Tag Archives: Art In Detroit

DETROIT: Cruisin’ Grand River….

28 Apr

grand river 023 (1)

Detroit is full of unexpected surprises. In 2012 a majority of the Hollywood film Red Dawn was shot in and around Detroit. In one scene, a smallish, irregularly shaped building on Clifford St was blown up (kinda) in a fiery explosion, it was also a run-down liquor store in Transformers 3. Fast forward to 2014, there sits the building, wearing a brand new facade, wrought iron accents, lanterns and thick wooden door that looks as if it came straight from a castle.  A narrow vertical sign calls it Downtown Louie’s Lounge, the neon sign in the window says “open”, so we go in. The place is beautiful inside, they used high-end materials like dark wood, quartz and leather, the leaded glass entrance doors are gorgeous. Two stories tall, it is completely open to the second floor ceiling, a mezzanine level at the back of the restaurant is made cozy with a lovely fireplace and built-in booth across the far wall, did I mention the walk in wine cellar? The main level is a combination of high top tables, booths and the bar, there are several flat screen TV’s but they don’t seem obtrusive.  


grand river 008

grand river 006

Given our choice of seating, we go up to the second floor, a table overlooking the place, light fixtures and wallpaper panels give it a bit of a Modern feel. The restaurant is owned by the same folks who give us Louie’s Ham and Corned Beef on Riopelle near Eastern Market; this location serves classic American Cuisine, craft beer, wine and cocktails. It’s hard to pass up a good Reuben, so we don’t…..we did order the house salad too, just to balance things out. The sandwich is delicious; piled high with tender corned beef, sauerkraut and dressing– don’t forget to ask for extra napkins. The house salad is large, full of leafy greens and veggies, the citrus balsamic dressing is tasty. We would not hesitate to come back again.

grand river 027

grand river 018

grand river 025

On the corner of Grand River and Griswold is another surprise, among early 20th century buildings constructed of brick and stone is a clearly Mid Century Modern, all glass building. Two stories tall, long rectangular windows are both anchored and capped in orange, signature-style fixtures glow from within, this is the home of Urban Bean Co. Serving Great Lakes Coffee, baked goods from Pinwheel Bakery, Faygo, Better Made and Dutch Girl Donuts, this is a cool place to stop in for a coffee or a snack. The space is odd-shaped and funky, we order coffee at the counter and walk up the narrow stairway to the second level. Decorated in orange and yellow, molded chairs are distinctly Modern in style; here we get a completely different view of the streetscape. Separated only by panes of glass, we actually feel part of the activity going on outside. Across the street is a red brick building where George Clooney filmed scenes for the Ides Of March, the top of the Penobscot is poking through in the distance, the entrance to the Griswold parking structure is next door. On Sunday evenings Burst Radio, Detroit’s Electronic music station is broadcast live from Urban Bean Co.

grand river 078

grand river 045grand river 050

grand river 032 (1)

We make our way up Grand River to an area known as the Grand River Creative Corridor (GRCC). Launched in 2012 as a neighborhood revitalization project by Derek Weaver, the managing director of 4731, artwork and graffiti line the corridor between Warren Ave and Rosa Parks Blvd. The first mural we come across is a colorful collection of cartoon like creatures by Patch Whisky, big eyes and goofy smiles make me think some of them are having a great time, others seem to have a problem with escaping fluids….With the Jeep parked, we walk up the street, the Flintstones cast covers an entire wall, a cool robot lurks in a doorway offering the Peace sign to all who pass. A piece by Ramen feels ethereal, a twist of red outlined by a luminous green seems to glow against a black background. Continuing down the road the graffiti sometimes covers the entire exterior of the structure, some pieces are abstract, some life-like, there are unique characters, colorful doodles and faces of Indians, one door is an image of a tropical Detroit. A dancing bolt, nut and hammer advertise American Integrated Supply, the oldest fastener supplier in Detroit (Since 1943), some designs appear fluid, as if they are in motion, the colors are bold, the work mesmerizing.

