Here Comes the Sun

There’s some really cool stuff going on this month and I don’t know where to start, so let’s start at the University of Michigan Museum of Art. Opening on May 18 and running through September 1 is Isamu Noguchi/Qi Baishi/Beijing 1930. Noguchi is best known for his Noguchi Table, a staple of Mid-century Modern design–you can’t thumb through an Architectural Digest without seeing one. He designed it in 1939 for Conger Goodyear, president of the Museum of Modern Art. Design swami George Nelson at Herman Miller picked it up for the masses in 1947, and it’s still in production. Most often known for his sculptures, Noguchi is also critically acclaimed for his gardens, ceramics, architecture and set designs (for Merce Cunningham, Martha Graham, Balanchine–guys like that).  He was born in Los Angeles in 1904 to an American mother and Japanese father. He lived in Japan until he was 13, and from then was based in the U.S. But he traveled continuously, soaking in large-scale public works in Mexico, earthy ceramics and tranquil gardens in Japan, the purity of marble in Italy, and subtle ink-brush techniques in China. And the latter is what the current exhibition is about.

In 1930 Noguchi traveled east on the Trans-Siberian Railroad, stopped for six months in Beijing and studied with brush-and-ink painter, Qi Baishi (1864-1957). The UMMA show comprises sixty drawings, including ink paintings, calligraphic works and sculptures and interpretive materials from the UMMA, the Noguchi Museum and other public and private collections. In 1985 Noguchi opened the Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum (now the Noguchi Museum) in Long Island City, New York–he died three years later, having received seemingly endless awards, accolades and citations. You’ll never have a better chance to see ink painting at its best.

Also at the UMMA, through August 11, is a stunning installation, Laurie Anderson:  From the Air. Anderson is a multi-threat talent, including performance, visual arts, film and, I guess, everything.  She is provocative, political and above all a story-teller. I saw her Songs and Stories from Moby Dick in 1999 at the Power Center, but I missed her Delusion there in 2011. From the Air is her third major installation, based on a song from her 1982 album Big Science. It consists of small clay sculptures with video projection and sound of her, holographic-like, telling a story of her dog being terrorized at the beach by a gaggle of turkey vultures. Anderson has collaborated with David Byrne and Peter Gabriel and if that’s not enough on the wild side, she’s married to Lou Reed.

River Gallery, in charming nearby downtown Chelsea, has adopted a winning strategy:  partnering with the University of Michigan School of Art and Design for various and sundry projects around Ann Arbor and at the gallery. Now through May 11 is an exciting gallery show by UM art professor, Endi Poskovic. Endi is a world-class, world-renowned printmaker.  He grew up in Tito’s Yugoslavia in the 1970s and escaped before the savage civil war in the 1990s. He adopted the Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock print format after he arrived in the U.S. in 1995, applying it to the largest sheets of paper on the market, Okawara washi, 39 by 72 inches.  His images are an amalgam of themes, from European travel posters and signs for political propaganda to tropes of nature:  icebergs, rocks, clouds, rain and water. Beneath each print is a phrase in a foreign or pseudo-foreign language, functioning like Magritte’s “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.” The prints themselves are sensational with bold but accessible color and an arresting play with depth. It evoked in me the best of Van Gogh, Keith Haring and even Robert Crumb, if Crumb had graduated from the Sarajevo School of Applied Arts.  Don’t miss this chance for a brush with greatness.

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