Art Seen: National

ANOTHER LOOK AT DETROIT // MARIANNE BOESKY & MARLBOROUGH CHELSEA

by Tara Plath

Another Look at Detroit, a two-part exhibition currently on view at Marianne Boesky and Marlborough Chelsea, is curator Todd Levin’s heartfelt endeavor to shed a more personal and positive light on a city recently cast into the shadows of bankruptcy. Levin’s selection is far-reaching and diverse, creating a narrative that appears more singular to his taste than thematic of the city itself. Perhaps most surprising is the museum-like atmosphere of the exhibition, which supports a strange union of works dating back nearly two centuries.  At times, the installation approaches a Decorative Arts style of display, with designed objects, historical artifacts, paintings, and sculptures arranged in clusters. It becomes difficult to turn one’s attention to any single piece, with the exception perhaps of Liz Cohen’s piece Hydro Force, a 55 second video of a scantily clad and very pregnant Cohen brazenly showing off her custom car bouncing on hydraulics, threatening to shake her other creation right out of her.

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Installation view of Another Look at Detroit: Parts 1 and 2. Courtesy of Marlborough Chelsea, New York © 2014. Photo credit: Bill Orcutt

Levin uses clearly identifiable structures to support the disparate collection of over 100 works. This includes nearly identical installation methods in the entrances of both galleries, with dimly lit entryways featuring two kiddie-cornered works to the immediate left and an object resting on a pedestal in the opposite far right corner. The two-part exhibition presents Tony Matelli’s delicate bronze sculpture Weed, hidden in plain sight, twice. Levin even goes so far as to mimic the framework of Mike Kelly’s Center and Peripheries #2, a blank canvas with wood armatures branching out to various painted portraits, to create his own take on juxtapositions.

Another Look at Detroit can feel like a hermetically sealed citywide retrospective, something to be observed from a safe and unemotional distance. The mirroring acts and repetitive motifs feel forced, similar to Levin’s placement of Bill Rauhauser’s Woman on Bus, forcing the woman’s gaze into the last century of Robert Duncanson’s 1870s Landscape, an unsubtle gesture that neither decontextualizes nor animates the works. This is also enforced by Levin’s placement of disjointed time periods and mediums collected together in playful groupings – like the “grid-things” section at Marianne Boesky, with John Egner’s wall sculpture Doug’s Smoke, Gilda Snowden’s wood and caustic object Jim’s Valet, and Harry Beroia’s Children’s Chair, manufactured by Knoll Furniture Co. Or, in the same gallery – or the collection of “stringy things,” included Kate Levant’s drain plug assemblage Untitled, Marie T. Hermmann’s wistful sculpture The river of time (but you are still here), and Hughie Lee-Smith’s 1955 painting of a young woman spinning on a maypole with industrial structures in the cloudy background.

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Woman on Bus, c. 1955-1960. Pigment print on archival paper. Framed Dimensions: 28 1/2 x 28 1/2 inches 72.4 x 72.4 cm. Edition 4 of 7. Signed on label, verso. Courtesy Hill Gallery, Birmingham, MI © Bill Rauhauser

Another Look At Detroit approximates its title. While criticism has been directed towards the seemingly superficial approach to depicting a city that currently represents an American tragedy, the scale of the exhibition promotes a vision of activity, even if a bleak reality lies just beneath the surface. The exhibition serves as an important reminder that Detroit has a rich history and a possible future, existing as far more than a mere case study or dramatic headline.


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Another Look at Detroit: Parts 1 & 2 between Marianne Boesky and Marlborough Chelsea runs through August 8, 2014.

Tara Plath is an artist and writer based in New York City. She holds a Bachelors of Fine Arts with an emphasis in sculpture and a Bachelors of Arts in Visual and Critical Studies from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC).

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