Sculpture surge!

As the fall exhibition season begins to unfold, Detroit has an eye-bending array of new public art. These outdoor pieces recently materialized in Detroit's cultural heart — Midtown — and all are situated within 12 square blocks. Most are temporary installations, split between two- and three-dimensional works in a wide range of mediums — from painted steel, neon, vinyl and nylon rope to oil on canvas.

English artist Martin Creed's is the most recent addition. It's a 110-foot-long sentence that reads "Everything is Going to be Alright," written in white neon across the façade of the Museum of Contemporary Art at Woodward and Garfield. It missed the museum's mid-September Words Fail Me opening by three weeks due to protracted negotiations with city officials about whether Creed's piece was art or signage, but it remains on view until January 2008. MOCAD's exhibit, a gathering of latter-day conceptualists whose art features words and more words, is engagingly represented by Creed's timely and reassuring sentiment.

Another word work — done by young Detroit conceptualist Miroslav Cukovic, a recent College for Creative Studies grad — was up and running a few weeks ago in time for the inaugural exhibition (called Intersection) at Work: Detroit, which is the University of Michigan School of Art and Design's satellite gallery. His untitled piece, installed on two bus shelters at the gallery's Woodward and Mack location just south of MOCAD, blended with the intersection's directional signs. "Baghdad Zoo 6246 miles" was inscribed in yellow vinyl lettering on the shelter for southbound passengers, with "Detroit Zoo 12 miles" on the northbound side. Cukovic linked local and global realities with an explicit reference to the War in Iraq. His postings were defaced and scraped off within a week, but the text is still readable because of the vinyl's sticky residue.

Another from Work: Detroit's exhibit can be seen at Wick Park along Martin Luther King just west of the gallery. Vito Valdez's "Memorial to Native Peoples/Border Baroque" commemorates those who once inhabited this Detroit locale.

In this stark, steel reminder of dispossession and cultural amnesia, a skeleton lies on a pallet supported by a metal tripod, and a wolf howls mournfully at its apex. Valdez's memorial is on view for the next six months.

North of Warren and Woodward Avenues, more public art comes into view. On the campus of the College for Creative Studies, emerging New York installation artist Orly Genger has blocked the steep, central staircase to Center Galleries with layers of black, knotted nylon rope pads. Like a dark-hued lava flow, the suggestively titled "Concrete Poison" oozes, slithers and spills down the stairs. It's an outdoor manifestation of Genger's modus operandi of artful stacking and piling. The artist has a solo exhibition at Ferndale's Lemberg Gallery (see Dolores Slowinski's review next week). This temporary work is on view until early November.

Sculptor Bob Sestok created a mural-sized oil on canvas on the façade of the Tangent Gallery at Milwaukee and Oakland for its current exhibition "Guns." Sestok's "What's On Your Mind?" shows circular targets and starbursts that suggest fireworks as much as gunfire. His monochromatic palette of gray, black and white is set against a white brick wall, which works well outdoors. A kind of accidental example of public art, it's hanging outside because there was no space in the gallery for such a large work. "Guns" closes in early November.

An exception to these temporary works (and one that'll be with Detroiters for a long time) is Tyree Guyton's "Invisible Doors." Unveiled and dedicated by Wayne State University officials the last weekend in September, this abstract steel sculpture towers nearly 15 feet high in the courtyard behind the university's Welcome Center at Woodward and Warren. This lean, angular edifice combines two of Guyton's motifs — doors (of opportunity) and polka dots (harmony within diversity) — as well as his penchant for vibrant, zingy hues. "Invisible Doors" echoes Guyton's environmental Heidelberg Project on the city's east side.

Though these projects were planned months ago, the timing gives pause to recent assertions in a Detroit News article by Jonnelle Marte, which purported to track a "fading" Detroit art scene. The News piece pissed off many in the local art community. So, it's a pleasure to point out that the several public artworks detailed here are not just singular, stand-alones but are linked to ongoing exhibitions in nearby galleries and museums, where even more work is displayed.


Dennis Alan Nawrocki routinely scours the city of Detroit looking for public works of art, occasionally writing about them, and working intermittently on an updated edition of Art in Detroit Public Places, scheduled for publication in mid-2008. Send comments to [email protected].

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