Tag Archives: Gallery Camille

Detroit Gallery Crawl #1

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There’s been some discussion online lately about the state of the art scene in Detroit. Is it healthy?  Has it reached “critical mass”? Where are the collectors? I don’t know how other artists and art lovers define a successful art ecosystem, but to me it revolves around whether you can walk from gallery to gallery for a full day and see art.  I decided to test this theory by doing a Detroit gallery crawl. And yes, it is possible to walk from one gallery to another in the city’s midtown, downtown and Eastern Market neighborhoods and see lots of art in a day.  Although you’d better wear some comfortable shoes, since this crawl was about 6 miles long.

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My crawl companion and I started in the midtown area with Gallery Camille’s Intersection where two of Detroit’s curatorial heavy hitters are showing their artworks. Jeff Bourgeau, artist and art world provocateur, is the power behind the Museum of New Art, artCORE and the Detroit Center for Contemporary Photography. Matt Eaton is the director/curator of Red Bull House of Art and a founding partner  of Library Street Collective. Bourgeau claims to have “digitally eaten the brains and guts of the first hundred years of abstraction” and it shows here in these smoothly rendered digital prints on canvas whose ovoid forms  recall  Jules Olitsky. Eaton’s paintings, while equally appealing, seem to be arrived at more  provisionally through painting techniques commonly associated with street art. Paint is thickly applied to the surface, sprayed, dripped and poured. This is a satisfying show of two talented artists working at a high level, and (even better) the  artworks are amazingly affordable.

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From Camille we put our heads into nearby Simone DeSousa’s opening of EDITION, a companion to her  more traditional space next door.  There is plenty to like in this new approach, which offers reasonably priced limited editions of works on paper, ceramics,  art books and housewares. I particularly liked a series  of (very) limited edition silk screen prints by Wes Taylor of the experimental Detroit design studio Talking Dolls.

The area near Simone DeSousa also features a number of upscale retail stores specializing in designer objects. In  Hugh I stumbled upon a line of cocktail mixers cooked up by Steven and Dorota Coy of Hygienic Dress League in cooperation with Joe McClure of McClure’s Pickles in Hamtramck.   Right next door is Nora, which carries hand made gold jewelry and a whole lot of other cool stuff. Then we headed for Eastern Market

One of the great pleasures of walking from gallery to gallery in Detroit is that lots of great wall painting is right out there on the street.  Eastern Market is awash with murals, many created during last year’s event Murals in the Market.  The second iteration of this  highly successful project is due this September and  will add another 50 works. The show at  Inner State Gallery , Inertia, features three artists from last year’s event.  Jarus, a street artist from Toronto, seems the most comfortable in a traditional gallery which plays to his considerable skills as a draftsman. His fellow Canadian Kwest has a misfire with his aimless and desultory  bas relief panels. David “Persue” Ross of New York  performs in his signature style with smaller scale works. From this aptly named  show it appears that a traditional  gallery isn’t necessarily the best setting for artists used to working outdoors  on a large scale where the grittiness of the streetscape adds energy and verve. All of these artists have better work in the neighborhood outdoors.

We were disappointed that  Wasserman Projects was closed for installation, but you can read a review of their previous show  here. Red Bull House of Art was also closed for installation, so we proceeded to downtown and the next galleries on our crawl list.

On our way we ran into a little street theater and audience development project being conducted  by John Dunivant, creator of Theater Bizarre, a  party/performance piece held yearly in the Masonic Temple around Halloween.  The way he described it, Theater Bizarre sounds exotic, entertaining, unwholesome and irresistable.  He also said cheerfully “It’s the worst business model ever,” due to the labor intensive, immersive nature of the event.

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Our crawl continued to The Belt, “a culturally redefined alley in the heart of downtown Detroit.”  The Belt is full of street art  as practiced by some of its most  famous and accomplished practitioners and curated by the nearby Library Street Collective. I particularly liked Scratching the Surface by VHILS (Portuguese artist Alexandre Farto) and Facet by Tiff Massey, a Detroit sculptor. The Library Street Collective (which, by the way, is not a collective) currently features  banal, overpriced and dispiriting paintings by 70’s graffiti artist Futura (formerly Futura 2000).crawl 15

We perked up, though, when we entered nearby David Klein Gallery, a Detroit outpost of the space by the same name in suburban Birmingham MI. We were greeted at the door by  Revelator to the Diasporic Subterranean Homesick, a terrific plaster, burlap and plywood sculpture by Ebitenyefa Baralaye.  Also impressive were some scrimshawed panels by David Sengbusch and colorful small collages by Liz Cohen.  We were delighted to find two small pictures by noted African American artist Beverly Buchanan in the back room and happy to hear that more of her work will be shown in the fall at the gallery.

We completed our loop tour by walking back to the midtown area, stopping to rest our feet and get a bite at Cass Café, a restaurant and neighborhood gathering place that doubles as a gallery.  Here we saw Writings on the Wall, a one-person show by Vagner M. Whitehead featuring multi-part panels on which the artist has collaged and painted the imagery of verbal communication: hand signals, braille, letters and the like.

