“Ruin Porn or Artists’ Beacon—What is the 2010 take away for Detroit’s art scene?” By Colin Darke

“Ruin Porn or Artists’ Beacon—What is the 2010 take away for Detroit’s art scene?” By Colin Darke

With great pomp and revelry, Spain celebrated Christopher Columbus’s discovery of America in 1492. The discovery seems less of a finding in light of the civilization in America before 1492. But without that, I wouldn’t be here, and I like to be here. With catchy headlines and (at times) passive-aggressive compliments, the national news outlets celebrated their discovery of Detroit’s art scene in 2010: “the artists will create beautiful sculptures out of the rubble.” The discovery seems less of a finding in light of the deep art foundation built and fostered in Detroit for more than 100 years prior to 2010.

But the national media opened Detroit’s art scene to a larger audience and  ignited the imagination of the creative class in Michigan and nationally about the powerful possibilities simmering in Detroit. And that is my take away for Detroit’s art scene in 2010: There is a sense of possibility and an urgency to create and to be discovered.

With optimism for 2011, I reflect on Detroit’s art moments of 2010. Below are some of my discoveries: positive and negative. The items below are in no particular order of importance. I know I have missed a lot of important moments, so please add your picks in the comments.

The Positives:


The National Press: The national (in particular NYT) and international press loved the beauty of artists helping in Detroit’s rebirth. I loved reading how Patti Smith told young artists not to move to New York, but to places like Detroit—we are open and receptive to young talent.


Detroit Institute of Arts: In line with its 125 year-old history, the DIA continued to be the cultural gem of Detroit. It received broad praise for it Through African Eyes exhibition (in particular by NYT), which was a recognition and celebration of great art by African artists and their views of Europeans. The DIA also brought us The Neighborhood Project, which showcased the Design 99 team of Mitch Cope and Gina Reichert, who are loud voices for the concept that fine art and design can add texture and invoke an important dialogue about Detroit’s neighborhoods.


Museum of Contemporary Arts Detroit: Even though it’s the DIA’s much younger sibling (it’s only a few years old), MOCAD has been energizing the city art scene since its birth. Thanks in part to MOCAD, at this year’s Art Basel Miami Detroit had a loud and strong voice that it creates significant fine art. MOCAD also initiated Mike Kelley’s return home with Mobile Homestead, a traveling public sculpture of the artist’s boyhood home, which will take final residence behind MOCAD. MOCAD also brought us Martha Friedman’s Rub, which was one of my favorite shows this year (see previous post).


New spaces (to me at least): Like Design 99, several other artists attacked and transformed neighborhood houses (ice house, Juxtapoz’s sponsored art houses that included a visit from Swoon, and others). These houses are a nice tribute to Tyree Guyton Heidelberg Project. The N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art had its grand opening in October. G.R. N’Namdi has been at the forefront of contemporary art in Detroit (and Chicago and New York), and he took his love for fostering great art to a new level with this Center, which houses several exhibition spaces, a sculpture garden, performance spaces, a restaurant, and the G.R. N’Namdi Gallery (and two other galleries and a wine bar and . . . this is going to be a great destination). 2010 also saw the launch/re-launch of other new galleries including Whitdel Arts, Art Effect, and various galleries and studios at the Russell Street Industrial Center.

 The Negatives (just two, same theme):

 

The National Press: Almost without fail, writers were required to begin or end their stories with a derivation of “in a once great city that sits amid abandoned skyscrapers . . . .” These standard, trite observations were often joined by pictures of the train station or the Packard Plant, which are structures that were abandoned decades before this latest recession.  Yes, Detroit was hit hard. Yes, there are abandoned skyscrapers, and yes, we expect more from journalists than cliché boilerplate.


Ruin Porn: Countless (seriously, countless) artists and viewers salivate over themes of abandoned buildings and public spaces:  the once great now dilapidated city where nature is actually (!) taking back industrial spaces. While I enjoyed some of Andrew Moore’s photos in Detroit Disassembled, they lack a unique artistic voice. The abandoned industrial spaces have been the favorite subject of local high school students since at least 1994 (when I remember seeing pictures of the abandoned train station in high school). These images are fine for a novice artist who first discovers the allure of the abandoned, but we must demand more from an experienced artist. (If you are thinking about painting or photographing an abandoned house or building in Detroit…please ask yourself what meaningful perspective you are bringing to the table.)

So, there you have it…more positives than negatives. Hopefully 2010 will be remembered not as a discovery of a once great civilization where the remnants are derelict and cold industrial spaces that should be chronicled through photography and documentaries. Rather, hopefully 2010 will be remembered as a discovery of creative and warm people–people that can inspire on a national and international stage.