Thursday, November 19, 2009

three galleries, one cup

last saturday was my birthday, so I decided to do three things I enjoy very much before joining some friends for dinner: take a walk around town, eat some ice cream and see some art. the weekend before that I missed all the art openings in town, with the exception of "sought/found" one at the Pontiac's Creative Art Center. I had some work in said exhibition (which features work from Oakland University Art faculty), so I will not write about it, but every one should go check it out. there will be future possibilities for local artists to have their work shown there as well, so it might be a good idea to take a field trip.

now, back to November 14, 2009 in Ferndale, Michigan... my first stop was the Susanne Hilberry gallery, which is a few blocks from my house. I had heard from a friend that they have a ceramics show, which worried me because I am not the biggest fan. well, let me rephrase this better. I actually love ceramics, and my small art collection contains quite a few pieces (have more ceramics than paintings, but mostly photography). ceramics is the art that I love to live with, where I love to appreciate formal and functional concerns (as relating to light, as well as the human hand). what I dislike is the discourses that surround the medium, which is usually very minimal. so with this in mind I thought I'd give it a go.

the Hilberry gallery to me has the best set up in town - one cannot but think they are in Los Angeles or Chelsea. the space is simultaneously neutral and sexy, austere and fresh (in an airy sort of way). its current exhibition features the works by Shio Kusaka, whom I have never heard of. as you walk in small drawings (around 16 inches high) are displayed in a row by the wall near the reception desk. these were made with either ink or pencil or a combination or mediums and mirrored some of the vessels on display.

the back alcove has a narrow shelf made out of unfinished wood, and displayed cups of varied girth. there were a variety of techniques employed, which unfortunate I do not know the correct terminology for (some looked like painted patterns with glazes, some were marks or grooves, probably scored before the firing, etc). I walked back to the front desk to see if these works had titles, and to check their prices (each was numbered, all pictured). the titles were either poetically minimal or unspecified enough to leave me on my own. I did not find any information in regards to the title of the exhibition (I assume it is the name of the artist), an artist bio or an artist statement.

I then moved over to the large room, where an L-shaped narrow but extremely long table (same material as aforementioned shelf), or a wall with no sides a bit above waist height, divided the space into two parts. this was an interesting arrangement, as it created a different architecture to that space. I also imagine that in a room filled with people it would create an interesting social dynamics... I looked at each vessel from one side, then walked around the gallery to be able to see them from the other side. it was at this point that the lovely Hazel, dressed in a mini-Swiss Miss dress (her hair has gotten so long), came to me and told me it was okay to hold and handle the pieces, to see them up close and personal (and to find out the info on them, as their numbers were below). she then immediately disappeared, as there seemed to be other folks in the back room, where the staff was hanging out (as at one point an adorable baby walked my way, with the cutest smile, at another Susanne's poodle).

after having permission to touch, fearing for my life that my clumsiness would destroy something, I began to really experience and relate to the art in display (I'd say at least 60 of them throughout the space)... and then I fell in love with one of them.... in particular a small bowl that looked like it was made of white ribbons, overlapped in a vertical manner to form an uneven and somewhat pumpkin-like shape (I think the word moon was in its title). I also loved the simplicity of the lines of the tall vase with dark triangles all over. these pieces (and many others as well), possessed that rare quality of being simultaneously extremely slick in appearance but with enough subtle oddities in their almost primitive formation that brings forth the hand of the artist in the work. while looking at them I imagined a pair of hands touching the surface, slowly moving the clay around like a musician touching a stringed instrument. this calmed me very much, because I imagined that the person doing that was meditating as well.

I then moved back to the room with the cups and handled a few of them... they were gorgeous. most of the ones I liked had already been purchased, but I found two of them that spoke to me a lot and were still available, the ones that looked like doodles I make when I am sitting in a boring meeting at work, of repeated parallel lines forming a grid (one a tighter one, the other with larger squares). I thought those two would make a lovely pair. it was then and there that I decided to buy myself a birthday gift and get a few pieces for my modest collection...

I waited for a few minutes to see if someone would come to the front, but everyone was in the back, or talking to an older gentleman who was looking at a larger vessel... I then moved to the front of the gallery, by the desk and placed the price list back on its rack, and waited for a few more minutes... someone saw me there and walked right by without acknowledging my presence (not Hazel)... I waited a few more minutes and then decided to leave. I tried opening the front door but could not figure out the lock (it had been locked after I walked in)... it took me a few more minutes to figure out how to get out, and by then I was a bit annoyed... I was upset that the gallery did not consider that I would make an art investment that day and therefore spent their time focusing on someone else (they've seen me before I am sure, but I have never purchased anything there). i would normally understand this attitude if this exhibition had the usual price point for that gallery, but the pieces in this show were extremely affordable (in fact I thought it was the Hilberry version of a Holiday Sale), most pieces below $500. this whole situation put a bit of a damper on my birthday, because I had not thought until then that I would actually get myself anything gifts this year. when I made up my mind to get some, I felt that my spontaneous indulgence was denied for no good reason. it somehow reminded me of the art scene in town, which is to some extend highly supported by artists (artists donate works, artists buy works, etc), unless you move to our version of the blue chip, where then collectors jump in - which I imagine is the Hilberry audience. I wish these distinctions were not in place, that there was more flexibility from all parts involved.

