“This summer exhibition is really an extension of one of the original missions of Revolution: A Gallery Project [the original name of Revolution Gallery], which is to slow people down and make them look, and think about other possibilities in art.” That’s the explanation assistant director Sandra Schemske gives about the operating principle of “Pas de Deux,” the current exhibition that she co-curated with Revolution’s director Paul Kotula. In “Pas de Deux,” pairs of artists’ works are brought together that have some “formal or thematic” feature that Kotula and Schemske perceived to spark some other perceptions about the specific works or about art in general.
Group shows are generally dangerously tedious; more a reason for a group grope — or at least a hug — than a serious consideration of the works themselves. That is, unless the work is really good all by itself; then let the theme be damned. But here, Revolution’s best artists are coupled and are generally great together. And then there are some interesting and not so interesting pas de deux (dances for two) created by the pairings.
Heather McGill was finishing the installation of her untitled urethane wall relief and was enthusiastic about the exhibition’s concept, and about seeing her work paired with Stephen Tourlentes’ two large black-and-white photographs of urban prison yards. McGill’s “cellular”-shaped foam piece was generated by an architectural plan for a prison in which, for security and control, each prison cell was envisioned to be within visual control of one principal location. McGill’s modular construction is a beautiful meditation on how nature’s organic design (think beehives) has influenced modern design and architecture. The interaction between her panopticon design and Tourlentes’ nighttime photos of overlit prison yards is a great example of how two seemingly unrelated media forms merge and spark a meditation on everything from urban design issues to human interaction.
A less heady dialogue is evident in Sue Williams’ painting Rhinoplasty Re-growth and James Shrosbree’s UB(ocular). The simple reason for their pairing, it seems, is that both pieces are luminescent royal blue and both are, humorously, studies in morphing forms suggesting sexual and other human mutational connotations. Together they create a kind of lighthearted conceptual cartoon.
Ann Mikowloski’s miniature painting Bill Berkson (red devil) hangs next to Howard Kottler’s earthenware Cubist Cubed and it appears as if Berkson has looked up from the manuscript from which he is reading to see Kottler’s amazing golden form. There’s a wonderful interplay between Mikolowski’s elegant study of the formal properties of Berkson’s hands, manuscript, red tie and red shirt and Kottler’s shimmering golden cubistic relief within the black cubed volume. Aside from the humorous drama created between them, there’s actually a nice equation of form and content inherent in each piece of art that might otherwise be missed in looking at them separately.
There’s a whimsical quality in the exhibition that goes right along with summer reading lists and long leisurely afternoons, but there are also dangers of being too literal, obvious or silly (although summer and silly are nice partners too) in pairing artists. I’m not sure that Gina Ferrari’s large inkjet print of red roses (Roses III) will be able to live up to Conrad Bakker’s magnificently funny, carved wooden garden hose (knot) with a cranky knot in it to unsnarl. Or if Patrick Burton’s three small paintings of floral, arabesque and heart patterns (Thrice Told Tales), though campily touching in their own right, can be seen as anything but a detail or swatch of Larry Fink’s large photo of the back of a bride’s dress in a wedding scene (Christian La Croix, Paris, Jan. 1998).
There are 55 works in the exhibition, not the least of which is 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, the window installation of suitcases by Fabio Fernandez — and it’s a long hot summer.
“Pas de Deux” is at Revolution Gallery (23257 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; call 248-541-3444) through July 27.Glen Mannisto writes about visual art for Metro Times. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org