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Brashly billing his debut solo show as The Newest Work by Laith Karmo, this ceramic artist and Cranbrook grad trumpets his brand-spanking-new sculptures with all the (mock) ego of an established blue-chip art star.
Words like cheeky, futuristic (in a retro-Jetsons sort of way) and zany come more readily to mind when first encountering Karmo's shiny pieces. Installed in Hamtramck's Design 99, the informal, seemingly capricious layout of seven pieces on seven unique pedestals — which are also Karmo-designed, naturally — immediately sets the tone of this spirited solo.
For several years now, Karmo has turned up here and there in group displays, showing geometric, architectonic pieces and sensual organic forms. The Newest Work nimbly combines the striking visual advantage of both.
Four pieces roughly resemble Mayan pyramids. Slab-constructed with seams meticulously scored, joined and reinforced, the temple profiles are enlivened by cubist faceting (no reference to a pure form can restrain Karmo's insouciance) and even by "lean-to" extrusions that splay out from one or more sides of the basic structure.
Gleaming, iridescent blue, gold and silver glazes enhance the fresh-from-the-kiln look of such works as "Young Blood/Old Age" and "Faith in Bling." The former is solidly mounted on a low, chunky black cube with veneered surfaces of simulated wood grain and turquoise swimming-pool squiggles. The latter balances precariously on a narrow pedestal that raises concerns about the sustainability of "bling" — both literally and metaphorically.
A trio of sculptures embodies the libidinal and egotistical energy that is at the core of creativity — or, in his parlance, at the root of producing "the newest work by Laith Karmo." The centerpiece is a gold-glazed phallic shape. It is flanked by an Arp-like budding form atop a 6-foot-tall cedar beam (the tallest mount in the show) and a sculpture composed of a cluster of erotic growths rising from a mound of rubble.
Speaking of trios, Karmo uses three key phrases in the exhibit to take a jab at the self-aggrandizing and pretentiousness so typical of the art world, while at the same time, slyly playing their game: "Newest work" is obviously one, and "Pretty Me," the title of a piece, is another. The third is a bit more obscured, visible in the gallery's storefront window only if you take the time to puzzle it out. Broken letters on a broken plate can be assembled to read: "The best sculptor alive."
In another year or two, we will perhaps be invited to check out The Newest Work by Laith Karmo II. If so, it would be wise to show up and see what this ambitious, restlessly inventive young artist is up to again.
The Newest Work by Laith Karmo runs through May 3 at Design 99, 10022 Joseph Campau St., Hamtramck; 313-576-6941.
If you'd like to probe the art and psyches of other sculptors, spring 2008 is particularly rich in sculptural displays in southeast Michigan: a 30-year retrospective of Lois Teicher's steel abstractions has just gone up at the Saginaw Art Museum; the flowery florals of Anat Shifton are on view at Pewabic Pottery; and signature works by a trio of mature practitioners of the sculptural arts — Larry Cressman, Charles McGee and Harry Zmijewski — are on view at Flint's Buckham Gallery.
Dennis Alan Nawrocki's new edition of Art in Detroit Public Places from Wayne State University Press will be in bookstores in May. Send comments to him care of firstname.lastname@example.org.