I headed my way north to the Affirmations Center to see Taurus Burns' exhibition. the opening had taken place the night before but I did not have a chance to go to. Affirmations gallery uses that cable metal hanging system, which actually works well for their purposes,for the most part (given the cinderblock walls and the multifunctional nature of their lobby gallery).

on one side there were photographs by another artist that were somewhat pleasant but largely pedestrian (a mix of light erotica and amateur modeling/band/catalogue portraiture, borderline artsy)... I understand why they were there, given the young nature of Affirmations' patrons, but I have seen better works from the same genre done in town. but I wanted to look at Taurus' work so I turned around and went to the other side of the space. Taurus' paintings were displayed salon style with the metal apparatus, with varied sizes (but usually in the smaller size, maybe 12 inches as the widest measurement). I looked at them a couple times, and noticed that there seemed to be two distinct veins in this set of pictures. the first being almost like a collection of photographic mementos from urban Detroit, the kind of painting I would buy if I were to move away from the area and wanted something to remember it.

the other was a more set-up, constructed narrative, with figures in somewhat surreal situations, partially or fully nude in a public space. for me these did not work so well, perhaps because the scale of the pieces limited any painting statement he could have tried to make with them. what I mean by this sentence is that I did not find that the painterly quality married well with the compositional choices and implied narrative. perhaps in a grandiose scale (such as his mural works) the intricacies of the color mixing provide a secondary point of entry into those works. his brushstroke quality for me worked better with the portraits of the city, sans people. some of those possessed a sense of irony with the text and mystery with the time of the day they depicted (as well as the eerie notion of cities with no citizens) that the constructed paintings lacked. before leaving the gallery, I looked for a price and title list but did not find any. there was a small bio/statement provided but those seemed to be directed more towards understanding what the artist does, rather than address the actual works presented.

my next eastbound stop was the Pinwheel bakery, to fulfill my goal of getting a cup of their lovely gelato for my birthday... they have the best in town, and many great baked desserts as well (the vegan brownie is to die for). unfortunately they were not making the ice anymore ("Summer is over"), so I decided to head over to the Lemberg gallery, on foot.... I had forgotten how far north from main street the gallery is, and the thought of the long walk home came to my mind, specially as the temperature began to drop. fortunately the art on display there pushed those thoughts right away. I was greeted by the wonderful and forever smiling Lemberg ladies (as I secretly call them). The Lemberg featured works by Jane Lackey, in an exhibition titled "Shapes Of Entanglement: Particle Politic."

large panels of cloth that seem to be hand painted and printed, flanked the main opposing walls. a concern with geometric and architectural shapes, as well as city maps and mapping, was visibly evident throughout the works. there was also an interest in juxtaposing both man-made and machine-made patterns, via readymade stickers and stitching, along with precise field painting. again, I spent quite a bit of time with these works, getting lost in their labyrinthine patterns and reflective surfaces (one word:gold). the remembrance of my pre-flânerie studying of St. Petersburg maps came to mind, as well as how I had gotten to the gallery in the first place. the title of the exhibition, the title of the works and the statement gave me something to grasp, and the unexpected use of thread (sometimes a subtle white, sometimes a strong orange), hooked me to these large panels. again I saw myself living with some of these pieces, which for me is an important component in the art-making process.

when I make work I imagine it in someone's house (not mine, as I never display my own work at home - I find that extremely odd actually, when artist only have their work on walls in their homes)... I imagine someone looking at my work, someone loving and living with my work. As the artist Cyriaco Lopes said (this is a paraphrase), you must first fall in love with your own work before sharing your work with someone else. and I believe in that.... I believe that you must love your own work in order for someone else to fall in love with it. and when I looked at the works by Lackey I thought that she probably loved her work (even if the labor of making it could be quite difficult, not very loving)... and I then saw myself living with those, looking at those on a daily basis (how great they'd looked over my new fireplace). unfortunately for me they were way above my price range, so for now they will remain in my thoughts.

before my departure, the ladies and I exchanged some words about the art work as usual. it is always great to hear them talk about their artists. it is not just spiel for the investor, they seem to always express their awe on the work in an unassuming manner, and not to impress anyone. what I enjoy about that space is the consistency of the aesthetics they subscribe in their representation (contemporary formalism and expressionism, in my view), while keeping a varied roster of artists - the work might not be your cup of tea, but I find them habitually good. as my adventure on my birth day were coming to a close, before my dinner that same night, I headed back home, cutting through NW Ferndale. some folks were raking the leaves, some were bringing in grocery bags, all seemed to be getting ready to enjoy a cozy Fall night at the place they call home. my last unofficial stop was the CVS pharmacy, to get some dental floss. I thought "is this how this walk will end? no art, no ice cream?" it was then that a beacon of light caught my eye, a blinking neon "open" sign at the Dairy Queen. I did not get a cup of gelato at the Pinwheel. I did not get a ceramic cup at the Hilberry either. DQ would have to do it for now. the familiarity of their strawberry sundae hit the right spot.

dinner was great as well, in case you were wondering ;-)

click here to visit the Susanne Hilberry gallery
click here to visit the Affirmations Community Center
click here to visit the Lemberg gallery

1 comment:

  1. i have spent a considerable amount of time at the sussane hillberry gallery and i feel your estimation of them catering to collectors is way off. No one buys art here period. i assume if the people in "the back" where there when you got there then you should have waited your turn or went to "the back". If you are as familiar with galleries as you seem then you realize they are not stores, "the back" is not off limits and sales are something that is initiated by the interested party. i am so thankfull that they continue to host excellent exhibitions and do so in a region that offers little in the way of support, even more thankful they don't come running everytime i come in. i love being left alone and feeling welcome but not attended. sorry if i seem hostile, im just so very tired of hearing people critisize this gallery for being aloof -- susanne could hold her own in NY or anywhere easily, she's not here for the money or collectors and for sure not elitism. she is an enormously generous, fair, kind woman with an amazing loyalty to detroit and artists. her sensitivity is unparralled. you should go back and buy the work you liked, your experience didn't sound unfair. you sound a bit spoiled and entitled yourself, you might want to reconsider your expectations.