Detroit The New Urban Contender For Quality Emerging Art
Until I visited Detroit, I had no idea that Brooklyn has come to be identified as an anathema, nationally. Artists of all types and old time city dwellers take hard gulps when the borough is mentioned in comparative discussions to many cities which have been blown off course by gentrification.
I got the feeling while visiting Detroit it may be today’s answer to dystopian gentrified monotony. If all the Detroit players have the heart to make it so…I think they do…I hope they do…It will continue to rise up from the ashes as a phoenix, only in the case of Wasserman Projects (a local art gallery), a Cosmopolitan Chicken. I shall explain…
As everyone knows, for a brief shining moment Detroit was a grand place. It was a mecca for manufacturing automobiles. Then one day because of corruption and greed, there was a conflagration of economic, and racial ferocity which laid the great city low. Detroit became a ghost town for a while. If you had a bit of cash in your pockets, you could buy a beautiful Art Deco tower for practically nothing…
Now, the thing about a ghost town is, the occupants who aren’t ghosts have strong feelings about who the city belongs to and how it grows and changes…It takes a certain amount of true love and acquiescence to cultivate something greater than what was, mixing new possibilities with old fundamental foundations and values.
In the past few years, Detroit has begun to plant new more unique seeds making flowers bloom in the cracks of broken sidewalks. For instance, at Eastern Market, the oldest produce and meat market in the country, during the week the market sells foodstuff’s and on the weekend’s fabulous food trucks and creative artisans sell their wares, while colorful bikes with trails of light’s park on the sidewalk in the sultry streetlamp darkness of the evening.
Gary Wasserman, a native Detroiter who grew up in the steel business returned after many years away, having tried to be part of a kind of resurgence, failing and returning again, then making a decision to give himself over to his roots. He is an art collector and music enthusiast and through circuitous routes founded a striking gallery at a former firehouse close to Eastern Market. Wasserman is very much the soul of a movement of people enlightening the quality of life in the city and whose influence count for something special; like ground-breaking farmers at Oakland Avenue Urban Farm, Billy and wife Jerry Hebron, who plant everything from kale to Japanese squash and sell their sweet, fresh produce at the market, also supplying local businesses with the most excellent quality fruits and vegetables I have ever seen. The kale is about 3 feet tall and such a deep hearty green I just wanted to grab a bunch.
With 85% of the population being African American, inclusivity is key. Wasserman is aware of the importance of historic ties that must be respected and the culture of the inhabitants is part of the foundation for what will come and must remain intact. He gives it all to what he is doing and acts as a diplomat, inviting everyone to the gallery to see its current exhibition, including Billy and Jerry Hebron, who will sell the eggs from the Planetary Community Chicken project, featured as part of the ENERGY/MASS installation at Wasserman Projects. With balance and integrity, Wasserman and other initiators can create a legacy with historic value, giving way to a social experiment of a well-composed lifestyle for all city-dwellers of multiple economic backgrounds.
One of the new installations Wasserman Projects is presenting speaks to this very subject ENERGY/MASS, which exemplifies integration, balance, and sustainability. An exhibition by artist Koen Vanmechelen, who is from Belgium and has created a prophetic Cosmopolitan Chicken, having crossed into hybrid territory we have not entertained before with such focused attention and holistic dynamism.
He has been working on the development of this effort for over 20 years and is sincerely passionate about his Cosmopolitan Chicken Project. ENERGY/MASS presents two types of chickens: the Cosmopolitan Chickens, which have been bred for 20 generations and have the DNA of 20 international breeds, and Planetary Community Chickens, which are a mix of the Cosmopolitan Chicken and an industrial hen and are part of an effort to bring a more sustainable chicken to farms around the world.
These birds stand as a global metaphor for what is possible and truly exciting when you bring disparate worlds together. The chickens seem to live longer, socialize better and are generally happier. It is about us and for us. Feeding society on multiple fronts and reflecting on its possibilities as human beings become amalgams of everything we have ever and never been. It is about what we can become. The Cosmopolitan Chicken is not only a study in thriving hybrids but in beauty, for it displays Vanmechelens’ symbiotic relationship to his subject with religious iconography and mythological symbolic verve. The works which surround the concept are no less moving or visually compelling. His laborious labor of love is one that can only be qualified by a devoted belief in what he is doing, which continues to pass through dozens of countries sharing the genius of this work.
Outside of the Eastern Market, I visited many artists at their studios. I am flawed by Scott Hocking a robust installation artist and photographer who has used the decay of Detroit to make some of the most splendid large-scale sculptures one can imagine. His architectural and visual dialogue is rare and haunting. His investment is possessed. His reinvention of found industrial relics is poetic. There is little to say as much there is to be seen in his organic and compulsively devised dreamscapes, made from vestiges of what is passing away from an ancient era. He makes us aware on a visceral level of the historic value of time passed, compiled into a transient moment of an altered reality, into a sculptural event, with the materials that structure and inform our lives, wedded to an ephemeral outcome.
There were so many artists whom I met who create uniquely beautiful work and guided me in my thoughts and feelings about Detroit; who employ locals and are devoted to the community where they live, including impressive nonrepresentational furniture designer Chris Schank and Nancy M. Mitchnik, a native Detroiter and flamboyant painter and professor with a multitude of awards. These people along with their brother and sister curators and art professionals are the hidden gems of Detroit, which is large enough to fit Manhattan, San Francisco, and Boston in. And this time, as the city changes, need to be respected and sustained where they are parked. In Detroit. In reasonable work and living spaces, resolute in their creativity, without the stress of wondering when they will have to relocate.
HIPSTERS! GENTIFIRERS! BE NICE! OR, BEWARE OF BIG DOGS!
Words/Photo: Isa Freeling © Artlyst 2016