Over the course of five days, our fair city is throwing open for the world its doors to Midtown, inviting all to partake in one of the most ambitious multi-venue art exhibitions to be orchestrated on this grand a scale: Art X Detroit.
In its second iteration, Art X is more than just a showcase for the rich crop of homegrown talent that exists here, it is a gathering of artists and storytellers, all of whom are striving to open minds and hearts, and give the community food for thought and soul. Art X is a spotlight on what is right about the Motor City and its illumination is not limited to our corner of the Mitten; the nation’s art-effusing glitterati will be fully ensconced in the Detroit vibe throughout the next several days.
Spearheaded and largely funded by one of our area’s most underexposed but valuable nonprofit institutions, The Kresge Foundation, Art X is a vehicle from which Detroit’s next Tyree Guyton (The Heidelberg Project), Jeff Daniels or Aretha Franklin will emerge. Running from April 10 through Sunday, April14 at various midtown venues (see map on page 28), the event is free to the public. Enjoy the exhibits, performances and presentations created by 36 of Kresge’s Arts Fellows, along with Kresge Eminent Artists Bill Harris and Naomi Long Madgett. Each artist received grants from Kresge Art Detroit for their work, as well as a budget for their Art X presentation. The schedule of 57 events includes discussion panels with leaders from the national arts community.
“Art has been a part of where human beings have exchanged their stories and made changes and made a difference,” says George Jacobsen, administrator of the Kresge Art Detroit initiative which sponsors Art X. “We believe that arts and culture is completely integral to community and economic development.”
The biennial event drew 10,000 people at its premiere in 2011, and Annmarie Borucki, of Midtown Detroit, Inc., which produces Art X Detroit, says that they are expecting at least a 20 percent increase in attendance, based on the response for this year’s opening night.
“The response we got in 2011 blew us away. People loved it,” said Borucki. “It just shows the hunger that the metro Detroit community has for these types of events and that we need more of them … We’re trying to create diverse experiences so everyone gets something out of it.”
The voices are many and the offerings varied. The common denominator is the passion for art, for community, for the city. The following are but a few of this year’s up-and-coming artists. Read on for a taste, but show up for the whole feast.
Art X opens on Wednesday, April 10, 6:15-11 p.m. with a multi-venue celebration at MOCAD, the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, the First Congregational Church and Wayne State University.
KRESGE LITERARY FELLOW
“I am a primordial Detroiter,” says Music. “I feel a sort of ancient connection to that land. I feel that I am just rooted in the city. I have the feeling of Detroit in my bones.” Recalling being one of the first African-American families on her block in Highland Park, the literary fellow said, “I have been at the nexus of a lot of change in Detroit. These stories have been in me wanting to get out.”
Music will narrate her quintessentially Detroit story of growing up in her father’s record shop in her multi-media presentation “Live from Hastings Street – A One Woman Show” on April 15 at 5 pm at the MOCAD.
“Detroit was the promised land, the center of all things new and important in the world. To go from living in a city that was regarded in that way, and to see one’s environment, and in some ways, one’s sense of self, to be reduced to rubble, to be regarded as a catastrophe. It takes much to maintain your own equilibrium. To be a Detroiter is to be able to coexist with both of these Detroits.”
In “Live from Hastings Street,” Music will recount the story of her father, Joe Von Battle, and his Hastings Street record shop. Before Berry Gordy, Von Battle recorded the sermons of the Rev. C. L. Franklin and was the first to record Franklin’s daughter, Aretha. He recorded many other iconic artists such as John Lee Hooker, Little Sonny, Little Willie John, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Johnnie Bassett.
“That particular story is an elegy for my father. But the arc of his story is a mirror of the arc of the city itself.”
Music says that the Kresge fellowship allowed her to create this presentation for Art X, and that “Doing the work on this Art X project compelled me to pull my story together in a different way. And I realized that now I have my book. I have the kernel.”
Music attended Art X as a visitor in 2011, and was really impressed with Tyree Guyton’s block-long installation of 10,000 shoes to illustrate the plight of the homeless. “It was a transcendent moment of showing what art does in a community,” she said. “I’m sure there will be similar experiences this year. It’s an amazing festival.”
