2 area arts exhibitions marked by subtlety and serenity
The print is the great democratizer — an authentic work of art which, if not precisely unique, is nonetheless accessible to ordinary collectors in a way that paintings by famous individuals are not.
Two shows currently on view — “Exercising the Eye: The Gertrude Kasle Collection” at the University of Michigan Museum of Art, and “Tyanna Buie: On Vacation” at the College for Creative Studies Center Galleries — mostly focus on the print, and in the process remind us of the medium’s considerable charms.
The CCS show closes March 31, while “Exercising the Eye” is up through July 22.
“Exercising the Eye” is a serene exhibition showcasing 21 artists from the 20th century, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Grace Hartigan among them.
Gertrude Kasle was a towering presence in the Detroit gallery world. The transplanted New Yorker opened her eponymous Fisher Building gallery in 1965, and it quickly came to influence how and what Detroiters collected.
“Kasle participates in a new renaissance of collecting,” said Jennifer Friess, UMMA assistant curator for photography and one of the show’s organizers, “and champions prints because they’re affordable.”
Printmaking, she says, enjoyed a new vogue in the middle of the last century.
“The print was very important to Johns and Rauschenberg,” Friess explained. “Printmaking was a significant medium for these artists following the abstract expressionists.”
Kasle also championed local talent, including Susanna Linburg and Michele Oka Doner, and routinely brought in celebrities like Philip Guston. Her mission wasn’t just educating Detroiters, Friess notes, “but also giving these artists audiences outside New York City.”
The gallery quickly became a social hub.
“Kasle knew abstract or contemporary art was sometimes difficult for the general public,” Friess said, “so she sponsored lectures, films and discussions.”
Shortly after her 10-year anniversary, in 1976 Kasle closed the gallery. She bequeathed this collection to UMMA on her death in 2016.
“She accomplished what she intended by educating the public,” Friess noted, summarizing her career, “and fostering connections between the Great Lakes region and New York City.”
Walk into “Tyanna Buie: On Vacation” at the CCS Center Galleries, and you could be forgiven for thinking you’d wandered into a small urban square.
Apart from a pink industrial pipe that snakes through the exhibition, you’re mostly surrounded by prints of handsome old windows and doorways, behind which locals might be staring at you.
That being-watched sensation is underlined by two gorgeous, stand-alone prints of women holding yellow magnolias and staring straight at the viewer — Buie’s mother in an elaborate head wrap, and an unknown woman from family pictures.
“I chuckled when I put the work together,” said Buie, who teaches printmaking at CCS. “I thought, ‘There are a lot of doorways, windows and entryways here. What does that say about me?’ ”
If you think it might have to do with a search for identity, you’d be right.
Buie, who grew up in Chicago and Milwaukee, asked her mother where their last name came from.
The answer: “We don’t know. It might be Creole, it might be French.”
That prompted a trip to New Orleans last summer, where the artist hoped the city’s African-American roots would resonate with her own. The Crescent City led to Paris, and Paris, ultimately, to Berlin, which she found to be the most accessible of the three.
The Pepto-Bismol-pink PVC pipe that divides the small show refers to the odd industrial piping Buie says often vaulted over Berlin streets.
But most images here are drawn from New Orleans or France, in particular the three “windows” resembling medicine cabinets neatly filled with hair-care products.
The frames are drawn from the windows at Versailles. But their contents are very American.
‘Gertrude Kasle: Exercising the Eye’
Through July 22
University of Michigan Museum of Art, 525 S. State, Ann Arbor
11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays;
noon-5 p.m. Sundays
‘Tyanna Buie: On Vacation’
Through March 31
Center Galleries, College for Creative Studies,
301 Frederick Douglass, Detroit
10 a.m.-5 p.m.