grand river 040

grand river 047 (1)

grand river 057

Graffiti artist Michael Owen is in town, he is the creator and lead artist of the “Baltimore Love Project”. Earlier in the week he completed his “LOVE” mural atop a Grand River building, now he is hard at work on another building and we are lucky enough to get to watch him work. He is standing on a light blue cherry picker creating a ‘billboard’ introducing the GRCC, awesome! We wander through the outdoor gallery near 15th Street, amazing. The artists are a combination of local, national and international talent, each of their pieces tell a story.

grand river 111 (1)

grand river 088

grand river 087

grand river 104

One last stop on Grand River, Dabl’s African Bead Gallery and Mbad Museum. If you have driven by this area of Grand River you may have noticed the building and outdoor public art installations and wondered, “what is that?”, now you know. We first make our way through the outside installations, an old house is completely covered in random materials and mirror fragments, a long wall is painted in various colored patterns, the sun shines overhead, encouraging me to linger at each piece. Narrow planks surround a platform like a fence, a table is set up with a series of round boxes that resemble a layer cake awaiting a celebration. Lids of rusty paint cans are slathered in pastel colors, there’s an old tractor, coils of chain-link fence and a car covered in paint, you decide what it means.

grand river 114 (1)

grand river 160 (1)grand river 137 (1)

grand river 152 (1)

The Museum is contained in a red brick building, rows and rows of beads in every color, shape and size fill the walls. Their website says they are a “major repository for African artifacts including sculptures, textiles, pottery and bead works dating back hundreds of years from countless countries throughout Africa”, I can tell you it’s a fascinating place to visit. Near the back, shelves are built into the walls, multitudes of clear glass bottles hold thousands of beads, from a distance it looks like bottles of magic potions. I take my time investigating, I show Kris jars of sea shells and sharks teeth, Dabls shows us beads that are 800 years old! We see African hats, masks and figures, glass beads are assembled into strings and clusters, all quite beautiful. Before we leave I purchase some beads to take home, sort of a souvenir, a remembrance of our day.

grand river 189 (1)

grand river 184

grand river 185

grand river 178


15 Apr

w 054

Detroit has always had a deep connection to the arts; much attention has been paid to the city in recent years from both artists and art lovers alike. On any given weekend Detroit is buzzing with opening exhibits, music performances and panel discussions. This week the Kresge Foundation hosted Art X Detroit; a free 5-day, 60 event happening taking place at twelve venues celebrating art and culture in Detroit.

w 008 (1)

w 010 (1)

w 029 (1)

It is Wednesday, opening night  of Art X, as we near Midtown Woodward comes alive with hot pink X’s, pedestrians, art installations and cars making a second and third trip around the block looking for a parking space. We stop to view the new mural on the side of the WSU Press Building: The People’s Vision by Hubert Massey. We park a few blocks away; though it is cold and raining we don’t mind the walk, the city feels vibrant, alive! We arrive at the Historic First Congregational Church, the building is stunning; terracotta colored stone, beautiful archways and colorful detail. Only a few other people are inside, Kris gets busy taking photos, I walk around the perimeter of the sanctuary, eyes glued first to the spectacular domed ceiling; divided into four sections each features a medallion with a different scene, a pair of angels flank each side. Arches are found throughout the space, the largest, the entrance to the altar area. The half-domed space is a wonder of gold-painted design, tonight it takes on an entirely different mood with its concert-style lighting and instruments in waiting. I take a seat in one of the beautiful wooden pews, the top and sides handsomely carved, each time I come here I notice something I hadn’t before. Brass wall sconces jut out from painted arched sections of the wall like spiny arms holding up the light, large rosette windows let light in from each side, a series of pipes border the organ loft at the back of the church. My attention is diverted by the sound of percussion instruments in the distance, Kris hears it too and takes his seat next to me.

w 024 (1)

w 053 (1)

w 033

The sound grows louder, the doors of the church open, the Detroit Party Marching Band begins to file into the sanctuary. Pedestrians filter into the church and fill the pews as the band takes up residence at the back of the room. A woman enters wearing black and glittering gold, her hat is majorette-style with a large black plume shooting up from front and center, this is Shara Worden, lead singer and songwriter for My Brightest Diamond. The marching band continues to play a piece written especially for this occasion, it is rhythmic, contagious. Shara and her band members take the stage, the music stops, the marching band recedes from the church. The singer is greeted with loud applause, a Detroit resident we welcome her home. The music begins…….Shara has done it all; traveled the world, studied multiple instruments, voice, opera and composition, she takes all of her experiences and rolls it into an amazing performance. Her voice is clear and beautiful, makes me think Annie Lennox, she becomes characters telling a story, singing a lullaby. At times the music is Folk with a trombone part thrown in. The ensemble is an interesting combination of trumpet, flute, guitar, trombone, 2 saxophones, drums and keyboard played by the lady herself. It is eclectic, experimental and at times rocks! 

