Arts & Culture » Visual Art

Alley Wonderland

Lifting your head from the surrealistic pillow, you rise from a pool of dreams too wonderful to survive in the light of day. But right in a nearby thicket (or, more precisely, an alley between Trumbull and Lincoln in Detroit) is an art space where otherwise impossible visions become reality.

You never know what to expect at Alley Culture. The maverick art project just west of Wayne State University is one of the truly innovative exhibition spaces in town, with ideas for shows that few regular galleries (and certainly not the museums) would ever try.

Take the latest of Alley's offerings, "Art + Suitcase, Will Travel," which brings together 15 Detroit, New Jersey and New York artists in a traveling exhibition developed around the ideas of luggage and displacement. Each of the works on display fits into and travels, economy-class, from site to site in a suitcase (from Jersey City last June, to Detroit, to Omaha, then Long Island, then to parts yet unknown).

This unique conception often involves gallery workers in on-the-spot re-creations of works from printed directions and diagrams. One such piece is Bill Barrell's fairly indeterminate "Multiple Choices," which includes photographs of "clothing" made by pinning variously colored scouring pads to the wall behind a suitcase containing a photo catalog of possibilities: shoes, shorts, socks, etc. -- things you'd expect to find in luggage. At Alley Culture, curator Sherry Hendrick has chosen to reconstruct a shirt.

From this starting point near the gallery entrance, and following in a succession of dazzling visions, one after another of the suitcases unpacks itself before your eyes. Hendrick's own "Black Hat No Tie" makes old vinyl LPs into a Lego-like sculpture set that gleams with elegant playfulness. "The Great Escape" by Karen Shaw is a kind of gold slinky spring gone bananas, as if frozen after bursting from its case (remember those novelty snakes in cans of peanut brittle?).

Detroiter Bob Sestok's funky-butt painted wood sculpture gives constructivism a joyful name again (amazing how such an imposing piece fits into its trunk, which itself melds quite invisibly into the whole). And Christine Hagedorn of Detroit makes uncanny use of matchbook insides in the molded figure of "The Search for Fire."

Among the other wonders are D. Capobianco's "Game" (a 3-D de Chirico-esque still life with a slew of nods to modern art history), Detroiter Paul Schwarz's masterful "Exile" (featuring a heart-stoppingly beautiful collage of tickets, announcements, etc.) and New York co-curator Ron Morosan's mini-exhibition of dog drawings that achieve a cerebral silence worthy of Plato.

But the emblem of the show is Jason Hunsinger's "Six Men on the Move" which hangs from the rafters and seems to have found its predestined home in the gallery's raw wood interior. Fashioned from peeled branches and a soft yellow suitcase, it proposes art activity as a kind of itinerant puppet show, an unknown agency pulling the strings.

"It's independent, intimate galleries like these which can be really creative," Morosan commented before returning to New York last week. He suggested that Alley Culture has successfully avoided both the timidity and inertia of larger institutions and the group show-itis of galleries which bring together dozens of artists around a quickly exhausted "theme." That's because "Art + Suitcase, Will Travel" has no central theme, no content limitation imposed on its artists, just a liberating formal principle that has made art seem totally new again.

George Tysh is Metro Times' arts editor. E-mail him at gtysh@metrotimes.com

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