The Enduring Revolution

“With your whole body, with your whole heart, with your whole conscience, listen to the revolution.” Alexander Blok’s words are the backbone for Revolution Gallery in Ferndale, a gallery that is celebrating its 10th anniversary as a stalwart in the Detroit art scene.

From visceral paintings unafraid of formalism, such as Brenda Goodman’s triptych “Untitled (115),” to Lynn Crawford’s short story, “Scout,” to Inigo Manglano-Ovalle’s gunshot audio installation, artists that show at Revolution are bold, even when they are subtle.

On the surface, perhaps through the gallery window, Revolution’s Ten Year Anniversary Exhibition might appear innocuous, but its power is slow infiltration. Once within the space you are drawn by one work and then another. Each piece holds its own and contributes to the balance and dynamic of the whole. Paintings of vastly different scale share space among video and sound installations, text-based works, photography and porcelain sculpture.

Nine videos, part of the gallery’s collection, are on display, including works by Bruce Nauman and Bill Viola, as well as a John Baldessari work that is at first comical, then intellectual and meditative. The title, “Teaching a Plant the Alphabet,” says it all.

Revolution director Paul Kotula says he chose works by more than 50 artists for the anniversary show based on their ability to challenge and inspire, such as a piece from the seminal 1993 exhibition by Carrie Mae Weems and an informal portrait by the late Ann Mikolowski. The piece measures in at 3 inches square (a large work for Mikolowski) and portrays OK Harris gallery owner Ivan Karp holding a cigar and looking into a cigar box, with the artist’s tiny art inside it.

Other notable works include a potentially sexual, porcelain work by Ron Nagle. The piece is quiet yet suggests two active states of being; and narrative works by Ann Wilson, consisting of tiny figurative pins manipulating shreds of organic forms (lace).

Peter Williams’ new painting, “Barcelona,” tears apart symbolism through distortion, transforming the figure while using symbols of pop culture to comment on consumption, the roles of power and identity in society. With vinyl text fragments and a polychrome set of notes, Joseph Grigely is a master of simplicity, yet his are not “simple” works at all. Rather he is able to focus our attention and represent the human condition — our beauty, our frustration, our stupidity and our potential — in an altogether new way.

John Ganis’ photography depicting the aftermath of a society that literally eats away at the earth around us is vivid political and social commentary. It speaks to the heart with concealed rage behind the majesty of color and slick surfaces. His photographs are frustrating in their irony.

Revolution has long been committed to showing quality contemporary art in all forms. Kotula says his history with ceramics informed the gallery’s direction.

“I was interested in the broader context of art and the concepts behind works of art,” he says.

Kotula shares a collective vision with assistant director Sandra Schemske, owner Meg LaRou and Joanne Park-Foley. The success of Revolution for the past decade is testament to the strength of this group.

Kotula says LaRou’s financial commitment is vital, calling her a “patron to the community.” Certainly Revolution would not have its impressive collection without her.

Many Woodward Avenue motorists might be familiar with Revolution because of The Public Art Project, a revolving art-on-a-billboard project next to the gallery. The 23-foot sign has undoubtedly been an important part of our local culture, taking art outside of the “white cube” of the galleries and into the view of oncoming traffic.

The first billboard was a hanging of tools used in creating “23257,” an installation of paintings by Tony Hepburn and Jim Melchert. Drawings from the installation are currently on view.

Schemske says the magic of Revolution comes from having “touched those moments of creativity” as artists, and letting things happen, without thinking too hard about it. She speaks passionately, describing the “incredibly risky, kind of frightening, overwhelming job of being an artist ... So if there’s some small way we can support them ...”

She trails off, leaving a thickness of emotion in the air that 10 years of faith have developed.


Revolution (23257 Woodward Ave., Ferndale) is open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. For more information, call 248-541-3444.

Phaedra Robinson is an artist and curator. E-mail [email protected]
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