Homeland Security paranoiacs may be trying to squelch the flow of people and information across the border, but the Art Gallery of Windsor is keeping it moving. For the first the time since the 1960s, AGW has included artists from Detroit and environs in its biennial exhibition, and has come up with a winner show in the process.
AGW contemporary art curator James Patten assembled Windsor Biennial 2004 along with Jamelie Hassan, an internationally known artist/lecturer who lives and works in London, Ont., and Aaron Timlin, director of Detroit Artists Market. The exhibition features work by 16 artists.
The show was selected from a call for submissions (126 artists responded) and was not the result of curators going after a hit list of artists, which is what happens, for example, with the Whitney Biennial. So the Windsor Biennial isn’t a definitive take on our aesthetic internationalism or an attempt to canvass the best of the best in the area. The curators simply say their show “attempts to reveal what is happening in visual art in this region.” As a snapshot of our local scene, it works just fine.
Most of the artists in the show are originally from outside the Windsor/Detroit area, coming from as far away as Japan and Italy. Two were born in the United States but are now Canadian citizens. One, video artist Chris McNamara, is a Windsor native who teaches at the University of Michigan. The exhibit represents a cosmopolitan crowd as befits the gateway of NAFTA (according to the Journal of Commerce, 70 percent of U.S. trade with Canada passes through Detroit).
If anyone in the show is an itinerant of globalized postmodern culture, it’s McNamara. Besides teaching at U-M, he’s been involved in exhibitions and other projects on both sides of the border (as well as in Europe) for well over a decade. His installation “Intersections” is a darkened room with side-by-side projections of video footage shot on the streets of Barcelona, Zurich and Detroit set to an ambient soundtrack by Steve Roy. Synchronized in slow motion, the major difference in locales seems to be the proliferation of Vespas in Europe and SUVs in America.
The Canadians in the show seem less preoccupied with making marketable “art products” than the Americans. Instead, they’re more concerned with process. Windsor-based artist A.G. Smith’s work is essentially agitprop (artwork that aims to incite political action). His “Sidewalk Tank” is made according to hobbyist instructions the artist found in a 1956 copy of Popular Mechanics. The pedal-propelled toy vehicle has been used by antiwar groups to lead the charge at political marches and rallies.
Another Windsorite, Margaret Lawrence, makes meticulously detailed dioramas of Inuit encampments that are miniature geographic and cultural descriptions of her sojourns to the islands of lower Hudson Bay. Tony Mosna’s installation “Stuff in the Air” features jagged shapes pinned to the wall and suspended from the ceiling. Mosna lives near the Ambassador Bridge on the Windsor side; his piece is inspired by picturesque sunsets over the structure, whose shimmering effects are the result of airborne pollutants that refract light into many colors, like a prism. However, the “stuff in the air” also degrades the quality of life for those who live in the shadow of the constant parade of commercial traffic across the border.
Mosna’s materials are cheap — recycled cardboard, hardware store spray paint, fishing line, etc.; it’s not the materials that matter but the message.
Five of the six painters are Detroiters. The sixth painter, Susan Gold, was born and educated in the Motor City, but since 1977 has lived in Windsor where she teaches at the School of the Arts and is now a naturalized Canadian.
One of the painters happens to be Peter Williams, a hot contemporary painter who taught at Wayne State University for 15 years and recently left for the University of Delaware (see “Fond Farewell,” Metro Times, July 7, 2004). He’s represented with six recent canvases, including “Regime Change,” a sublimely wacky painting of a distended head composed of displaced body parts that looks like something Francis Bacon may have concocted had he been sold into white slavery at the Walt Disney Company.
Metro Times arts writer Phaedra Robinson exhibits a 23-foot-wide mixed media painting on plywood panels originally shown as one of the Public Art Project billboards on Woodward Avenue in Ferndale. Built up in swirling layers of graffiti-esque gestures, it shows she can walk the walk as well as talk the talk.
Given the proximity and interconnectedness of Detroit and Windsor, it’s surprising this kind of exhibition doesn’t happen more often. Perhaps Windsor Biennial 2004 will change that.
Windsor Biennial 2004 runs through Aug. 22 at the Art Gallery of Windsor, 401 Riverside Drive W. in Windsor, four blocks west of the Detroit/Windsor Tunnel. Gallery hours: Thursday noon-5 p.m.; Friday noon-8 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Wednesday closed. Call 519-977-0013.Vince Carducci writes about art for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org