A solo show of work by Ken Aptekar (BFA 1973) opens Saturday, May 18th with an artist’s reception from 5 - 8 pm at Wasserman Projects in Birmingham, Michigan. DONT STOP: New Digital Works and Paintings by Ken Aptekar uses the history of art, primarily classical painting, to bring the past into the present by appropriating images from existing works, then transforming the composition, color, and scale, often radically. Sometimes humorous, always dissonant, the effect is powerful, and often reverberates in viewers’ experiences contemplating other historical works. The exhibition continues through June 21, 2013.
About DON’T STOP, Aptekar writes: “Living in both Paris and New York, I have been lucky to experience the cultures of Europe and America with the perspective of an outsider. When I am in Paris, I see life there as an American who was born in Detroit and has lived for nearly 40 years in New York. Back in the States, I look through the lens of the last fifteen years of living more in Paris than New York.
“The works in this series, DON’T STOP, developed out of a desire to reconcile two important differences between life in the two countries. France, the oldest country in Europe, has had kings in charge for most of its existence. Even though it became a republic after the French Revolution, its culture is steeped in its royal origins. Life in France is marked by class, highly developed codes of behavior, easy sensuality, significant state art patronage, refined taste, and strong federal government.
“In contrast Americans regard class difference with skepticism if not denial, and privilege as nothing more than a lucky break. In the US we feel we can become anybody we want unhindered by our family’s past, our race or personal history or gender. State support of the arts is deemed a luxury we can’t afford. And finally, government in America is a constant battle between State and Federal positions.
“I tried to mash up these differences in my series, DON’T STOP. Fifteen large glossy pictures set democratic American pleasure-taking—disco!—against princely French refinement.”
Included in Aptekar’s exhibition is a special project for which the artist produced a new work based on a major painting on loan to the gallery from the Detroit Historical Society. Together the works create a dialogue between the past and present, pointing to the struggle to decide how to make Detroit once again.
French explorer, Antoine de la Mothe, known also as Lord Cadillac, set sail for France in 1698 in order to convince King Louis to allow him to found a new settlement in the Great Lakes. Specifically, he was interested in the area south of Lake Huron known as le détroit, or the straits.
Returning to the New World, Cadillac and his men reached the Detroit River on July 23, 1701. The following day, July 24, 1701, the group traveled north on the Detroit River and chose a place to build the settlement. Cadillac named the settlement Fort Ponchartrain du Detroit in honor of King Louis’s Minister of Marine.
Ken Aptekar set out to make a work that highlights the artist’s home town and his present life divided between the US and France. He hoped to honor Detroit’s French past, and and also its identity as the birthplace of Motown, a defining feature of his childhood in the 50s and 60’s. Reversing Fernand LeQuesne’s 1902 painting, “Louis XIV Delivering to Chevallier de Cadillac the Ordinance & Grant for the Foundation of the City of Detroit,” to shift the focus from Louis XIV to Cadillac, Aptekar splashed across his image the title of the 1981 Rick James disco hit, “Give It To Me Baby.” Irreverent and jarring in its confrontation with a courtly scene in Versailles, the song title sandblasted on glass over Aptekar’s painting reflects both the wild ambitions of Cadillac and Berry Gordy, not to mention the desire to make something out of nothing that drives any artist.