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Visual arts

Tour d'art publique

Burb sculpture, Gen-X hieroglyphs, subversive signage and a trippy trip down Trumbull

MT Photo: Travis R. Wright
Mark di Suvero's "Choppy" on N. Old Woodward in Birmingham.
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Published 6/16/2010

If you look, you'll notice that Detroit has lots of art that exists outside its own landscape. Detroit is a city where you can still catch guys hand-painting billboards on sides of urban businesses; it's a city whose abandoned factories, schools and stores now stand as three-dimensional canvases for deft graffiti writers; a city where you can stumble upon vibrant murals painted to serve as a visual reception into their neighborhoods. Detroit is also, of course, a dwindling metropolis that still boasts a world-class collection of 20th century architecture. 

So, the point is, public art, both highbrow and low, is everywhere. Outside city limits, suburbs such as Birmingham have for public viewing work by such world-renowned sculptors as Mark di Suvero, Dennis Oppenheim and local creator John Sauve, who has proven to be one of Michigan's strongest individual proponents of public art. In Detroit proper, painters such as Carl Oxley III, Hubert Massey and Chazz Miller, the latter being the founder of Public Art Workz and the Artist Village (he runs both from the city's distraught west side neighborhood of Brightmoor), create uplifting murals, often with the help of the community. Public art is heavily woven into the cultural fabric. 

By car, or if you're bolder (and fit!), a tour on bicycle around to some of the city's public art hotspots is a wonderful way to spend a day. Bring a camera, stop somewhere for lunch you've never been, but feel free to bypass Ferndale (boring when it comes to public art) and Royal Oak (whose downtown mural is an Ed Hardy advertisement —ugh).


Cityscapes Pubic Art Exhibit
Downtown Birmingham

Curated by Brighton-based sculptor John Sauve (of the Sauve Art Foundation), the Cityscapes exhibit was a collaborative effort with Cultural Council of Birmingham-Bloomfield to promote art in public spaces and enhance the downtown Birmingham experience. It accomplished both. Though the installations are temporary, many, including the aforementioned Oppenheim and di Suvero, are beautiful and perfectly weird in their surroundings. Education is a cornerstone of the project as well. The idea is that by inserting these works by these specific artists into the terrain, as Sauve himself puts it, "new ideas can be encountered and explored on a daily basis." 

The world premiere of a documentary made about the Cityscapes project, artists and installations is Friday, June 18, inside the Detroit Institute of Arts' formal Lecture Hall. For a link to a Cityscapes map to the sculptures, see the online version of this story.


TrustoCorps/the Cut/Eastside Ephemera 

Detroit's Midtown (or Cultural Corridor or whatever regional nom du jour) is, whether you realize it or not, in an optimistic state of flux, and the arts are helping to shift it forward. With the Scarab Club, the Detroit Institute of Arts, Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, Detroit Artists Market, Wayne State's art school, the College for Creative Studies, Re: View Contemporary Gallery, Dell-Pryor Gallery, and artful eateries, including the Motor City Brewing Works and Cass Café, there's no shortage of art in this area's private places, but public art also abounds. 

A few week's back, during the Movement electronic music festival, New York-based renegade art troupe Trusto Corp left a series of subversive street signs from Royal Oak to Belle Isle, but the midtown-downtown cluster had the most striking work, with signs made to resemble municipal ones, but emblazoned with these messages: "This Day is Better than the Last," Things Will Get Better, Hang in There," "No Guns: Real Men Use Fists," and my personal fave "Attention: Shit Could be Worse." 

Heading east on Warren, away from Woodward, will, of course, lead you to the pastoral yet ramshackle near east side, where you'll find the Heidelberg Project, Detroit's mecca of public art. But on your way, you should drive slow as some of the city's most interesting and well-executed graffiti of the non-gang variety can be found. 

Head down to Eastern Market near St. Aubin and you'll find, without much trouble, graffiti ground zero. But much of the best work is up on buildings or down in "the cut," the abandoned train tracks that will one day connect to the Dequindre Cut bike route, but until then will serve as proving ground for Detroit street artists. Make note of some of the names, shapes and colors and you will begin to see them all around town.   


Tour de Trumbull

These days, Cass Avenue gets all the attention, but Trumbull, which runs parallel a few blocks west, is as artful an artery as Cass, if not more fascinating. The 3-mile tour from Trumbull at West Grand Boulevard to Fort Street is remarkable in that you'll see city murals including the recently completed "Water Cycle" from Marianne Audrey Burrows, who's known lately for her public art vigils. 

Then there's the Hive, built from found wood and constructed as a creative gathering place that moves around the city and can now be seen on the garden of the Shack, across from Woodbridge Pub, where Carl Oxley III has some mural work. 

As you pass through the Woodbridge neighborhood toward Corktown, you'll notice more of Oxley's cartoon creatures, which are juxtaposed with adept graffiti work. His ginormous giraffe on the "Welcome to Woodbridge" mural at Grand River and Trumbull will elicit as much involuntary happiness as the Trumbullplex house — a living lineage of public art — does inquiry. 

Finally though, you'll surely come across sculptures (maybe from the Corridor's acclaimed Robert Sestok) then wind up in front of some of the most appetizing art in the city, that of the edible variety, at Le Petit Zinc (1055 Trumbull Ave.; 313- 963-2805). Take a load off, survey those photos of yours, and for God's sake order the Fromage de Chevre et Epinards crêpe!

Travis R. Wright is arts and culture editor of Metro Times. Send comments to twright@metrotimes.com.

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