Michael Luchs and Tal R, a study in contrasts at MOCAD
The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit has two shows you should go out of your way to catch if you're at loose ends this holiday weekend: Michael Luchs' "Fictitious Character" and ":This Is Not Detroit" by Tal R.
Both will be up through July 29.
At one level, these two exhibitions could hardly be more different. Luchs, a veteran of Detroit's famously gritty Cass Corridor movement, works in a messy, multi-layered abstract style that relies on smears, scratches and splatters of color.
By contrast, Tal R (originally Tal Rosenzweig), an Israeli-born artist living in Copenhagen, wields a folkloric style that's both figurative and agreeably childish, rendered here mostly in a moody palette of blues.
Yet there are more commonalities to this artistic juxtaposition than you might think.
Start with the animals. Creatures have a grip on both men.
Abstracted rabbits started popping up in Luchs' work in the mid-1960s, and their outlines dominate many of his recent pieces in the show.
Vince Carducci, founder and editor of the Motown Review of Art, once pointed to the compositional complexity of the Luchs rabbits, often "buried under skeins of sprayed or smeared enamel paint," or emerging from the heavily worked negative space that surrounds them.
Of course, it's not all about rabbits.
At various points, other beings pop up. For example, frogs bearing some resemblance to insects get pulled into service with "Fictitious Character," mostly identifiable from their webbed feet.
": This Is Not Detroit," by contrast, stars a speckled horse (or zebra with identity issues) and a huge, upside-down cat. (And yes, that freestanding colon at the start of the title is deliberate.)
Tal R's non-figurative paintings dwell on shapes and symbols, whether waves, ships, buildings or large, hopeful dots reminiscent of Tyree Guyton.
Elysia Borowy-Reeder, MOCAD's executive director and senior curator, asked Tal R to imagine Detroit neighborhoods he'd never visited, and paint something emblematic for each — a charmingly high-concept conceit.
The results — huge canvases variously titled "Poletown," "Palmer Park" or "Delray" — act, in the words of the show's introductory panel, as meditations on "dream places, identity, and whimsy."
The artist, who could not be reached for comment, told Vogue magazine last spring that these exotic, unseen districts far across the Atlantic were already oddly familiar to him.
"I know all these things," Tal R said, "but I know them like an outsider, like a ghost."
Both exhibitions, which flow from one into the other, are surprisingly beautiful. This is less of a surprise with Tal R, perhaps, given his cheerfully absurd subject matter.
But "Fictitious Character" is a nice reminder that the Cass Corridor aesthetic Luchs helped pioneer is more than just "raw and frenetic," as an exhibition label notes.
His work is also deeply and unexpectedly romantic.
‘Fictitious Character’ by Michael Luchs
and ‘: This Is Not Detroit’ by Tal R
Through July 29
Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit
4454 Woodward, Detroit
Free (donation suggested)
11 a.m. - 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays; 11 a.m. - 5 p.m. Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays