The seduction of space

Before your eyes glaze over from staring at all the blinding lights and puffed-up paraphernalia of the holiday season, check out two current shows at Pontiac’s Museum of New Art — Space Affair and Drawing You In. They are extravaganzas of subtlety, reminding us that life is a constant negotiation between the clutter of the human mind and the world we design around us.

Consisting of work by eight artists, all Cranbrook grads or current students, predictably, the work is cerebral and of high quality. Space Affair, on MONA’s lower level, is a collaboration between Nardine Kchikian and Jacque Liu that emphatically imposes theatricality on the mundane. The two artists have put a site-specific installation in a “ridiculous” gallery space, transforming what was once a small concert venue before it was desecrated by an insensitive renovation. They’ve painted realistic-looking windows on a wall, replicating the color of a bright blue sky, and they’ve positioned small spotlights above the painted windows as if they were masterpieces. They’ve also packed chairs tightly in the center of the room, putting them too close together for sitting, thwarting expectations of the furniture’s purpose. Instead, they use the cluster of chairs as the dramatic focal point of their stage set. They’ve also amped up the already blue walls, chairs and carpeting with blue spotlights on the periphery of the room so the space glows magically, especially at night.

The other show at MONA, Drawing You In, is a group exhibition upstairs co-curated by Kchikian and Liu. It seeks to persuade viewers that disparate types of art practices have “drawing” in common. Despite the curatorial goal, artist Japeth Mennes’ experimental drawings and Gregory Tom’s small flip-book do not fit in this context. But otherwise, visitors who spend enough time with the rest of the work will sense a recurring tension between the messiness of the mind and a controlled environment. The works in this show illustrate dichotomies: warm and cool, clutter and containment, organic and artificial, and personal and impersonal.

In her installation, artist Abigail Newbold has turned a cozy scene of pioneer-era life into a work of art. She has mounted a three-dimensional section of a room on the gallery wall, suspending the wooden platform floor on wheels in midair. The room features logs for a fire and implements for sewing. Newbold turns her Little House on the Prairie into a fetish by showcasing the utilitarian household items as a backdrop. On an opposing gallery wall, the artist displays reproductions of domestic items on six interactive panels — it’s her idiosyncratic catalogue of products for creating a “home.” Visitors can slide the panels to see warm piles of carefully folded white comforters or the cool irony of a painting.

Also in this exhibit is Mike Andrews, a self-described “tech-savvy crafter.” His huge, messy spiderweb of black yarn (knit without needles!) destroys the tidiness of the gallery. Tangled tendrils of yarn seem to ooze while plump skeins of green, purple and orange slither snake-like on the floor. By contrast, Rebecca Tuft’s work depends on precision. She’s carefully situated white porcelain shapes on plates of clear acrylic. By carefully positioning the lighting on her quirky Klee-like trinkets, she cast shadows on the adjacent wall that perform a delicate dance in gray tones.

Architecture student Mikolaj Szoska has built a cardboard room-within-a-room, lit by colored fluorescent tubes that are muted by plastic sheeting. A cardboard-covered TV displays close-ups of the geometric facades of mirrored glass buildings. Szoska’s installation is an expression of the masculinity personified in 1960s-era minimalist art and architecture, but it’s tempered by an accompanying audio track of anxious female voices tentatively giving directions. The combination, Szoska says, is his attempt to navigate the boundaries between what is human and inhuman.


Both shows run through Dec. 30 at the Museum of New Art, 7. N. Saginaw, Pontiac; 248-210-7560.

Christina Hill teaches art history at the College for Creative Studies. Send comments to [email protected]
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