Flip your field, baby!

. January 21, 2014.
Sonia-Sheridan

Running through March 16, 2014 is the second exhibition in the University of Michigan Museum of Art’s Flip Your Field series, which asks noted UM faculty members to consider artwork outside their field of specialization and curate a show using works from UMMA’s collection. This exhibit’s guest curator is Professor Larry Cressman who has selected photographs from the UMMA’s extensive collection and put together two contrasting arrangements of photographic imagery.

The first is a display of many different images focusing on the subject of trees. It is a traditional, classical assembling of shots by everyone from Ansel Adams to artists you’ve never heard of. Well, at least I hadn’t heard of them until now. But they’re marvelous and the striking salon-style arrangement of them is part of the fun.

On an adjacent wall, Cressman has arranged a collection of photographs that have been uniquely manipulated by each artist, using the photographic process itself to create surprisingly individual statements. Sure, photos are everywhere today, from cell phones to surveillance tapes, all en route to the Photoshop. But these selections are a cut above, or maybe a thousand cuts. They push the boundaries of thought as much as of visual representation.

Cressman's credentials

A renowned artist and professor at the UM School of Art and Design, Cressman earned his B.S. in design in 1968 and his M.F.A. in printmaking and drawing in 1975, both from the UM school of A&D. Since 1976 Cressman has taught printmaking and drawing at the UM Residential College. He formally joined the A&D faculty in 2004 and has also been serving on the faculty of the UM Summer Study Abroad Program in Florence, Italy. Nice gig, Cressman! He is also a very successful private exhibitor, represented by the prestigious Hill Gallery in Birmingham, Michigan since 1986.

Over the past 25 years, Cressman’s work has evolved markedly through his explorations of drawing as a three-dimensional form of expression. He elevates the line on paper to a material reality that transcends the theoretical, non-dimensional line and plane. It was natural, therefore, that he was selected to represent the A&D faculty in the new exhibition Constellations – Lines and Pictures, which runs through Friday, February 14 in the Slusser Gallery in the A&D Building on North Campus. The show, curated by Peter Dykhuis of the Dalhousie Gallery of Halifax, Nova Scotia, purports to create a conversation investigating the lines, literal and conceptual, that both connect and divide us physically, geographically, socially, politically and spiritually. I like it just for cool pictures and objects. And it’s a good excuse to get to the A&D building, which is a living organism of beauty and artistic energy.

Chaos theory and atom smashing

Farther afield, the Cranbrook Art Museum has two shows, both running through Sunday, March 23. The larger, The Islands of Benoît Mandelbrot: Fractals, Chaos and the Materiality of Thinking, is an interesting depiction of art based on Chaos Theory and Fractal Geometry, the radical departure from Euclidian geometry that describes, mathematically, natural shapes like coastlines and clouds. The second show, which I found utterly enchanting, is Waylande Gregory: Art Deco Ceramics and the Atomic Impulse, an exploration of the work of, not surprisingly, Waylande Gregory (1905-1971). Gregory redefined American ceramics in the 1930s and 1940s and one of his most important stints was as Resident Ceramic Sculptor at Cranbrook in the early 30s. The exhibit features more than 60 works by the artist, especially pieces from his Fountain of the Atom installation, which stole the show at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Gregory pioneered a number of breakthroughs in the technique of ceramics, allowing for monumental pieces by building from inside out using repeated firings, first with a honeycomb infrastructure, then an outer “skin,” and finally his own quasi-secret glazes. There is a lovely new monograph of the exhibition available at the museum.

UMMA, 525 S. State St. 734-764-0395. umma.umich.edu
Cranbrook Art Museum, 39221 Woodward Ave.,
Bloomfield Hills. 248-645-3320.
cranbrookart.edu/museum/