Downtown lowdown

May 23, 2001 at 12:00 am


Evidencing a reverse spin on the lemminglike “manifest destiny” which compels so many metro residents and businesses to push farther away from the city (to the point where places like Howell and Flint become suburbs of Detroit), gallery owners have packed up their canvases and swum upstream. They’re trundling southbound on I-75, and setting up shop in various locales in and around the core of downtown. The latest (but by no means last) entry in the downtown gallery gold rush is the Museum of New Art (dubbed MoNA), making the move from downtown Pontiac to the spacious second floor of the historic Book Building. The Book has an easily recognizable profile on the Detroit skyline due to a number of revenue-generating communications dishes affixed to its upper echelons. The MoNA space is around 10,000 square feet of wide-open, far-reaching territory, with floor-to-ceiling windows running a long block of Washington Boulevard.

Given the slightly unfinished edgy feeling, and the capacious loftlike setting, one could almost picture this as an art-snoid filled SoHo gallery show. Except when you look out the window at the abandoned buildings nearby and the rather nonexistent activity on the street below, and you remember, “oh, right, Detroit.” The opening on Saturday night featured a silent auction of works donated from artists across the globe, including 15 New York artists rounded up by graffiti specialist John “Crash” Matos. According to those involved, approximately three-fourths of the 200 works were sold, generating around $30,000 for the MoNA. The MoNA, as local provocateurs will recall, is headed up by director Jef Bourgeau, the First Amendment poster child who once had his Detroit Institute of Arts exhibit squelched by fresh-on-the-job DIA Director Graham W.J. Beale, eliciting howls of censorship in the process. But that’s so last millennium, so let’s just bury the hatchets, as well as the naked bathtub deities, and move forward.

The MoNA is a contemporary art space. The DIA has been giving that relatively short shrift for some time, and it would no doubt behoove Beale and company to link up with Bourgeau, while in the process helping to rejuvenate the downtown “necklace” district of Detroit. Spotted wandering the MoNA was architect Michael Poris, Detroit cultural-affairs czarina Marilyn Wheaton, CPOP gallery’s Mary Harrison and Tom Thewes Jr., former 2 South gallery curator Billy Hunter, celebrated photographer Balthazar Korab and former chief curator at the DIA Jan van der Marck, also a MoNA board member. In fact, I suspect that the majority of the people in attendance were MoNA board members, judging by the number of nametags floating about. Music was provided by DJ/Majestic Café bartender/friend-of-urban-green-space Emily O’Reilly as well as assorted Immigrant Suns. All in all, the MoNA is a much-needed infusion of culture in the downtown Detroit environs, particularly on Washington Boulevard, which hasn’t seen this much excitement since they put up that ugly, rarely functioning, Erector set water contraption (get it? ... drowning MoNA? Oh, that’s rich). Support it now: Call 248-210-7560 and ask where to send the check.


Speaking of contemporary art and the DIA, coincidentally/ironically enough, distinguished LA-based contemporary artist Mike Kelley was also in town last weekend, preparing for an exhibit at the DIA. Kelley, as local art-rock historians will recall, was once part of the early incarnation of the band Destroy All Monsters, along with Book Beat’s Cary Loren, Jim Shaw and celebrated local artist Niagara. He later went on to great fame as Thurston Moore’s favorite sock puppeteer. In any event, Kelley reportedly took a boat out to Grass Island in the Detroit River, on which there is an amazing cache of broken glass from Detroit’s fabled past, in order to gather material for use in an upcoming exhibit at the DIA.

Speaking of Niagara, I had a rare daylight encounter with the spectral chanteuse in, of all places, Bloomfield Hills, as she and escort/chauffeur Colonel Galaxy made the trek out to a pre-Iggy Pop picnic at Fisher Theatre ticketrix Amy Yokin’s carriage-house pad. Yokin, as Metro Times gossip column historians will recall, once dabbled on this page under the pen name of “Anita Mann.” Although a serene Bloomfield Hills Tudor carriage house might seem an incongruous spot for a pre-Iggy Pop fete, nobody seemed to mind (except when it came time to figure out how they were going to drive back to downtown Detroit), and besides, the Cramps were blaring at full volume, thereby drowning out any forest fauna and/or neighboring complaints. Also among the crowd partaking in Yokin’s hospitality were Maria Galante and James Box, as well as former Orbit editrix Katy McNerney and the ubiquitous Stirling. Niagara, by the way, is currently hard at work on a cover feature as well as illustrations for New York magazine, with the issue hitting newsstands some time in June. Keep your eyeballs peeled for it if you’re in Gotham.


In other events, last Thursday saw the Michigan Opera Theatre Young Professionals hold their second annual “Bravo Bravo” party at the Opera House. The gala event featured live music by the Brothers Groove, a dazzling array of food from local restaurants, and a live auction of “dream dates” consisting of local “celebrities,” which included Ron Rice of the Detroit Lions, Miss Michigan Kenyatta Howard, Marty Fischoff from the Detroit News, and WWJ/WXYT voice Jeff Lesson (“celebrity” is obviously something of a relative term). All in all, more than 600 tix were sold, generating more than $18,000 for the continuing restoration of the Opera House. By the way, one of the top bids was $2,200 for a date with WDIV’s 5 a.m. anchor Shon Gables. Five? In the morning? That’ll be an early evening.


Your intrepid reporter made one last stop in his never-ending quest for truth, justice and the American way, that being the Greektown Arts Fest. Spotted performing on stage was erstwhile Detroiter and penal-code poster child John Sinclair, with able backing provided by members of the Howling Diablos (Tino, Mo and Jeff, not to be confused with Pep Boys Manny, Moe and Jack). While the crowd featured an interesting mix of aging hippies and which-way-is-the-hoedown country fans, my favorite encounter was with that dapper ambassador of Greektown, “Mr. Detroit,” who, as always, kept repeating the same rhyming mantra: “It’s always a treat when real folks meet.” Remember that at this weekend’s DEMF.

Casey Coston writes here every other week. Got gossip, essential factoids or party invites? E-mail [email protected], or call the tip line at 313-962-5281. Press * then dial