THE INDEPENDENT VOICE OF THE VISUAL ARTS
It’s inevitable that a group show juried by a single artist will reflect the preoccupations and interests of that artist. But you would be hard pressed to see a collection of objects in the unique but derelict space on the 7th floor of the historic Secor Building in Toledo that more clearly reflects the esthetic of juror Scott Hocking. Hocking, well known and admired as a keen observer of Detroit’s constantly morphing urban landscape, has juried a show presenting a distinctive collection of artworks that function more as an installation than as individual objects.
Hocking is a connoisseur of solastalgia, a form of existential distress caused by environmental change. It can be either global or local. In Hocking’s case, it centers on the city of Detroit. (His companion show at the Walter T. Terhune Gallery at Owens Community College provides a visual manifesto of his world view.)
“Material/Immaterial,” on view through October 19th, featured the work of 25 young artists from the Great Lakes region. They work in three dimensions and in a variety of materials, some conventional and some not-so-much. It looks like the first art exhibit after the apocalypse.
The venue for “Material/Immaterial” is as much a part of this exhibition as the works displayed; there is a seamlessness between the environment and the art pieces in it that is quintessentially Hocking. In contrast to the anonymity of a white box gallery, the space exerts a gravitational pull on the objects and seems to absorb them into its orbit. Many of the artworks feel as if they have been discarded or accidentally left behind. The entire installation celebrates the esthetic of the found object.
Many of the pieces in the exhibit seem to be the chance result of natural disasters. I am thinking of Summer Gobrecht’s Serendipity, a cluster of dish-shaped, splashed-plaster objects clustered in a tiled surround, the elegant, ghostly record of a meteor impact on a distant moon. A different, more human kind of calamity is implied in Leather Shoes, by Tom Reihart. Child-sized legs and feet protrude, abandoned, from beneath a dark cloth and suggest a story of personal catastrophe.
A more humorous take on disaster is delivered by Shawn Campbell, who works in diverse media including photography, sculpture, video installation and painting. He specializes in ad hoc celebrations of spectacle involving civil, financial and political power that both provokes amusement and provides some shrewd social commentary on contemporary social and economic trends. My favorite piece of the show is his oil-spouting plywood construction (Untitled). It’s the bastard offspring of a beaux arts fountain and a toxic waste dump, simultaneously hilarious and sinister.
Another favorite piece in “Material/Immaterial” is by Elizabeth Cote. At first glance you think you see a quilt carelessly thrown over a laundry line, but on closer inspection, it emerges that the “quilt” is, in fact, a folded latex mold pieced together to describe the limp façade of a building. The artist details her process: “This is a latex of a plaster of a clay of a drawing of a picture that I did not take of a building … It is not an impression taken from a physical building, but the impression of the building on me.”
Elizabeth Cote, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Untitled 2019, latex, metal, tension wire.
Meagan Smith’s collection of small (mostly) porcelain objects are displayed on the only clean white walls in the exhibit, a free-standing gallery that has landed in the middle of a ruined landscape. These intimate biomorphic doodads are displayed on small glass shelves. They suggest “sacs, tubes, fleshy folds, hives, nets, plants, webs.” The diminutive sculptures simultaneously appear to be carefully crafted fine art pieces and found natural artifacts like fossils or exoskeletons or seashells.
Meagan Smith, Kent State University, Iterations, 2019, porcelain, glaze, mason stains, plexiglass, aluminum.
One of the few pieces in “Material/Immaterial” that proclaims its status as a work of fine art is I Expand, I am Warm; Blue Cannon Steel; Blue Silo by Laura Dirksen, a cheerful, chunky, colorful stoneware assemblage that’s engaging and energetic. It radiates a kind of infectious animal attraction. Across the gallery, Claudia Tommasi keeps the party going with two small scale wall mounted pieces, bulbous and stringy, that exude Looneytunes humor, Untitled (2).
Although “Material/Immaterial” might at first glance seem to project existential end-of-the-world gloom, I found that I left the show feeling strangely optimistic. The work that these artists have made seems to imply that although things are bad--well, okay, maybe catastrophic--they still are hopeful and idealistic enough to keep working and making art, and to keep observing the world and commenting on it. Things may turn out all right after all.
SculptureX is a yearly symposium sponsored by Contemporary Art Toledo and devoted to collaboration and networking among artists and art teaching institutions. “Material/Immaterial” was juried by Scott Hocking, with curatorial assistance from Brian Carpenter.
K.A. Letts is a working artist (kalettsart.com) and art blogger (rustbeltarts.com). She has shown her paintings and drawings in galleries and museums in Toledo, Detroit, Chicago and New York. She writes frequently about art in the Detroit area.
Summer Gobrecht, University of Toledo, BFA, Serendipity, 2019, plaster.
Shawn Campbell, University of Georgia, MFA, Untitled, 2019, mixed media sculpture.
Laura Dirksen, Bowling Green State University, BFA, I Expand, I am Warm; Blue Cannon Steel; Blue Silo, 2018-2019, stoneware, slip, wash, underglaze, assorted glazes.
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