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Real surprises ...

Two exhibitions opened this month with virtually the same title. Lemberg Gallery advertises FRESH while David Klein is pushing (fresh). Both shows seem to focus on younger, emerging artists. I'm one of them. I'm represented by Lemberg Gallery and my work is featured in FRESH.

Just because you name a show fresh doesn't actually make it fresh. Besides, what does that mean? Who thinks it's fresh? Is it fresh to the artists, meaning new work? Is it fresh to the dealers, meaning they've never seen it before? Or is it fresh to the audience?

At Lemberg, "fresh" means the work keeps changing over the eight-week period. Director Darlene Carroll says, "By the end of the exhibit, the work will be entirely different. We'll change it at least four times; one time we might replace just one work, the next time maybe five. It depends on what's hanging well together. This is an eclectic selection of stuff." A second opening for Lemberg's rotating show is scheduled for July 18. The concept at David Klein Gallery, on the other hand, is to exhibit artists who are new to the gallery.

"We're introducing these artists who have not shown here before," director of contemporary art Christine Schefman explains, "some of whom might be represented by us in the future. Also, the work is supposed to be new."

The Klein Gallery exhibition is refreshing. Mary Kim's work dominates the gallery with pieces in each of the three rooms. With an undergraduate degree in painting and a graduate degree in architecture, Kim's art resides subtly between two and three dimensions, conveying an innate sense of balance. Her works are faceted structures made from steel or wood, painted with solid colors. The combination of elements makes the pieces seem as if they were once flat objects that have been cut and inverted upon themselves. They are almost painting and almost sculpture, and she sees them as architecture. Viewers can project themselves into the work, imagining what it must be like to sit within a space that mimics the wondrously repetitive nature of organic shapes. Her work isn't painting, sculpture or architecture, but something new.

In addition to Kim's sculptures, there are two-dimensional works: photographs by Lauren Semivan, paintings by Dalton Jamieson, a drawing and painting by Ben Kiehl, drawings by Ben Ball, paintings by Kelly Reemsten and more paintings by Brian Barr.

The work of Lauren Semivan is of great interest. She's a homegrown Detroiter (and daughter of well-known painter Doug Semivan) who moved back here after a year in Philadelphia. Semivan's strong body of work, reminiscent of Robert Rauschenberg's, begins in photography and ends in drawing. An untitled series of photos depicts the traditional elements of a photographer's studio: a black wall is lit by a hot lamp, and a small painted portrait or a white curtain hangs. In some pictures, a pair of hands — which belong to the artist — enters the picture frame from the edge. The hands manipulate pieces of string by playing cat's cradle or dangling an egg as if it's a yo-yo or pendulum. These games are ambiguous, since it's not explicit who's playing them or why. It's almost as if the photo itself is a game. The string, which looks like flat white lines against the dark wall, is almost a drawing. As with Kim's sculpture, viewers can project themselves into Semivan's photos.

On the surface, Semivan's photos lack traditional entry points: There is action but no narrative, and there are obscured images of objects and people, but their purpose is unclear. We know these objects are real, but they are presented in an unknown world. Her prints find beauty and, paradoxically, meaning in their allusions. The art forces the viewer to ask questions different than the typical, what is it?

Directly complementing Semivan's work is that of Dalton Jamieson. As Semivan's work is dark, large and enveloping, Jamieson's work is light, small and intimate. He paints mundane domestic spaces void of the everyday objects that furnish a home. Each work is softly beautiful and, cumulatively, they create their own landscape.

Ben Kiehl's work in the exhibition is also of note. In pencil, he draws "An Attempt," wrinkles and tears on a piece of paper. The result is something that looks like it was crumpled then smoothed back out. This is realism at its best: Kiehl's art has us believing not simply that the drawing is a realistic representation, but that the actual paper has been altered. He leaves the viewer vacillating between reality and illusion.

As a whole, the exhibition plays with our perceptions. Paintings, drawings and photographs muddle our understanding of what's real: Who lives in a house with no furniture, as depicted in Jamieson's paintings? And Semivan's photographs of real people and things intrigue more than inform. Ironically, Mary Kim's work seems the most real. —Jacque Liu


(fresh) runs through August 4 at David Klein Gallery, 163 Townsend, Birmingham; 248-433-2700.


... Quick changes

There is something slightly embarrassing and spooky, yet oddly reassuring about introducing two friends with the same first name to one another. So it goes with attending two distinct exhibitions with the same title (and participating in one of them).

FRESH, at Lemberg Gallery, currently exhibits strong work from both local and international artists. Included are Cranbrook artists in residence Beverly Fishman and Jane Lackey, as well as Cranbrook graduates Susan Bricker, Donald Cameron, Jacob Feige, Jacque Liu, Tom Lauerman and Jaya Miller. The show also features the work of Janet Hamrick, Rebecca Tufts, Tom Phardel, Brad Brown, Jane Hammond, Andrew Rogers, Lynne Avadenka and George Rush. Numerous others will pop up, as the exhibit continues to rotate throughout the summer months.

A few initial favorites: Lynne Avadenka's series "The Space Between Monuments," presents works on paper created while she participated in a residency in Schwandorf, Germany. The series reads like cryptic ancient diagrams, puzzles or landscape drawings, which she composed of maps in old travel books and muted drawings. Thanks to good curating, Avadenka's work engages in a dialogue with Jane Lackey's "Survey" series, intuitive works made from tape, stickers and paint on Japanese kozo paper that read like tech language or DNA codes. Brad Brown's "Piece 10" adds to this conversation of intuitive mark-making, while lending a more primitive, accidental, physical feeling. His relief sculpture in a smallish square hanging on the wall looked as if it were made out of found objects, and seemed abstract at first but then suggested figurative shapes. Brown's work also reads as a miniature landscape, composed of functional or industrial materials while appearing quiet, strange and makeshift.

While looking at and thinking about this show at Lemberg and attempting to draw connections between artists' work without knowing much about many of their larger bodies of work, it crossed my mind that larger group shows are often curated not only out of personal tastes of curators and gallery directors, but by larger categorical grouping criteria: new and old, painting and sculpture, or what seems to be the most nebulous category of all: emerging artists. What does that mean? When has an artist emerged exactly, and from where? And what good is that to him or her, to an audience or the art market?

As an artist exhibiting in the other (fresh) show at David Klein Gallery, I find myself in this category, considering what potential benefits there are to working as an artist in the Detroit area, having just returned home after spending a year in Philadelphia (supposedly the city of brotherly love, which never really loved me back). The move there was part of an attempt to be closer to New York City without having to live in squalor, but a special kind of Philly squalor somehow found me anyway. Detroit has much to offer "emerging" artists, a category that almost certainly makes up the gray area, at least, between occupying your first studio or hanging a first solo exhibition, and death. —Lauren Semivan


FRESH runs through August 11 at Lemberg Gallery, 23241 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-591-6623.


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