Sunday, January 4, 2015

A Small Museum in a Small Town: The Dennos

Whenever we visit my older son, Danny, and his family in Traverse City, Michigan (population 15,000) we go to the Dennos Museum at Northwestern Michigan College.  I have visited many a museum in small towns where once is quite enough but at the Dennos they have regular changes of exhibitions.

There seem to be two regular landmarks, however, one is an interactive gallery which is always a hit with the younger set and truth be told to some older folk as well!  Also, there is the Inuit Gallery.  The museum has a collection of over a 1,000 Inuit prints, sculptures, drawings, textiles. and more giving an overview of the art from the Baffin Island area of Nunavut, Canada.  The works, which are regularly alternated cover the modern period from 1950 to the present.

There are always one or more temporary exhibitions and this time there were two of 3 that I found rather intriguing.  The first of these is titled, “Li Hongbo & Matt Shian: Stacked & Folded Paper As Sculpture”   Matt Shian is from Ann Arbor, Michigan.  He is a paper engineer by profession (one that I had not heard of before) and his work lies somewhere between art and engineering.  He is involved in print media, book arts and commercial design. He works with scientists and researchers who are interested in the practical connections between paper folding and folding at microscopic and macroscopic scales.  I admire the students at the college that can grasp these issues.  For me the interest is in the results.  We usually think of paintings or drawings as two dimensional and sculpture and objects as 3 dimensional.  In this case Shian’s pictures are both.  The images are created by lifting the surface off of the 2 dimensional plane.  Here is an example called “Wave”.

Photo Credit: Cullen Stephenson

The other artist in this show, Li Hongbo,  is  from Beijing.  In his former career as book  editor and publisher he developed a fascination with paper.  He stacks thousands of sheets of paper and glues them together.  He can then saw them into shapes and sandpaper details into them.  He makes sculptures that are fantasy people but also recognizable sculptural paper portraits.  I kept staring at his tree trunks which looked like they were solid wood.  Since we know paper comes from wood what a concept that in this case the wood comes from paper! Flipping nature upside down! Here is his “Wooden Cube” made from paper.

The Executive Director of the Dennos, Eugene A. Jenneman, who was kind enough to supply the photos for the above show went to visit the artist outside of Beijing after seeing his work at Art Miami.  At this point I was planning to insert a single link to a YouTube video of the artist at work.  When I looked, however, I saw so many I decided to just point you in the right direction.  I stopped counting his videos at 20!

The next exhibition, which I found even more interesting was “Chul Hyun Ahn, Infinite Space”. This artist uses lights and mirrors.  Some 35+ years ago when my wife was curating 20th Century Decorative Arts (today known as Design) at the Metropolitan Museum we went into the Heller Gallery in New York, which specializes in glass art.  A young artist, Paul Seide, was installing his exhibition of small light sculptures.  Remember, this kind of art was quite new at the time, and I asked, “How long will the bulb last”.  He replied “Oh 5 years which is long enough”.  Our perspective when we are young is quite limited.

Chul Hyun Ahn, was born in Korea in 1971, and now lives and works in Baltimore.  I find his optical illusions most effective.  The best one in the show, in my opinion, is called, “Tunnel” 2013.  It is an edition of one.  It is made with cinderblocks, mirrors and fluorescent light.  It stands 2 to 3 feet above the floor but one is tricked into thinking that the museum cut a hole in the floor and that this goes down to the basement.  Here are two images.  The first is as the artist wanted you to see it and is taken by the author.  The next is a photo taken by my son, Hunter, of my grandson, Aidan,  he calls it “Farewell Nephew”!

How does an artist become inspired to create pieces like this?  In Ahn’s case it was when he began to practice Zen and became a Buddhist.  He wishes to create an environment that could be, in his words, outer space or a spiritual environment. 

Every once in a while I see contemporary art that gets me thinking and that is just one more reason that art is a never ending journey.

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