PREVIEW: Paved with Good Intentions

Current U.S. culture and politics is riddled with fake news and exaggerated fearmongering. Paved with Good Intentions is a satirical installment critiquing this era with drawings on vintage postcards of American landmarks and destinations composed into a gridded landscape that mirrors today’s environmental chaos. In addition to the postcards, animated shorts and script-driven video in relation to the postcards are played. The exhibition opens on January 25 at the Institute for the Humanities with an opening reception and a panel discussion, “Good Intentions: Is Art an Effective Means of Activism?”, featuring artist David Opdyke, journalist Lauren Sandler, art historian Tara Ward, and arts curator Amanda Krugliak. This installation explores the power, or lack of power, that the arts have to address political and social issues. Open until February 26, you have a month to stop by the Institute for the Humanities to see this impactful mural.

PREVIEW: The Great Tamer

In the spring of 2017, Dimitris Papaioannou and his ten performers premiered their first display of the breathtaking visual production, The Great Tamer, at the Onassis Cultural Centre in Athens, Greece. Since then, this production has travelled to a multitude of countries in Central Europe and Asia, leaving its viewers in tremendous awe and feeling gravely inspired to exhaust our lives and to give everything we can before leaving this world.

The production encompasses the human condition, revealing the small tragedies and great absurdities of our modern lives through classic theatrical conventions. Papaioannou has chosen to use unique techniques to manipulate simple props, ultimately creating illusions that engage with the material and the metaphysical of life on our current world.

With Ann Arbor, Michigan being one of only two locations that this production is being performed at in the United States, I am anticipating this event highly. I am excited to feel the tragedy and the frivolity that other reviews have promised and to feel enlightened by an orchestrated presentation of the universal emotions common among all of us.

 

REVIEW: Paul Rand: The Designer’s Task (UMMA Exhibition)

I’ve had a sort of casual interest in graphic design for a while, and so naturally, I was interested in the University of Michigan Museum of Art’s (UMMA) exhibition featuring graphic designer Paul Rand, entitled Paul Rand: The Designer’s Task.

If you’re anything like me, however, you probably have never heard of Paul Rand before. With a small amount of research, though, you’ll likely find that you’ve encountered his designs many times in the form of the logos of companies like the American Broadcasting Company (ABC), UPS, or IBM. Furthermore, you’ve probably seen these logos a hundred times without giving them a second thought, but you could probably also recognize them instantly. I know this is true for me. However, The Designer’s Task offers a window into intentional graphic design, and how Paul Rand came to create his clean, minimalist, and recognizable designs.

On the introductory sign for the exhibition, it is noted that for Rand, “visual communication of any kind…should be seen as the embodiment of form and function: the integration of the beautiful and the useful.” Additionally, he is credited with bringing “the concept of corporate identity into the mainstream during a period of rapid economic expansion in the United States after World War II.” As I took in Paul Rand’s work, these words made me think about, as is appropriate given the exhibition’s title, the task of a designer. Although you probably don’t have the ABC logo framed on your wall, graphic design is functional art with a very specific purpose. Perhaps it is a sign of excellent graphic design that the mention of UPS will subconsciously bring the company’s logo to mind, even though we don’t usually think about it overtly.

As a musician, one of my favorite pieces of Rand’s work featured in the exhibition was his portrait of 20th century Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, “designed for a 1956 edition of the composer’s critical test Poetics of Music in the Form of Six Lessons.” When I first looked at the portrait, before I had read the accompanying description of it, I saw black dots arranged in the shape of a face. Looking at it further, I noticed that the dots were superimposed on the repeated five-line pattern of music staff paper (something I have spent a lot of time looking at and writing on in my own music theory classes!). Finally, I realized that the black dots were on the staff such that they resembled musical notes! The design was simple, but somehow it occurred to me as genius. All the layers of meaning emphasizing the design’s purpose (the cover of a famous composer’s writings on music) in a way that had to have been meticulously planned.

The exhibition, although relatively small, featured various posters, book covers, and corporate booklets showcasing Paul Rand’s designs. Perhaps most interesting were the few scraps of paper with sketches of the initial stages of some of his designs. It did not disappoint, and I would recommend it if you are interested in learning more about graphic design and this form of functional and ultimately accessible art that we encounter every day!

REVIEW: Paul Rand: The Designer’s Task

If you’re anything like me, art is confusing. It seems to display some specific idea that should be obvious, hidden only to those too uninspired to see it. As I wandered through the UMMA looking for the Paul Rand exhibit, looking conspicuously un-artsy in my Ugg boots, I came across so many pieces that I was unable to understand. There was the marble sphere with circular concavities carved into it (representing giving birth, the sign told me), a giant monochrome canvas with a single stripe of other colors (I think this one was called “Untitled”), an enormous painted fabric sheet haphazardly hung on the wall (something to do with feminism in 1960s art). By the time I got to the exhibit I’d come to see, I was more than a little intimidated by everything around me that I couldn’t really understand.

