TYREE GUYTON 1
THIS EXHIBITION IS SPONSORED IN PART BY
TYREE GUYTON FACES OF GOD ON FIRE CUE ART FOUNDATION OCTOBER 19 - NOVEMBER 23, 2013
BOARD OF DIRECTORS Gregory Amenoff Theodore S. Berger Sanford Biggers Thomas G. Devine Thomas K.Y. Hsu Deborah Kass Vivian Kuan Corina Larkin Brian D. Starer
CURATORIAL ADVISORY COUNCIL Gregory Amenoff William Corbett Lynn Crawford Paddy Johnson Trenton Doyle Hancock Pablo Helguera Sharon Lockhart Andrea Zittel
CUE FELLOWS STAFF Polly Apfelbaum Theodore S.Berger, Chair Ian Cooper William Corbett Michelle Grabner Eleanor Heartney Deborah Kass Corina Larkin Jonathan Lethem Rossana Martinez Juan Sรกnchez Irving Sandler, Senior Fellow Carolyn Somers Lilly Wei
Jeremy Adams Executive Director Beatrice Wolert-Weese Associate Director Jessica Gildea Associate Director of Programs Hannah Malyn Development Coordinator Mesha Bhansali Programs & Office Assistant
Each year, CUE invites ten individuals from across the country to anonymously nominate up to three artists for the solo exhibition program. Artists are invited to apply, and the final selection is made by an independent jury each fall. Jurors for the 2013-14 season were Michelle Grabner, artist and founder of The Suburban, Chicago, IL; Paddy Johnson, founder, Art F City; and Gregory Amenoff, artist and former Chair, Visual Arts, Columbia University School of the Arts.
CUE ART FOUNDATION IS A DYNAMIC VISUAL ARTS CENTER DEDICATED TO CREATING ESSENTIAL CAREER AND EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES FOR EMERGING ARTISTS OF ALL AGES. THROUGH EXHIBITIONS, STUDIO RESIDENCIES, ARTS EDUCATION, AND PUBLIC PROGRAMS, CUE PROVIDES ARTISTS AND AUDIENCES WITH SUSTAINING AND MEANINGFUL EXPERIENCES AND RESOURCES.
In 1986, Guyton founded The Heidelberg Project on an abandoned street on Detroit's East Side. The artist transformed a forgotten corner of the city into a vibrant, whimsical installation using found objects and house paint. Today, the project spans two city blocks, with polka-dotted houses and found object installations, with over 250,000 visitors every year. The site, which has been demolished twice by the city of Detroit and subsequently rebuilt, is also a nonprofit organization that provides arts education to children and public programs for visitors. Through the Heidelberg Project, the artist draws attention to the plight of Detroit's forgotten neighborhoods, and spurred discussion and action. Guyton's work is held in collections worldwide including the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Studio Museum in Harlem. He was awarded an honorary doctorate from the College of Creative Studies in 2009, and recently completed the Laurenz Haus residency in Basel, Switzerland. His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Time Magazine, the Boston Globe, and NPR's Morning Edition, among many others. For more information on the project, visit heidelberg.org.Â
I strive to be a part of the solution. I see and understand how order is needed in the world and in our individual lives. My experiences have granted me knowledge of how to create art and how to see beauty in everything that exists. Even in the smallest molecule or things in this life that we can’t see, we are all bound by this same energy, we are all bound by gravity and we breathe the same air. I can see the evolution of life in everything, in every minute second. How beautiful it is to witness this process in action. What is beyond space and can we possibly look that far into ourselves? What is art? I ask myself this question over and over. Is my life an art form? I began to see and hear my own work in a new way that opened up my third eye of wisdom and my mind to see how everything is connected to this one source of energy or this divine power. I believe that it will take a lifetime for me to understand and appreciate this power. However, I find my art to be just like that power of creating energy in a negative space. It is this energy that becomes my focal point. The word composition, according to Webster’s Dictionary, means to form by putting together; to make up from many ingredients. I have come to the realization that I have been called to create art that is unusual and compositional in form. The traditional and conventional way is a thing of the past. We live in a world full of corruption from the top to the bottom, values no longer exist and rules are broken everyday. For me, art is a way of expressing life. My work is a science that deals with colors, shapes, objects that bring about a rare beauty to the mind and eyes of people, a type of esthete. My art is life, life that lives on with time because the entire creation is an art form. I see magic in what I do as an artist. This magic helps me to understand how to create compositions of unusual taste. It’s a journey that keeps me searching to know more about life in general and my own life. The whole world is a stage and we, as humans, are playing our part—acting out our purpose.