She was very pleased to have her work validated by the award, and said “It is very affirming that the Kresge panelists recognize the depth of talent here and the diversity of it.”
Representing a far less literal place on the artistic spectrum, Chris Pottinger draws inspiration for his experimental music and drawings from horror movie soundtracks and comic book art.
As a child, he was introduced to the saxophone, which he still uses in his work, but didn’t enjoy because, as he described, he had to practice and play written music. He was equally nonplussed by traditional art training (though he has a degree in graphic art).
“Life drawing — it’s fun and all, but it doesn’t feel that creative to me, but putting 15 fingers on a hand …,” he says, full of expression. Pottinger likes to draw creatures and mutants, working meticulously with fine point micron pens and watercolor to create wild sci-fi horror images, like the one that graces the cover of his recent recording “Cotton Museum.”
His creative process is a cyclical process of inspiration; “The stuff that gets my brain working gets me to draw things and I get a soundtrack going in my head – the two things go hand in hand.”
He describes his sounds and images as “weird” and “creepy.” And that’s a good thing?
Yes, says Pottinger, “Weird and creepy is good because it’s not always something that’s expected. I want to be surprised.” His work, he says “suggests a beginning point for your brain to create its own stories. That’s what I want to create for other people, so you’re not just forced to think something.”
For Art X Detroit, Pottinger was encouraged to think outside the box (well, further outside the box), and he decided to bring together some of the visual artists and experimental musicians that inspire him.
“It’s going to be performance-based. The audience will get an art book that they can take home. There will be cool stuff happening everywhere. Weird art. Weird music. Weird video. It’s going to be a weird night.”
Congealed: A Festival of Solo Experimental Sound and Art will be presented at the MOCAD on April 12, 9–11 p.m.
“Congealed,” says Pottinger, means “The solidification of all these ideas.”
The 32-year-old Lake Orion native says the fellowship was “completely unexpected,” that he used the application “as an excuse to create an artist statement and bio. Finding out I was one of the fellows – it was completely insane.”
Pottinger used the $25,000 fellowship award to buy a house so that he would have a dedicated studio, and fix some of his music gear. “It’s been a completely rewarding creative time for me. Getting ready for this night I’m curating for Art X has been a lot of work. I never thought I could do this sort of thing before.”
The first thing you’ll read anywhere about Maria Costa, is that she’s funny.
The first thing you notice is that she’s serious. And smart. And very, very hard working.
A successful actress and comedian, Costa started her career with a degree in English and a job as a PBS writer and producer.
She now has a long list of stage credits, including work with Jeff Daniels at his Purple Rose Theater, a popular stand-up show, and starring roles in prime time television shows such as “Ugly Betty,” “Dangerous Minds,” “Strong Medicine,” and “Joan of Arcadia.”
“I love doing it all,” says Costa. “I really do.”
Many of her roles have been the stereotypical “strong” Latina. “That’s what got me writing again,” she says. “As a writer, I’m able to make work that will change the way people think.”
Her goal is to have a production company and make films. The Kresge Fellowship has, she says, opened some doors. One of the fellowship benefits is that ArtServe Michigan, a nonprofit arts advocacy organization, presents a series of professional development workshops for the artists.
“It can be challenging as an individual artist to go out and get funding,” says Costa, who says that the workshops, and the prestige of the fellowship and the Kresge name have been really helpful.
Costa has been commuting for 10 years between Detroit and L.A., where she lives with her husband, a traditional El Salvadoran who was the inspiration for her comedy concert film “Macho Men and the Women Who Love Them – Live at the Kodiak Theater”; her husband is producing her current project.
Born in southwest Detroit to a Cuban/Hungarian family, Costa describes being raised by her Hungarian grandmother and being this “little brown-skinned curly haired girl in a family of Hungarians.” Her family is one of the subjects of her comedy special film “¡Viva America!” that will be screened at Art X on April 12 at 9 p.m. The film showing will be followed by a question and answer session with Costa and a Salsa music and dance After Party with the cast.
