Michael Luchs

Michael Luchs (b. Portsmouth, Ohio 1938)
Michael Luchs was among the celebrated Detroit Cass Corridor painters and sculptors in the 1960s and 1970s. Luchs graduated from Olivet College (Olivet, Michigan) in 1961, and attended the University of Michigan in 1964 before moving to Detroit, where he studied at Wayne State University (1966-68).Luchs’ work was featured in the Detroit Institute of Arts exhibition, Kick Out the Jams: Detroit’s Cass Corridor, 1963-1977, which took place in 1980 (and also traveled to Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art), and written up in Art in America as part of a major spread on the Detroit’s art scene.Luchs’ work has become closely identified with a single image, that of a rabbit, which first appeared in a series of paintings on paper done between 1966 and 1968, which included other images as well—frogs, moths, a snake in a jar, an Indian, flowers in a vase. In the inaugural exhibition of the Willis Gallery (of which Luchs was a founding member) in 1971 he showed a series of spray paintings on paper or board in which an ovoid shape was the dominant image. In 1972, for the exhibition “12 Statements: Beyond the 60’s” at the Detroit Art Institute, Luchs installed a large (24 feet by 20 feet) abstract floor piece, White Papers, made out of paper, tape, and graphite. Luchs next series, wall pieces fabricated out of scrap metal, wire rolled paper, and other salvaged objects arranged in long, narrow, horizontal configurations, was featured in a one-person exhibition at the Willis in 1974. As a commission for collector James Duffy’s warehouse (1975), he constructed a mixed-media relief in a vertical format, its disintegrating appearance emphasized by the fact that many of its elements had been partially burned (Luchs achieved a similar effect by occasionally shooting at his pieces with a gun).

Vince Carducci, in “Revolutionary rabbits” (MetroTimes, December 8, 2004) wrote about Michael Luchs’ work:“While they all share the same iconic image, each individual work is unique in terms of the techniques used to create it. In some pieces, the rabbit is buried under skeins of sprayed or smeared enamel paint; in others, it emerges from the negative space of heavily worked areas defining the contours around its shape. In the more visceral works, the rabbit outline is forcefully scratched into the surface of the paper, which is barely held together by layers of duct tape applied to the back. The metallic sheen of gold, silver and copper in some pieces has a primordial presence, while the frailty of the collaged elements in others seems to threaten disintegration at any moment.

This dichotomy of the timeless and the ephemeral is part of what makes Luchs’ work from 20 years ago still significant. On one level, it’s the ars longa, vita brevis (“art is long, life is short”) philosophy. Luchs’ art is an existential protest of a way of life slipping away; the response of an artist to a city, once the dynamo of the modern age, in the process of falling into ruin. Looking at Luchs’ work today is a reminder of just how much things have indeed changed. The art endures, however, still resonating with the creative spirit that brought these material objects into being. There’s also something about the specific conditions under which the work was made that links the Detroit art scene of the time to broader currents.

In promoting the Cass Corridor movement (an outgrowth of the legendary Detroit Artists’ Workshop), art world gatekeepers like then DIA curator Jay Belloli came up with the term “urban expressionism” to distinguish it from the cool objectivity of minimalism and the dry immateriality of conceptual art that, at the time, ruled aesthetic theory. As the argument went, the deeply committed and physical Cass Corridor work was noteworthy as a regional countercurrent to the so-called mainstream emanating from New York. But instead of being reactionary, the Cass Corridor was right on trend.

The Whitney Museum of American Art declared the birth of “New Image Painting” in 1978, and neo-expressionism was in full swing by the time of Luchs’ 1981 Feigenson Gallery show. Luchs can be considered a pioneer of what we now call postmodernist art, alongside Julian Schnabel, Susan Rothenberg and especially Anselm Keifer, whose forest mythology pieces are artistic cousins of Luchs’ rabbits.

Romantic self-determination permeates the best Cass Corridor art, and the bootstrapping aesthetic of Luchs’ rabbits exemplifies it.”

Michael Luchs has worked in rural settings for the last several years, and currently lives in Lewiston, Michigan, with his wife artist Kathryn Brackett Luchs.

His work is part of several collections including the Detroit Institute of Arts, Wayne State University James Duffy Collection, University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA), and the Cranbrook Academy of Art Museum, as well as several private collections throughout the United States.

He was recently part of the 2017 Invitational Exhibition of Visual Arts at the American Academy of Arts and Letters, in New York, where he was the recipient of the Academy’s 2017 Art and Purchase Award.