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Intriguing Gallery Project exhibit explores the notion of 'Extremes'

by John Carlos Cantu


The Gallery Project’s aptly titled “Extremes” cuts through the typical dross of everyday life to go where it goes best—to the edge.

Ann Arbor’s venue for wry post-modernism, the gallery has made it a habit to champion extremes. The gallery’s premise has always been that it’s only by going close to the edge that art illuminates the crucial issues of our time. And as the gallery’s exhibition statement pointedly tells us, they’re not about to stop now.

“The American vocabulary is full of the bravado of superlatives,” says the statement. “Products, from tires to frozen yogurt, are sold on the basis on their ability to provide or enhance ‘extreme’ experience. Cell phones and technological devices boast extreme miniaturization, while other cultural expressions, from soft drinks to churches, are incessantly supersized.

“Extreme expression pervades every form of American culture,” concludes the statement. “Artists express their various understandings of the ‘extreme,’ and (they) challenge viewers to do the same.” There is not much mincing of words here. And in a gallery that expertly pivots from whimsical irony to existential dread, “Extreme” goes from one psychological margin to the other with a signature flourish that makes it a consistent must-stop for local visual art browsers.

Local contributors to the exhibit include Sarah Buckius, Frank Pahl, Gloria Pritschet and Colin Raymond. Other local contributors are Ypsilanti’s Joe Levikas and Thomas Nighswander. And regional contributors include Plymouth’s Tom Burns, Kevin Ewing, Tony Lee Hope, Andrew Mehall and David Steadman.

Curated by the University of Michigan’s Lea Bult, Detroit’s Steve McShane, and Buckius, “Extremes” joyfully, mournfully, and wittily goes to the brink of artistic expression.

New York City’s JeongMee Yoon has contributed two of the busiest (if not also colorful) extremes in the exhibit. Her photographic C-prints “Jeonghoon and His Blue Things” and “Jiwoo and Her Pink Things”—comment as much on personal preference as they do gender preference through an excess of personal choices. Ultimately, as these two samples show us, such preferences can be as much a matter of subtle (and not so subtle) extravagances as taste itself defines us as individuals.

Another color photograph, “Tamed,” by Harare, Zimbabwe’s Munyaradzi Mazarire, goes to another extreme with its decidedly odd illustration of clothing. In this instance, to show how far we’ve gone to ecological extremes, Mazarire has dressed a tree with a pair of trousers—as well as dressed his composition with a litter-strewn background—to highlight what he believes is our disjunctive lifestyles and the environmental impact we’re having on our surroundings.

Among the 3-dimensional artworks on hand, Plymouth-based Kevin Ewing’s mixed-media “The Elephant King”; East Lansing-based Jacquelyn Sullivan’s silicon bronze repurposed “Vacant Spaces” Steelcase chair; and Colin Raymond’s “A Shrine to Those Who Gave Their Lives to Ironing” installation, are exceptional extremes.

Ewing’s “The Elephant King” dominates the gallery with its massive gray elephant stuffed in an ornate carriage. By contrast, Sullivan’s silicon bronze “Vacant Spaces” chair features 2 large enigmatic bronze lumps that look like a pair of lungs that have been set in front of her Steelcase seat. And Raymond’s installation showcases plastic roses, camellias, repurposed laundry irons, and 23 color photographs of athletic launderers engaged in hair-raising activities including skydiving and deep-sea diving.

The Gallery Project basement is always used by the gallery to mount provocative video-based installations, and Frank Pahl and Wyandotte-based James Knight’s “What’s Wrong” follows this superb tradition. “What’s Wrong”—edited from a 1945 General Motors short film titled “Open Door: The Story of Jim Baxter and His Family”—takes a training film about shop activities and turns it into a full-blown existential crisis through skillful editing accompanied by an exceedingly eerie Pahl soundtrack.

Clocking in tightly at a little less than 10 minutes, “What’s Wrong” is creepy enough to be a worthy entry in the twilight zone while it paints a vivid (if not also intentionally melodramatic) picture of modern alienation. A sly achievement, Pahl and Knight’s “What’s Wrong” shows us that sometimes we have to go to extremes to more clearly glimpse the road ahead of us.

“Extremes” will continue through Aug. 7 at Gallery Project, 215 S. Fourth Ave. Exhibit hours are noon to 9 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday; and noon to 4 p.m., Sunday. For information, call 734-997-7012.