'Policed' by Detroit native Mario Moore joins two of his paintings in the show. (Mario Moore)
If mounting an exhibit for Yale MFA grads at a Detroit gallery seems a little counterintuitive, the show itself is apt to dispel any doubts.
Hanging in the warm, inviting main gallery at Detroit’s N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, “Do the Yale Thing: An Exhibition of Exceptional Artwork by Recent Yale MFA Graduates” ranges from subversive soft sculpture to a series of magnetic portraits, both painted and photographic.
Start with Caroline Wells Chandler’s soft sculpture “bears” that greet you as you walk into the gallery. Slouched together against a wall, these three life-sized, knitted fellows are all bright colors and smiley faces.
Titled “who run the world? bears!,” a riff on a Beyoncé song, the composition slaps you about the head with its apparent whimsy and good humor — until you look a little closer and stumble on a shocking surprise or two.
“Caroline is a transgender artist,” says show curator Dexter Wimberly, “so his work is also about that — very much concerned with consumer products and sexuality.”
Ask gallery owner George N’Namdi why he decided to host a show on Yale grads in the first place, and he smiles and explains it was a backhanded way of getting two native Detroiters he much admires into the gallery — painters Richard Lewis and Mario Moore.
For his part, Moore gives us two sophisticated portraits — one painted on copper, of all things — and a most intriguing mixed-media construction.
The latter, “Policed,” involves a disturbingly realistic face mask — presumably Moore himself — twisted into an angry snarl and mounted under etched plexiglas that reads, “I really do like cops. I think they do a great job at teaching me how to proactively police myself.”
Striking a far more ambiguous mood is Laos-born photographer Pao Houa Her. In particular, her shot of a southeast Asian man in swim trunks at a country-club pool, lounging among other the swimmers — all of whom are white — raises subtle questions of inclusion and exclusion.
“It’s an almost inconsequential shot,” says Wimberly, “but you can’t help but fix on the ethnicity of the central character.” A bit like Chandler’s knitted bears, Her’s compositions look simple at first; but given a little time, a more complex narrative starts to take shape.
Finally, don’t walk out without studying Canadian Thomas Granier’s three photographic character studies. Lush and lighter in tone than Her’s, Granier presents portraits that could be staged or utterly candid, including one of an exhilarated redhead baring her breasts in a bright-blue sports car speeding down a desert highway.
For Wimberly, each image suggests a larger, untold story rich in uncertain meaning.
“What I like about these three,” he says, “is that they look more like movie stills than prints.”
'Do the Yale Thing: An Exhibition of Exceptional Artwork by Recent Yale MFA Graduates'
Through March 21
N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, 52 E. Forest, Detroit
Call (313) 831-8700
Other art around town
The Grosse Pointe Art Center (313-881-3454) hosts “Motor City” through Feb. 22, a show juried by internationally acclaimed street artist, Sinister. In Ferndale, the solo show “Seton Smith” is up through Feb. 8 at the Susanne Hilberry Gallery (248-541-4700), while Birmingham’s Wasserman Projects (248-220-4628) hosts the edgy figurines of “Laurie Satlowski / Trance” through March 8.