Painting the Town Red: Wasserman Projects, Detroit
Last month saw the launch in Detroit of Wasserman Projects, a 5000 square foot open gallery space in the historic Eastern Market with 2000 more square feet on tap. The inaugural exhibition featured works by German-born, Brooklyn-based Marcus Linnenbrook and Miami-based designer Nick Gelpi, including a collaboration between the two, and an installation by by Detroit’s Jon Bromit, asound artist. LILLY WEI was there for the opening and files this report.
While downtown Detroit, sparkling under a clear blue September sky, doesn’t look like a place in so much distress that it was forced to declare bankruptcy two years ago, it has to be said that there are curiously few people about in what was once the country’s fourth largest city. That might be a plus, of course. Even more curiously, there aren’t that many cars either (ditto), even if it is still Motor City, as the towering General Motors complex at the Renaissance Center is quick to remind you. In the 1950s and ‘60s, with Motown’s sounds blasting from car windows across the world, Detroit was home to around 1.8 million people. Now it’s down to a little over 700,000 with a median age of 35. It is 82 per cent black, although African Americans were not much in evidence in the areas I saw. There seems to be a trickle (mostly white) moving back in, and if anecdotal evidence means anything, it includes quite a few Millennials who have emigrated from a no longer affordable, no longer edgy Brooklyn.
Gary Wasserman is not a millennial but he is a native son, art collector and now gallerist. One of Detroit’s most enthusiastic boosters, Wasserman said that he had thought of opening an art center in Miami but then came the light bulb moment. Miami didn’t need another art space but Detroit did. And, he pointed out, it had the infrastructure to support a cultural resurgence: the Detroit Institute of the Arts, with its world-class collections no longer headed for the auction block; the renowned Detroit Symphony Orchestra; the Michigan Opera Theatre; and thriving hip-hop and techno music scenes. It also has its esteemed educational institutions such as the University of Michigan and Cranbrook Academy of Art. And there is the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, its experimental, socially conscious programs increasingly noteworthy, highlighted by Mike Kelley’s Mobile Homestead, in permanent residence on its grounds.
The result of his epiphany was the interdisciplinary Wasserman Projects, writ large across the handsome brick facade of a renovated firehouse. The opening on September 25 coincided with the Detroit Design Festival. The soaring, sky lit interior of Wasserman Projects is entered through Harley Valentine’s Dream Machine, a tall, twisty geometric sculpture in eye-catching red facing a red portal (Wasserman’s favorite color). It is purposively sited in Eastern Market, a historic Detroit marketplace for fresh produce that has been re-branded as a destination for the creative, the artisanal, and the unique, from specialty foods to innovative restaurants, small retail shops and studio complexes for designers and inventors such as OmniCorpDetroit.
Markus Linnenbrook and Nick Gelpi’s collaboration, THEFIRSTONEISCRAZYTHESECONDONEISNUTS (2015) dominates the gallery. An elegant, multi-planar construction, it had several small windows cut into its plain wood exterior so the inside was visible from different vantage points. There is an entry to permit viewers to step up into its extravagant rainbow-striped interior, as if entering into a painting, the dripped paint a Linnenbrink hallmark. It also pulls apart to form a fantastic stage. Outside, Jon Bromit repurposed a metallic grain silo into a sound installation that feels part do-it-yourself, part ultra-sophisticated, called Elf Waves, Earth Loops, and *Spatial Forces. The soundtrack – activated by the viewer – emanates from ceiling and floor and reverberates as if you were inside a multidirectional sound box.
Another interdisciplinary project, scheduled for fall, 2016 is Belgian artist Koen Vanmechelen’s Cosmopolitan Chicken, an ongoing venture he began 20 years ago, previewed on a video monitor. Crossbreeding a local chicken type with a more global pool of genetic material, it’s a “metaphor for diversity,” the artist says, that reflects, in this instance, the diversity of Detroit. And if the fine-feathered fowls he has previously conceived are any indication, this new breed will also be stunning to look at.
If you are creative, optimistic, energetic—not to mention young and resilient—and in need of space and an artistic community, Detroit, as Wasserman put it, “is the city for now.”