Untitled, 2013 Paint on metal, 57” x 48”
Untitled, 2013 Paint on metal, 57” x 48” 10
Untitled, 2013 Paint on metal, 57” x 48” 11
Untitled, 2013 Paint on metal, 57” x 48” 12
Brown Boy, 1999-2005 Paint on metal, 57” x 48” 13
Art of the Cross, 1999-2005 Paint on metal, 57” x 48” 14
Joy to the World, 1999-2005 Paint on metal, 57” x 48” 15
Money Man, 1999-2005 Paint on metal, 57” x 48” 16
Sam’s Girl, 1999-2005 Paint on metal, 57” x 48” 17
Untitled, 2012 Swiss monoprint, 22â€? x 30â€? 18
Untitled, 2012 Swiss monoprint, 22â€? x 30â€? 19
Untitled, 2012 Swiss monoprint, 22â€? x 30â€? 20
Untitled, 2012 Swiss monoprint, 22â€? x 30â€? 21
Untitled, 2012 Swiss monoprint, 22â€? x 30â€? 22
WRITING SPECIFIC SITE: THE ART OF TYREE GUYTON p.23 TYREE GUYTON: FACES OF GOD ON FIRE p.28
SPECIFIC SITE: THE ART OF TYREE GUYTON By Justine Lai
1 The recent exception is the Number House, which was opened as a welcome center, gallery, and gift shop in April 2013.
We must be careful about romanticizing the fire. Here are the facts: on May 3, 2013, an act of arson nearly destroyed one of the iconic components of Tyree Guyton’s Heidelberg Project, an outdoor installation spanning multiple blocks on Detroit’s east side. Located on Heidelberg Street and vicinity, the installation consists of houses (some occupied, others abandoned), vacant lots, trees, sidewalks, and streets transformed with layers of bright paint and assemblages of salvaged objects. Multicolored polka dots—the artist’s trademark—decorate the pavement and swallow a two-story house. Old shoes and crucified stuffed animals hang from trees. Colorful portraits painted on boards and car hoods line the yards. Visitors can wander around the Project as though it were a park. But this is a real neighborhood: the houses’ interiors are inaccessible to the public,1 and if you venture too far, the landscape reverts to tall weeds and decaying homes. Guyton, with his late grandfather Sam Mackey, started the Project in 1986 in response to crime and blight in his childhood neighborhood. What began with dots and detritus on individual buildings grew in size and scope. Today, the Heidelberg Project is an internationally renowned attraction with a nonprofit organization that runs community-based programs. Guyton remains a regular presence on site, working on new components and encouraging young locals and visitors to participate in its making. But back to the arson. The burned house, like the other houses of the Project, has a unique name and theme: the Obstruction of Justice (“OJ”) House, started in 1994. Before the fire, its facade was covered with the text “OJ” and the porch was piled with doll parts and household objects. The house’s sides were an everchanging salon-style installation of paintings, usually of shoes or American flags. In the aftermath, the facade was standing, but the rest of the building was blackened debris. The arson is currently considered an act of retaliation by a neighborhood youth. The fire is especially poignant considering past destruction at the site. In its 27 years, the Project has been partially bulldozed by the City of Detroit in 1991 and 1999 under two different administrations. Guyton’s most vocal opponents at the time, which included several neighbors and City Council members, considered the work an eyesore in an already blighted neighborhood—and partly on city-owned 25
SPECIFIC SITE: THE ART OF TYREE GUYTON
2 For excellent coverage of the Heidelberg Project’s history (including a complete legal perspective), see John Beardsley, et al., Connecting the Dots: Tyree Guyton's Heidelberg Project (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2007).
