Just past six months into its tenure, Hamtramck’s new Primary Space gallery has found its stride, so to speak. Strangely enough, it’s with a somewhat disjointed group show, a motley crew of mostly unknowns. Who knew?
Opening in June of this year, gallery partners Carrie Hazel and Jamie Latendresse (both formerly of CPOP) got by with a little help from their friends in an opening group exhibition, Art Array 01, and subsequent solos showing the work of Bask and Kurt Halsey Frederiksen. Since Primary Space is only open three days a week (and by appointment the rest of the week), these shows stretched for two months each.
But now that their space on Yemens (formerly Exchange: Japan, and before that, the local chamber of commerce office, and before that, a butcher) is a little more established, the two had the freedom to try out new and emerging talents from around the country in Bits & Pieces, on display through Dec. 27.
With a growing mailing list and the attention that goes with being one of the very few venues showing fine art in Hamtramck, the gallery already is booked through October of next year with one-month-long exhibitions. The space itself is airy and inviting, while a wee bit on the small side, with pristine white walls, except for the cinderblock entrance and the bathroom, both of which are a very refreshing shade of lime green. With Hazel’s and Latendresse’s commitment to providing affordable art, it’s a great resource for new and/or young collectors — and a place for seasoned vets to check out some emerging talent. Most of the artists in Bits & Pieces have not previously shown in Detroit, some never in a gallery at all.
“I love the idea of having brand-new work that nobody has ever seen before,” Hazel says, “because Detroit — as vast as it is — it’s a very small city and it is incestuous with its art crowd. Everybody knows everybody and you get to know the work. So it’s very exciting to me to bring in something new and fresh.”
One of the 11 artists, Amathin was recommended by Bask. She works at American Greetings during the day and had a few co-worker friends, Christopher Ryniak and Mike Burnett, that she thought might be good for the show. Hazel and Latendresse had seen Deth P. Sun’s work and contacted him after that. Two of the artists are from Hamtramck — Carl Oxley III and Christopher Schneider (the only photographer of the bunch, who recently hooked up with Carrie Ann Williams and Kelly Germaine Root to help open the Williams Root Gallery in Hamtramck). Robert Bellm is from California; Allyson Mellberg lives in North Carolina and Keren Richter, Ryan Wallace and Dalek are from New York.
Perhaps what draws this post-pop medley of pieces together most is a strong link to childhood. Many of the works seem to hide under the cover of a childlike wonder, or maybe the artists are regressing with the intent to uncover some kind of unadulterated truth.
Amathin’s graffiti-like collages combine storybook illustrations of shiny, red-ripe cherries and a kitten in a pinafore holding a saucer of milk at a tea party. A spoon balancing a sugar cube evokes Mary Poppins’ singsong nurturing. One piece paints over the torn cover of a Little Golden Book. One of Amathin’s more powerful pieces, “Venus Envy” includes a smoking potbellied baby floating above the Betty Crocker spoon logo. Outlines of shoe prints dance up the side toward a shadowy embrace and the words “momma sez knock you up.” Her works contain layers of items rubbed on (tattoos, letters) and scratched off, which contrasts nicely with a lot of the super-clean submissions found throughout the rest of the showing.
There was one other “dirty” painter in the bunch, however. But maybe “organic” describes it better. Ryan Wallace, whose bio boasts work featured in The Wall Street Journal and GQ, combines a rough collection of muddy mustard yellows and dried blood maroons and burgundies into earthy, soulful pieces that almost don’t look finished when placed next to the slick pools of bright paint in works by artists such as his New York contemporary, Dalek. Wallace’s paintings elicit musty antiquity of soul/funk/jazz record covers, while Dalek’s marching, beaked space monkeys scream iPod. Yet both fit fine in this post-everything landscape — maybe because the monkeys have bloated Sissy Hankshaw hitchhiker thumbs.
The girls in Keren Richter’s silk screens also have a children’s storybook illustration quality to them with turned-in toes and heart-shaped lips. But the fantasyland(scapes) have more of a vertigo-inducing consumption numbness to them, sad and frightening in a way, but too surreal to elicit actual fear. It’s as if the little girls in Henry Darger’s drawings grew up, got sharp hipster haircuts, started smoking and now exist within the realm of reality television.
The show might not be a holiday season blockbuster, but it won’t break the bank either.
Bits & Pieces shows at Primary Space, 2750 Yemens in Hamtramck, through Dec. 27. The gallery is open Thursday and Friday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday from noon to 5 p.m or by appointment; call 313-870-9470.Melissa Giannini is a freelance writer. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.