Blue Skies and Dennos

It was rainy, off and on, with varying degrees of intensity, for a few days in a row here in Grand Traverse.  When the weather broke, Basil was ready for an adventure.


We rode the TART trail into town, and stopped to admire the sky and the ships at the Great Lakes Maritime Academy. (Sure the ship is magnificent, and, personally, I’m partial to those sturdy, small tugs — but look at the sky!  People will talk water sports, winter sports, tasty home-grown cherries and beaches, but those skies are what Northern Michigan is all about!)

We ran a bunch of errands while in the city proper, and stopped at the Dennos Museum, a little gem that specializes in Inuit art, but also hosts a variety of other exhibits in three halls.  We viewed all three of the temporary installations.


A new young staff member apparently had suggested handing out unfinished skateboards to local artists, with an eye to showing them and then auctioning them off afterward.  The result was a room filled with 85 mounted skateboard decks.  Artistically, the results were mixed (at least to my eye), but interesting nonetheless, and I thought the presentation was rather good.


Though fond of wheeled objects in general, I’m completely ignorant of skateboard culture and practices, and was surprised to see that the majority of boards seem to have been decorated on the under- rather than over- side.  Perhaps to prevent destruction in use?  But how, then, does the user show distinctive colors (which, presumably, is part of the point)?  The two above present with the ends tipped up, but boards showing the ends tipped down were more typical.


These two nods to the metaphysical, above, were designed with tips down.  (Is paranormal assistance needed when riding a board that might trip you up at any moment?  Or is there a mystical benefit to knowing that a hidden world lies beneath your feet?)


As with the seemingly endless succession of derivative tattoos on human skin, skulls, skeletons and other grotesqueries of similiar ilk were over-represented on these boards, at least to my jaundiced eye.  (Is it really so difficult to find new ways to shock or startle?)  Even so, the exhibit was an amusing peek into a different way of seeing.

Museums, especially the smaller ones, struggle to engage younger visitors, and to solicit broader community involvement:  Hence the likes of skateboard exhibits, and perhaps this motivation figured into the doughnut gallery mere steps away.


Doughnuts?  Really?  Oh, yes; and let me say that I have never seen such beautifully or professionally executed doughnut decoration.  This artist knows his stuff.  As a person who once made a startlingly realistic felt doughnut pin cushion (which is still in use), I’m in no position to criticize this particular art form.  (Though I’d like to.)  I blame the public for these silly excursions:  that dunking doughnut shop, the museum, and the artist merely follow the dictum:  give ’em what they want.


In any case, I do wonder from whence this obsession sprang.  Is the artist terminally frustrated by the limited options at doughnut shops?  Or does he just have an unbridled sweets imagination?  Is this output the result of frustration or of a kind of personal bliss?   The curation implies a bit of each:  creator Jae Yong Kim, born in South Korea, feels self-doubt in life, and finds happiness in doughnuts.  (But doesn’t everyone?)

In a third gallery, Kevin Miyazaki‘s photographs showcase portraits of people he encountered in areas surrounding Lake Michigan, which counts, I imagine, as yet another creative approach to making museums more relevant to an increasingly self-centered population.


Do these bright portraits qualify as selfies-of-a-sort for Michiganders?  (What a handsome, well-scrubbed lot they are!)


The subjects are diverse; the photographs clean, almost pure.  There’s no nitty-gritty here; this is a rarified look at vibrant people.  The subjects above are described by occupation (that’s a very American thing to do, isn’t it?) and are, left to right, a welder, a longshoreman, a longshoreman, and a chief of police.


Basil was drawn to this fellow:  His glossy green and blue bicycle has made it into the photograph, too. (As has Basil into this one!)


I rather liked that there were two cyclists in the exhibit; and that neither one looked like a classic road racer.

A second Korean-born artist’s work filled the entry gallery.  Jinwon Chang‘s bamboo, paper and twine fantasies appealed most to my particular aesthetic.


Passing through the gallery was strangely like experiencing a light and airy underwater sojourn, with text:  Hanja-covered pods drape like seaweed from the delicate frames, which resemble wings on early aircraft, but whose shapes evoke whale-like creatures.


All this before we made it to the Inuit gallery!  I’m not as fond of the newest designs being produced in the far north, but I still have a residual fondness for prints like those first made in the 1960s and 1970s, when printing initially became a way to supplement a way of life that was becoming marginalized.

t15-abAbove,  Angry Bears, by Pauta Saila and Lukta Qiatsug, 1968.  Below, Joyful Woman, by Ningeeuga Oshuitoq, 1967.t15-jwThe Dennos also hosts a well-curated museum shop, which manages to offer an impressive variety of goods, including an ecumenical range of items with small price tags, perhaps intentionally catering to the youngsters who visit.


Along with pieces from local artists, there is a substantial offering of indigenous carvings for sale.  Buyer or not, the carvings are well-worth a careful look; they’re as varied as the artists themselves must be, and an interesting exhibit on their own.


Here, too, as in the permanent gallery, styles range from the more traditional to modern offerings; the Dennos also maintains an online web store, if your future travel plans include neither Northern Michigan, Canada, Alaska, or the Aleutians.

4 replies on “Blue Skies and Dennos”

Comments are closed.