Design by Katherine Lee

Last week, the first exhibition honoring the five finalists of Stamp Gallery’s new awards program “Envi­sion: The Michi­gan Artist Initiative, opened at the gallery in downtown Ann Arbor. The group show features the work of program finalists Michael Dixon, Dar­ryl DeAngelo Ter­rell, Nayda Col­lazo-Llorens, Kylie Lock­wood and Car­ole Har­ris. It is a testament to the talent coming from the state of Michigan’s art scene and their need for a platform. It is also very much a reflection of  Stamp Gallery’s overall vision of “devel­op­ing exhi­bi­tions, pro­grams, and pub­li­ca­tions that inspire new ways of look­ing, mak­ing, and thinking.”

In March of 2020, the program sent out a call for art across Michigan, and 259 artists working across all disciplines responded. As Stamps Gallery director Srimoyee Mitra noted during her engaging and informative tour of the space, the number of submissions “showed us what a need there was for a platform for emerging artists.” The Envision awards program is currently the only program designed for promoting artists across the state of Michigan.

In July, the panel of jurors, Lor­ing Ran­dolph, Direc­tor of Frieze New York and University of Michigan (BFA ​’04), Larla Acevedo-Yates, Cura­tor at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and Ken Aptekar, artist and alumna (BFA ​’73), met virtually to review the submissions and select the five finalists. Next month, on Friday, Dec. 10, the Envision jurors will select one of the five artists to be the recipient of the 2021 Envision Award and receive a cash prize of $5,000. 

The finalists’ group show is organized as five solo exhibitions, which, according to Stamp’s gallery, are not designed to have a unifying theme. But as I wandered through the rooms, I kept feeling like they all had something in common. All of the exhibitions were interdisciplinary to a certain extent, all were very much in conversation with their environment, all carried a sense of urgency and most of all: everything felt new, exciting.

Award-winning Albion College Professor of Art Michael Dixon’s oil paintings, installations and videos draw from his memory and personal identity as a mixed-race man to encourage discussions about racial hierarchies in America. Detroit-based multimedia artist and curator Darryl DeAngelo Terrell employs a blend of photography, video, performance, text and sound to call for inclusivity and acceptance through “the Black Urban aesthetic.” Nayda Collazo-LLorens’s animated video installations use a diversion collection of practices to investigate memory and the way we perceive information. Kylie Lockwood’s photographs and three-dimensional facsimile copies of a museum replica of the head of Michaelangelo’s Pietá and her pregnant stomach blur the boundaries between sculpture and the female body. Carole Harris releases traditional quilting from its confines through her textile maps, exploring fabric’s ability to communicate something essential about the human experience. 

Since its creation in 2017 thanks to a generous donation from Penny W. Stamps, who received a bachelor’s degree in design and a teaching certificate from the University of Michigan in 1966, the Stamps Gallery has been committed to playing “a lead­er­ship role at the Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan and the global art com­mu­nity through exhi­bi­tions, pub­li­ca­tions and pub­lic pro­grams that are lively, exper­i­men­tal and inclu­sive.” 

The space has hosted a variety of events aimed at enriching the campus arts community, created forums for students to engage with art and promoted access to local art collections, student artists and visual arts through innovative community-organizing strategies. As Mitra Simonett noted, these “projects in conversation with our environment” are designed to challenge preconceived ideas about “the role of a contemporary art gallery in 2021.”

Even the gallery itself, located on 201 South Division St., reflects Stamp Gallery’s mission to be as inclusive and accessible as possible. Converted from a retail store, the gallery’s street presence is so large that I was confronted by Michael Dixon’s “Picaninny 1976” alligator installation through the floor-length glass windows from over a block away. The space’s unique openness, which would not be possible in a traditional gallery environment, serves as another reminder of the essential role of artists in society and the importance of giving them platforms. 

The inaugural exhibition will travel to venues across Michi­gan, includ­ing the Crooked Tree Art Cen­ter in Tra­verse City. It is supported by the Michi­gan Coun­cil for Arts and Cul­tural Affairs and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, from which the exhibition received an $80,000 grant in January of 2020. It is free of charge and open to the public until Saturday, Jan. 22. 

Daily Arts Writer Jaden Katz can be reached at jadenk@umich.edu.