Artists take varying paths to invite deep contemplation

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer

The title of Emmy Bright’s little show in the back of the downtown David Klein Gallery is testy right out of the box: “Why Don’t You Want This?”

The artist explains: “So the viewer has to fill in whether they do or don’t. It sort of invites a conversation, even a belligerent one, right off the bat.” The show closes Saturday.

Bright’s work, which tends toward the simple and gives the impression of being the sort of crude work “any child” could make, raises philosophical questions that flirt with the serious and the profound, but ultimately settle on comedy.

Consider “Escape Plan,” with its blue blob edging off a cardboard canvas, as if it’s trying to creep away. That there are no instructions — indeed, no sense of escape whatsoever — all of which underlines the absurdity of the title and the assumption that the “sign” offers any help whatsoever.

Emmy Bright’s show aims to provoke exchanges.

A metaphor for life? You decide.

Bright, who’s doing an artistic residence in Vermont and graduated from Cranbrook last spring with an master’s degree in fine arts and printmaking, says she’s preoccupied with philosophy and psychology, “and the best work comes out when I can smash these disciplines together and get something new.”

Bright’s work is playful and full of what she calls “devilishness.” She likes playing “the trickster who can wriggle between disciplines.”

The apparent artlessness of her work, she says, is a tool for pulling people in.

“I think I attract people through a material simplicity. There’s a kind of austerity to my work,” Bright says, “with very few visual or textual elements. It’s a little bit minimalist, but reaches for emotional maximalism.”

Consider “You Me More Less (Axial),” with its Cartesian coordinate system of the sort everyone learned in geometry class. In this case, the tips of the horizontal axis are marked “You” at one end, and “Me” at the other, while the vertical coordinates range from “Less” to “More.”

It’s a marvelously reductive approach to the inevitable tug-of-war common to all relationships, rendered in a sort of comedy that also invites deeper consideration.

Inviting deep thought of a different sort is Kelly Reemtsen’s “Over It,” an exhibition at the front of the Klein Gallery. This exhibit shows Reemtsen’s large, from-the-waist-down portraits of stylishly dressed women bearing tools that could, in a pinch, be used to hurt someone.

Kelly Reemtsen’s exhibit puts an edge on 1950s women’s high fashion.

Paintings in the exhibit, which is up through Saturday, show women dressed in late-1950s high fashion, with full pleated skirts and designer heels. And almost without exception, each one holds an ax, a sledgehammer or a chain saw.

What are they planning with these weapons? There’s no indication, but men with serious castration anxieties might want to stay away.

But for the rest of us, Reemtsen’s gorgeous canvases — a bit like Bright’s — occupy the intersection of the amusing and the deeply absurd.

(313) 222-6021

Twitter: @mhodgesartguy

‘Emmy Bright: Why Don’t You Want This?’

‘Kelly Reemtsen: Over It’

Both through Oct. 22

David Klein Gallery,

1520 Washington, Detroit

Noon-6 p.m. Wed.-Sat.

(313) 818-3416