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Our last stop (finally!) was at the George N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, where the launch party for Essay’d was well underway.  Essay’d, the brainchild of gallerist Steve Panton of 9338 Campau in Hamtramck, is a series of long form essays about artists of note in Detroit. The first collection in this annual series will be coming out in book form in August from Wayne State University Press and can be pre-ordered here.  The diverse exhibit  currently at N’Namdi features works by recently reviewed Essay’d artists and defies easy description, but I did particularly  like  Alexander Buzzalini’s rude cowboys and  and Carl Demulenaere’s unearthly pre-Raphaelite inspired icons.

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So we’ve come to the end of our little walking tour, and it seems to me that the answer to the question of whether the Detroit art scene is healthy and whether it has reached critical mass  is a big “yes“.  We saw a full day’s worth of great artworks both on and off the street. And in the galleries we visited there is lots of beautiful and  accomplished art priced between $300-$2000 that is just waiting to be snatched up by savvy collectors. It’s only a matter of time before the rest of the art buying public discovers Detroit, so local collectors  should be out there  buying now before we are priced out of the market.  Writer Patrick Dunn has written an excellent piece about the Detroit art scene recently, and you can read it here.

Want to take our gallery walking tour? Go here

 

 

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Re-imagining the Art Gallery

 

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Steel Skin 2016 by George Rahme

 

Usually when I walk into a contemporary art gallery, I expect to see a clean white space with curatorially approved artworks tastefully displayed and carefully lit.  So I found my visit to The Other Limits at Popps Packing last week a disorienting experience at first.  The exhibit illustrates how the gallery model in Detroit is evolving to allow a more experimental approach to showing, thinking and talking about art. Popps Packing is a rough and intimate space, open at irregular hours. The lighting is ad hoc. Two big, friendly black dogs lounging on their beds in the gallery add  a feeling of domesticity. The  grand piano and what, at first, seem to be random objects strewn about, suggest a party about to begin or just concluded.  On the day I visited, the back room of the gallery was occupied by several artists-in-residence from Germany, working furiously at their own projects. I could see I was in for a different kind of experience from what I had been conditioned to expect.

The gallery’s exhibit space is currently given over to the work of long-time friends and artists George Rahme and Chris McGraw. This is the latest in several exhibitions they have mounted together in the ten years since they graduated from Detroit’s College of Creative Studies. The two  feel very close in their life circumstances and in their art.  The pieces are conceived individually, but installed so as to resonate visually and thematically with each other. The result isn’t exactly collaboration but rather symbiosis.

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Installation by George Rahme and Chris McGraw

Georg Rahme  was on hand to talk to us, which made our visit feel more like a studio consult and less like a gallery exhibition. He described how his earlier work, a tumultuous phantasmagoria of painted figures collected from both pop and fine art sources, has given way to work that features a single central image. It appears at first to be an explosion, but is in reality a photographic image of sparking from a factory floor with the surrounding visuals carefully cut away. In this way he honors the past labor of Hamtramck’s factory workers with whom he shares a common Lebanese heritage. Rahme, like many Detroit artists, has a reverence for work, both in the productive  labor of manufacturing/making and in his own creative process.  This is evident in his choice of rich backing materials and in his appetite for intricate detail.  He uses velvets,  jacquard tapestry or reflective luxury fabrics as grounds for his pieces, these made especially meaningful by their provenance as gifts from individuals in the Hamtramck community.  In spite of the explosive imagery, these pieces are devotional and meditative.

Chris MacGraw seems to feel markedly less commitment to the physical act of making art; he contents himself with  gathering and curating found objects. He depends upon their innate poignancy and nostalgia status to engender meaning and emotion in the mind of the viewer. Two of his more successful efforts are provisionally assembled, slightly comic stand-ins for human figures, one of which could be a kind of homeless Mary Poppins, and the other a ghostly column of cloth and styrofoam. But an artist who depends for his inspiration on the collection and curation of found objects to create successful art needs a very high level of judgement and a keen understanding of the intrinsic emotional content of any given object, something McGraw achieves only in fits and starts. 

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objects curated by Chris McGraw

A visit to Popp’s Packing is a reminder that in life and in art the only constant is change.  What we know as the classic contemporary art gallery,  part temple of culture,  part gift shop,  is only the most recent iteration of a type of cultural institution that stretches back to the late 17th century when the Paris Salon became the first central commercial gathering place for art and the public. There are some very successful examples of the more traditional art gallery in Detroit now (Wasserman Projects, Gallery Camille, Simone DeSousa being only three of many), but the Popps Packing model of exhibition seems to be a thoughtful response to conditions on the ground in Detroit and a useful addition. Maybe what we need most right now is a forum for charting the way forward as a creative community and an opportunity for artists to think out loud in dialog with the art-going public about the direction and content of their work.

For more about Popps Packing go here: