The James Pearson Duffy Department of Art and Art History presents two coinciding exhibitions: THIS MUST NOT BE THE PLACE YOU THOUGHT IT WOULD BE and Building Utopia.

Art Department Gallery, October 12 - December 7, 2018
UtopiaTHIS MUST NOT BE THE PLACE YOU THOUGHT IT WOULD BE is a solo exhibition of work by Ryan Standfest. A group of recent paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures and videos will be on view. Within these works Standfest functions as an ironic narrator, issuing dispatches from a gray area that is perpetually neither one place nor another. It is in this place that entropy is a given. Yet structures are nevertheless erected out of the belief that self-realization through better engineering will halt collapse. This is a place where impermanence is guaranteed, but strength through design is not. Periods of subjective stability and greatness are illusory and can give way to a dangerous nostalgia. In this exhibition Standfest touches upon those distorting, designed fantasies intended to stave off the discomfort of inevitable change.

Ryan Standfest was born in Detroit, Michigan and earned an MFA in Printmaking from the University of Iowa.

Maintaining a studio practice in Detroit, he is also the editor and publisher of Rotland Press, presenting satirical publications of a culturally relevant nature. Rotland Press has published work by Sue Coe, David Lynch, David Shrigley and Art Spiegelman, among many others. The press was recognized by Art In America in 2016 as publishing a project that was one of the top five “significant artworks” to emerge from Detroit in that year. His publications and prints are in numerous collections, including The Art Institute of Chicago Ryerson & Burnham Library, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France Prints and Photographs Department, and the Harvard University Library. Standfest has exhibited work nationally and abroad, most recently in the Mike Kelly Mobile Homestead at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, the International Print Center of New York, the Association Les Abattoirs in Riom, France and Eastern Michigan University. His exhibition held at the HATCH Gallery in Hamtramck, MI in 2017 was listed as one of the top five Detroit-area gallery exhibitions that year by critic Sarah Rose Sharp for the Detroit Free Press. His work was recently the subject of an essay by Timothy van Laar in Essay'd #110. 

As an essayist, Standfest has penned articles for the Detroit arts and culture journal Infinite Mile, contributed an essay on the artist Jim Chatelain for the book Cass Corridor: Connecting Times, edited by Simone DeSousa, and authored the chapter “A Useful Bile: André Breton’s Humour Noir in 1960s America” in the forthcoming book Radical Dreams: Surrealism and Counterculture, edited by Elliott H. King and Abigail Susik, from Penn State University Press.

Standfest is an instructor at The College for Creative Studies in Detroit, where he teaches courses in Printmaking and The Graphic Novel.

A portion of the work in this exhibition was completed during a 2018 residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in Amherst, Virginia.

TMNBuilding Utopia
Elaine L. Jacob Gallery, October 19 - December 14, 2018

Building Utopia, organized by Lauren Kalman, Associate Professor of Art, WSU, Detroit features works by the following artists: Olayami Dabls; Aaron Jones; Asma Kazmi; Leila Christine Nadir and Cary Adams; Kambui Olujimi; and Wesley Taylor, Complex Movements, in collaboration with Siwatu-Salama Ra. 

Detroit is a site where entrepreneurs, investors, artists, and citizens have projected their desire to build a more perfect place.

But, utopic visions can be problematic, produced from a myopic vantage point, where the vision of the individual dominates over the population at large. Take for example, the socialist visions of Modernist architects like Le Corbusier, who designed the Les Quartiers Modern Fruges outside of Bordeaux. While seemingly altruistic, with the intent of mass-producing affordable homes for factory workers, it also projected a singular manifestation of ideal taste. The homes were stripped of historic decorative architectural conventions and the design disregarded popular taste, with the intent of spreading an enlightened minimalist aesthetic that promoted what was thought to be a visual, physical, and moral healthiness. After all, Corbusier insisted that ‘the design of cities are too important to be left to the citizens.’ The citizens however undermined Corbusier’s utopic plan by burying the imposed minimalism in decoration that suited their own taste and needs. Utopias have boundaries, but sometimes the wildflowers overtake the manicured garden. 

We also see visions of utopia on a more personal scale. We design our domestic spaces to suit our ideals, we attempt to hone our mental states through meditation, and we sculpt our bodies through medicine, exercise and diet. In these small ways we might all be striving for personal utopias.

While some utopias are invested in the new and rooted in consumer culture others engage in repurposing and reinventing existing systems. The desire for utopia is not always negative, ideals are what move us to build a better world.

These artists explore issues surrounding the construction of utopia including the individual in relation to the whole, fabricated spaces and experiences, and the failure of designed systems.

This project was supported by Ponyride Artist in Residence Awards as an outreach project and by Popps Packing through their artist residency program.