"Shrines and Altars" at Gallery Project
by John Carlos Cantu
July 28, 2009
Kneeling isn’t generally the first activity to come to mind at Ann Arbor’s Gallery Project. The gallery is—to put it precisely—iconoclastic. So there may be genuflecting involved in the gallery’s current “Shrines and Altars” exhibit, but in unexpected ways.
This curious exhibit touches on the effects of myth and religion with little or no orthodoxy.
As exhibition co-curator Rocco DePietro, co-founder and co-director of Gallery Project, says in the exhibit’s gallery statement, “For eons, diverse cultures have created artifacts and images in an effort to codify and interact with compelling but unknowable ideas and beliefs. Over time, many of these images and artifacts have become associated with the major religions. But others — the ones we find most fascinating — are more individualistic, probing the most personal knowledge of self, others, the natural world, and the spiritual realms.”
And it’s at this individualistic level that the exhibit shines. An impressive 37 regional and national artists—including local notables DePietro, John Gutoskey, Arian Hatfield, Rick “Ruiner” Lappin, Tom Phardel, (co-curator) Gloria Pritschet, Sharon Que, and Jack Summers—have contributed magnificent (if sometimes puzzling) artworks that look inward as they extol outward philosophical beliefs.
What ties these works together thematically is the signification each artist emphasizes. How else to explain, for example, supermonster Godzilla set in contrast to the 9th century B.C. Hebrew prophet Elijah in Hatfield’s vivid “Elijah and the First Scientific Experiment.”
Likewise, Lappin’s “Saint Packrat,” a body-sized statue of piecemeal materials, is as much a fabricated found object as a sculpture of adoration. Tom McMillian’s oversized black and white photograph “Corpus Christi” (with tattoo art by Adam Shrewsbury) features bleeding hearts and crosses dramatically strewn across his model’s body.
Yet perhaps the most telling of memorials in this exhibit dedicated to “the sacred and transcendent” is Pritschet’s remarkable 10-foot-tall “Repentance of the Emerald Ash Borer,” where she’s made a shrine out of nature’s ruin.
In this ash tree remnant bearing traces left by this devastating insect, Pritschet creates an altar to celebrate the reclaiming of life from destruction. Pritschet’s made a positive out of nature’s own negative handiwork.