w 065

w 079

w 067

Next we venture over to MOCAD, this is the hub for the event, there is constant activity in the building. The current exhibition is made up of works by 2011-2012 Kresge Fellows. We come through the door, the place is packed, the sweet sound of Jazz hangs in the air; Kris Johnson & Friends are performing. We drift into the crowd and make our way to the music, we recognize the melodies, standards that have been around for generations. The trumpet player is magnificent, the band, spectacular, we see them often at Northern Lights Lounge. We snatch cupcakes from a tray then wander through the galleries, the art is amazing.

w 087

w 089

w 083

 Art X features Kresge’s Eminent Artists and Artist Fellows working in the visual, performing and literary arts. A tidbit about the Kresge Foundation:  In 1912 Sebastian Spering (SS) Kresge opened the first 5 &10 cent store in Detroit, he went on to build a chain of stores, S S Kresge, which in turn became K Mart, the guy was loaded! In 1924 he established the Kresge Foundation in Detroit, his goal was to create opportunity for low-income people and to promote the integration of arts and culture in community revitalization. Since that time the foundation has provided continuous philanthropic support to the area’s non-profit organizations and community initiatives, in 2012 it paid out $150.3 million dollars to 410 grants. Today it is a $3.1 billion dollar private national foundation; quite impressive! Good things happen when you buy local!

w 098

We decide to end the evening with a nightcap, everything in the Sugar Hill Arts District is crowded, we walk back to the car and drive over to Traffic Jam and Snug on Canfield and Second. We pull up a couple of chairs to the bar, it’s a weeknight, so it’s quiet. Kris orders his ‘usual’ while I read the menu of hot drinks, the cold and wet have gotten to me. On the bartender’s advice I choose the Nutty Irishman, good decision! We sit back and enjoy our drinks, the vibe is laid back, we make some new friends. Travis put it best, to those that know Detroit the problem isn’t finding something to do, it’s wondering what  you’re missing out on….yep. I flip through the Art X program and realize there is still much to see, we’ll be back.

DETROIT: Dlectricity

31 Oct

dlectric 052

The buzz had begun months earlier; articles in local publications, postcards on counters, something new was coming to Detroit. We were about to find out what happens when you combine 35 local, national and international artists with the historic architecture of Midtown Detroit; throw in a few projectors, lots of extension cords, and there you have it: Dlectricity!  Billed as Detroit’s nighttime exhibition of Art and Light we couldn’t wait to see what it was all about.

dlectric 006dlectric 009

dlectric 015

As soon as we approached Midtown we could feel the excitement; none of our usual parking spaces were available, the sidewalks were packed with people all headed towards Woodward; word had gotten out. Finally parked, we joined the crowds walking towards the light; it was everywhere! Coming up Hancock we encountered our first group of displays; Frontier Town created a camp of illuminated tents, children flocked inside playing with the effects of light, a little further up a small park of glowing amber light flowers sprouted from the ground. We were drawn closer to Woodward by the maze of thin light sticks that resembled glowing blue cattails. We paused on the sidewalk for a moment to decide what direction to walk; I was astounded by the number of human beings walking around the streets of Detroit on a crisp fall evening, and in the dark no less… I have to say I was totally impressed by the attendance at this inaugural exhibition. Further North on Woodward we stopped to check out a cool installation; a string structure located inside Wayne States Welcome Center reacts to motions made by passers-by through interactive light projection, just around the corner in a series of windows, screens displaying classic films are the backdrop to live performances. Something big was going on at the Detroit Public Library, we were about to see for ourselves.

