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Posted on Tue, Oct 20, 2009 : 6:27 a.m.

EMU exhibits explore the dimensions of visual art

By John Carlos Cantu

Lack of time being a worrisome fact of life, Eastern Michigan University’s Art Department is doing our community a tremendous favor by concurrently scheduling “2D/3D” in its Student Center Art Gallery and Ford Gallery.

The exhibits differ in orientation and scale. The Ford Gallery's “2D” is a survey of contemporary painting, featuring 26 nationwide participants organized by EMU faculty members Michael Reedy and Amy Sacksteder. The Student Center Gallery “3D” exhibit features eight nationwide sculptors organized by EMU faculty members John DeHoog and Brian Nelson.

Both shows pull together choice samples of cutting-edge contemporary painting and sculpture to give us a well-rounded view of what’s happening in the visual arts. Consciously excluding video or motion-based arts (Ann Arbor’s Gallery Project will handle that chore in its own inimitable fashion later this season), the effort pays off splendidly.

“2D” at the Ford Gallery is particularly bursting at the seams with 35 views of postmodern art. These works are full of wit and irony — making painting as much a matter of interpretation as it is a matter of visual appreciation. Prime examples are curators Sacksteder’s oil on gesso on raw canvas “In All Sincerity” and Reedy’s oil on panel “By 35.” A first approximation finds both artworks being genre painting: Sacksteder’s composition being an avian study, while Reedy’s painting features an anatomical study.

Ultimately, however, both paintings are also far more than what they illustrate, with Sacksteder’s blue birds crafted in vibrant fidelity as well as swirling about in background silhouettes, while Reedy’s detailed anatomical examination slices his model into incisive sections with orange Dr. Seuss figures serving as a curiously playful background.

Add EMU Gallery Programs Interim Director Jennifer Locke’s smart half-dozen oil, ink, plastic jewel, and vellum “Lights (images drawn from the White House chandelier collection)”; Brooklyn, Iowa Andrew Kaufman’s spare, geometrically oriented spray paint on canvas, “Vitrine No. 1 (display case)”; Austin, Texas Tom Hollenback’s hybrid sculptural cast acrylic paint on wood support, “Volumetric Painting Orange”; and Bloomington, IN Tyson Skross’ balloon-laden oil on canvas, “Unter den Linden,” and many of the bases of contemporary painting have been well covered.

As mentioned, “3D” at the EMU Student Center Art Gallery has only eight participants. But the group more than adequately fills the gallery with 17 (largely abstract) artworks of varying scale.

Urbana, Ill. sculptor Stephen Cartwright has contributed a small acrylic wall sculpture, “Lost Landscape (Fort Peck),” whose deep blue plastic material looks everything like a three-dimensional topographical map of a river splayed against the gallery wall with jagged tributaries jutting left and right. Granger, Ind.’s Dora Natella, by contrast, has supplied the only statuary tableau to the exhibit. Her plaster gauze and resin “Mutable Body: Awakening” (mounted in a makeshift wooden carrier) raises more questions than it answers with its ghostly life-size male model forlornly crouched in the carrier with his right arm resting on his left knee.

Anthony Cervino from Carlisle, Pa. has contributed a plastic and paint on canvas hybrid painting/sculpture with “Wish You Were Here” where two gray miniature cars have been mashed at a diagonal angle with vehicular accessories strewn about. Nacogdoches, Texas glass artist Maki Hajikano has supplied a small four-part cast glass series, “Accumulation No. 1 — part 1, 2, 3, 4,” whose surface protrusions are a cross between biomorphic form and totemic phallus. While Lexington, Ky. mixed-media specialist Travis Townsend absorbs as much space as his wood and found objects “Re-Renovated TLC (Tank Loaf Container)” and “Another Tankard” can grab. Townsend's fanciful hand-built wooden contraptions reach out to the Student Center Gallery walls with ropes, tiny ladders, and wooden attachments placed at strategic angles to no apparent end — except the creator’s makeshift and mock-serious structural design.

“2D/3D” continues through Nov. 5 at the Eastern Michigan University Student Center Art Gallery, Room 210, 900 Oakwood St., and Art Department Ford Gallery, 114 Ford Hall, Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday and Thursday; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Tuesday-Wednesday; and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Friday-Saturday. For information, call 734-487-0465.

John Carlos Cantú is a free-lance writer who reviews art for