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

Dark Matters

Catie Newell Sculpture

Catie Newell, Overnight, 2016, Courtesy of the artist. © Catie Newell

Streetlights serve a vital role in any city, keeping property value afloat and deterring crime.  But the Detroit Free Press acknowledged in an article that, until recently, Detroit’s street-lighting system was “an international embarrassment and the worst in the nation,” with around only half of its streetlights operational due to copper scrapping and neglect.  In places, the resultant dark, moody cityscape seemed eerily at odds with Detroit’s high population.  Since 2013, the city has been installing tens of thousands of new light emitting diode (LED) streetlights.  As this massive undertaking progressed, Catie Newell, Assistant Professor of Architecture at the University of Michigan, began to find surprising beauty within Detroit’s gritty, nocturnal urban chiaroscuro. Continue reading

Into the Woods

Michigan Legacy Art Park Sculpture

Fallen Comrade, 2009. Artist: David Greenwood. Photo courtesy of the Michigan Legacy Art Park

This sculpture park took shape around 14,000 years ago, when a retreating glacier raked out the vistas and hills that now comprise the rugged terrain of the Legacy Art Park, a thirty-acre patch of earth not far from Michigan’s famous Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  But credit certainly also goes to the late David Barr, a visionary sculptor and poet, who had the tenacity to found an art park and educational center in which contemporary sculpture could unobtrusively integrate into nature.  Continue reading