dlectric 031

dlectric 060

dlectric 021

As we walked along the lively avenue we could hear music in the distance, bunches of people were gathered in front of the Detroit Public Library watching what appeared to be a movie projected onto the facade. In a technique known as Projection-Mapped 3D Animation, the artists are able to create a film that actually ‘fits’ an individual building, it’s incredible! “Knowledge Is Power” tells the human story of knowledge from cave painting to the invention of books, the age of electricity all the way to the rise of the internet. We stood at the library gates as images of fire crept up the building, suddenly it was a sea and a boat sailed by, the building was transformed into an ancient greek structure, then a library stacked with huge volumes of books, all the while music played creating the mood, it was fantastic. The DIA was simply lit and elegant as pedestrians flocked to her steps and stood on the porch. In front of the Rackham Building on Farnsworth a series of lit up bicycles tell the story of a bike ride gone terribly wrong, the Michigan Science Center was turned into a canvas for a video projection called Whale; taking up three panels on the exterior you feel as if you are underwater viewing an enormous whale. 

dlectric 033

dlectric 049

dlectric 066

Turning south on Woodward there was much more to see. The top three floors of the Garfield building were illuminated with random images and multi-color designs while word messages travel across the top edge. Earlier in the evening a Light Bike Workshop was held, followed by a bike parade, many of the participants could be spotted riding around Midtown. The former Agave restaurant, vacant for years, was brought to life with images of people going about their business projected onto the windows. Everywhere you looked there was light, movement and activity. An astronaut wearing a Red Wings jersey floated up high on a structure, the entire side of a steam plant was aglow in text messages generated by attendees. Orchestra Hall and the Max Fisher Music Center building was glowing in red, pink, blue and yellow; architectural details that may be overlooked were now distinctly apparent. One of the coolest exhibits took place on the side of Orchestra Hall; in what was called “Max Cast” the south wall of the building was turned into a giant screen streaming the live performance going on inside, a show titled “Cirque de la Symphonie”. There we were, sitting on a curb in Detroit,watching and listening as the DSO played enchanting tunes and world-famous cirque acrobats bend and twist into seemingly impossible poses, those assembled around us gasped and applauded in unison. The night was a magical one, made up of sights straight out of artist’s imaginations and shared by thousands of folks eager to take part in what Detroit has to offer; I can hardly wait for the next Dlectricity…..

friday 100

friday 098

It was late and we had yet to have our dinner, we had been meaning to get back to Small Plates since the ownership change and interior make-over, so that was the plan. We were lucky enough to score a table near the expansive front windows; greeted immediately by our waitress, we quickly scanned the menu. The premise of the restaurant is to promote communal dining by offering a wide selection of small sharable dishes or “plates”.  After we placed our order we had a chance to look around; the walls are painted black, several graffiti pieces by Shades decorate the walls along with work by other local artists. The bar extends further now and was busy with patrons both eating and drinking, the place has a great vibe. Our small plates began arriving, first to hit the table was the hand-cut fries, served with sides of malt vinegar and a spicy aioli, they were really good. Thankfully the Pretzel Sliders and Hudson’s Maurice salad followed quickly along with the skillet cornbread. The sliders were wonderful, I especially like the pretzel buns. The salad was unique in that the greens were dressed and the other items were cut in chunks and lined the side of the good-sized bowl. The cornbread had just the right amount of crunch on the outside and was still moist inside, served with a side of black beans it made for a tasty combination. We ate and we drank, our waitress was a delightful mix of friendliness and great service. I couldn’t help but inquire about dessert; while I was longing for the Key Lime pie, I just couldn’t do it. We’ll have to come back soon and give the desserts a try!

