Artists push boundaries of abstraction, minimalism

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer

On their own, Kari Cholnoky's dazzlingly nutso foam-and-fabric constructions would merit a special trip to "Agree to Disagree: A Survey of Contemporary Abstraction" at Birmingham's David Klein Gallery through Dec. 13.

But happily this is a small group show with any number of knock-outs, from Mark Sengbusch's precise, understated acrylic panels to Anthony Olson's intensely textured black-and-white canvas, "Call It Off."

Given how abstraction and minimalism dominated the late 20th century, you might think they've been worked to death, with little left to say. "Agree to Disagree" will disabuse you of that notion.

But the stakes are high, as Klein director of contemporary art Christine Schefman notes. Given abstract art's enormous legacy, she asks, "How do today's artists make their own statement?"

They apparently do it the way recent Cranbrook Academy of Art grad Cholnoky does it, with flair and real cheek — blending materials like dried foam and faux fur in unlikely compositions whose colors sometimes leap right off the wall. There's a large Cholnoky in each of Klein's three galleries, and trust me — you won't have any trouble picking them out.

Special hint: Don't miss "Night Terror" in the middle room.

Or you do abstraction like Gary Petersen, whose fetching acrylic-on-canvas pieces — "Futureland" and "Cover Up" — explore geometric forms in fizzy colors reminiscent of the early 1960s.

Sengbusch employs much the same sharp edge as Petersen in pieces like "Jane" or "Hazel Stone," though his monochromatic approach could hardly be more different.

Most of the work here is on the walls, but there are a couple freestanding steel sculptures by Joey Vaiasuso that sketch out a sharp and satisfying geometry in strong primary colors — works of considerable balance and restraint.

Schefman says she spent about a year pulling "Agree to Disagree" together, and actually first discovered two of the artists — Cholnoky and Olson — at Cranbrook's 2014 graduate-degree show last spring. If it took 12 months, it was worth the wait.

The exhibition's title, by the way, was lifted from Irvin Sandler, who wrote extensively about contemporary art in the 1950s. "We agree only to disagree," he suggested, was the unwritten motto of the New York artists who established abstract expressionism.

Klein will be open this weekend, offering a pleasing alternative for those who want to escape the mall.

'Agree to Disagree: A Survey of Contemporary Abstraction'

Through Dec. 13

David Klein Gallery, 163 Townsend, Birmingham

11 a.m. - 5:30 p.m., Monday - Saturday

(248) 433-3700

Other art around town

The Cranbrook Art Museum (248-645-3324) has just opened three new shows, including "Theater of the Mind," "The Cranbrook Hall of Wonders," and "Iris Eichenberg: Bend," while Midtown's N'Namdi Center for Contemporary Art hosts (313-831-8700) "Herbert Gentry & His Contemporaries" through Jan. 3.