Invite only

By Mary C. Cusack

Michigan’s best artists in a festive exhibit at Kresge Museum

The students have departed for the summer, but Michigan State University maintains its party-school vibe through the end of July, thanks to the latest exhibit at Kresge Art Museum. The “Michigan Masters Invitational” has all the makings of a real blowout: colorful streamers, games, costumes, fireworks, dancing and even a clown (of sorts — he may be dead, it’s hard to tell).

Declaring an artist a “master” can be dicey. An expert can use education and professional experience to assess artistic merit and vision, but when it comes right down to it, art really is subjective. It’s a brave soul who not only takes on the mission of identifying masters, but then also decides whom will be invited to the party.

That brave soul in this case is Kresge curator April Kingsley, who simply shrugs off concern that overlooked artists may be insulted by being omitted from the exhibit. In truth, many more were included than originally intended. At the outset, Kingsley had planned on focusing on no more than 20 artists. As she talked to collectors, art faculty, critics and other curators, her list expanded to 30. This radically changed the visual makeup of the show, allowing for only a couple of pieces from each artist instead of larger bodies of work. Instead of a tightly planned, cohesive exhibit, what emerged was a mish-mash of styles and media, the variety of which creates that festive atmosphere.

“Michigan Masters” is a reprise of sorts of previous biennials that focused on Michigan artists. With this exhibit, though, Kingsley’s goal was more than simply featuring artists who work in Michigan. She wanted a New York City gallery-quality show that reflected the talents of artists who work in state.

Unlike the regional focus of last fall’s “Artists of the Great Lakes” exhibit, this one highlights the diverse work of artists who choose to work in Michigan, but do not necessarily incorporate the flavor of the region into their art. “It’s not a local show. The idea is to get the best artists in Michigan,” Kingsley explained. The artists in this exhibit “live in Michigan, but that doesn’t make them local. They have national and international reputations."

The diverse works set the stage for a celebration. Colorful installations by Gerhardt Knodel and Anders Ruhwald provide bold centerpieces in each room of the gallery. Knodel’s “Recovery Games: The Accelerator” feels like a bright, safe funhouse maze. The games part refers to Knodel’s challenge to himself, as his current pieces are attempts to create new works from materials and repurposed artwork that has cluttered his studio for years.

In the corner opposite Knodel’s work, two partygoers play the game of “Tablut” in Pompilius’ work of the same name. The painter creates sumptuous skin tones and captures the subtle intricacies of human relationships so well that the viewer can be assured the man and woman in the piece will be the ones supplying the requisite drama to end the night’s festivities and give everyone a story to tell the next day.

Gilda Snowden’s painting “Bright Stars of Night RED, 2007” reflects the end of a game of musical chairs, complete with celebratory fireworks honoring an unseen winner. While those rockets glare red, sculptor Charles McGee’s dancers flit about outside the Energy and Automotive Research Building, one of the sculptures installed on campus included as external extensions of the show.

Williamston artist Mark Chatterley’s sculpture “Bullet Burka” and Mark Newport’s fiber piece “Batman 3” hold court as if in a masquerade. The former is gravely poignant, while the latter skirts whimsy, somehow, by its muted color and construction.

And what of that clown? That would be Gerry, of Robert Wilbert’s “Gerry with Mask and Quoits.” With a reddened nose, theatrically flouncy shirt and white gloves, the unmasked and unresponsive Gerry represents the eternal dichotomy of comedy/tragedy. If he wakes up, he may remember nothing more than that it was one hell of a party.

’Michigan Masters Invitational’

July 31 Kresge Art Museum, corner of Auditorium and Physics roads, MSU
campus Hours through May 31: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. today & Friday 10
a.m. – 8 p.m. Thursday Noon – 5 p.m. Saturday & Sunday Hours
beginning June 1: 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Tuesday – Friday Noon – 5 p.m.
Saturday & Sunday Closed Monday (517) 353-9834