DETROIT: You Gotta Have Art

11 May

russ 068

There seems to be no end of things to see and do in Detroit; from places and activities that have  been around forever to  new things that seem to be springing up all the time. Today we were going to visit two places that may be a little lesser known, but are worth seeking out. We began with a trip to Southwest Detroit for some lunch. Mexican food is well represented in this district, but did you know there is an awesome El Salvordan place on Livernois? Pupuseria y restaurante Salvadoreno is a small cinder block building painted avocado green. It sits back off the road a ways,  a large blinking arrow near the street points you to the building and adjacent parking lot. This is definitely a place for the more adventurous. Once inside you walk through an area reserved for people waiting for take-out, then into the dining room. The space is sparsely decorated; white painted walls and flags representing Central America wrap around the room, seating consists of booths and tables with metal folding chairs. As you may have guessed from the name, pupusas are the house specialty, they are delicious! The menu is filled with classic Salvadoran food; try several different things. We always like to pick a combination of dishes and share. Of course you have to have a pupusa or two; we chose the cheese and jalapeno and the pork, yum! A pupusa is made of a thick handmade tortilla with a filling in the middle,  made to order they are served with curtido and a homemade hot sauce.. Curtido is a spicy cole slaw using vinegar instead of mayo, you place some curtido on top of the pupusa, hot sauce too if you like, and enjoy. We had an order of Yucca too, deep fried to a crisp light golden color, they could almost pass for french fries, also served with curtido, this one was a bit hotter with diced jalapeno. Last but certainly not least were the plantains. I’m not sure how they are prepared, but they arrive to the table all warm and golden; the outside caramelized and delightful. They are served with beans and cream, yeah, I know, sounds strange….The theory is to drag your golden plantain through the beans (they look like Mexican refried beans) then through the cream (I would describe it as a thin sour cream) and enjoy. You have to try it to appreciate it! Portions are large and prices fair so you can eat till your heart’s content, which is exactly what we did.

russ 009

russ 007

One place we have been meaning to go back to is the Russell Industrial Center located on Clay Street.You have probably seen the massive structure on the east side of I-75. We heard about the Spring Open House and were anxious to see what it was all about. Construction of the 7 building, Albert Kahn designed complex began in 1915 and was completed in 1925. The structure is made of concrete and large steel-framed factory windows, it has a total  of 2.2 million square feet of space. Originally home to Murray Manufacturing Company, the buildings were originally used to make auto bodies and parts for numerous manufacturers such as: Ford, Packard, REO, Pierce Arrow, Auburn and Dodge; the list goes on and on. The building complex has changed hands a number of times, previous owners include: Harry & Leona Helmsly, Household International (Thermos), and in 2003 Dennis Kefallinos bought all seven buildings. His idea was to turn the complex into a mixed business community; there are currently 150 commercial tenants ranging from artists and craftspeople to printers and small businesses.

russ 064

russ 046

russ 049

We arrived at RIC and parked. The only indication that anything was going on were a few balloons near the entrance; we opened the door, a sign directed us to the second floor. Here we found ourselves at the end of a very long hallway, miscellaneous furniture was randomly placed throughout the hall. We came upon an open door, inside was a glass studio; artists and visitors were scattered about the space, some working on a project others watching intently. We felt like we had the hang of it now, so we began the process of wandering from studio to studio, hall to hall. The building  is enormous, some walls are decorated with murals, sculptures, tiny lights or signs; it’s all very avant- garde. We popped into an artists studio; over-sized paintings hung from the wall, we browsed the room taking in the view from the immense windows. In and out we went from the second to the third floor, room to room; jewelry, metal sculptures, photography and apparel. We saw vintage posters and amazing outdoor sculptures for sale. We spoke to the artists themselves about their work and the city.

russ 039

russ 033

russ 037

We crossed over to building #2 and began the same process. A.K. Services is this incredible woodworking studio, an intriguing collection of antique chandeliers hangs from the ceiling. Alan not only does custom carpentry work, he has designed a line of furniture that he makes right there in his shop, the designs are really cool, check out his Quarnge chairs. We happened upon another glass studio where glass blowers were busy at work, don’t you just love watching them? The pieces here were awesome, they have a large display area and make everything from bowls and vases to windows and outdoor pieces. The artwork and paintings we saw were unique and funky, done by talented artists. We came across one section where a huge sculpture of found objects stood, as we walked toward it we saw another one in the distance, then another and another, finally leading us to the studio itself. We were invited in by a voice somewhere in the room, it was hard to tell where it initiated from at first due to the mass quantities of stuff that filled the space. We found our way to the person belonging to the voice and got an introduction to his work; pieces are eclectic, whimsical, and fun. They are brightly colored range in size from a few inches to many feet tall. The buildings are also home to graphic designers, architects and writers, there is a very creative vibe about the place. It was fascinating to be able to freely investigate this extremely cool old building. The place has an amazing history; this is the project that first brought attention to Kahn’s work, and a true industrial hub.  The People’s Art Festival takes place here each September, I highly recommend a visit.

russ 026

russ 090

russ 040