… If you did, you missed it. I didn’t think it was possible for the hours at Whitdel Arts to get shorter. But I was wrong. Whitdel Arts, like many volunteer-run art spaces in Detroit, keeps its doors open only on 1 day a week for 3 hours per month-long show, a total of 12 hours. I have often struggled to get to Whitdel’s well-conceived and well-installed shows during that window. But the most recent show, One Year Later: Work by Tisch Mikhail Lewis was open only for 5 hours total, on Friday, May 13 and Saturday, May 14. This pop-up exhibit was held in a recently renovated and still empty craftsman-style house on Commonwealth Street in Detroit. More about that later.
The stated theme of One Year Later is our societal obsession with body image, weight control and conventional ideas of beauty. Lewis says, “I use my work as a way to make sense of the world around me by deconstructing my experiences and examining them in terms of sociological theory pertaining to identity, body image, race and intersections between the three.”
These predominantly blue and yellow figures, mostly painted on raw canvas, didn’t strike me as being hard-edged political statements though. Instead I found them to be lyrical and virtuosic figure studies, deftly done, and quite pretty. The paintings are relatively small scale, which gives them an air of intimacy that I enjoyed even though it undercuts somewhat the stated theme of the show. It’s fashionable these days to make a political point with one’s art, but it seems to me that lovingly created and well drawn traditional figures have value too.
Now, as to why Whitdel Arts is open during shortened hours in a pop-up gallery. I have some bad news:
Through no fault of their own, the collective recently found itself out on the street following a sudden notification from their landlord that their presence in the space was no longer welcome. While I understand that nothing lasts forever, and that a landlord who has been generous in the past is under no obligation to be generous in perpetuity, the behavior of Southwest Solutions was abrupt and shocking. It also points to a growing hazard for non-profit collectives in the city. As higher real estate prices come to Detroit, there will be increased economic pressure to displace worthy but underfunded arts organizations of all types.
In spite of losing their Hubbard Street space, the Whitdelians have vowed to soldier on, and are currently planning to maintain an active schedule of pop-up exhibitions until they are able to secure more permanent gallery space. So, for now, it will be a little more difficult to keep track of Whitdel events. You can go to the Whitdel Arts page on FaceBook for updates here.