land to boot. The history of the infamous demolitions and subsequent legal battles have been covered in greater detail elsewhere.2 What’s important to us now is that the Heidelberg Project has always come back. Guyton’s response to his critics has been to persist and adapt. His practice embraces change, be it natural erosion or politically motivated demolition. Destruction is mythologized on the Heidelberg Street palimpsest: rebuilding becomes resurrection. The arson seemed no different when I interviewed Guyton in May. He was optimistic about the opportunity to transform the OJ House into something new. The fire also accrues meaning from our understanding of Detroit’s history. The Great Fire of 1805 destroyed most of the early settlement. The city burned again in the race riots of 1967. Consider the city’s mottos: Speramus meliora; resurget cineribus. We hope for better things. It will rise from the ashes. As a newcomer to the Detroit metropolitan area, I found myself reflecting on the irony of these mottos after news of the arson. The narrative of Detroit that dominates the popular imagination has romantic arcs of rise and fall, ruin and revitalization. I was tempted to view the Heidelberg Project fire strictly in those terms—after all, what American doesn’t love a good comeback story? However, if you witness the extent of the destruction firsthand—in my case, while shoveling rubble during a cleanup day—the shortcomings of romantic rhetoric are clear. This was senseless arson, plain and simple. That day, there were more volunteers than wheelbarrows. Some had to remove debris by the handful, passing it down the porch like a bucket brigade or assembly line. It was a reality check: while it might be emotionally resonant to think about the destruction metaphorically or mythopoetically, dealing with the physical aftermath is just plain hard work. I bring up this contrast because I think the power of Guyton’s work lies in the tension between everyday and epic, practical and poetic—where trash becomes magic. The work’s connection to Detroit is both actual and metonymic. As a result, its commentary on the city—specifically, on the forces that heal and wound communities—is direct but nonetheless complex. Guyton’s work in painting, printmaking, and sculpture often overlaps with the Heidelberg Project and shares a common visual language of materials and signs. The accretion of everyday objects emphasizes their metaphorical and spiritual properties. But they
insist on being read as trash—not simply found, but used and discarded. Magical yet undisguised, the objects offer a critique of wasteful consumerism and our neglect of shrinking cities, flickering between mournful/cautionary tale (roadside memorials) and optimistic gesture (child’s play). The painted symbols are similarly polyvalent. Guyton’s signature dot is at once a point, circle, hole, cell, pattern and ritual; repeated and applied to a surface such as a house, it demarcates, obscures, decorates, populates, and dissolves with aesthetic and political consequence. Guyton’s practice connects him to a wide range of artists. The work shares formal affinities with Robert Rauschenberg’s combine format, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s iconography, and outsider art’s individualism. The mutability of the Heidelberg Project finds precedent in Kurt Schwitters’s Merzbau, a Dada precursor to installation art in which the artist spent a decade and a half turning his apartment into a cavernous, walk-in sculptural environment using scrap and mementos. But perhaps the most compelling touchstone is Joseph Beuys. Beuys’s use of fat and felt as symbols came from a personal mythology and furthered the artist’s role as shaman, teacher, and healer. His concept of social sculpture focused on expanding the paradigm of art to include the whole of society. Operating under the principle that everyone is an artist, social sculpture is inherently inclusive, interdisciplinary, and participatory. Guyton’s practice occupies a similar position in which art, life, and politics meld, thereby creating the potential for positive social change. The work on display at CUE Art Foundation is no exception. At the time of this writing, the show will include recent sculpture, prints made during a residency in Switzerland, and paintings on car hoods from the Faces Of God series. Some of the paintings were originally installed on Heidelberg Street; several were damaged by arson. In each painting, a cartoonish head gazes outward, its expression ambiguous. Some mouths are drawn as single thick shapes, implying both the void of an open mouth and a line representing sealed lips. Other mouths arc in Cheshire Cat smiles, part grin and part grimace. The line work creates an exuberant, unsettling lattice of teeth—in some cases, forming a miniature landscape scene in the mouth. The portraits seem less concerned with asserting individual identities or encoding specific emotions. Instead, the mouths function as portals symbolizing imaginative access to some other place or state of mind. 27
