Small, elegant Lynne Avadenka show at K. Oss Contemporary Art

Michael H. Hodges
The Detroit News
Like a scroll that's been unfurled, this detail from a large piece Lynne Avadenka's  "Empty Cities" series is long and linear. The artist's show, "Intimations," is at K. Oss Contemporary Art in Eastern Market till Nov. 23, with a closing reception Friday evening.

Dominating the intimate K. Oss Contemporary Art gallery in Detroit's Eastern Market, now hosting Lynne Avadenka's "Intimations" through Nov. 23, is a long, linear print from the artist's "Empty Cities" series, one inscribed with dire portents. 

The irregular, multifaceted scroll -- both collage and letter-press print -- dramatically hovers over a red background, and looks rather like a seismograph of an earthquake -- all frantic, jagged, vertical lines. 

Indeed, the strong red is kind of a surprise with Avadenka, whose palette tends to be very subdued.

"I always feel color is really loaded, and that if I pick a color, I’m making some kind of emotional statement," she said. "So generally my colors are very muted – except for the red behind 'Empty Cities.' Red for danger, right?"

The "Empty Cities" scroll emerged from a short artistic residency in Europe. "It was five artists in the sinking city of Venice, that gloriously beautiful, doomed city, thinking about what’s happening to the planet," said Avadenka, a 2009 Kresge Artist Fellow with a career vested in printmaking and bookmaking.

The title, "Empty Cities," Avadenka explains, comes from the Book of Lamentations: "How does the city sit empty that was once full of people?"

Looped ovals or ellipses cover much of the print's surface, representations the artist first employed after 9-11 for the lives lost, recalling with her swirls how each was its own little interconnected universe or galaxy.

Inserted here and there as well are book titles that point the way to our watery future: "The Life and Death of the Great Lakes," "The Great Derangement" and, most ominous, "The Water Will Come." (These all acquire special poignance in this week in which much of Venice has been drowning.)

Also tucked in is a quote from Nathaniel Rich, author of "Losing Earth," in which he remarked of climate change, "All the facts were known, and nothing stood in our way. Nothing, that is, except ourselves."

Not everything in this intimate show, however, ties to urgent global crises.

Visiting Avadenka's studio when planning the show,  artist and gallery director Kristina Oss also picked some pieces that are rich in muted, understated beauty, the vein the artist has mined much of her career.

Among them are elegant black-and-white photographs, titled "Traces," at the back of the gallery -- prints full of angular shadows, at once unidentifiable and yet oddly architectural. 

Their actual identity is rather amusing. 

"They're shadows on the marble floor of the Metropolitan Museum of Art," Avadenka said. "They could've been anywhere, but that's where I was when I looked down."

The grain and detail is so fine, one wonders whether the artist employed a large-format camera or some other extraordinarily sensitive device.

"No," she said with a laugh. "I took them with my iPhone."

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Twitter: @mhodgesartguy


Through Nov. 23 

K. Oss Contemporary Art, 1410 Gratiot, Detroit

11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Thurs.-Fri; 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat.

Closing reception:

7 p.m.-8:30 p.m. Fri. Nov. 22, with live music by Virago 

(248) 599-2232