Us is Them


Jeff Sonhouse, Meeting at the Crossroads, 2003. Oil and mixed media on canvas. Photography courtesy UICA, images captured by Pizzuti Collection

If the exhibition Us is Them at the Urban Institute of Contemporary Art in Grand Rapids seems at times to have an excessively broad focus, I can happily forgive this on the grounds that it had so much to offer.    This is a muscular show that assembles a diverse international ensemble of artists whose work, broadly speaking, addresses social justice and current affairs.  Continue reading

Kehinde Wiley: Re-Imagining Art History

Kehinde Wiley Sculpture

Kehinde Wiley (American, born 1977), Digital Study for Saint Ursula and the Virgin Martyrs, 2014. © Kehinde Wiley. (Photo courtesy of the artist)

Anthony van Dyck’s Seventeenth Century Portrait of Charles I at the Hunt now hangs reverentially in the Louvre, so it’s easy to overlook the artist’s daring decision to paint an equestrian portrait of the monarch dismounted and dressed in civilian clothing as he makes almost mischievous eye contact with the viewer; to its original audience, this was emphatically contemporary art.  Multimedia artist Kehinde Wiley helps us look at these Old Masters in a new light.  His subjects strike poses straight from Old Master paintings, but wear camouflage and Timberland boots.  Furthermore, he playfully flips the switch on art, giving us a color-inverted pantheon of Who’s Who in art history.  Continue reading

Ai Weiwei at Meijer Gardens

Ai Weiwei sculpture

Remains (detail), 2015. Courtesy of Ai Weiwei studio.

“How does he manage to do it?” One wonders.  It’s not just that Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei can work with media as varied as cast iron, steel rebar, porcelain, wood, or Legos, but that somehow the finished works are beautifully crafted and always embedded with carefully considered layers of meaning.  The exhibition Natural State at Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park brings an impressive cross-section of his recent work to the heart of America’s Midwest, and amply demonstrates Ai’s uncanny knack for seamlessly integrating craftsmanship with concept.  Continue reading

Art As Experience

Witness Sculpture

Installation view, Witness, MCA Chicago. July 2, 2016 – February 19, 2017. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.

I’m increasingly realizing that most art can only be experienced in person; the expansive and visceral terrain of a Jackson Pollock canvass, for example, its paint in places measuring nearly a half-inch thick, is entirely lost in translation when transposed into a deadened image in a book (and I can forgive someone for finding Pollock underwhelming if they only ever encounter him in diminutive digital or print reproductions).  At Chicago’s Contemporary Museum of Art is a strong pair of exhibitions which emphatically make the point that art is, at its essence, experiential.  Together, they demand viewer interaction and emotional response. Continue reading

All that Glitters


Radiant Efflorescence 831 26″ x 22″ x 22,” copper, sterling silver, 23-karat gold leaf. Courtesy of the artist

Metalworker David Huang refers to his works as “vessels,” but it’s little wonder people also call them “treasures.”  On first sight, it’s hard to know what to call them; technically, they’re indeed metallic vessels, but it’s inconceivable that they would ever actually be used.  Their interiors, after all, are lined with 23 karat gold.    They’re indisputably beautiful, but the statement they make isn’t just visual. Continue reading

Haute off the Printer


Hybrid Holism, Dress, July 2012. 3-D printed UV-curable polymer. In collaboration with Julia Koerner and Materialise. High Museum of Art, Supported by the Friends of Iris van Herpen, 2015.170 . Photo by Bart Oomes, No 6 Studios

How could anyone actually wear these? I skeptically wondered as I took in the 3-D printed haute couture dresses on view at the Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM), some having the appearance of physically-restrictive other-worldly exoskeletons.  As clothing goes, much of this hardly functional, but Dutch fashion designer Iris van Herpen repudiates the tired adage that “form follows function,” instead approaching fashion as a highly conceptual and sculptural art form.  A celebrated pioneer in 3-D printed fashion, van Herpen’s work emphatically makes the point that “machine-made” doesn’t necessarily imply a lack of craftsmanship, finish, and quality.  Functional or not, her work its undeniably beautiful.     Continue reading

Fire Within


Installation shot. Eat Pomegranate Photography

Once during a 2015 performance, Chinese artist Hu Jiayi precariously sat atop a ladder, her body strapped with potentially lethal knives and hatchets; little wonder that she says viewers typically find her work “sharp.”  But “sharp” could just as easily describe many of the other artists in the exhibition Fire Within: A New Generation of Chinese Artists, on view at East Lansing’s Broad Art Museum, a space which, since opening in 2012, continues to host reliably muscular exhibitions of contemporary art from all over the world.  Fire Within, which debuted at Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Arts, brings together an eclectic group of twenty-seven emerging Chinese female artists (most in their 20s and 30s), continuing the Broad’s tradition of showcasing socially-conscious art while fostering cross-cultural dialogue. Continue reading