“Anything Goes” Brings Complex and Vibrant Contemporary Art to Downtown

Ann Arbor is a diverse city full of life, culture and art, both new and contemporary. Contemporary art in all of its wonderfully diverse styles, mediums, personalities ad messages is on full display right now through the Gutman Gallery’s Anything Goes.

“I like the tactile-ness of ceramics and molding the shape of clay into whatever shape I want it to be in,” Savanah Conrad said. She took second place with her ceramics work, adding “Right now I’m looking at form and textures, and how specific placement of 3D textures effects and changes the original shape of the piece.”

Once you walk into the gallery – which is located on Fourth Avenue, across the street from the courthouse and in between Literati and the Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market – it can be hard to decide what to look at first. In truth, it doesn’t really matter – the only time limit you have to enjoy the art is the fact that the show will rap on March 2.

It is also a good reminder of the power of art to communicate and transform lives. Jameson Marden had been a devoted Art Fair goer for years before he tried to make anything himself. His glasswork in this show won him third place.

“I took a three day class, and I was hooked,” Marden said. “I didn’t really know I was an artist until I began to work with glass. I wasn’t somebody who took an art class in high school or college. If you asked me to draw a drawing, it would be embarrassing – it would be a stick figure – that is not my medium at all. I like the fact that glass is so colorful, and its forgiving. What I mean by that is that if I don’t like how something turns out, I can fix it by adding, breaking it up, putting it in the kiln and making something totally different.”

Another theme among the artists prized by the gallery is the power of art to communicate feelings, thoughts and perspectives about traumatic events.

“I went with a group from Webster Church to Ghana, and met ad talked to members of refuges from the West African wars, and their stories were so gut wrenching about seeing their homes and families raped and killed … it was a traumatic experience because we are not used to war in this country. We just start them, we don’t experience them firsthand,” Judith Bemis, a retired social worker turned artist, who won an honorable mention, said. Her difficulty finding a way to put merely meeting the survivors into words “without crying. So, I started drawing as a way to tell the story of the people who were traumatized by war. And my art has continued to focus on people who have suffered a trauma for the most part.”

The painter who painted the first prize winner “Before I Wake,” painted to process her thoughts and emotions on the uniquely American epidemic of mass shootings that has long gripped the country. She began drawing the piece  after the attacks in Uvalde, which left 19 mostly Hispanic children, and two adults, dead, and a separate, racist attack against a supermarket in a majority Black neighborhood in Buffalo, which was fueled by the online conspiracy theories that power the modern white supremacist movement in a rapidly diversifying nation.

“One of the first broadly publicized school shootings was in Springfield, Oregon, which I lived near as a teenager. That’s always been on my mind,” Claudia Selene said. That was in the 1990s. She said when the attacks in Uvalde and Buffalo happened, “I was thinking about it, dealing with it and my students were trying to figure out how to process it. I just had all of these different ideas and images about gun violence and what viscerally what guns are to us. Guns as a very real symbol that we carry around with us, or don’t. It’s a real thing but also a very psychological thing. So I borrowed some rifles and started painting away.”

Everything in the gallery is for sale. Some of it is goofy, some of it is a conversation of current issues, some of it doesn’t mean anything and some of it will mean things to people that the artist didn’t intend.

“It’s the exploration of new ideas that excites me,” another honorable mention artist, Terry Butler, said. Formally trained as a graphic designer, Butler has branched out into mixed media and is a regular at art shows across the country. “I’ve had some interesting feedback at the art shows. “People have come up and told me things that have stunned me. … One time (I) had a piece with a guy standing with a cat next to him, looking at a futuristic city with UFOs flying over it. Someone bought it and they guy came back the next year. They told me that they had a cat for 16 years, that passed away, and so they had my piece on the wall right above its ashes. I was like ‘whoa!’”

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