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Taubman Tries Something A Bit More Challenging For Art Patrons


Kiel Johnson talks about his chipboard printing press and other works.

by Gene Marrano

The Taubman Museum of Art, which wants to go a little bit bolder these days and has vowed to rotate exhibits more frequently, rolled out three new galleries of fresh works last week. On hand for the opening were the three principal artists and adjunct curator Leah Stoddard, who clued attendees in on what they were about to witness in those rooms: “everyday things that are impermanent.”

Kiel Johnson, for example, said Stoddard, is “interested in process.” The Los Angeles-based Johnson uses items like cardboard, PVC pipe and high density foam; he also likes to draw sketches as well – one on display at the Taubman represents everything he owns for example. His exhibit in Gallery 2 is called One Thing Leads To Another, and features as a centerpiece his mock-up of a newspaper printing press.  “A celebration of the object,” is how Stoddard described Johnson’s work.

“I have always loved to draw,” said Johnson, who has gravitated towards chipboard for more recent works. Ideas come to him “in the middle of a project.” His faux printing press “is a swan song to a dying technology,” namely the printed word according to Johnson, who has a masters in fine arts from California-Long Beach. His father owns a small newspaper, making his subject matter somewhat ironic.  Johnson’s exhibit runs through August 28; the Taubman run represents his first museum showing ever.

Meanwhile Kay Rosen’s On the Off Ramp (through August 28) is an Andy Warhol-like series of paintings featuring nothing but words – or word play to be exact. It’s “not a thing [but] an experience,” said Stoddard, who called Rosen’s exhibit “a very ambitious show” for the Taubman.

Paintings include the pairings of words and word segments like One, Oni and On (in a painting called One Onion), Limb and Limb, and Barf and Arf – the latter in a piece entitled “There was this dog who went into a bar.” Stoddard said Rosen “calls attention to language. She has us stop for a moment [and] wants the audience to start to play [with words].”

Rosen, who taught at the Art Institute in Chicago for 18 years – although she did not study art in college herself – said many artists “use language as the imagery in their work.”  It’s the only image she uses. She likes to find words that share letters, terming that “the intersection of language.” Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech was the inspiration for some word play painted on the walls in Gallery 1 – her site-specific installation piece. The L-shaped room at the Taubman “lined up perfectly,” said Rosen.

Tim Tate, a glass blowing artist who has branched out  to video pieces, has combined those two pursuits for The Waking Dreams of Magdalena Moliere – hand blown glass reliquaries that also feature a tiny video screen inside. A series of pieces feature snippets of dreams from his Magdalena character; visitors (it runs through Aug. 14) in the regional gallery are encouraged to make a loop around the room and try to take in what her dream sequence means. “Think of that room as one piece,” advised Stoddard.

“Each of the projections will take you into a different dream of Magdalena,” said Tate while introducing his work to Taubman Museum members. “When you finish you’ll have a good idea about Magdalena, [but] each of you will see her slightly differently.” The self-taught artist, based in Washington, D.C., has exhibited across the country and teaches glass blowing techniques at his own school.

The three new exhibits and an all comers welcome, interactive digital painting called The Influence Project are bolder and more challenging than some may have come to expect from the Taubman Museum of Art – and that seems to have been the point.

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