Detroit: Contemporary Arts

The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit

The crappy economy is a favorite topic of discussion worldwide, from Greek political leaders (some kind of oxymoron?) to professional out-of-work Occupiers, be they from Wall Street or London’s St Paul’s Cathedral.

But one of the benefits of an economic depression (or reboot!) is that it gives creative people a chance to flex their artistic muscles. Detroit, Michigan is one of those cities whose dire situation encouraged a new wave of artistic works, museums, and public exhibition: heads are really turning in that Midwesternly direction. Artsy people like to call the Motorcity the next Berlin of North America, so our advice is to head there now, if you want to ride the wave as it starts to get really good.

Imagine the snubbing your artsy friends by name-dropping half a dozen talented artists you discovered in Detroit, of all places, that they won’t have heard of.

“But he’s huge in Detroit, darling!” you’ll say while stirring a martini.

The evidence: 

This week’s New York featured a piece on Mike Kelly, a Detroit-born artist whose posthumous work will be featured in three videos displayed in exhibition at the upcoming Whitney Biennal. Mobile Homestead, his final creation, was a scale model of his childhood home that traveled around Detroit in a display of ungrounded, public art. The videos show interviews of various Detroit natives who live along the path Mobile Homestead took, a kind of exposure not to be ignored in the art world.

Posted the same day was the Detroit News feature of Deco23— also known as Brian Melvin— an artist who posts his whimsical paintings — with messages like “EAT HUMANS” — as free public art under road signs in the “hipster” neighborhood of Woodbridge, near Wayne State University.

Almost on cue, the Huffington Post replied the next day with a feature on the public art of Charles McGee, a prolific and 87-year old painter and sculptor who has been producing and displaying his work in Detroit for more than 40 years.

Where to go:

  • McGee is a founder of the Contemporary Art Insitute of Detroit — a performance and exhibition space — one of many locations travelers to this historic and now-upcoming Midwestern city should experience in the name of contemporary art.

 

  • The Russell Indistrial Center is a massive warehouse complex that plays host to several art galleries (including the celebrated Cave Gallery), the Museum of New Art and scores of studios for artists, sculptors, designers, wood craftsmen, glassblowers and more.

 

  • The Detroit Artists Market is an 80-year old institution in the contemporary art scene, exhibiting thework of emerging and established local artists.

 

  • The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MoCAD), now almost 6 years old, leads the way in the reuse of raw, industrial space for the curation and experience of contemporary art. Housed in a former car dealership between the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the venerable Detroit Institute of the Arts, MoCad is a great example and symbol of the future of the Motor City in the 21st century.


  • The Kunsthalle Detroit, a museum devoted entirely to “Multimedia and Light-based Art,” is one of only a few of its kind in the world. Tate Osten, the museum’s director and founder, moved to Detroit from New York City after falling in love with the mysterious, post-industrial atmosphere. Housed in a former branch of the Detroit Savings Bank two years ago, the Kunsthalle hosts a bevy of American and international artists.

 

  • The Heildelberg Project, is an outdoor museum that just celebrated its 25th anniversary. Once featured in an HBO documentary, this large scale art space contains hundreds of found objects and buildings, often painted in whimsical dots. It also hosts a plethora of artistic and performances events: most recently it was the site of artist Matthew Barney’s now-famous KHU, a performance piece that including the dredging and melting down of a 1967 Chrysler Imperial.


Where to Stay

The Inn on Ferry Street, located right next to the artsy neighborhood of Woodbridge, is a charming “bed and breakfast on overdrive.” Truly a full-service hotel located in a collection of restored Victorian homes and carriage houses, each of the 40 rooms has a unique design and decorated with period furniture in varying styles. Some of their package offers include visits to the local art museums and midtown galleries.

 

When the current Westin Book Cadillac Detroit was built in 1924, it was the tallest hotel in the world. Long in decline, it has been restored to its former glory after a recent $200 million dollar renovation. Now including in the National Register of History Places, the Italian-Renaissance style property is one of Detroit’s most sumptuous hotels. There are more than 450 rooms, the smallest of which rivals most one-bedroom apartments in New York.  Decorated in smooth-edged furniture and soothing tones of cream and gray, the Book Cadillac is centrally located and boasts fantastic views of the city and the Detroit River.