“This is a passion project for me. I’ve wanted to do this for a long time. My voice as a writer is important — the voice of a mixed woman — I give a voice to the Latino community. I know that I’m getting that truth through laughter. That’s part of what drives me and inspires me.”
KRESGE VISUAL ARTS FELLOW
Hubert Massey’s monumental public frescos and mosaics exemplify the magnificent, old-school mastery and craftsmanship one hardly sees in this age of fast, fast, fast. But maybe more striking is his commitment to sharing the process of art as well as the product.
“We should all do art,” says Massey.
Massey projects often begin with community forums, in which he asks how residents see their community and how they would like others to see it. He asks about the unique iconic elements of their community and about their history.
“I get to listen to people’s stories. I get to hear their history. I’m inspired by that,” says Massey. “They have a lot of stories you wouldn’t normally hear.”
Massey, originally from Flint, went to Grand Valley State University as a football and track star. He jokes that the knee injury that ended his sports career probably saved his body for art.
At 21, Massey was at the University of London, and saw the Salisbury Cathedral. “I was really mesmerized by the size and the scale,” he says.
As a sophomore, he was advised that if he wanted to learn to paint, he should become a sign painter. He interviewed for a job with a sign company and was hired, but had two more years of school. They said they’d wait. “I graduated on a Friday and started on a Monday,” painting 40–50 hours a week, said Massey.
By the time sign painting was replaced by digital images, Massey had his first mural commission.
“I wanted to do pieces that had to do with community and had an impact on community,” says Massey.
As a sign painter, he learned to work quickly, a key skill in creating frescos, a process that involves applying pigment to wet plaster. When two of Diego Rivera’s assistants came to the DIA for restoration work of the Rivera Court frescos, they chose 12 artists as apprentices, Massey among them.
Massey created one of Michigan’s largest frescos in his hometown at the Flint Institute of Arts. He completed the 17-feet-wide by 88-feet-high mural in just two weeks.
Massey also cites Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo as inspirations. “One thing that intrigued me was the diversity they had. I just want to be a total artist,” he says.
Like the masters, Massey has used crews to do things like grind pigments and cut tile for many of his large public works. “That’s what I love about Detroit – great craftsmen,” says Massey. “That’s how you do monumental pieces of artwork.”
Massey has also worked with student groups, recently completing a 38-foot mural at the Henry Ford Academy with 12 students.
“I really got enjoyment seeing students catching that fire,” says Massey. “Hopefully, these kids that apprentice under me will give back to their communities.”
Massey’s Art X project is a 30-foot-by-60-foot vinyl piece that he mastered digital art to produce. It will hang at Warren and Woodward. “Hopefully it is going to add some visual color to the environment,” says Massey. “I’m pretty excited about it.”
KRESGE VISUAL ARTS FELLOW
John Dunivant is sometimes in his own world. And that’s the way he likes it.
The mastermind behind Detroit’s Theater Bizarre, Dunivant’s grand passion is creating immersive environments.
Theater Bizarre was, prior to its demise at the hands of the authorities, and according to its website, “the city’s most famous and infamous underground party.”
It started, says its creator,” Because I was way into Halloween.” Dunivant and a friend built a graveyard with a 13-foot wrought iron fence, and cast and sand-blasted tombstones, which apparently freaked out the neighbors.
So, Dunivant moved his Halloween party to a space at the Russell Industrial Center. There was a different theme for each year: one year a Kubrick-esque “stark, cold, high contrast funeral kind of thing,” as Dunivant describes it, and another year a full scale forest with a cabin in the middle of the 7,000-square-foot space.
The facility eventually nixed the Halloween parties. After that, says Dunivant, he and his friends got together and decided to do an outdoor carnival. “The first year was terrible — last minute — but we had such a good time.”
Dunivant wanted to keep exploring the carnival theme, but “after five years, the guy who owned the property said no more.”
During the next two years, Dunivant had ample time to reflect.
The idea of Theater Bizarre was based on miniatures. “Everything is meant to be like a diorama of miniatures,” says Dunivant. “I wanted to be tiny and walk around in these dioramas; some grand unseen toymaker. And then you go through some portal and enter this world.”
Dunivant’s influences are many and varied, including the roadside attractions the family frequented during his childhood. “I was a weird introverted little kid that was always drawing, constantly building models and my own little toys,” he says.
An art teacher at Plymouth Salem High School took him to apply at Center for Creative Studies, where he says he was mostly a figurative painter. “I was trying to find my voice,” he says.
The Theater Bizarre group eventually reassembled with a five year plan. “This is something special. Let’s do this now while we can get away with it,” was the consensus. “The city was a mess and no one was paying attention,” said Dunivant.”While we were building it was such a war zone, crack houses, constant gun fights. It was like pulp fiction.”
The group began building again on three acres behind the old State Fairgrounds. Their annual budget for the one night party was approximately $250,000, which was covered by ticket sales. “There’s nowhere else in the world where this could happen besides Detroit,” says Dunivant. “People were flying into Detroit for this.”
Four years into the five year plan, the authorities tuned in to the unauthorized carnival and shut it down. “No one got to see what it was like when it was complete,” says Dunivant, “It was a giant unfinished project that is in my head and it’s killing me.”
Dunivant’s Art X presentation is an exhibition that stems from the shutdown of Theater Bizarre. It is a series of paintings called “The Expatriate Parade,” that will show at the MOCAD from April 10–28.
“The parade just became a journey — about so many different things falling apart and being set adrift,” he says. The paintings are hung so the bottoms line up and create a constant loop. “It’s about getting caught in loops in your head.”
The Fellowship award, says Dunivant, gave him “the confidence to stop doing the advertising and the stuff I hate and pursue my own work. This is the first time I’ve had a chance to just work for me.”
DON “DOOP” DUPRIE
Don Duprie’s dad won the money for his child’s first guitar in a poker game, when Duprie was 10; a fitting biographical note for the front man of alt-country band the Inside Outlaws. “He came in and woke me up and said do you still want a guitar?” Duprie recalls.
The guitarist credits John Mellencamp’s song “Rain on a Scarecrow” with giving him the idea about what a song could be. “My dad had made me watch this documentary about a guy losing his farm. It hit me real hard for a little kid. It changed the way I thought about music,” says Duprie.
The Kresge fellowship allowed Duprie, who formerly had done some regional touring, to go on a 30-day tour last September that reached as far south as Savannah, Ga.
“I got to live a little more, get into a little more trouble. If you’re going to write, you have to live your life. I’ve got a lot of great songs out of this year because I got the opportunity to do some of the things I want to do,” says Duprie.
His original idea for Art X was to make a record and have the presentation be the record release. Duprie already has three releases: “Blood River”, “Everett Belcher” and “What Am I Supposed to Do?”
But his mother and grandmother wanted him to make a gospel record. So, Duprie recruited 10 other artists from the city to do a song that they either wrote or wanted to cover to present a musical presentation called “Sunday School,” named for the Duprie-penned title cut of the recording.
All of the artists will assemble to present their songs for the Art X live performance of “Sunday School,” April 14 at 7:30 pm at the First Congregational Church.
“It was a spiritual kind of thing, so I didn’t want to capitalize on it,” says Duprie, who is donating any proceeds from sales of “Sunday School” to a charity to benefit the homeless.
“I hope that the whole project touches people and helps ‘em make it through the day better,” says Duprie.
Art X Detroit is funded by the Kresge Foundation, supported by its partners the College for Creative Studies, the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, and statewide art advocacy organization, ArtServe Michigan; and organized by Midtown Detroit, Inc., an organization founded in 1976 to promote community and economic growth.
Metro Times is a media partner for the event.
For more information visit artxdetroit.com.
Beth Robinson is a freelance journalist who lives in West Bloomfield. In addition to writing for the MetroTimes, her work can regularly be found in The Oakland Press and the Detroit Jewish News.
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