Sculptural inquiries: 2 shows open in Detroit and Birmingham

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer

Two intriguing and strikingly different sculpture shows open this weekend, one at Simone DeSousa Gallery in Detroit, the other at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center. 

Catie Newell's "Lost Light" opened Friday at BBAC, and will run through Nov. 15. At DeSousa Gallery in Midtown, Kate Silvio's "you can never go home again" is up Oct. 20 to Nov. 24. The Detroit News spoke at length with both women last week. 

Catie Newell 

"Lost Light," explains Newell, has meaning on a number of levels. Scrappers in recent years pulled so much copper wiring out of Detroit streetlamps that tens of thousands famously went dark all across the Motor City. 

"In this respect," said the University of Michigan architecture professor who's also a principal at Alibi Studios, "the name has to do with things the city lost over time," as well as the more obvious meaning of lights going out. 

Newell's exhibition has two elements. There are several mesmerizing aluminum-print images of Detroit at night, shrouded in fog. But without question, the show's scene-stealer is the sprawling copper sculpture, "DeadWire," some 11 feet high and 28 feet long, suspended from the ceiling.

Detail from Catie Newell's sprawling copper-wire sculpture "Lost Light" at Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center through Nov. 15.

Scrappers, of course, yank copper wires for the resale value.

Newell, by contrast, took discarded wiring piled up in a Detroit building owned by friends because of its raw beauty. 

"They had all this wire," Newell said, "and I was trying to make something with the metal and its beautiful light reflections. So I made this atmospheric copper cloud." 

When found, of course, much of the wiring was still encased in dirty, rubber insulation. Happily, Newell's got a tool for that purpose.

Part of Catie Newell's 24-foot-wide copper-wire sculpture at Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center through Nov. 15.

"So I took the rubber off," she said, liberating the gleaming metal within, "and kept twisting and twisting the wire until, like your shoelace, it started to curl and buckle," giving the wiry composition unexpected form and texture. 

Still, for all its height and length, "DeadWire" is surprisingly slender. 

"It’s really narrow," Newell said. "It hangs the way wires hang out of electrical poles. So it's probably not even a foot at its deepest dimension."

Kate Silvio 

Materials and catharsis form the heart of sculptor Kate Silvio's work. 

The title the Grand Rapids artist chose for her BBAC show, "you can never go home again," is not, she insists, a reference to the celebrated Thomas Wolfe novel, "You Can't Go Home Again" -- which she has yet to read, in any case. 

"It’s just a phrase that’s been stuck in my head quite a long time," Silvio said Thursday, taking a break in her drive to Detroit. 

"Complicit" by Kate Silvio at Simone DeSousa Gallery in Detroit through Nov. 24.

The exhibition is up through Nov. 24. 

If all art is personal, it's hyper-personal and introspective for this metalsmithing graduate of the Cranbrook Academy of Art. 

"I basically make work about my life and the stage I’m in at the moment," Silvio said. "It’s cathartic for me, and I’ve realized if I want to be a happy person and happy mother, I have to roll up my sleeves and go to work."

(Silvio has two little girls, ages 4 and  7.)

Five years ago, the artist was focused on a body of work that examined pregnancy, but now, Silvio says, she's more concerned with motherhood and the passage of time. 

"Making artwork is purely selfish and necessary for me," she said. The pieces she's taking to Detroit "touch mostly on being a mother and a woman. I’m on the cusp of middle age, thank you very much, so the show’s really about that."

"Active Participant" by Kate Silvio, at Simone DeSousa Gallery through Nov. 24.

Her constructions are large, abstract and partly geometric. There's an austerity here that differs sharply from Newell's feathery, industrial filigree in "Lost Light." 

And while a great deal of Silvio's career was all about metalworking, the work here wrestles with wood, found objects, gold leaf and resin, as well as steel.

"Someone said the other day that they miss my metalwork," she said. "I do too, but it was hard for me to break free and really see it conceptually."

For the moment, other materials provided welcome release. And in any case, Silvio would very much like to avoid being predictable. 

"The one thing I don’t want is to have defaults," she said.  "I want a visual language, but feel I can have it in a range of materials. I don’t want to be, ‘Oh, I only work in that.’"

Each piece, Silvio explains, "has to speak in its own way." 

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Twitter: @mhodgesartguy

Catie Newell's "DeadWire" is a large copper-wire sculpture at Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center through Nov. 15.

'Lost Light'  by Catie Newell 

Through Nov. 15

Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center, 1516 S. Cranbrook, Birmingham 

9 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Thurs; 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Fri.-Sat

(248) 644-0866 

Kate Silvio's "Production for Use" at Simone DeSousa Gallery through Nov. 24.

'you can never go home again' by Kate Silvio 

Oct. 20-Nov. 24 

Opening reception 6-8 p.m. Oct. 20 

Simone DeSousa Gallery, 444 W. Willis, #111-112, Detroit 

(313) 833-9000