Detroit Affinities, launching in September 2014, is a series of ten sequential solo exhibitions, five featuring Detroit-based artists and five featuring artists from elsewhere. The “outside” artists have been selected in consultation with the Detroit-based artists, and all of them make work that corresponds and dialogues with the work of the Detroit-based artists. Visitors who see the shows in sequence will discover similarities, overlaps, dissonances, and consonances.

Detroit Affinities situates artists living in Detroit in the larger national and international conversations of contemporary art. Each solo exhibition will be several months long and will be accompanied by a critical text on the artist's work and practice. It will also be that artist's first-ever solo exhibition in a museum, and as such, his or her introduction to the larger contemporary art world.

CURRENT Detroit Affinities Artist:

Annette Kelm

On view Friday, May 6 - Sunday, August 28, 2016

Annette Kelm, Percent for Art, 2013, c-print, 6 parts, 28 3/8 x 19 3/4 in. Courtesy of the artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery.
Annette Kelm, Percent for Art, 2013, c-print, 6 parts, 28 3/8 x 19 3/4 in. Courtesy of the artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery.

Berlin-based artist Annette Kelm's photographic works often feature a single, vaguely familiar object, which she renders using a direct and realistic style that oscillates between genres of photography--such as documentary and advertising--to unfold that object's social, economic, and cultural context. As she makes series revolving around these objects, consequently pressing the relationship between photography and sculpture--her work moves between the creation of an image and the recording of a staged object or objects--Kelm shares much with contemporaries such as Josephine Pryde and Wolfgang Tillmans. But perhaps her clearest influence is Christopher Williams, who also puts his camera at the service of finding historical marks and contexts embedded within form. Yet whereas Williams typically provides lengthy captions that help viewers decipher and unpack his images, Kelm offers few clues, making that deconstruction more part of her artistic process.

The display at the Museum of Contemporary Art brings together a series of works from throughout the artists' career that outline the above-mentioned concerns. In particular the work Art Car (2007) offers a link to Detroit, a photographic diptych depicting an automobile that has been deconstructed. In fact, the convertible's body is stripped down in every sense: The door handles, mirrors, and bumpers have been removed from the car (made in the 1980s by Volkswagen) and stuck in its backseat. Kelm's photographs are similarly unfinished in sensibility, since the car is shot in ordinary daylight against a plain white backdrop it seems to present the bare bones beneath a supple commercial image, depicting the car in a manner that is more in keeping with mug shots than with the glossy, seductive representations of automobiles to which we are accustomed to.

Curated by Susanne Feld Hilberry Senior Curator at Large Jens Hoffmann

Past Detroit Affinities Artists

Steve Shaw

Steve Shaw, Belle Isle, 1986.

Image Credit: Steve Shaw, Belle Isle, 1986. Courtesy of the artist.

Steve Shaw

STEVE SHAW completed one of his first photographic series just after high school, while working as a “ragpicker” at a Detroit factory. Though his job title had its own meaning at Motor City Wiping Cloth, the term typically refers to a person undertaking a kind of unauthorized labor in the street: collecting detritus to eke out a living. In a sense, this early role is a metaphor for the lifelong task Shaw assigned himself: to find value in the scraps and pieces of an urban scene that most people would throw away.

Over the past 100 years, United States cities have provided a wealth of content for social documentarians like Shaw. During the 1930s, Paul Strand chronicled the effects of the stock market crash where it happened, on Wall Street. In the 1950s, Robert Frank traveled across the country by car, recording life in cities from Miami Beach, Florida to Reno, Nevada. Lee Friedlander did the same in the 1990s and 2000s, capturing humorous idiosyncrasies at each stop through the car window and rearview mirror. Gary Winogrand distilled the riotous energy of 1960s Manhattan, while Diane Arbus archived its margins and subcultures. These photographers uncovered daily, lived joys and struggles by articulating their visual details: boarded-up windows and peeling paint, gleaming teeth and bruised flesh.

As a place where, in some sense, the Great Depression never ended, Detroit is a perfect setting for this kind of work. It is the home of the American automotive industry, and the symbolic center of its 2008 collapse. It is the city where a historic art institution was asked to contemplate selling its collection to help the city stay afloat in 2014, a harbinger of the ill effects of economic decline on arts and culture. Steve Shaw was born and raised here, and in his many years living and working in the city, he has found that it offers all the source material he needs.

