Detroit As A Visual Culture
We are a visual culture. So why must we insist that this culture exists anywhere but here? Jef Bourgeau, director of MONA, has been exposing Detroit one exhibit at a time. Featured this Saturday, March 7th are three exhibits at the Museum of New Art, one in which highlights a group of Austrian artists from Gallerie Lisi Hämmerle. “Austria for Beginners” is a group exhibition that is a part of an exchange for Detroit artists. Bourgeau has been organizing national and international exhibits that bring exhibiting artists to the MONA, and in turn a group of Detroit artists exhibit at that exchanging city. Over the past twelve years, Bourgeau has done fifteen exchange projects including those at Threewalls in Chicago, Galerie Eva Bracke in Berlin, and Art Channel in Bejing.
The MONA, located on North Saginaw Street in Pontiac, could be considered the latest art project of Bourgeau. This native Detroiter and artist has exhibited nationally and internationally, and as an experienced director, Bourgeau is on to something with his recent curatorial efforts. When asked of how it began, he tells a story of driving back to Detroit after exhibiting in Chicago. On his familiar drive home, Bourgeau began to wonder why Detroit was diminishing as an exhibiting option for contemporary artists. Bourgeau opted for change rather than submitting to the unfortunate fact at the time.
The MONA is a new opportunity in Detroit. Bourgeau brings together artists of all levels. Another featured exhibit on Saturday includes the closing reception of “Twelve”, work from twelve College for Creative Studies photography seniors taught by Kyohei Abe. These students display a professional and self-promoted group show upon graduating this spring. Works include a familiar approach to landscape photography with an emphasis in urban Detroit and other northern locations in Michigan. Other students explore self-identity through culture and heritage. The student work is fresh in concept, experimental, and transitional as they take the pivotal leap from student to emerging artist.
Two other exhibits on display for Saturday feature Detroit artists. “Secret City” has work from nine artists including the photography of Kyohei Abe, instructor at College for Creative Studies. Abe experiments and stages objects to photograph, then digitally compiles them into arrangement, printed on watercolor paper. His work nods at a traditional Japanese style of arrangement called tokonoma while using westernized ideals such as a white fence and a horse. Other works include that of Kelly Frank, an MFA Photography student at Cranbrook Academy of Art who has assembled dishware and other objects along the floor titled All The Bowls I Own: Section Three. Six other Detroit artists make up the exhibit “Warhol Was Blind”, including a found-object sculpture titled Chair With A Green Bowl by Chris Samuels and an animation film titled Beguiled by Abbigail Knowlton. Knowlton constructs toy-like cutouts and states that she is creating “desires and nightmares full reign.”
Detroit will be hosting international work in “Austria For Beginners”. Twelve artists from Austria have come to Detroit to exhibit—some perform—their work at the MONA. One artist has planned a performance piece in which they will cry like a baby for twenty minutes. Bourgeau hopes that with this exhibit viewers can examine their understanding of art as idea and practice; with making art, we are making ourselves. With MONA you can expect to see Detroit’s art culture flourish from the outside in. The international exchange that continues on behalf of MONA will eventually feed back into the city, reinforcing that we exist in a visual culture.