiates on a frequency so as to attract our gaze as a hummingbird might be drawn to a particularly nectarlicious flower. A terrific accomplishment and I for one, look forward to seeing an entire body of paintings in this vein.
So Gallery Project turns one, and having built such a strong base from the ground up in this first year, year two looks to be even more promising.