THE INDEPENDENT VOICE OF THE VISUAL ARTS
by Mariwyn Curtin
So much time, if one can get past the terror of the capacious days. What has the quarantine quietude wrought?
“New Work/New Year” is a group exhibition that celebrates the production of artists in confinement and the end of 2020. Nearly all the works are from that unforgettable yet hazy year in which time was forbidden to be filled with doings and goings and gatherings. The show at David Klein, on view from January 16 to February 27, 2021, presents a stunning array of results from this extraordinary era in works by 15 artists.
One beautifully curated wall reads like a three-stanza visual poem about the slow tick and distortion of time in 2020. In A Sweep of the Second Hand, Robert Schefman’s oil on canvas depicts a woman in a green satin slip as she writes an endless list of months in chalk on a black-painted surface, reminiscent of a prisoner's tally of days on a cell wall. Next to it hangs Bending Moment No. 1, in which Susan Goethel Campbell has bent a willow branch at unnatural angles around a wood panel trapezium. The slanted bottom edge of the gessoed panel makes the artwork feel farther away than it really is as my mind tries to square the panel by sliding to the one point in the gallery where Bending Moment No. 1 might appear as a true rectangle. I feel the passage of days or months between this work and the next as the single willow branch proliferates into a large bundle of twigs in the third piece on the wall.
Untitled, August 4, 1/5, is an archival print created via large-format film camera by Lauren Semivan. The photograph centers on a bale of branches, tied down or suspended over a battle of white and black paint, the field between those polarities like a blackboard wiped with erasers that need to be clapped. In my imagination, the woman in Schefman’s painting became frustrated, rubbed away her litany of chalked months, and walked off, leaving a desolate still life of branches in her wake.
Installation view at David Klein Gallery showing Matthew Hawtin, Verge, 2020, acrylic on canvas, 48” x 48” and Boundaries II, 2020 acrylic on canvas, 48” x 48”; Mark Sengbusch, Montessori, 2020, acrylic on plywood. 18” x 18” x 12” and Strawberry Shortcake, 2020, acrylic on plywood, 25” x 31”. Photo by Samantha Schefman.After experiencing the disorienting tilt of Campbell’s piece, I would have thought I was prepared to turn toward Matthew Hawtin’s paired paintings. From the length of the room away they zip in primary colors evocative of certain Barnett Newman works and look like they may also be wood that has been cut into slightly non-rectilinear shapes. On closer approach Verge and Boundaries II reveal themselves to be canvas stretched over supports that pop certain corners of the surface farther away from the wall than others. Even closer, the canvases seem to curve. I feel caught up in a swift rush of vertigo, as if the color fields generate some sort of spatial vortex between them. Although upon inspection, all the edges are confirmed to be straight lines, my eyes and brain feel like they are rolling in a half-pipe.
I summon my sea legs to slip around the wall into the next space to investigate the row of frames by Mark Sengbusch that contain brightly painted, curved and angled shapes of wood. The palette and title of each work, such as Strawberry Shortcake or 1970s Suit, derive from pop culture inspirations. Geometric openwork lets the richly hued background peek through zig-zags and loops arranged like written language, a secret code, or a musical score. And there is music in this room: the jazzy jam of Soft Machine that trickles out of Scott Hocking’s digital film, Kayaking Through the Quarantimes. The film is a soothing drift on rivers and canals throughout Detroit and Southeast Michigan. It’s something of a highlight reel that features the wildlife, shipwrecks, and rusty walls of passing shipping vessels that the artist encountered on 15 kayak trips taken between April and December 2020. Municipalities countrywide exhorted “the outdoors are still open!” to encourage mental and physical health while so much of our daily life was shut down. That Hocking actually takes up that advice while I am watching his adventures mediated through a video display feels typical of 2020.
Ricky Weaver, My First Mind Tells Me, 2020, archival pigment print, 30 ¼” x 45 ¼” (framed). Image courtesy of David Klein Gallery.
The interiority that many have experienced during the pandemic is visceral in Ricky Weaver’s archival pigment print, My First Mind Tells Me. A woman seen thrice simultaneously within a single room in divided time (and once in silhouette) expresses the sense of aloneness in a confined space: waiting, sitting, looking through a doorway, peering out a window. Discarded press-on nails resemble petals that have dropped to the tabletop from a bouquet, perhaps bought to enliven the solitude or celebrate an occasion without a gathering of loved ones.
Kim McCarty, Rainbow, 2020, watercolor on arches paper, 16 ¾” x 54 ¼” (framed). Image courtesy of David Klein Gallery.
Rainbow, a watercolor from Kim McCarty, is the one work that features anything resembling a crowd. Figures in a multitude of hues stand in three distinct groups, and so much closer to each other than COVID-19 guidelines would advise. The transparency of several figures evokes the feeling that the ability to gather in such groups is a fading memory yet also calls to mind the disappearance of family and friends lost to the coronavirus in the past year.
Transparent body parts are also an element in three panels from the Late Stage, New Age series by Cooper Holoweski. Aura-like backgrounds host computers and other means of quarantine connection, as well as equipment to exercise and maintain spiritual and physical health while confined in the home. These objects are far more solid than the images of hand or foot. It’s as if our presence as bodily beings fades away while we are reduced to pixels on a screen to meet with others.
The only pieces in the show that at first glance seem to be from pre-pandemic times are delicate silverpoint studies from 2018 by Mario Moore: Study for To Alleea Spann, Study for To Mesha Cherie, Study for To Toria Turner, and Study for To Amani Minter. The nature of silverpoint, though, is that no matter how finely detailed and realized the drawing—as these portraits are—the work is not completed when an artist lays the stylus down. Collaboration with the air continues for months afterward; tarnish warms the traces of silver in the grayish lines. The atmosphere of 2020 has changed and become a part of these works, just as it has changed each of us and become a part of who we are as we move forward into the new year and beyond.
And it may be the traces of 2020 left in me that have filtered my view of some of these works as pandemic-related when they are not. Some artists, such as Ebitenyefa Baralaye, Jason Patterson, Marianna Olague, Kelly Reemtsen and Rosalind Tallmadge, have contributed pieces that clearly continue familiar bodies of work.
The organizing principle of this group exhibition is simply “New Work,” and the strength of the collection here shows that the artists have put the quarantine times to good use in creating it.
Mariwyn Curtin is an artist and writer living in Detroit, MI. Primarily an author and editor in educational publishing, she previously interviewed ten award-winning photographers about their craft to write the copy for Hasselblad Masters. Vol. 2: Emotion and currently writes about Detroit art and artists for the publication Essay'd.
Installation view at David Klein Gallery showing Robert Schefman, A Sweep of the Second Hand, 2020, oil on canvas. 64” x 48”; Susan Goethel Campbell, Bending Moment No. 1, 2020, wood panel, gesso, willow. 23” x 39” x 1 ¾”; Lauren Semivan, Untitled, August 4, 1/5, 2020, archival pigment print, 54” x 44” (framed); Ebitenyefa Baralaye, Vessel #1, 2020, stoneware, slip, soda-fired, 29” x 10” x 10”. Photo by Samantha Schefman.
Cooper Holoweski, Late Stage, New Age (Apple Products, Orange Hard Drive, Soap, Prism, Purple Aura), 2020, mixed media, 43” x 28” (framed). Image courtesy of David Klein Gallery.
Mario Moore, Study for To Toria Turner, 2018, silverpoint on prepared paper, 15” x 12” (framed). Image courtesy of David Klein Gallery.
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