Whenever I hear the words “group show,” I reach for the remote. Exhibiting anywhere from four to 40 artists together is so often the lazy solution to a lack of curatorial focus — and becomes a pot of gruel serving up thin, unsatisfying portions.
But this isn’t at all an issue in detroit contemporary’s season premiere, the five shows-plus that have been up since Sept. 14 and culminate this Sunday. Actually, dc has always veered away from the old single-minded gallery idea, and now looks more and more like a museum of contemporary art as it continues to define and refine its ambitions. One of the more active venues in our rapidly evolving art scene, the original storefront on Rosa Parks Boulevard has expanded to include a sculpture garden with permanent installations and two large truck trailers that augment the available space.
The ground was broken for the “multiple-show” idea when Ferndale’s Revolution began presenting whole rooms of work by three or four artists at a time — generous hunks of inspiration that have allowed us to keep track of such mainstays as Jim Chatelain, Larry Fink and Jae Won Lee, while introducing our imaginations to a shattering new visionary now and then. With even more space at its disposal but far less connection to the (inter)national art scene, dc travels a similar multipronged path.
Occupying dc’s ground-floor gallery is a series of pieces by Peter Mallo, a recent CCS graduate who resides in Rochester, N.Y. Though Mallo’s attention is divided among etchings and various construction strategies, it’s his spectacular, sculptural painting Conversion #2 (combining resin, oil, marble dust and watercolor on wood) that just bowls you over with its gestural courage. Spreading across the whole south wall of the gallery, it brings together minimalist verve and sensuous colorism to strike out in an electrifying, illusionistic direction — which is, after all, the point, n’est-ce pas? Two smaller works in the same geometrically faceted vein promise more from this young artist.
The second floor at dc presents a juicy suite of paintings by Brooklynite Jason Brougham (master’s of fine arts from University of Michigan). Though the works lean unmistakably on Giacometti and de Kooning, their splashy energy and bravura use of color deliver a swift caress to the eyeballs. Here’s a 21st century artist reopening the abstract expressionist lexicon to create “portraits” (in particular Head: Six Pieces and Two Abstract Heads) and “landscapes” (which is one way to think of such jazz-solo-istic works as Scale or Needles or House Fire or Slash) — a tangible pleasure.
Two separate installations by Free Multi-Medium, Inc. (aka Mare Costello) use plastic and multicolor lamination, and run the gamut from dull (the ceiling cubes in dc’s brick room gallery) to dramatic (a trailer-full of color-addicted works in the sculpture garden). Costello’s strength has always been in her intuitive sense of materials — all the way from metal to Xerox — and such joyful accumulations as thirty-eight dollars a yard, clearly and in the blue house reaffirm her ability to be both technological and whimsical at the same time.
In the next trailer over from Costello, another example of that potentially facile (and often boring) trend in Motor City installation art — the accumulation of old stuff — actually makes the idea work for a change. Jeanne Bieri and Teresa Petersen just shock the monkey with Harvest Gold (pictured), a whole apartment’s worth of antique detritus and desiderata juxtaposed with their own paintings, drawings, constructions, etc. The key to their success is precisely at this personal level of investment. Otherwise, what could have gone no further than an Edward Kienholz-Mike Kelley sandwich becomes a touching encounter between past and present, surrealism and naturalism, the poetic and the achingly mundane.
On your way out, don’t forget to stroll through the sculpture garden where, among others, Nolan Simon’s in-ground concrete lozenge and Hugh Timlin’s haunting monolith will make your day.
detroit contemporary’s season premiere continues through Sunday, Oct. 27, at 5141 Rosa Parks Blvd., Detroit. Call 313-898-4ART.George Tysh is Metro Times arts editor. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org