Two of my favorite works were photographs that skillfully capture the tension between the dream and reality. In Royal Oak photographer Eric Smith's Waldorf Astoria, my gaze was torn between an old man drowsing in a chair and a headless mannequin modeling a wedding dress. Juxtapositions of light, material, and surface abound. There's also an untitled print by the Houston-based husband-and-wife duo Hillerbrand+Magsamen in which a young boy stands atop a tricycle in the midst of a sea of toys. He wears a muddled superhero's outfit and looks, not at the viewer, but away from the camera, toward a source of light. The tone could be either serious or amusing: the boy hears a world calling out to be saved, or he hears his mom telling him to clean his room.
In addition to illuminating and confronting the reality behind the American Dream, the exhibit features works that reimagine the ideal. Cleveland artist Dana Depew's engaging and thrifty Hillbilly Air-Conditioning is a breezy one-room shack made of wooden pallets, cooled by fans set into its walls, and decorated with Ohio license plates. There's also Urban Pioneer, Detroit, Daniel Farnum's photograph of a flannel-clad young man complemented by the resourcefulness with which his surroundings are built. These two pieces refresh the dream even as they remind us of the ingenuity and evidence of hard work that are fundamental to it.
Hurry! This worthwhile exhibit ends on March 4.
[Originally published in March, 2012.]
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