SPECIFIC SITE: THE ART OF TYREE GUYTON
The backgrounds of these paintings are similarly charged. Dots, crosses, and text reading “God” radiate around the heads and overlap the eyes and foreheads. The placement of these words and symbols suggests states of altered consciousness, from the aura of religious ecstasy to the chirping birds of cartoon head trauma. They create the figures’ entire world, giving them an air of self-possession and spiritual intensity. The use of salvaged metal in the Faces of God paintings alludes to Heidelberg Street on multiple levels. The car body parts remind us of Detroit’s industry. There’s also a visual pun: hood and ‘hood. (Similar wordplay occurs in Guyton’s work where shoes reference the soul and vacant lots are “lots of art.”) Most importantly, setting off a single piece of the car signifies collecting and framing the fragment. Scrap becomes relic, part represents whole. I can only imagine that viewing the work in the institutional frame of the gallery throws the work’s relic-like and totemic qualities into high relief. The patina of weather and arson are indexical to a history unfolding elsewhere. As we experience the work some 480 miles away from its origins, we can never quite take Heidelberg Street off our minds. Under the framework of social sculpture I’m obligated to reflect on Detroit not simply as a location and a history, but as an idea. What does it mean to say that New York City is here and Detroit is there? The synecdochic associations of Detroit are revealed to be as polyvalent as Guyton’s dot. In thinking about the city’s difficult past and what lies ahead, I ultimately arrive back where I started, torn between romantic mythology and the work to be done on the ground level. Perhaps an answer exists in the partial view afforded by the relic: it suggests the inability of any single story to define a place, thereby liberating us to construct a layered, complex, and inclusive alternative model of Detroit.
This essay was written as part of the Young Art Critics Mentoring Program, a partnership between AICA USA (US section of International Association of Art Critics) and CUE Art Foundation, which pairs emerging writers with AICA mentors to produce original essays on a specific exhibiting artist. Please visit aicausa.org for further information on AICA USA, or cueartfoundation.org to learn how to participate in this program. Any quotes are from interviews with the author unless otherwise specified. No part of this essay may be reproduced without prior consent from the author. Lilly Wei is AICAâ€™s Coordinator for the program this season. For additional arts-related writing, please visit on-verge.org
Justine Lai received her MFA in Painting from Cranbrook Academy of Art in 2013 and BA in English and Studio Art from Stanford University in 2008. She is based in Bloomfield Hills, MI and Brooklyn, NY. Mentor Janet Koplos is a New York City-based art critic. She is co-author of Makers: A History of American Studio Craft (2010) and author of Contemporary Japanese Sculpture (1990) and other books. She has written extensively on crafts and on American, Japanese and Dutch contemporary art and has published approximately 2,500 articles, reviews and essays in some two dozen periodicals over the last 30 years, writing on Richard De Vore, Leslie Dill, Oliver Herring, Teun Hocks, GyĂśngy Laky, Ed Moses, David Nash, Rona Pondick, Martin Puryear, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Ursula von Rydingsvard and Betty Woodman, among others. She lectures, critiques and juries frequently, and has taught at Parsons The New School for Design and Pratt Institute in New York, the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence. She was for 18 years a staff editor at Art in America magazine and is currently a contributing editor.
