Art adds life — or at least light. Illuminating our constantly morphing existence is one of its jobs — making life understandable while making it bearable. Or as poet Frank O’Hara once wrote: “It may be that poetry makes life’s nebulous events tangible to me and restores their detail; or conversely, that poetry brings forth the intangible quality of incidents which are all too concrete and circumstantial.”
Heather McGill, who heads the sculpture department at Cranbrook Academy of Art, shines a poetic floodlight on the mysteries of industrial design and the ways in which they quietly infest our lives in “New Work,” her one-person show through April 20 at Revolution. Working with shapes derived from consumer culture — from Adidas sneaker inserts to industrial templates — she has focused her attention for the past five years on a world that recombines and proliferates beneath the surface of our awareness.
In large monochromatic works such as Untitled (2001, pictured), McGill avoids the obviousness of a pop-art approach on the way to sensual minimalism. The colors of her new pieces are the light blues, pale violets, purest whites and bright yellows that we associate with a toddler’s plastic building blocks, thus suggesting a primal relationship between objects indispensable to consumerism and our collectively evolving sense of the beautiful.
McGill’s materials — urethane, epoxy, aluminum, steel, Styrofoam and polystyrene — as well as the industrial execution of her pieces link her to minimalist sculptors such as Donald Judd and Robert Morris. But whereas those artists aimed at a kind of geometrical sublime, McGill’s wonderfully ambiguous works always include a sense of the organic and anatomical. And though five of her most recent, imposing enigmas inhabit Revolution’s spacious rooms, there’s a spareness to this show that suggests a solitude at the heart of capitalist glut.
Accompanying the sculptures are 10 laser-cut drawings that make use of automobile chassis outlines (of sedans from the ’30s and ’40s and VW bugs) in a formal juggling act. The results are delicate and playful, transforming popular mechanics into ethereal prestidigitation.
Revolution is at 23257 Woodward Ave. in Ferndale. Call 248-541-3444.
The Roam Gallery of Royal Oak is just five months old, but already packing them in. Its latest show of photographs by Scott Sprague and sculptures by Eric Geiner (through April 13) takes an elegant trip to the dark side, though the Roam space itself has been renovated to a state of bright intimacy.
Sprague, an extremely versatile photographer, jumps off from an avant-fashion sensibility into a series of intensely manipulated portraits of women. The beauty of his models is invaded — pierced, penetrated, stitched and overlain — by technological elements, producing a painfully erotic effect. Often a face (pictured) is distorted away from mundane attractiveness into a seductively warped, strangely appropriate otherness.
Otherworldliness also tinges the “combines” of Geiner. Presented here under the title Natural Art, most of his pieces have a shamanistic quality, as if spinning off of Native American artifacts. But Geiner’s real strength lies in two utterly disarming works involving earth-colored, perfectly rendered ceramic roses. These jolts of hyperrealism — particularly a wispy rose bush with tiny, exquisite flowers — do more to disorient and enlighten than all of the massed forces of more traditional magic.
Roam Gallery is at 212 W. 11 Mile in Royal Oak. Call 248-245-ROAM.
George Tysh is the Metro Times arts editor. E-mail him at [email protected]