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by Peter Richards ART

Gallery review The MICA Gallery (the Michigan Institute of Contemporary Art) is located in the heart of Lansing’s Old Town. COURTESY PHOTO

New Identity: Michigan Institute of Contemporary Art S

TEPPING INSIDE THE MICHIGAN Institute of Contemporary Art gallery space in Lansing’s Old Town on a recent Sunday morning, I was greeted by gallery co-founders Jack Bergeron and Kirby Milton and a blur of activity.

It was about one hour until art lovers participating in

Lansing’s First Sunday Gallery Walk would begin arriving, and the pair were busy aiming lights at freshly installed artwork and labeling the paintings, photographs and wall sculptures that composed the October-November “Themeless” exhibit. MICA’s third partner, Terry Terry, joined us moments later. MICA’s high ceilings and tall, West-facing windows allow

the room to be flooded with ambient daylight. Formerly Old Town’s Studio 1210 Gallery (and before that, Banyan Gallery), the space currently shares its doorstep with the adjoining Lansing Arts Council headquarters on the busy corner of Grand River and Turner Street. It’s advantageously situated just steps away from Old Town art destinations like Absolute Gallery and Creole Gallery, and right in the middle of a half-dozen popular annual festivals and events, such as JazzFest, Michigan Mosaic Music Festival and Old Town BluesFest. Listening to Terry, Milton and Bergeron speak about

their artistic backgrounds and their friendship, one of those invisible connectors is art itself: Milton helped found Lansing Community College’s photography department. Several of the artists became acquainted while students, others while faculty. Over the years, a few of them even fulfilled both roles. Despite that camaraderie, the works on the walls diverge in style and subject as often as they complement one another. Another important connection is Old Town itself. Terry

was one of the early investors (along with the late Robert Busby, founder of Creole Gallery) to begin Old Town’s transforma- tion from a state of neglect to its present status as a popular


destination. Many of the artists represented in Themeless spent time in Old Town in its more ragged, early period – before it was even called “Old Town.” Less than two decades ago it was simply lumped under the broader category of North Lansing. Nowadays the vibrant cluster of businesses and galleries has its own unique identity. MICA is not only a fresh gallery in Lansing, it also

represents a name change from the Old Town Business and Development Association. “The name has changed but the mission is the same, to

promote the arts,” Terry said. A concept that comes up

often in conversation with the animated Terry is “cata- lyst.” MICA is a board-run, non-profit organization that seeks to “serve as a catalyst for community development through quality arts program- ming,” and the word comes up again while discussing Old Town’s transformation over the last 15 years into an arts and cultural destination, eventually attracting professional busi- nesses and an emerging boutique and retail shopping district. Terry sees MICA’s mission for the arts as larger than just

MICA (MICHIGAN INSTITUTE OF CONTEMPORARY ART) 1210 Turner Street, Lansing Hours: Monday-Friday, 9 am-5 pm, (517) 371.4600

the city limits. “Lansing is the capital city, it seemed like we should include

the whole state in our name.” A world traveler who visits galleries and museums every-

where he goes, Terry says it makes him realize just how good the art scene in Lansing really is. Drawing in artists from all over Michigan who work in contemporary, even edgy styles and who provoke dialogue is a priority for Terry.

MICA’s current exhibit, “Themeless,” is an open-

ended group exhibit of contemporary works that ranges from Bergeron’s geometric haiku-like wall sculpture of acrylic polymer tubes and rusted metal to photographer Mary Cusack’s studies of flickering light and flame. While the exhibit title would seem to suggest a willful avoidance of continuity or a hodge-podge of styles, the viewer is instead greeted with a number of connecting visual themes between the artists. The exhibit is presented as a careful, formal arrangement of artworks in a horizontal band around the perimeter of MICA’s warm gray walls. Walking around and contemplating the individual works, a viewer begins to be aware of the invisible threads that exist among this group of artists. Anne Nolan’s layered mixed-media pieces echo the strong color and design sentiments found across the room in Milton’s photography of international scenes. Grant Guimond’s twisting, color-infused interiors hint at still lifes if they were collaborations between de Chirico and Braque, playing off the gently surreal manipulated photographs by Roxanne Frith, the more graphic, illustrative style of Bruce Thayer and the gestural charcoal strokes of Terry’s own drawings. Also featured in the exhibit are a range of artworks by Greg Limmer, Tim Whalen, and Ilene Curts. With various art incubators popping up throughout

Lansing, MICA provides one more sturdy set of walls for exhibiting contemporary artists in the region, and their stated intent to attract artists and visitors from far-flung corners of Michigan is an inspiring vision. MICA began exhibiting this summer, somewhat quietly with well-received exhibits by activist artist Dylan Miner and a retrospective of distinguished, recently deceased artist Clifton McChesney. A full-blown grand opening is in store for early 2012, says Terry. “Themeless” will be on display at MICA through the

month of November. n



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