Once I made my way over to the Rand exhibit, I began to feel less out of place. The showcase featured some of his design work from the 1930s to the 90s, including designs for various corporations like IBM and NeXT, as well as book covers and unrelated pieces. This art is accessible to anyone, appealing only to the eye’s love for simplicity and clean lines.

       

Rand’s work is characterized by his fondness for bold colors and shapes, not shying away from either clashing hues nor unbalanced compositions. While the restrictions of working in two dimensions tempts many artists to strive for some three-dimensional elements, Rand instead embraces his chosen mediums, not even adding any shading. His penchant for keeping his work strictly graphic is what makes his style so distinguishable; he lived without adhering to the classical rules of art.

Beyond the finished and published pieces, the exhibit also included pages of doodles and work that has remained largely unknown. These are my favorite parts to a collection; it shows the personality and creativity of an artist beyond what the public’s impression of them is. Most showcased work of late artists is distorted by a popularity contest put on by the viewers; we see only the public piece of an artist, missing out on the earlier works, or half-finished pieces, or the more experimental phases in their life. Complete artist profiles like this exhibit are necessary for better understanding their procession through artistic expression and exploration.

                    

The only additional thing I would have liked in the exhibit is a bit more of a biography, maybe a picture of Rand drawing at his desk, even earlier doodles, something saved from his childhood. This would add to the personal feeling of the exhibit. Overall, though, it was put together well, and works as a fine addition to the UMMA.

For information on current and future UMMA exhibits, check out www.umma.umich.edu/exhibitions.

REVIEW: Deluge

It starts with different scenes of rippling water against a stationary background, creating an enticing illusion of the constant and the moving, a still reflection dancing in the water. Then, it starts panning across neighborhoods and houses before people appear, rowing boats and canoes through the land they knew that suddenly drowned. People trek through the waters alone at first, and then pairs of people make it through the water together. Eventually, it shows families and first responders appearing, these groups of people staying strong together.

People waddle through the remains of their houses, trying to salvage whatever is floating by. You watch people washing the walls with the flood water and wring their drenched clothes from the laundry washer. It ends with people just standing in the flood waters, alone or with their family, just staring at the camera, their gaze somber and intense. They hold ruined photographs from the flood, distorting the faces of these individuals from the past and the present affected by these catastrophes.

This work opened my eyes, quite literally, to the frequency of these events and the grave aftermath of them. Deluge features ten years worth of floods all over the world, and in just thirteen minutes, he shows a captivating glimpse into the reality of such global phenomena. The silence of the video installation, except for the sound of moving water, was haunting, which was a great choice made by Gideon Mendel. The panels played continuously in the dark room in the Institute for the Humanities, allowing visitors to walk in at any moment and feel instantly invested in the scenes that appear in front of them.

Every place was different, yet there was a commonality between the floods. You can’t tell the exact country or location of the shots, and that doesn’t matter. As the five panels displayed high water levels and people of all ages and races with water up to their stomachs, you realize climate change and floods are a global issue.

REVIEW: Yi-Chun Wu: East in Motion

Currently hanging throughout the lobby and first floor corridor of the Michigan League for all to enjoy are works by dance photographer Yi-Chun Wu. This week, I had the privilege of seeing these photographs, which are collectively entitled East in Motion.

The photographs are of a wide range of dance groups and companies in action, and each is captioned with its title, the year, and the subject. To me, the artistry and skill, both of the dancers in the photograph and of the photographer behind the camera, was very evident. Some of the photographs are crystal clear, as if the precise instant in time was frozen, while others are blurred in a way that captures the dynamic of the dancers’ motion. Some are brightly and clearly lit, while others play with the shadows of the stage lighting.

The picture to right, which is one of my favorites from the exhibition, captured my attention because of the sheer fabric piece in the center of the image. Perfectly, Yi-Chun Wu managed to capture the way that the light dances on the its surface, and it leads the eye to the dancer in the lower right foreground. The grace of the dancer is also communicated, and those looking at the photograph can see the rippling movement of the material spanning the image, and sense the flow and beauty captured by the camera’s shutter.

This image to the left, on the other hand, contrasts the one above in many ways. The light is brighter, and there is a clear sense of action. It is fascinating to see the dancer who is the subject of the image frozen in midair. This is an example of photography capturing something that can’t be experienced with the human eye – while it is possible to see the dancer’s jump, the moment captured in Yi-Chun Wu’s photograph would go by too quickly to be noticed by an observer. The minute details, such as the shadows on the floor, or exact location and position of the dancer’s feet, the orientation of his wrists, or the turn of his head would be lost to the onward march of time, but Yi-Chun Wu selected the moment to preserve in her art.

The exhibition East in Motion will be in the League through November 30, 2018, and I strongly recommend stopping in to see Yi-Chun Wu’s art for yourself! The photographs above are only a small sample of those on display, and each one will challenge you and bring you into the moment that it was captured.