Detroit Art Scene Shines In 2008 Despite Difficult Conditions
This was a really tough year for Detroit, economically and politically. But you couldn’t tell that by the art scene, which overflowed with good stuff. Here are some standouts from 2008:
“Broadcast,” “Becoming,” and “Business as Usual,” Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. With this trio of concurrent shows, MOCAD finally struck a balance between the impulse to fill up its cavernous interior and the need to organize what’s on display. Assembled by different curators and installed in separate galleries, the shows offered divergent takes on common themes of media, identity, and power. Even the Guyton/Walker painting of an Absolut ad, which came off nondescript in the muddle of last year’s Burt Aaron collection show, revealed its heft when seen in the right context.
“Kenro Izu: Sacred Places,” Detroit Institute of Arts. Forget the suburban-friendly gloss and kid-oriented aesthetic lessons, the DIA’s best art experience came packaged the old-fashioned way: a compelling body of work presented straightforwardly. These photographs documenting the artist’s pilgrimages to sacred sites around the world embodied what great art is all about: an obsessive-compulsive vision quest for creative nirvana.
3.“Lois Teicher: A Sculptural Retrospective, 1979-2008,” Saginaw Art Museum. This retrospective of work by the winner of the 2008 ArtServe Michigan Governor’s Award for lifetime achievement traced the artist’s development from her early Cass-Corridor-wannabe, feminist-consciousness-raising days to her present status as a maker of some of the region’s most refined meditations on three-dimensional space and form. The only complaint is that no catalog was published to document this significant body of work.
4.“For Better or For Worse: Kathryn Brackett Luchs and Michael Luchs,” CCS Center Galleries. To help mark Michelle Perron’s tenth anniversary as director of Center Galleries (itself a notable event), the reclusive artist-couple came out of their northern Michigan hideaway to kick it out old-school Detroit style. Brackett Luchs presented diptychs in which seriously distressed wood panels on one side were mirrored by heavily worked glassine sheets on the other. Luchs exhibited new untitled drawings featuring cartoonish hands and feet emerging from pink backgrounds, channeling late Phillip Guston but with a raw power all their own.
5.“Lauren Semivan: Weights and Measures,” David Klein Gallery. The recent Cranbrook MFA made an auspicious debut with her first solo show of large photographs. Semivan combined gauzy theatrical sets, enigmatic hand drawing, and a few well-chosen objects to expose photography’s uncanny side. All photographs are in a sense ghost images, and Semivan’s gothic apparitions were haunting.
6.“Brenda Goodman: New Work,” Paul Kotula Projects. In art school they tell you if you can’t make good make it big. In her first Detroit solo in five years, Goodman gave a lesson in the opposite aesthetic with small oil-on-paper paintings that plumbed the depths of the artist’s psyche. Goodman’s mindscapes opened more doors of perception than the supersized commodities of blowhards like Julian Schnabel ever could.
Daredevil and Songstress
7.“Michigan Ceramics 2008,” Community Arts Gallery, Wayne State University. Michigan has an outstanding ceramics tradition. This survey marking the Michigan Ceramic Art Association’s 50th anniversary contained many of the usual suspects (Tom Phardel really stood out), but also gave several newbies a chance to shine. The range of expression, from straight-up functionality to conceptual wackiness, demonstrated that the medium’s only limits are the hands and minds at work.
Salt fired black- stoneware
12 x 17 x 8
8. “Janet Hamrick and Ted Lee Hadfield: Intertwined,” Lemberg Gallery. Two of Detroit’s most respected artists exhibited pieces they either worked on together or in which one incorporated the other’s motifs into their own compositions. Hamrick seemed more game to take on Hadfield’s themes and often with better results, but overall it was a fruitful collaboration.
Janet Hamrick and Ted Lee Hadfield
closed cell high density urethane
12 x 36 in
9. “Dennis Michael Jones: Just the Tip,” CCS Alumni and Faculty Hall. Following up on his breakthrough show at Oakland University Art Gallery a year ago in which he abandoned figuration in favor of hand-scrawled text, Jones filled the narrow exhibition space outside Center Galleries with a floor-to-ceiling installation of charcoal drawings of phrases all starting with “Sometimes I feel…” The drawings recorded random thoughts, from the sublime to the ridiculous, with ambience provided by an audio loop of the artist reading each one aloud.
10.DIA Great Hall (Disco Version). It wasn’t really art and museum curators reportedly despised it, but the installation of reflective silver disks hanging from the Great Hall’s ceiling provided a festive atmosphere to the DIA re-opening that carried into the New Year. It’s good to see them back, however tacky they may be, for the current holiday season.
DIA Great Hall
Vince Carducci has written on art and culture for many publications.