Two-in-One: Gallery Project /Lemberg Gallery
By Nick Sousanis
thedetroiter.com, February 28, 2007
In our continuing effort to connect and create cross traffic between places and venues that might not otherwise receive such overlap, whether at significant distance or even as close as around the corner, we present this two-in-one review.
Both Lemberg Gallery in Ferndale and Ann Arbor’s Gallery Project offer looks at landscape, as old a tradition in artmaking as they come. Both exhibitions are contemporary, but that’s where the similarities end.
At Lemberg, we find many lovely, breathtaking moments, all achieved through paint on canvas. These are very much in keeping in the traditional vein of landscape painting – these are all about the look, and through that, the feel of a place. They of course reflect the modern environment – urban cityscapes, and achieve this through contemporary sensibilities in terms of their use of light, color, reference to photography, and in general through their expressive paint handling. They speak to today, but in a language of art recognizable to those of times past.
So what do we see? David Kapp captures the light of day and people active in the city, almost impressionistic in quality. A dance of light and color congeals into crowds, streets, and shadows. Working somewhat similarly in terms of loose handling of paint, Ben Aronson’s works are carefully crafted compositions – these could function in the abstract – yet are simultaneously photorealistic. George Nick puts paint down in more solid fashion, but his buildings curve and sway somewhat, revealing the expressive hand of the painter, infusing human character into these constructions of brick, wood, and glass.
As these and the other painters offer their perspective on the real, the exhibition also has room for the look of the imagined. James Stephens’ works are surreal, a juxtaposition of imagery, from the industrial to the rural, these are forgotten places in the world where the railroad tracks cut through and lone flowers struggle to bloom – beauty in abandonment. And there are also glimpses of the future, in the form of glass-domed cities, home to artificial environments, dreamed into life by Trygve Faste. Are these visions of a space-age utopia or warnings of where we are headed? And thus landscape painting also becomes commentary, which brings us to the other exhibition.
As the name suggests, Gallery Project’s show, curated by Greg Tom, is much less about the look of the landscape, but the mark it leaves on its inhabitants and the mark that they leave on it. This show is diverse to say the least, and it could be argued that this is truly a number of shows, more a survey of the possibilities for investigating landscape through contemporary means, and it could in fact spawn several separate exhibitions delving into each of the areas represented here.
Maps offer an alternative means of seeing a place, learning about it in a way other than the look of its landscape. Toby Millman offers up maps of areas of Palestine, drawn with cuts into long scrolls of white paper. Political boundaries become elegant forms, become abstractions, but in holding our gaze, prompt the viewer to ask more. Forgoing such real boundaries, Brent Fogt achieves a related visual with obsessive ink drawings that could be topographic views of landmasses or a colony of cells, multiplying on a slide or foam on a beach, swirling and bubbling gracefully.
There are true maps, including Stephen Mankouche’s depicting all the cul-de-sacs in the five county Metro Detroit area. Mapping for such a particular element of the landscape brings to light quite striking differences in our neighborhoods, without ever showing a house or a lawn. Here, we see few such features in urban Detroit, while the surrounding suburbs are filled with them. This work and those by Adrian Blackwell and Juan Rois, offer the sort of investigatory approach as is found in the Shrinking Cities project.
By overlaying the plans for subdivisions on large leaf prints, Susan Goethel-Campbell relates two seemingly unrelated forms to great effect. The overview of the land is at times exchanged for the particular – Frank English shares a series of photographs of isolated elements in the landscape, together painting a broad picture of the place. Jacque Liu’s compositions, achieved with creased or precisely cut paper, speak to a very specific place in the built landscape, and reduce it to its barest of forms. The inclusion of prints by the “Object Orange” collective of derelict houses that they’ve painted orange in Detroit shows how landscape painting need not be restricted to the gallery. People can truly paint the landscape, which touches on the realm of non-permissive artworks, ala graffiti that is certainly contemporary landscape painting.
One final piece to discuss (and there are many others deserving mention), Christina P. Day applies decals of ethereal photographs of landscapes onto personal items like a hand mirror, lighter, and compact (all found objects). The work suggests quite directly that the place truly leaves its mark on the things and the people that inhabit it. As our environment shapes us, we in turn shape it. We’re inseparable, and perhaps a view of a place becomes a portrait of ourselves. While our tools to explore and express this link continue to expand, our fascination with landscape remains unwavering. Connect the dots between these two parts of our cultural landscape, and get a vastly different look at how we interpret this space we all inhabit.