Lauren Rice

Found: Compelling new art center in Detroit (introduction to Passenger)

We respond well to the familiar. Our brains reward us with endorphins when we hear or see the familiar. We also respond well to the unfamiliar. We like to learn. Our brains similarly release endorphins when we hear or see something new. So maybe the best way for an artist to speak to his or her audience is to grab their attention through the use of something familiar, and then to challenge the audience through the use of something novel. Or maybe an artist should understand and appreciate what his or her likely audience has seen before, and the artist should merely focus on creating something purely novel. Is there anything purely novel? Can an artist really digest and then ignore the prior art?

LOST and FOUND: Belief and Doubt in Contemporary Pictures caused my train of thought outlined above. Brian Barr curated the show, which takes place at three locations and ends April 28th. The show highlights critical thinking about the arts: Brian chose a unique set of talented artists whose only similarity is that they are critical thinkers. That, of course, is an important unifying trait. The show results in great juxtapositions of artists that explore de-skilling/re-skilling, the role of the artist’s hand, text, form, texture, color, etc.

My favorite juxtaposition was Lauren Rice’s sculptural collage opposite to Njideka Akunyili’s figurative painting. Lauren Rice’s work is difficult to readily appreciate – it is not familiar. She cuts and colors large sheets of rectangular paper, which echoes a child exploring color and imagery. These pieces also have delicate collage elements. The result is a captivating wall that immediately captures the viewer’s attention and forces a deeper investigation. Njideka Akunyili’s work is almost directly across from Lauren’s piece. Njideka’s work is figurative, and it hits the familiar/unfamiliar dichotomy in an exhilaration fashion. Her work is a female figure in lying on the floor in the lap of a male figure. The male figure touches the female’s stomach. Njideka creates a sense of movement in her painting by leaving out details and adding texture through collage imagery. The male figure is reduced to basic form, and she created the shadows on the man through dense collage imagery. The female figure has the most detail, most of which is in the face. This is a very emotionally moving piece, and I look forward to following this artist.

Lauren Rice

Lauren Rice


Njideka Akunyili

Njideka Akunyili


The other artists exhibited are Hartmut Austen (Detroit, MI), Jordan Buschur (Lincoln, NE), Tim Campbell (Washington, D.C.), Jesse Harrod (Chicago, IL), Yui Kugimiya (Brooklyn, NY), Doron Langberg (New Haven, CT), Nick Martin Carbondale, IL), Ryan Parker (Philadelphia, PA), Amy Sacksteder (Ypsilanti, MI), Naomi Safran-Hon (Brooklyn, NY), and Sharon Servillio (Queens, NY).

The most exciting part of this show is that it is only an introduction. Namely, the show is Brian Barr’s vehicle to introduce Passenger to the art world. Passenger will be an important art center that will cultivate the familiar and unfamiliar in the arts to make a real and permanent contribution to the arts.
The show ends on 4/28, and is showing at the following venues:

Temporary gallery
1261 Woodward, Detroit, MI
Starkweather Arts Center
219 N. Main Street, Romeo, MI

The Museum of New Art – Detroit
1600 Clay Street, The Russell Industrial Center, Building 2, 3rd floor

Passenger will continue to introduce itself to Detroit and the art world in the coming months. For more information, please email and visit

I reached out to Brian to learn more about Passenger and LOST and FOUND, and our conversation is below. : What is Passenger?
Brian : PASSENGER is a world-class creative center for cultural innovation. PASSENGER will include an exhibition/project space and a residency program for emerging to mid-career artists, designers, engineers and creative social activists, as well as studios and affordable live/work spaces for local artists. : Are there similar projects in Michigan (any where else)?
Brian : Currently there are not similar projects in Michigan. The closest models are the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art in Omaha and the McColl Center in Charlotte. : What is your mission?
Brian : PASSENGER is a forum for community engagement in critical ideas and cultural production. Artists will present workshops, lectures and participate in discussions open to the public in order to foster a dialog and a community based spirit of collaboration that proves that the most inventive and challenging contemporary art is accessible to the broadest possible audience. PASSENGER’s programming exists to raise awareness within the broader community that everyone has permission to access contemporary art, not by showcasing art that is more easily accessible, but through educational outreach and community engagement that invites participation.

Beyond the educational programming goals and community outreach, PASSENGER seeks to address the brain drain of innovative, creative talent. Individuals that are educated at our colleges and universities that then flee for more thriving and challenging urban centers such as New York, Chicago or Los Angeles. In this regard PASSENGER’s mission is to create a center of excellence that supports the talent fostered here and attracting top talent globally. No significant opportunities exist in Detroit for local artists to showcase ambitious projects that exceed the ability of the market to support. PASSENGER would provide top local artists a venue to showcase their ideas.

PASSENGER’s goals are as follows:

-Attract top talent to Detroit for sustained periods of time (3-6 months) to work and interact with our community

-Support and in turn retain top local talent through affordable studio space, exhibition opportunities and community involvement as well as contributing to the place identity of Detroit as a center of innovation and excellence in the creative fields driven by opportunity and institutional support.

-Create a forum for the best and brightest minds and talent to gather, collaborate and generate innovative ideas in art, culture, politics and the significant social issues facing our city, region, nation and world. This will position the city of Detroit as a center for critical, cultural production and social innovation

-To provide free community educational outreach programming that will make the most challenging contemporary art accessible through lectures, workshops, discussions and video screenings specifically designed to attract a broader audience for participation and engagement with contemporary ideas and cultural production : Why are you behind this project?
Brian : I am behind this project because I believe in the arts community in Detroit, as well as Detroit’s potential to create a truly new model for artistic production, education and support. : How will this project change the Detroit art community?
Brian : This project will first and foremost provide key infrastructure and institutional support necessary in thriving art communities. PASSENGER will also attract artists from across the world to share their ideas with the Detroit area, expanding our already vibrant creative community. We will also provide a world class venue for local artists to showcase and share their ideas. : What inspired you to create Passenger?
Brian : My commitment and belief in the future of Detroit is what lead me to create PASSENGER. Looking at other major American cities and noticing what is missing from our artistic community is a world class alternative space to show work and a residency program to attract artists from all over the world
. : Where do you want Passenger to be in five years?
Brian : In 5 years my vision is for PASSENGER to be one of the most respected artist spaces in the country that attracts the very best emerging artists to Detroit while showcasing and launching the career of the best Detroit artists. My goal is also for PASSENGER to contribute to Detroit’s place identity as a center of creative, cultural innovation. A space that attracts visitors from around the region and around the country to visit artists studios, see exciting exhibitions hear lectures, watch film screenings, take classes in contemporary art and culture etc. : What inspired you to curate Lost and Found?
Brian : LOST and FOUND looks at artists engaging with the concept of pictures and the language of painting in the era after the death and resurrection of painting. These artists are aware of the historical critique of painting, and the space between belief and doubt structures their conceptual framework. : How does Lost and Found relate to the Passenger Center’s overall mission?
Brian : It relates in that for this show we brought together three Detroit area artists with 11 artists from around the country. So we are showcasing top local talent and bringing the work of exciting emerging artists nationally.