When it comes to the question of what constitutes a work of art, Detroit is the perfect city to host that age-old debate.
We have our share of arguably ugly objects – burned-out buildings, natch … think of that majestic train station that occasionally gets some lipstick from its so-called owner. Some might say they are artistic in their form. There are neighborhoods torn apart by the debate over whether attaching some dolls or old records to buildings counts as art. Cover an abandoned house with ice and take some pictures of it, and you will be open to all sorts of odd criticism.
That is why the latest installation at Hamtramck’s Public Pool is so intriguing. Starting Saturday, the community-centered art gallery is presenting a new show, “Art As Anti-Art is Art.” The group show, which will run through Feb. 22, has six Detroit artists who take the stuff you’d find around any house or Dad’s workshop and turn it into … you guessed it – art.
But what does a cat’s scratching post have to do with an object that makes us feel or think more deeply? Does duct tape have a supple silvery sheen that inspires us to better things? Could pigeon feathers or carpet remnants send your soul soaring? (And, yes, those are too many questions.) More importantly, those are interesting questions to Steve Hughes, one of the co-founders of Public Pool, and the show’s curator, Kathy Leisen.
They came up with the show over a fine glass of beer. Hughes had finished up work on the Hamtramck Neighborhood Arts Festival with Edwin Gallery owner Steve Panton. In that event, held last October, the public had access to the studios within people’s homes – you got to not only see the work being done, but to talk to the actual artist about his or her ideas as they were being formed. It’s the perfect mix of voyeurism, professional jealousy and, ultimately, inspiration.
That day, Hughes saw the works of Dylan Spaysky (hint: he’s one of the artists in the upcoming Public Pool show). There were these sort of awful cat-scratching posts there. As Hughes describes it, they were absorbing, wonderful, abstract and ugly all at the same time. They had “an artistic elegance” to them, he says. Yet they were still posts intended for an animal to sharpen their claws.
So over that beer, Leisen and Hughes starting discussing Spaysky’s work, what great pieces he had made. They talked about art. They spoke of whether such work challenges people’s ideas about what art really is. And they started talking about putting a show together. Hughes was happy to turn over the reins of Public Pool to the accomplished and well-connected Leisen.
Some background: At four years old, Public Pool is supposed to be fun, frivolous, foolish and at the same time a perfectly serious place to see art. Art of all kinds: performance, sculpture, paintings. The idea is to provide a space where the public can pool their works (aha! That’s how they got the name!) and see what is going on in the community around there. It’s for Hamtramck; it’s for Detroit. It’s for all of us, city and suburb.
“Every show we’ve had has been in some way inspiring to me and to the community as well. You never know quite what we’ll have up,” Hughes says.
Shows such as “Art As Anti-Art is Art” are ideal for this region right now. What are we? Are we a work in progress? Are we done? What more can we discuss as far as our aesthetic – what says “Detroit” and what doesn’t? As Jeff Wattrick, a columnist at Deadline Detroit, recently asked: Are Dan Gilbert’s interiors beautiful or are they garish? Is criticism of what’s going on helpful or a hindrance? It’s all debate, it’s all wonderful. And it’s all artistic in its own way.
Tyree Guyton is a great example. His neighbors at the Heidelberg Project might not feel it is a valid outpouring of his creativity (the arsonist certainly doesn’t…I digress). But the Detroit Institute of Arts certainly does. He has a piece in there of a discarded birdcage with a piece of rope stuffed in there. It’s a brain stuck in a cage. And, yes, it’s art.
How about those teens that were featured a few years back in The Detroit Free Press who made prom dresses out of newspaper? Their works – and those of funky designers on shows like “Project Runway – are certainly art to me. I admire their skills, their creativity and their imagination.
Just to warn those who really hate modern/contemporary art, you’re not gonna like this show. If you look at a Jackson Pollock and say, “I could do that!” with scorn, you’re better off staying home. If someone displaying a duct-taped painting or bass-guitar boat makes you want to tear up your corneas, I’m sure there’s a table at Buffalo Wild Wings available near a TV. (Sorry, BW3 lovers, couldn’t resist.)
The works that will be on display are both personal and professional. Some work simply for their own pleasure. Others, such as Spaysky, have their works in area galleries. Regardless of where their art is shown or where it is hiding, each has a vision to share at the Public Pool.
Here’s the details in full: Opening night is from 7 to 11 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 11. Featured artists include: Matt Ziolkowski, Claire D’Aoust, Dylan Spaysky, Bridget Michael, Kathy Leisen, Geoff Burkhart, and Dan Miller (performance). The show otherwise will remain open from 1 to 6 p.m. every Saturday until Feb. 22. Public Pool is at 3009 Caniff in Hamtramck.
If you make it to the opening night, you also will have the honor of hearing from international art critic Arthur Dotwieller. He is coming to town on loan from the Vandermiron Trust Estate Collection in Liechtenstein. According to the press release. Furthermore, “Dotwieller will offer his thoughts on the works in the show and art in general, and, for the first time in his career, take questions from the audience.” Be prepared. And, remember, I’m just the messenger.