TYREE GUYTON: FACES OF GOD ON FIRE By Jenenne Whitfield “God is a consuming fire. The City of Detroit is on Fire!! It’s been burning since 1967. Could it be that the city of Detroit is burning the old to make room for the new? Since these acts require a perpetrator could it be that the man is on fire?” Tyree Guyton looks through a lens that few others experience. His views often challenge the norm and cause us to think—deeply. “People don’t think for themselves anymore.” Guyton has a style all his own, a style that often distresses the norm, causes us to stop, take notice and ponder. Guyton claims to have a love affair with his work. The relationship he builds with his canvas becomes his voice and his spirit. He searches way beyond what he sees on the surface to engage his third eye—the eye of understanding. He searches for life, energy, magic and from that Guyton says, “I extract the beauty.” Beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder and Guyton admits that everyone does not like his style or methods, but neither does he expect them to. “I don’t want everyone to like what I do. I’d rather make you think and challenge what we call normal. When I look at the world we live in, I ask myself, is this normal?” The face of God is our own face and there is a fire burning in us, through animation and it’s hot! We are all on fire, first a flicker, then a flame and then a flicker until our light goes out. There are all kinds of faces in the arsenal of God.” What kind of beauty does Guyton see that escapes they eye of the typical viewer? As we take a glimpse into Guyton’s world, perhaps we can begin to imagine beyond what we see on the surface and experience something new. Guyton juxtaposes that which is twisted, torn, rusted and weathered with colors, lines and imagination to fill an otherwise negative and seemingly unattractive space. The outcomes are large sophisticated, caricature images. Whatever or whoever they are, there is no mistaking the contagious energy that moves with deliberate intention to fill his canvas—in this case discarded automobile hoods. Guyton takes the forgotten fragments of a once thriving city, the Motor City, to reflect back to the viewer what’s been left behind. Life on the streets of Detroit where Guyton grew up is not a pretty site to most but for Guyton he says it all depends on how we see. “Our perception is just that, how we choose to see. I think the old is making room for the new. We grow up in a world that teaches us what to 30
think or believe and we miss the magic, but I see beauty in the faces of God on fire." Salvaged from the rubble, Guyton gives each canvas a chance at new life and they make a wildly heroic presentation. As you study his faces, for example, they appear to be ailing, in distress or lacking in some way and yet they are all smiling a big, wide-toothed grin. It’s the inner man that I seek to capture. If you remove the veil of the flesh, you will see that the man/woman is always smiling, perhaps suggesting that they know something that the rest of us don’t. The question Guyton asks is, “what is art today in the 21st century?” “I listen to my art, it guides me and tells me what to do. It’s a courageous thing to listen to that voice within and not second guess it. You lose conscious control and the art becomes your teacher.” Stepping away from the traditional canvas, Guyton is internationally recognized for his large scale work in Detroit known as the Heidelberg Project (heidelberg.org). Founded in 1986 and located on in the heart of an East-Side Detroit community, this two city block art installation is fashioned with various discards and found objects collected mostly by Guyton from the streets of Detroit. It includes several structures (some inhabited and some vacant), vacant lots and also incorporates the street, trees, and sidewalks. Most everything contained within the two-block radius has become is an integral component of the art installation. Guyton says his work is a medicine, not only for community residents, but also for the many visitors it attracts. Guyton’s provocative work has become a platform for discussion in an otherwise desecrated area of Detroit where most would dare to travel were it not to witness this much talked about art environment. Critics, art enthusiasts, collectors, artists and most importantly, everyday folks come from near and far to study and give voice to Guyton’s work. Because of the variety of people it attracts and the people who reside in the area, the result is authentic community engagement. The effect of the [Heidelberg] site on new visitors is fascinating to behold. As a frequent escort to the Project for scholars visiting my University, I often observe looks of wonderment if not outright disorientation on the faces of my guests. For a complete understanding of the effect of the site on 31
TYREE GUYTON: FACES OF GOD ON FIRE
visitors, it is essential to have this appreciation of the complex and dynamic nature of a visit to the site as it relates directly to the dialogic nature of the experience and is at the heart of Guyton’s efforts to engage the community. It is challenging to articulate the various ways in which the public interacts with the Heidelberg Project. Who would have imagined that in all of the seemingly random and chaotic work on Heidelberg Street, Tyree Guyton was actually building a space for all of us.1
1 Bradley L. Taylor, (Essay) Negotiating the Power of Art: Tyree Guyton’s Heidelberg Project and Its Communities. Museums and Communities, Curators, Collections and Collaboration, Bloomsbury Press 2013.
This engagement on multiple levels is the driving force behind Guyton’s question: What is Art Today in the 21st Century. The question he asks appears to be more subjective, as if to suggest that it is not the objects that are relevant but rather the message behind the objects. Since many of the works featured in this exhibition have also lined the streets of Heidelberg in Detroit, I asked Guyton if the context of his work changes once housed in a traditional museum or gallery setting. Guyton replied, “A true artist makes it happen anywhere he goes because it is the work that instigates the conversations. There is a fire burning in the man and in me and I want to talk about it.”
Jenenne Whitfield is the Executive Director of the Heidelberg Project.
CUE Art Foundation’s operations and programs are made possible with the generous support of foundations, corporations, government agencies, individuals, and its members.
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Design: elizabethellis.viewbook.com Printed by: marxmyles.com All artwork © Tyree Guyton
Catalogue accompanying October 17 - November 22, 2013 exhibition