'Toys' exhibit: A little nuts, a lot of fun

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer

'It's Like Toys in Here,' at the Detroit Artists Market through Feb. 14, is delirious, occasionally creepy, fun.

Detroit artist Andrew Thompson curated the four-person show, and has brought together unhinged talents whose pieces harmonize well with one another.

The first to greet you is one of the late Matthew Blake's horizontal constructions, where two shelves frame a squashed, crowded world in between — a bit like the frieze on a Roman pediment, with its soldiers in battle.

There are three of Blake's horizontal universes here, each "Untitled." In many ways, however, the first is the most stirring.

Painted a violent red, the two shelves sandwich an unhappy world like something right out of Hieronymous Bosch. Toys and household artifacts crowd the stage. Filling up every square inch are, variously, a cute turtle, tipped-over Roman column, tiny Native American with rifle, ocean liner, toothbrush and one lonely little leg, sticking straight out.

You can lose yourself in this lunatic tableau.

Hanging at a gentle remove from Blake is "She Towers Above," a regal giantess 9 feet tall by Royal Oak dollmaker Mary Fortuna, an artist who deserves more notice.

Solemn and austere, the giantess wears a black stitched face, red leather gloves on wooden arms, and a huge, airy hoop skirt, made with circular reed hoops of increasing diameter held in place by long, vertical strips.

Hanging around at eye level on the other side of the gallery are four of Fortuna's smaller creatures.

Most of these stitched-leather figures sport creature heads on human bodies. "Golden Goat Man," "Arachnoid," "Somber Reptile" and "Green Hyena" are each little guys with compelling personalities.

Indeed, you can almost feel "Somber Reptile's" depression.

For her part, Detroit artist Shaina Kasztelan appears to be channeling Tyree Guyton. "Group Activities" features a wall where a dozen teddy bears, dolls and other childhood pals are embedded in brain-like swirls of beige spray foam.

This unusual background frames the smiling toys at the same time that it engulfs them, curling around a head to encroach upon the face.

Is it a little creepy? You bet, and therein lies the essential difference with Guyton, whose work still maintains an inherently child-like quality.

Operating in a completely different world is Metro Detroit exhibit and custom furniture maker Andy Malone, whose wood and paper constructions mimic machines from early in the Industrial Revolution.

In perhaps the most amusing example, paper cards framed by something like a birdhouse flip to bring several cartoon characters to life, all of whom are unaccountably wearing hats that resemble New York skyscrapers.

Press the white button, and the cards animate the skyscraper-guys in a most enjoyable way. It's handsome, a little nuts and a lot of fun.



'It's Like Toys in Here'

Through Feb. 14

Detroit Artists Market, 4719 Woodward, Detroit

11 a.m. – 6 p.m. Tuesday – Saturday

(313) 832-8540