Shaw grounds his practice in personal observation. He remembers the day he got his first camera (December 25, 1969, an Eastman Kodak Instamatic 44), and cites movies, television, family photos, and the pages of LIFE Magazine as early sources of inspiration. His images evidence an intimate point of view that comes from being enmeshed in a community. Even when he pictures strangers, his images lack the objective veneer of an outsider.

In Michigan Ave. Detroit (1983) a woman approaches in crisp focus, her face obscured by her umbrella. Directly above her is an array of competing signs, offering various metonyms of American vice: ammunition, auto parts, and alcohol. Blurred, though nearer to the lens, a neatly dressed man takes a small step toward an unknown storefront. Apart from these two figures, the street is empty. Our protagonists are alone in a vacant cityscape, where billboards vainly vie for attention above parked cars and industrial warehouses. In the foreground, a newspaper stand summarizes the subject of the image, in all its symbolic heft: USA Today.

This photograph bears witness to abstract phenomena by honing in on evocative details. In addition to the people it pictures, it gives form to diffuse concepts such as industrial ruin, economic decline, and the treachery of consumerism, which are otherwise too slippery to grasp. Because of their documentary quality, photographs like this have a unique kind of efficacy. They bring visibility to the details of life at and around the poverty line, and point up the contrast between the American dream and the reality of life with little money. As is the case in Michigan Ave. Detroit (1983), peripheral information is important in Shaw’s recent work. In Michigan Ave. Detroit (2014), he adopts an ancient trope—mother and child—but finds the pair at the intersection of Central and Michigan. The boy is riding a bicycle, and the woman walks with a plastic shopping bag and soda can in hand. Their contented facial expressions are a foil for the wrecked infrastructure around them: grass sprouts through cracks in the sidewalk, and a defunct Salvation Army thrift store is dark behind its barred windows.

Despite the dilapidated buildings that set the scene, such images are not without hope. In another new photograph, Gratiot Ave. Detroit (2014), a black couple sits low to the ground, flanked by signs of Obama-era optimism. Hovering above and behind them on a wall are hand-painted depictions of the President, First Lady, and a bald eagle; on their other side is an American flag. They appear to be waiting, but what they are waiting for is unclear. Shaw’s images form a collective portrait of Detroit—not only of its ongoing hardships, but also its insistent resilience, which can be spotted in an expression or stride. Like those of his predecessors, each of his photographs holds the city’s activity still. There is a kind of generosity in this visual quietude. It enables us to look closely for signs of endurance, and find them.

—Susanne Feld Hilberry Senior Curator at Large Jens Hoffmann

Jonathan Hernandez

Jonathan Hernández
Jonathan Hern&aacutendez

On View: September 18, 2015 - January 3, 2016

Begun over a decade ago, Vulnerabilia is built upon Jonathan Hernández’s fascination with our media-saturated present. The title of the series evokes the idea of “vulnerability” while referencing the delicacy of the original materials that Hernández uses as well as the form and fragility of life. Cut directly from the daily news, the thin membrane of the paper and the sensitivity of the ink make these images contrarily permanent, frozen in time, and ephemeral. Beyond the paper itself, Hernández’s choreographies of images also gesture toward our shared humanity. Obsessively cataloguing and arranging these images, Hernández creates a kind of visual encyclopedia of various moments—both catastrophic and rather ordinary—that define contemporary human life.

The collages presented at MOCAD include both pre-existing works from the series as well as new compositions that Hernández has made for the exhibition related to the city of Detroit. Architectures abandoned and left; the faces of dozens of politicians peering furtively at their watches; car crashes and small-scale catastrophes. Hernández’s appropriation of these mundane images transforms them with great unease into a tapestry of uncertainty, ambiguity, and intrigue.

Greg Fadell

Greg Fadell

Greg Fadell

Greg Fadell

Greg Fadell

Image Credit: Installation detail from Detroit Affinities: Greg Fadell, 2015. Courtesy of MOCAD and the artist.

Greg Fadell: History Repeats Itself

The Detroit-based artist Greg Fadell inaugurates the second pairing in the Detroit Affinities series of solo exhibitions as part of MOCAD's DETROIT CITY program.

