The biggest story in the Detroit art scene in 2012 was the founding of the Red Bull House of Art near Eastern Market. The gallery is curated by Matt Eaton, who selects eight artists every few months. Red Bull then supplies those artists with studio space and all art materials, and the artists can sell their work for full profit. The first exhibit opened in May and there have been two more since then. The selection process, being entirely based on Eaton’s refined taste and unerring nose for young, underrated artists, is far more honest than the arbitrary selections that would result from a committee under pressure to make safe choices.
The work shown has been consistently strong, with the stand-out artists so far being Mark Sarmel, Michelle Tanguay and Craig Paul Nowak, to name just one from each of the three rounds so far. Sarmel impressed with his witty recontextualization of Japanese pop culture, Tanguay with her courageously autobiographical paintings, and Nowak with sheer technical skill and undiluted craftsmanship.
Red Bull executed an advertising blitzkrieg in order to fill up the first opening reception, but the opening receptions for the following two shows were packed with practically no advertising. Dan Armand, a Round 3 artist whose piece for Red Bull includes guns and bullets, couldn’t do anything about the coincidence of the timing of the Newtown school massacre and the opening reception for the art exhibit. Another round of artists is already hard at work for the first show of 2013.
Whitdel Arts, the plucky little gallery in Mexicantown, solidified its reputation as a hidden city treasure. Located in an apartment building, the gallery, to the surprise of art snobs, has maintained a streak of critically and popularly acclaimed shows and is booked through at least early 2014. In March, Whitdel paid homage to the Detroit music scene with an exhibit of photographs of Detroit musicians, ranging from the world famous like the Insane Clown Posse to locally famous, like the Detroit Party Marching Band. And in August, Whitdel acknowledged the artistic value of “trashion” with the highly anticipated Trashion show.
Long-Sharp Curis was renamed Library Street Collective, and despite its new emphasis on younger and trendier artists, remains the bastion of art market speculation in metro Detroit, thanks to its connections to wealthy art collectors worldwide. LSC neighbor Start Gallery, however, maintains a monopoly on dark, edgy art with spray paint and acrylics. Artists like Malt and Tead and Robert Adams have been entirely at home at Start, as well as internationally renowned Timothy Orikri. Start Gallery celebrated its first anniversary back in May with the somewhat lighter work of Candy Draper, the very artist who inspired Jason Reed to open the gallery.
Detroit Artists Market (DAM) celebrated 80 years back in March, with a special exhibit at the Detroit Historical Museum. The venerable gallery continues to be the focal point of art in Detroit. It was in June at DAM that Bryant Tillman, Detroit’s most renowned painter, paid tribute to James H. Dozier, the artist with the deepest understanding of Michigan artists, with a portrait that pleasantly surprised the connoisseur.
Two weeks later and two blocks away, Jim Pallas recognized the giants of Detroit art with big portraits painted with a unique, almost sculptural method, at the N’Namdi Gallery, while at Kayrod, Don and Linda Mendelson showcased decades of work. Some of the giants acknowledged by Pallas include Prof. Gilda Snowden, Jef Bourgeau and Charles McGee.
Over the summer, as the DIA faced serious financial problems, a plan was hatched to both save the world-class museum and make admission free for most metro Detroit residents. A property tax allocation was put on the ballot in three counties, and there was the worry that voters could have rejected the measure. Leading up to the August 7 special election, gallery owners like Anthony Curis campaigned vigorously to convince voters to save the DIA. The vote was very close in Macomb county, but clearer in Wayne and Oakland; all three counties approved. Although the DIA did not immediately see the extra money, free admission for the tri-county area residents was instituted the day after the election.
An emerging trend in 2012 was an increase in art in public places. The Grand River Creative Corridor (GRCC) initiative spearheaded by real estate guru Derek Weaver has resulted in several new graffiti artworks on a stretch of Grand River Avenue as well as a clean-up of that area. Although the GRCC has the 4731 Gallery as its center, Weaver has organized counter-blight efforts in other parts of Detroit.
The world-famous artist Niagara visited Detroit in July, and while her paintings at Re:View Contemporary raised issues of gender and war, they had nothing substantial to say on either topic.