Matthew Biro

  • picks April 29, 2019

    Daniel Arsham

    Given its more than one-hundred-year history, the ready-made’s novelty and ability to shock spectators has substantially faded, but occasionally artists still manage to employ the device in illuminating ways. At Cranbrook, multimedia artist Daniel Arsham presents “The Source: A Catalog of Late-20th-Century American Relics,” a new collection of weathered objects cast from mass-produced commodities that allegorize the contemporary moment from the perspective of a future observer. Monochromatic reproductions of sneakers, basketballs, Blockbuster videocassettes, and slab-like Source magazines are

  • Danielle Dean

    Danielle Dean’s solo show “True Red Ruin” consists of a two-channel video set above a display of multicolored cardboard cutouts, surrounded by drawings and sculptures used in their making. Simultaneously visceral and abstract, the installation explores black identity in relation to capitalism and colonialism through an uncanny superimposition of the histories of these two systems upon the present day.

    Dean’s subject is Elmina Castle, the Portuguese trading post erected in 1482 in West Africa, which later became an infamous node in the Atlantic slave trade. The castle was also the first prefabricated

  • Charles McGee

    Over the past few years, Detroit icon Charles McGee has become one of the public faces of a resurgent Motor City. McGee, now ninety-two, has been painting large-scale, black-and-white murals and installing sculptures throughout his hometown since the 1970s, but these works have recently begun to appear more frequently and prominently. McGee’s biomorphic polka-dotted and striped sculpture of a group of dancing figures, United We Stand, 2016, greets visitors at the entrance of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. His similarly vibrant eleven-story mural, Unity, 2017, a dynamic

  • Albert Oehlen

    “Albert Oehlen: Woods near Oehle” was the latest selective survey by the shape-shifting German artist, and the largest exhibition of his work ever presented in the United States. Comprising thirty-six works, it spanned more than three decades and focused on the artist’s long-standing interrogation of painting via a practice that oscillates between representation and abstraction and locates the medium within an expanded field. The show also featured eleven works by other artists—including two sinuous canvases by de Kooning (Untitled, 1987, and Untitled XIII, 1985)—suggesting lines of

  • Esther Shalev-Gerz

    Walter Benjamin never visited Detroit, but his thinking is applicable to the city’s contemporary condition. The critic’s melancholic fixation on ruins—as well as his desire to unearth revolutionary possibilities in frozen moments of time—resonates with this postindustrial metropolis as it struggles to rebuild itself. The Motor City is, thus, an apt site for a survey of Esther Shalev-Gerz’s work, which seems permeated with concepts drawn from German philosophy. “Space Between Time” brought together a selection of work produced between 1998 and 2016, including some of the artist’s

  • Nick Cave

    Nick Cave’s work moves fluidly between sculpture, performance, and social practice and explores the African American body as a site of tragedy, as well as a catalyst for change. Focusing primarily on the artist’s work from 2014 and 2015, the Cranbrook Art Museum presented a powerful demonstration of Cave’s incisive critical take on the current sociopolitical climate, while simultaneously evidencing his efforts to assemble alternative communities.

    The show, curated by Laura Mott, opened with a selection of twenty-nine Soundsuits, Cave’s signature wildly decorated dreamlike armatures, whose stitched,

  • Jack and Leigh Ruby

    Jack and Leigh Ruby’s Car Wash Incident, 2013–15, directed by the Rubys and produced by Eve Sussman and Simon Lee, is a looped two-channel video that blurs the line between reality and fiction. Installed on hanging screens in the middle of Michael Jon Gallery’s recently opened Detroit space, it was based around a staged aerial photo from 1975—depicting three people, a station wagon, and a car-wash sign at a dilapidated urban intersection—which the directors had originally fabricated as supporting evidence for an insurance scam (the two worked as a brother-sister con-artist team from

  • Bruce Weber

    In its simultaneously celebratory and critical framing of stereotypical Detroit in its current, postindustrial state, Bruce Weber’s recent exhibition was a welcome visualization of the Motor City. Comprising more than eighty mostly black-and-white medium- and large-format photographs and a ten-minute video (also shot in black-and-white), the show presented cityscapes and portraits taken by the New York–based fashion photographer when he visited the shrinking metropolis on assignments for W magazine in 2006, and for Shinola, the luxury Detroit watch manufacturer, in 2013.

    Weber’s representations

  • “What Is a Photograph?”

    This exhibition was intended to explore experimentation in photography since the 1970s. As is inevitably the case with any such endeavor, particularly one that covers its sprawling subject with only seventy-two works, it is easy to quibble with its inclusions and exclusions. To do so, however, would be to overlook the exhibition’s importance. It smartly investigated the flowering of formal and material experimentation after the advent of digital photography in the 1990s and tracked the dialogues between that field and painting and Conceptual art. Curated by Carol Squiers, the show comprised

  • Jessica Frelinghuysen

    Covering 138 square miles, Detroit is a spread-out, low-lying municipality. Motor City residents today thus face increasing isolation, as a shrinking population occupies an incommensurately massive, partially abandoned urban infrastructure in which the car is the primary mode of transportation. Not surprisingly, participatory art—often performance- or object-based work designed to produce active and cocreative audiences—has become the antidote of choice for young, local practitioners concerned about this city’s devolving social sphere. There is an artistic emphasis on community building

  • “Robert Heinecken: Object Matter”

    With the revived currency of appropriation in contemporary art, the work of Robert Heinecken is once again undergoing reassessment. Arriving eight years after his death in 2006, MoMA’s survey of the artist’s photography-based practice is the largest since his retrospective in 1999 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. “Object Matter” includes approximately 140 works from the early 1960s to the late ’90s—the breadth of the LA artist’s darkroom experimentations and extensions of the photographic medium into sculpture, painting, printmaking, collage,

  • Mike Kelley

    Mike Kelley’s Mobile Homestead, 2010–, opened to the public in its permanent location in midtown Detroit this past May, a little more than a year after the artist’s untimely death. The edifice, a full-scale simulation of his childhood domicile in Detroit’s working-class suburb Westland, stands as a (anti-) monument to Kelley as well as to the contradictory, financially depressed city that it engages. Commissioned by Artangel and initially comprising the facade and front third of the Kelley family’s ranch-style house, the fragmentary homestead was for two and a half years either being transported

  • James Welling

    In part because of the sheer variety of subjects, genres, and techniques that James Welling’s work traverses, it has always been difficult to pin down. The Los Angeles–based artist has likewise maintained an unclassifiable place within the Pictures generation, departing from his postmodern peers in his exploration of formal abstraction and photographic craft. In this exhibition, curated by James Crump, diverse works—ranging from tiny 2 1/4 x 3 1/4" chromogenic photographs made from Polaroids to largescale four-by-five-foot ink-jet prints—drawn from the artist’s nearly four-decade career

  • Scott Hocking

    Mixing the documentary mode with lyrical fiction, “The End of the World,” Scott Hocking’s recent show at Susanne Hilberry Gallery, presented Detroit as a surrealist archive: a site of contradictions in which revolutionary energy erupts from abject decay. On display were photographs of the city’s urban ruins as well as sculptural accumulations of objects—primarily books and taxidermied animals—that addressed or were indigenous to the region. A rusting Ford Mercury body anchored the surrounding works. Parked atop a bed of rock salt, the auto stood as an objet trouvé emblematizing the

  • Brian Ulrich

    Brian Ulrich’s current show at the Cleveland Museum of Art, “Copia: Retail, Thrift, and Dark Stores, 2001–11,” encompasses nearly sixty photographs that depict mass consumerism and its by-products in the United States in the wake of 9/11, during a decade in which American politicians routinely equated buying things with patriotism. Part of the overarching series “Copia,” 2001–11, these segments are loosely chronological. Beginning with shoppers in malls and big-box stores, Ulrich next turns to thrift shops, with their accumulated goods and alienated employees, before finally revealing “dark” (


    IN 1968, ROBERT HEINECKEN released one of the signal works of his career: Are You Rea, a portfolio of twenty-five grainy, ghostly, tonally reversed photograms taken from the pages of popular magazines. His introductory text leaves no doubt as to why he is today considered one of the most prescient forerunners of appropriation. Disclosing his debt to Surrealist theory, he professes his interest in “the multiplicity of meanings inherent in aleatory ideas and images” and declares that “these pictures do not represent first hand experiences, but are related to the perhaps more socially important

  • Robert Heinecken

    Employing sophisticated strategies of appropriation and montage, Robert Heinecken (1931–2006) developed a practice that anticipated the exploration of identity and mass media subsequently taken up by many younger artists, in particular, those associated with the Pictures generation. This spring, two exhibitions in Los Angeles—at Marc Selwyn Fine Art and Cherry and Martin—afforded a comprehensive overview of the late Californian’s oeuvre.

    A contemporary of John Baldessari and Wallace Berman, Heinecken was perhaps best known for his appropriative photograms—works (seen at both

  • Edgar Arceneaux

    Edgar Arceneaux is an artist intensely concerned with the relationship between individual experience and collective memory, an interest he manifests through cross-media installations designed to promote forms of personal and social understanding. At once conceptual and associative, his works dissect ways of knowing the world: myth, history, science, and storytelling. At the same time, these pieces refuse to be pinned down, suggesting that knowledge is personal and contingent and that collective commitment often requires individual leaps of faith. This exhibition, which consisted of two installations