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Exhibit gives fresh perspective on decaying subjects

By Michael H. Hodges | Detroit News Fine Arts Writer


Throwaway objects form most of the subject matter behind "Artifacts," the group show at Ann Arbor's Gallery Project up through Feb. 20. Objects getting the artistic treatment include a much-metamorphosed brick from a vast oven, a rusted wrench and Detroit's celebrated Packard Motor Car plant.

Giving a new twist to the charge of "ruin porn" is Nathan Heuer's "Stadium," a large, meticulous drawing of a sports stadium in an advanced state of collapse. Accustomed as we are to photographs of industrial collapse, the unexpected nature of a drawing stops you cold.

Lea Bult, one of three curators who worked on the show (the other two are Vince Mountain and Brian Nelson), says she was immediately struck by Heuer's technical skill, as well as the odd subject matter.
"Stadiums, after all, are large societal artifacts," she says. "Every city builds one, and then 20 years later they need to tear it down and build another one. So I thought this was a funny architectural observation."
Two of Detroit's better-known artists have works nearby, in a part of the show devoted to industrial artifacts.

Four of Scott Hocking's immense Packard plant photographs greet you right at the door, and are — typical of Hocking's work — almost impossible to ignore.

In particular, take a look at "Zeus Whirlwind, Winter" in which a circular portion of a roof has collapsed, opening up a rubble-strewn light chamber in the center of a vast factory floor that looks almost like some immense, blank eye.

Nearby, "Wrench" by Clinton Snider embeds a sumptuously rusted wrench in a dark-brown, mottled surface painted to replicate the rust on the tool itself.

The wrench sits almost flush, so the whole ensemble has an oddly organic look, as if this were how wrenches emerged from the good earth, a little like potatoes.

"I love old tools," says Bult, "and it reminded me of a bunch of drawings of tools by (pop-art artist) Jim Dine back in the 1960s that were really beautiful."

Also finding beauty in remarkable places is Tom Phardel's "Heaven & Decay." This oddball work is composed of a brick from a kiln or vast oven, adorned with finger-sized gouges on top created by who-knows-what industrial processes. The rest of the brick is encased in textured, pinkish ceramic, and your first thoughts run to food.

The artist has liberally filled those indentations with gilt — the only addition the Phardel made to an otherwise found object.

It's so simple: A brick, a rosy porcelain glaze, and these dabs of gold that poke your eye like little klieg lights. Set it all on a plinth in front of a handsome piece of frosted green glass, and bingo — you've got something unearthly and utterly gorgeous. Who knew?
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