His exhibition revolves around the artist's fascination with art history, from ancient to contemporary, and the question of how to engage with and measure aesthetic and cultural value in order to determine what it means to be an artist in the twenty-first century. Art history is Fadell's starting point for the process of appropriation and deconstruction with which he questions aesthetic precedents, the assumed value of objects, and institutional hierarchies by examining how history and value is mediated and represented via mundane TV shows, ordinary museum posters, and scholarly publications.

The video Shape Shifting (2015) consists of footage from the popular television program, Antiques Roadshow, wherein guests present antiques or historical artworks to an expert, a figure of assumed authority, and are told not only the origin and significance of their object but also its estimated monetary value. Fadell slows the speed of the episodes and focuses on the specific moment at which a guest is told the value of their object by zooming in on their faces as we hear the customary chiming sound the show plays. There is almost no dialogue save for the occasional "amazing," "unbelievable," "no way," "I don't believe it," or "Oh my god." The reactions of the participants when isolated and examined reveal how susceptible the mind is to storytelling and opinion, and how television has the capacity to prescribe value to things.

Ingres by Greg Fadell

Greg Fadell, Untitled (Ingres), 2015, 55.75x93.5, Inkjet print altered by chemicals, Courtesy of the artist and MOCAD

Fadell also presents a new series of work in which he appropriates canonical paintings and other two-dimensional artworks by artists such as Sandro Botticelli, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, and Marcel Duchamp, or more contemporary figures such as Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons. Fadell scans reproductions of their work from various publications, captions included, and prints them onto large canvases that are then stretched and treated with chemicals so as to break down the colors, transforming them into fragmented distortions. He applies a similar process with ordinary art posters purchased at museum shops around the world. What is left of Monet's Water Lilies after his chemical treatment is only a clouded patch of blue and the name of the museum that produced the poster. Fadell sees this process as dismantling the icons of art history in order to understand their position in the cultural hierarchy of today's art world; he likens this activity to a child taking apart toys to see how they work. By deconstructing art that was created before him, he develops his own aesthetic vocabulary and creates a personal signature.

Dots by Greg Fadell

Greg Fadell, Untitled (Dots), 2014, 40.5x27.5 inches, Courtesy of the artist and MOCAD

Fadell's examination of the circulation of social and cultural capital within the art world is explored further in a series of sculptures produced by modifying seminal books on the history of art, painting, and sculpture together with auction catalogues. He explains, "My altering of books is my way of altering the printed words that have led to so much mythologizing, and in the process building my own myth. People will believe most things if they see them in print. I am not a writer myself, but I can use the visual cues of books and texts as sculptural tools to create and legitimize aesthetic metaphors."

Ultimately, Fadell is looking at all of this appropriated material like a hacker looks at code. He is breaking down the information and subverting it to serve his own aesthetic vision. He examines in his own unique way all that has come before him and demonstrates some of the methods by which the art of the past is codified and commodified. Instead of accepting these tropes as evident, he chooses to view them as opinions. Opinions leave room for interpretation, and interpretation is infinite.

Jens Hoffmann
MOCAD Senior Curator at Large

Jamian Juliano Villani

Big Mouth Strikes Again

The Brooklyn-based artist Jamian Juliano-Villani uses images borrowed from pop culture in a cartoon-inspired style to create surreal and hallucinogenic scenes. The artist herself does not mince words, and nor does her work hold back. The colors are bright, the scenes saturated, the women voluptuous, the animals eerie. Brash, overstated, surprisingly complex, graphic, and foul-mouthed—if we can personify paintings in such a way—Juliano-Villani's works resemble their maker.

She learned to paint—to really paint—by working as a painter, taking a job as an assistant in another artist's studio. In the past year, she has been prolific, producing vividly colored, wildly envisioned paintings like those on view in her first museum exhibition here at MOCAD. Working the paint through brushes and an airbrushing machine, Juliano-Villani pulls the world in, her color palette and imagery spewing out the past two-and-a-half decades—the only ones that she's known firsthand. 
Though she doesn't sketch, her compositions reflect a sort of mental collage, fusing together otherwise totally incongruent fragments to create a singular, surreal geography. Golf balls and green golems; an Asiatic background; flying BMWs floating in an astronomical cluster of discarded liquor bottles, vinyl records, pool cues, utensils, and Timberland boots; a family of cartoon foxes distorted as though they're about the flicker out, or transport elsewhere; a nightmarish kitchen in which the refrigerator's contents seem more animate than usual.

