Jason Yi's new space, Hawthorn Contemporary, is currently showing Relics, Fibs, Trash, and Treasures, a set of prints and an installation of things by Brooklyn artist Nicola López. I cannot possibly post pictures or describe this show in way that would do it justice, so see it yourself before it closes on May 26.
While you are there, support the local arts economy by checking out artist in residence Monica Miller's space "Facilitating Situations."
A touch of domesticity goes a long way. Milwaukee artist Jessica Meuninck-Ganger questions the formality, sterility, impersonality of the white cube in Inbound East at The Alice Wilds in Milwaukee’s Walker’s Point neighbor.
The exhibition is a combination of prints and large-scale installation that emerge from Meuninck-Ganger’s walks around Milwaukee. A light (prussian) blue wall softens the harsh lighting of gallery, transforming the viewers experience from looking to meandering. Enveloped in this blueness, my eyes may roam the walls, following Meuninck-Ganger’s path of prints, walking with her from 71st street toward Lake Michigan. This route mimics tree branches growing over the gallery walls.
Meuninck-Ganger’s installation is quick to remind me that I am inside (in a gallery) and not outside walking or waiting under a tree. An installation piece sprouts from an outlet while another springs from the floor. This miniature skyline is dwarfed by the soaring blue wall.
The play of interiority and exteriority allows me to move out of the work and into myself as I consider the details of the exhibition. A ramshackle fence, feathered, floats away from a fieldstone wall; fragile buildings emerge from a pile of timbers. All are bits of screen-printed paper mounted on light blue board.
My meandering leads me to Sebald’s seminal writing The Rings of Saturn. Is “the narrative in question...aimed at creating a new reality, in the course of time, by way of the unreal”? Meuninck-Ganger, like Sebald, uses the narrative of the walk, inverts inside and outside, and destabilizes the grid. Inward Bound plays with interiority and exteriority, and like Sebald’s Somerleyton, “transitions from interiors to exterior….open(s) the interior onto the outside, and inside the landscape [is] replicated on the mirror walls...on the slopes of man-made mountains, between banks and spinneys...and the whole incomprehensible glory of Nature and of the wonders placed in it by the hand of [wo]man [are] reflected in...unruffled waters.”
In the end, Meuninck-Ganger’s exteriors become interiors, my interior becomes exterior, and as I leave, I am inward bound.
the flatness of the brick
catch my eye
I ignore the window
and for a moment you
wordwise and generous
you find something
here other than
pizza and poetry
my beer-hazed consciousness
paired with your
clear cultural consciousness
provides an intimate understanding
of disappointment and fortitude
your seventh grade self
is disappointed with
how far we haven’t come
my seventh grade self
doesn’t want to
hang around anymore
at the bottom of
a PBR in Jared’s case
or a point
reminded me of
or of you
we come into
at different times
I cross this off
the to do list
I haven’t written
as you mop up
Serving as a last-minute counter to the all male show in it’s lower gallery, the Gallery of Wisconsin Art in West Bend is currently showing Contemporary Abstraction: The Female Perspective, which is on view until April 28. This exhibition hosts 9 Wisconsin women who work largely in a neo-expressionist manner where color dominates the picture plane.
One of the exhibition’s problems is its title. I appreciate GOWA’s nod to equality, but subtitling the show “The Female Perspective” recklessly reinforces stereotypes. The title implies that a few artists speak for or, at least, make work that is representative of all women artists working in contemporary abstraction. This is simply not true. For example, Wisconsin artists Nina Ghanbarzadeh, Michelle Grabner, Rachel Hausmann, Zina Mussmann, Nirmal Raja, and Sarah Willadsen all make work that is very different than what is included in this exhibition.
Further, the show lacks a diversity of artists and work, even though the title seeks to be expansive. All exhibiting artists are in the same general demographic group. And, despite the claim that the exhibition “represents a diverse approach to today’s abstract work,” all of the works are painting and the majority utilize a similar palette, composition, and general techniques. Only painter-sculptor Melissa Dorn Richards breaks away from the abstract expressionism that dominates the show. As a maximal minimalist, she reduces the industrial mophead to her own illustrative idea and then reintroduces the texture of many mop strands.
A somewhat better title would have been Contemporary Abstraction: Female Perspectives. Or, even better, the gallery could present the work of women without othering it into a "woman's" context, separate from men. In this case, Contemporary Abstraction: Color and Texture would have been appropriate.
If the women’s show was going to be reduced to being called “female,” the least the gallery could have done was call the men's exhibition Three Generations of Abstraction: The Male Perspective. But, of course, that would be unnecessary in yet another arena dominated by men.
Image credit: Gallery of Wisconsin Art postcard.
“Bangs! I crack myself up” was the text message that accompanied an installation photograph of Mopping Up at Frank Juarez Gallery. The artist, Melissa Dorn Richards, who works between painting and sculpture, snapped the picture and sent the text as I churned through my course syllabus for Women in Art, contemplating the implications of feminist art and activism. I quickly realized, that beyond the humor of the Dorn Richards artwork is a set of serious ponderings about identity, women’s rights, and issues of labor.
A row of bangs greets me at the gallery door and welcomes me, with a touch of textile softness, into an exhibition that is at once both cool and closed and warm and open. This rare and intriguing ambivalence questions the validity of the art world’s obsession with transparency and revelation. These mop bangs adorn both the entry and back wall of the space. Mop fringe also adorns the floor along the baseboards, soft anemone tentacles that pull me in.
Mopping Up is full of tactile pleasures from latch hooked mop strands to highly textural paintings. Dorn Richards, who describes her hair as moppy, recalls her mother calling her a mophead as a teen. With this added context, the paintings become self-portraits, mop heads, capturing a mood or feeling in the gesture of simple forms, complicated by the maximal use of texture.
After the initial sensory experience, I begin to muse: Why mops? What does it mean to work with mops? textiles? craft? Is this women’s work? labor? The art objects, in their messy, wild state, refuse to be hemmed in. They are an investigation of independence, as Dorn Richards thoughtfully notes, “The form needed to rely on itself.”
A pair of small paintings, Mop XXI and Mop XXII, converse about shape and texture. Each is a stray strand of mop, cut during production of the latch hooking project that adorns the same wall. Other artists would ignore these scraps, but Dorn Richards looks at the overlooked and asks others to do the same.
Mop XXV, composed of latch hook and snow fence, draws in and then envelopes me as I approach. The 8 x 4 foot wall hanging provides warmth and comfort like a blanket on a snowy afternoon. Mop XXV manipulates the minimalism of geometric abstraction, conjuring Agnes Martin and Eva Hesse.
Finishing out the wall, Mop XXIII is a protest sign; mop handle and oil painting combine in the imagery of dissent. Dorn Richards uses the tools and materials of women’s work (a mop handle, her own painting) and and her own particular visual vocabulary (maximal texture, outlines that function as negative space, and her unique mop form) to call attention to feminist issues.
Mopping Up is an unusually successful solo exhibition. With an entry point of humor and softness, it is a holistic experience that examines memories of the past, compels a vital dialogue about issues of the present, and proposes a new possibilities for the future. Dorn Richards has created an exhibition that relies on itself. She is mopping up.