Canilao creates fascinating ‘Alchemy’

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer

There’s only a little over a week left to catch “Alchemy” at Detroit’s Inner State Gallery, so get a move on. This remarkable show, only up for a month, closes Aug. 8.

What California artist and part-time Detroiter Monica Canilao has created with “Alchemy,” a group show with some 43 artists — many of them Californians — is a punchy exhibition in a surprisingly domestic, almost cozy, environment.

The artwork on display ranges across the artistic spectrum, though collage in all its forms seems to predominate. Much of what’s here is variously fun, surprising and provocative.

But almost — Not quite! — as interesting as the pieces on the wall are Canilao’s anonymous overhead constructions that give the gallery the feel of your grandmother’s attic, with lace, string, paper creations, antlers and deer hooves grouped like so many cobwebs.

Anyone who had the pleasure of walking through Canilao’s Moran Street house in northeast Detroit, near the Power House, will recognize her affection for crowding found objects together in ways that yield a whole far greater than the sum of its kitschy parts.

Perhaps because the ceiling is embroidered with homespun elements, “Alchemy” feels steeped in what can only be called a womanly, if not precisely “feminine,” sensibility.

By example, what else could you take from Leighton Kelly’s construction, “Martha Stewart Perfect Cupcake Recipe?”

Kelly has set the bottom half of a woman — her shapely legs, with one foot in a cast — on a pedestal in front of a mirror. But where her trunk and head should be, instead we find a gooey cupcake with a big fat cherry on top.

It’s snappy, marvelously rendered and somehow deeply artistic.

Also well worth a look are the two portraits by Serena Cole, “Better Than Real I & II,” that bracket a long wall, one on each end, in a highly satisfying fashion.

Beautifully painted, the two young men stare out from backgrounds of luminous gold. Each wears flowers, though in one case they’re amusingly draped across the androgynous fellow’s mouth.

Other pieces not to miss — John Law’s neon sculpture in a terrarium, “Detroit,” is somber and beautiful.

And curator Canilao’s own assemblage, “Dawn State” — with its ladder of decayed combs in various colors — is a must-see.



‘Alchemy’ — curated by Monica Canilao

Through Aug. 8

Inner State Gallery

1410 Gratiot, Detroit

11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays, or by appointment

(313) 744-6505