U-M alums lend their favorite pieces to a special exhibition

. September 1, 2017.
UMMA Alumni Exhibition
(L) Kenojuak Ashevak’s “The Enchanted Owl.” (R) This reliqurary figure is one of 52 pieces donated by alums for the exhibit.

Pleasures of the eye direct the visitor experience in Victors for Art: Michigan’s Alumni Collectors Part II: Abstraction exhibit on view until October 29 at the U-M Museum of Art. To commemorate of U-M’s 2017 Bicentennial, alumni were invited to share favorite pieces from their collections. The breadth of work reflects response to the term abstraction; including subject matter, materials, and practices. Several of the fifty-two eclectic works on display, not previously shown publicly, offer viewers opportunity to explore unique pairings. This atypical path to exhibition afforded curators the chance to consider conversations between disparate works and to focus on the “pleasure in looking at art and using our eyes as the ultimate tool,” according to Lehti Keelmann, one of five exhibit designers.

Pieces in Conversation

The four gallery areas offer loose thematic groupings: geometric shape, line and form; gestural technique; the living and natural world; and bodies, faces and language. Entering UMMA’s A. Alfred Taubman Gallery, visitors are immediately invited to delight in the imagined conversation between a large Amish quilt, where geometric pattern creates a sense of movement, and a smaller canvas piece (“Vestigio 53”) overlaid with gold leaf by Columbian textile artist Olga de Amaral (who studied fabric art at Cranbrook) echoing the quilt in form and oscillation. Louise Nevelson’s large-scale monochromatic wall sculpture, “Dark Presence III,” recently donated to UMMA, an anchoring work in the space, serves as a transitional piece between geometric and gestural abstraction.

Art Made From Blood

Hans Hoffmann’s “St. Francis” tackles a traditionally religious subject of art – the conversion and mystical vision of St. Francis – yet by pairing the piece with Cuban-American artist José Parlá’s “Capricious Mapping,” exploring urban identity and the life of cities, viewers are invited to see how both works celebrate painterly technique and artistic process through different methods. Around the corner is a viscerally powerful, glistening and shocking blood-painting by Jordan Eagles entitled “URTSBC.” Sourcing animal blood from slaughterhouses, Eagles encases and splatters of blood in resin, preserves the colors, patterns and textures for a stained-glass effect. Unexpected delights and surprises like these abound in the show, a result of the open nature of the call for submissions.

“The Enchanted Owl,” by Inuit artist Kenojuak Ashevak, a cherished Canadian icon, may feel familiar to northern neighbors – the image appeared on Canada’s 1970 Centennial Stamp of the Northwest Territories. Sealskin and stone were used to create the print, producing an oscillating effect, enlivening and animating the two-dimensional surface. Other work exploring the natural world includes photography by Ansel Adams, British painter Howard Hodgkin’s “David’s Pool,” Alexander Calder’s Snake sculpture, and Tony Smith’s “Duck.”

Natural, Unexpected Couplings

Another natural, if unexpected coupling, in the grouping exploring Bodies, Faces and Language, presents the visual resonance of a late 19th century Reliquary Figure of the Kota Peoples from Gabon, with the bust sculpture, “Téte de Diego,” by Alberto Giacometti, inviting dialogue between cultures, periods and geographic regions. Nearby, works by Jasper Johns and Robert Raschenberg face each other, a fitting tribute to the active artistic dialogue of the artists. Between the two works is Barbara Kruger’s “Made for You,” the second anchoring piece of the show, rivaling the Nevelson in scale. Immersed in the graphic design world, Kruger employs mass-market fonts, colors and advertising designs in her compositions. It is impossible for the eye to miss “Made for You,” a work that insists it be noticed and interpreted by visitors.

This engagement on the viewer’s terms is a guiding principle of the show. As Keelman explains, structuring the show brought the curators back to the core of their work – looking. The exhibit celebrates “the pleasures of close looking, discovering new things when looking at work by a Jasper Johns and Joel Shapiro, thinking about similarities and differences, and seeing things in a new light.” For exploring pleasures of the eye – this show is sure to oblige.

For more info about all things art @ UMMA, visit umma.umich.edu.

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