Michael Kareken fills two galleries with ‘Parts’

Tonight, two galleries are opening two parts of the same show.

Michael Kareken‘s paintings and drawings of deteriorating cars fill both Burnet Gallery and the annex of Groveland Gallery. The double show allows for an interesting examination of how different spaces influence the art they present.

“Engine #4” by Michael Kareken

The two galleries are almost a study in opposites; while Burnet is open, modern and bright, Groveland is a warm, cozy space that still feels like the stately home it once was.

In Burnet, visitors will be treated to several of Kareken’s large paintings, including a massive collage that fills most of one wall. It’s a piece that forces a person to stand several feet back to take it in.

At Groveland, people can get nose to nose with detailed sketches that invite intense scrutiny.

Groveland Gallery’s Sally Johnson says the idea came out Kareken’s own immense productivity.

“He had so much I couldn’t take it all, and some were so large we simply couldn’t fit them in the space. [Burnet Gallery Director] Jennifer [Phelps] and I are both such fans of his work that it seemed like a great way to draw attention to his work and to Twin Cities galleries at the same time,” said Johnson.

“I had an interest in doing larger work,” added Kareken. “Sally’s space is small and chopped up — albeit lovely — and the last show I had there I felt like I had to make some compromises in the work because of the space it was destined for.”

“Untitled,” by Michael Kareken

This is not the first time Kareken has had dual shows in the Twin Cities. Groveland hosted a supporting exhibition to a show he had in the MIA’s MAEP gallery.

“Parts” is the latest body of Kareken’s work examining the relics abandoned in scrap yards to be cannibalized by mechanics.

Groveland Gallery’s ambiance helps to invoke a sense of nostalgia in Kareken’s haunting black and white depictions of antique cars returning to the earth, with trees growing through windshields. Meanwhile Burnet Gallery’s more clinical lighting underscores the undeniable human element of his color paintings. Engine blocks and dashboards evoke chest cavities splayed on the operating table.

“The car particularly to me reeks of the human body, and the human figure,” said Kareken. “I see bones, I see skeletons, nerves, sinew – it’s all there. It’s particularly meaningful to me now as my parents are aging, and I’m thinking about mortality.”

“Collapsed Windshield” by Michael Kareken

Kareken says while the stripped cars hold an implicit sense of violence, they are also enticingly ambiguous. Was the car in a crash? Was someone injured?

Previous exhibitions by Kareken have looked at human waste, including the unending hills of recycled materials at the RockTenn recycling operation in St. Paul.

“With RockTen it’s disorder and chaos coming over the transom all the time to which [the empoyees] are trying to give order,” said Kareken. “In this scrap yard, it’s the opposite; the cars come in a certain sense of wholeness, and then they’re torn apart.

“There’s this post-apocalyptic feel of quiet desperation of these people ripping any useful morsel they can find out of these things.”

“Convertible” by Michael Karaken

Interestingly, Kareken says he’s really not that interested in cars.

“But they’re so much a part of our lives – you’re in them all the time, they become an extension of yourself, they give you this illusion of safety and protection, and when you see them in their final resting place, it’s just sad,” said Kareken. “They’re lined up in rows just like a graveyard. It’s beautiful — and disturbing.”

Kareken often sits in a car for a few minutes to get the feel of it’s “spirit” before deciding what part to focus in on with his camera, and later, with his paintbrush.

He says the painting of these relics is a sort of restorative process.

“It feels like I’m trying to put together something that was ripped apart. All these paintings on paper are collaged together. I built the pieces up, painted, built some more, painted. I felt like I was physically building the thing, and at any moment it could be coming together or it could be falling apart.”

“Parts” runs through Nov 29 both at Burnet Gallery and Groveland Gallery. During tonight’s opening from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. a shuttle will run between the two spaces.