Juliano-Villani calls Detroit native son Mike Kelley her favorite artist. The affinity is not hard to see; both artists' works rely on a keen ambivalence toward pop culture, leverage familiar images in a way that nips at our nostalgia through destabilizing the narratives we recognize, and convey an acerbic, dark, rare humor. They are graphically bold and immediately captivating, and then, at the end, slightly off, like milk that has soured from sitting too long in the fridge. There is something murky, unsteady, perhaps a little bit perverse going on in Juliano-Villani's imaginary world.

The artist likens her paintings to TV. At first glance, they are all surface: quick to read, grasp, and connect to. Instantly recognizable, up front. There is a democracy about her images; they do not try to conceal themselves. As we continue to look and think, however, we find that there is more churning beneath the surface. Her images may seem familiar to us, her characters punched out of some cartoon strip or sprung from the TV screen, but the relationships that she enacts and the scenes she sets remain open-ended. In some ways symbolic (though of what, she may not reveal), and in other ways narrative (though the narrative is a dose darker than any Saturday morning cartoon), Juliano-Villani's paintings have one foot in two camps. Her images, tied to both urban and virtual spaces, betray simultaneously an American and a global point of view, and appear both attractive and repellent. Ambivalent in a truly postmodern sense, Julian-Villani's paintings are poised between the punch line and the gasp after a dirty joke, between recognition and obscurity.

Jens Hoffmann
MOCAD Senior Curator at Large

Jamian Juliano Villani

Jamian Juliano Villani, Double Dose, 2014, Courtesy of the artist and MOCAD, Acrylic on canvas, 36 x 24 inches

Jamian Juliano Villani

Jamian Juliano-Villani, Mixed Up Moods, 2014, Courtesy of the artist and MOCAD, Acrylic on canvas 20x20 inches

Jamian Juliano Villani

Jamian Juliano-Villani, Russell's Corner, 2014, Courtesy of the artist and MOCAD, Acrylic on canvas 30x40 inches

The second segment in the Detroit Affinities series will spotlight the work of New York artist Jamian Juliano- Villani, marking her first solo museum exhibition. Juliano-Villani creates expansive, chaotic scenes painted in a bright, intense palette. Her work is informed by a wide range of sources, including modernist abstract painting, Japanese pen and ink drawings, and 1930s and 1980s American cartoons, including Ralph Bakshi's curvaceous women. She was born in 1987 in Newark, New Jersey and currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

Jamian Juliano-Villani, born in 1987 in Newark, New Jersey, currently lives and works in Brooklyn. She has a BFA from Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University. Her work has been exhibited in New York at Marlborough Chelsea, Rachel Uffner Gallery, Derek Eller Gallery, and 247365, and in Los Angeles at Night Gallery.

John Maggie

John Maggie

Ann Arbor–born painter, sculptor, bookmaker and animator John Maggie (b. 1978) earned a BFA with a concentration in printmaking from Eastern Michigan University in 2004. Upon graduation, Maggie studied assemblage with Detroit Industrial Gallery's Tim Burke and traditional oil painting with Nanjing University Art Academy's Mingshi Huang. He works out of his studio in Hamtramck. Maggie's exclusively figurative paintings often depict grotesque studies of the male physique, incorporating visual realism strewn with abstracted impasto. Maggie has recently exhibited in Detroit, Ann Arbor and New York. The third installment of his Wizard flipbook series, Remarkable Wizard (2013), is in the permanent collection of the library of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

John Maggie

John Maggie, Cowboy, 2013, Courtesy of the artist and MOCAD, 30x40in, Oil on Canvas

John Maggie

John Maggie, Sherri and Linda, 2013, Courtesy of the artist and MOCAD, 25X30in, Oil on Canvas

John Maggie

John Maggie, Jennifer and Steve, 2013, Courtesy of the artist and MOCAD, 25X30in, Oil on Canvas

Detroit Affinities is curated by Jens Hoffmann, MOCAD's Senior Curator at Large.

DETROIT CITY funding is provided by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Kayne Foundation (Ric & Suzanne Kayne and Jenni, Maggie & Saree), Quicken Loans, Andre Sakhai, Liz and Jonathan Goldman, Jane Suitor, Scholar Property LTD, Jasmin Tsou, the Krawiecki Gazes Family, Kimberly Brown, and William Leung.

Detroit Speaks funding is provided by the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan.

Knight Foundation Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan