(Sub)urban connections

Apr 2, 2003 at 12:00 am

In stark contrast to Corktown (the gorgeous, vintage, historically working-class Irish community that surrounds Tiger Stadium) where the artists’ studios of the Brooklyn Building are located, is the Padzieski Art Gallery. The Padzieski, about 10 miles up Michigan Avenue in another economic universe altogether, is part of an amazing, suburban Dearborn arts and community center that was completed a couple years ago. It’s here that, for two years now, art communities of Detroit’s inner city have been celebrated. This year’s exhibition, “Artists Working in the Shadows of Tiger Stadium,” features the well-established work of the Brooklyn Building artists.

The not-for-profit gallery is the result of a collaboration between the City of Dearborn, the Dearborn Community Arts Council and the philanthropic Padzieski family. It’s housed in an unlikely complex, with an athletic facility, two majestic community swimming pools, two state-of-the-art theaters for symphonic and operatic productions, all within a building with real contemporary architectural bones. “The Padzieski Gallery has an exhibitions committee that functions autonomously and perhaps this [showing of Detroit urban art] will become a tradition,” says Tim Briody, executive director of the Dearborn Community Arts Council. “We aren’t limited by ideological differences and are willing to take some chances.”

Last April, the risk-taking involved “Cass and Beyond,” an exhibition in which scions of the Cass Corridor (the birthplace of Detroit’s version of avant-garde art) were celebrated. This year’s focus is on the artists of the Brooklyn Building, another group of creators who find their heritage in the Cass Corridor, but who have perhaps a more polished and marketable look to their work. One would be hard-put to find a common feature uniting the exhibition’s 14 artists, other than diversity.

From old-guard abstract expressionist Gilda Snowden (a Detroiter who continues to prosper as an artist and develop into a spokeswoman for the heart of the city) to Lithuanian-born Renata Palubinskas (whose Old World master’s techniques combine with a surrealist vision), the surprising range of work makes “Artists Working in the Shadow of Tiger Stadium” an interesting gathering of visions.

First it should be said that, because there’s no common voice or style speaking (or whining) to you (unlike in last year’s exhibition), there’s a feeling of maturity and confidence this time out. Perhaps with the inclusion of work by Palubinskas, Glenn Barr and Sacha Eckes, there’s even an international flavor to the exhibit that transcends regional identity and divisive local issues.

While Barr’s painting grows out of a combination of post-industrial grunge and pop-comic vision, his figures and architectural landscapes have a flavor that’s reminiscent of Latin American art. Skillfully painted, they’re transcendent in their nuanced, global parodies of sexual hysteria and corporate amorality. Right alongside him in gesture and feeling is the brilliant work of Palubinskas, whose three paintings build a phantasmagoric allegory with time, nature and human history all in play. Beautifully executed sculptural figures that mirror the central images of each painting modestly sit on stands before the canvases, creating a kind of dramatic exchange and commentary (pictured).

Eckes’ paintings combine collaged cartoons, photographs, drip painting and all-over patterning to generate amalgamated images that function in a surprisingly sophisticated manner. While they initially seem quick and cartoony, with their use of philosophically loaded iconography — like the morphing cell structure with gracefully dripping paint and a battered cartoon figure in Where I’m At (pictured) — they grow to assume a language and narrative content of their own.

Phaedra Robinson, who always has a surprising twist in her well-made sculptural pieces, adds an erotic edge with two works, Victim: Oral STD Series and Deadly: Oral STD Series. Two small tongues made out of paper express polarized symbols of contemporary cultural obsession and confusion.

But the diversity of the exhibition is underscored by two sedate but complex watercolors by Mary Stephenson that pay homage to the great American painter Edward Hopper. Here she has painted watercolors of watercolors in notebooks (apparently her own) that show two scenes of rural life. One has a delicious-looking Bosc pear overlaid on its scene, creating an elegant shadow and at the same time a technically masterful gesture that seems to contextualize the watercolor genre and situate Stephenson herself within that tradition.

Beside the painting aspect of the show, there are the mixed-media constructions of Gary Eleinko that both challenge and emancipate the eye with patterns and the rupture of patterns, pattern recognition and abstraction. There are Aaron Timlin’s geometrical mappings-mandalas that enact a kind of urban meditational signage. There are the remarkable landscape paintings of filmmaker Joel Silvers (I didn’t know he could paint) and a new video. Bryan Koehn has set up an installation of furniture designs and architectural visions. Other artists in the exhibition are Sandy Church, Melissa Day, LouAnn Postmas and Elizabeth Provenzano, all of whom check in with fine work.

In a stunning contrast between where the work was made and where it’s now exhibited, “Artists Working in the Shadows of Tiger Stadium” asserts a welcome diversity of approach and talent. Rather than emphasizing the usual post-industrial aesthetic that sees Detroit as a postmodern endgame, this show serves as a kind of mini-survey and perhaps portends a different dimension in Detroit art. At the very least, it opens Detroit artists up to a new audience.


“Artists Working in the Shadow of Tiger Stadium” is at the Padzieski Art Gallery (in the Ford Community & Performing Arts Center, 15801 Michigan Ave., Dearborn) through April 26. Call 313-943-3095.

Glen Mannisto writes about art for Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected]