Tag Archives: Detroit art

DETROIT: DIA, Friday Night Live !

11 Nov

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It’s no secret that Detroit has one of the finest art museums in the country, but did you know the DIA is open every Friday until 10 pm? They call it Friday Night Live; a combination of art, music, guided tours, drawing and craft classes, the vibe is casual and fun. There’s something different happening each week. All activities are included in the price of admission, if you live in Wayne, Oakland or Macomb counties, it’s FREE! So what are you waiting for……….

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It is the Friday before Halloween, the front of the Beaux-arts building is specially lit in colored lights. Inside it is darker than usual, we pass a family dressed in Halloween costumes, we check in at the members desk and get the low-down on the evenings activities. We proceed up the stairs to the Great Hall, the giant circular chandeliers glow dimly, a laser light show is being projected on the right-hand wall. The wall to the left is lined with glass cases filled with William Randolph Hearst’s Armor collection, tonight they look spooky. There are special tours going on, sort of a scavenger hunt, people hold lists and point. The grand space has a completely different look and feeling; we notice fine details in the architecture and decor we have previously overlooked. We proceed to other galleries, we notice two young girls who appear to be sleep-walking, suddenly they drop to the floor and sleep.  I seem to be more fascinated by the building than the art tonight, faces carved in stone that once seemed harmless now look menacing, I notice beautiful sconces lit by a cluster of globe shaped bulbs, the luster of pewabic tile glazes come to life. Further on we encounter more sleep walkers, these carry pillows and blankets, soon they lie down on the floor, they look quite comfortable. Easels are set up randomly to encourage visitors to try out their drawing skills, young and old give it a whirl. I check the time, we have to get moving, the performance is about to start.

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The show is taking place in the auditorium of theDetroit Film Theatre, the stunning 1,150 seat theater was designed by C. Howard Crane ( also designed Fox Theatre, Orchestra Hall, Opera House and State Theatre, to name a few) the Aerial Angels are getting ready to perform. Streams of people are filing in, we find good seats, before long the lights dim. The stage is oddly lit, the music a bit peculiar, the atmosphere is a bit creepy, after all it is the season for the strange and unusual. The only male in the cast takes center stage and begins to juggle, he’s good; the number of items increases, so does the difficulty, it’s fascinating to watch. Other cast members appear on stage, a woman mesmerizes us with her hula-hoop skills, how do they do that? The music changes with each new act, it is a continuous stream of captivating tricks and acrobatics. Three women begin to climb the aerial silks that hang from the ceiling, they maneuver up and down the long flowing silk, they move gracefully to the music. When they finish the mood becomes serious, a female dressed in heels and a long coat appears, and she’s carrying a whip! Her heels click as she moves across the floor cracking her whip, the sole man reappears wearing shorts and holding a newspaper, hhhmmm…….Hesitantly the guy extends his arms holding the paper out in front, Crack! The paper is now cut in two; the procedure continues until the paper is a smidgen of what it once was, no blood was shed. The show is like a dark, edgy version of a Cirque troupe, the finale consists of juggling many large, sharp knives. We are enthralled, enchanted, bewitched. 

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We decided to end our evening with a nightcap at the Motor Bar inside the Book-Cadillac Hotel on Washington Blvd. The building is incredible; designed by (you think I’m going to say Albert Kahn, but I am not!) Louis Kamper in the Italian Renaissance style, it opened in 1924 as the tallest hotel in the world at 33 floors. The hotel has a rich history, including guests such as Presidents Hoover, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Reagan, Frank Sinatra stayed here too. The hotel closed in 1984 and was sold off in 1986. After a $200 million restoration the building was brought back to life as the Westin Book-Cadillac, a truly amazing feat! We head up the stairs to Motor Bar, the rectangular space is just lovely; modern chandeliers hang from plaster ceiling medallions, a series of huge windows line one wall, columns with richly ornate capitals separate the windows. Cozy seating areas line the perimeter of the room while larger tables are placed in the middle. We order drinks at the bar, a Cabernet Sauvignon for myself and a Whiskey and Coke for Kris. The room is warm and inviting, we take our drinks to a seating area by a window, they have a good crowd tonight. There’s a character to an old building you just don’t get in new construction, it’s like the walls themselves have absorbed the past. The drinks were wonderful, as was the atmosphere.

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DETROIT: Midtown Art

3 Mar

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With no real plan for the day we headed downtown, we know we can count on the city to provide us with interesting things to see and do. The Scarab Club hosted an opening reception the night before, so we thought it would be fun to see the latest exhibit. Located across John R from the DIA, the Scarab Club has been at this location since 1928. The structure itself is a combination of Italian Renaissance Revival and Arts and Crafts; dark brick, leaded glass windows, and painted tiles make for an attractive exterior. The entrance is on Farnsworth, once inside you go up a short flight of stairs to the first floor. This is the main exhibit space; stark white walls and ceiling are warmed by the hardwood floor, captivating art work hangs on the walls. This area hosts changing exhibits throughout the year. Up another flight of stairs to the second level lounge area. Though the space is large it feels cozy; dark wood walls and floors,  triple light fixtures give the room a golden glow. A large fireplace rests at the far end of the room with seating arranged  nearby. The most interesting feature of the room are the ceiling beams. Large wooden beams are decoratively painted referencing events that have taken place at the club. The sides of the wood are covered in signatures of club members, this tradition began in 1932 when Diego Rivera signed his name. Norman Rockwell followed in 1946, they are joined by many other noteworthy names such as: Elmore Leonard, Eliel Sarrinen, George Booth, Marshall Fredericks and Isamu Noguchi. Along with thought provoking art, the building itself is worth a visit; I love the sound of the creaking stairs as I step from level to level. The ceilings at the top of the stairs are decoratively painted in rich colors with gold leaf; gorgeous. Artist studios occupy the third floor, occasionally they are open to the public. The club hosts exhibitions, workshops and events for artists and art lovers alike.

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Just a short walk away is the College for Creative Studies’ Center Galleries, located inside the Manoogian Visual Resource Center. Here you will find art both traditional and cutting edge. Displays start as soon as you come in the door, the current exhibit is divided into different mediums: Glass, Sculpture, Illustration and Painting. The talent level is staggering, which is part of the reason the art scene in Detroit is so lively. The cool thing about this gallery is it really gives you a sense of what is going on in the world; from car design and furniture to new ways to package things, it’s like looking into the future.

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For the lunch portion of the day we continued the gallery theme and ate at Cass Cafe. A long-time neighborhood fixture, having a meal or a drink at Cass is like sitting in the center of an art gallery with table service. Exhibits change routinely and feature everything from local to nationally known artists. The front section of the restaurant offers seating at round multicolored tables with vintage style chairs, giving it a retro feel. A stairway leads to an upper level reserved for special events. The menu runs the gamut  from Asian chicken wings and a hummus plate to vegetarian lasagna and an Ahi Tuna steak. The crowd varies from Wayne State students to hipsters and suburbanites. Ordering was easy, I love the lentil walnut burger, paired with a large salad it’s enough for two. They make their own “veggie” burger here and it is way superior to store bought versions in flavor and texture, topped with some honey-mustard, delicious.

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The day was still young and I felt like doing a little shopping, fortunately a pair of unique boutiques reside just around the corner on W Canfield. City Bird has been around for just over two years now, the small space is packed tight with goodies from both local artists and designers and work from other Rust Belt cities. The variety is great; jewelry, clothing, bags, paper goods and accessories, many of them Detroit-themed. They even have a small section of vintage clothing. There’s something new each time I come in, so I always look forward to stopping by.

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Right next door is NEST, owned and operated by the same siblings as City Bird, this shop focuses mainly on housewares. The small modern storefront has plenty of appeal; items are artfully placed about on tables and shelves making you want to stop and look at everything. Just inside the door are dozens of glass balls hanging in front of the window, each one contains a tiny plant creating a kind of air terrarium. Stacks of plates and glassware rest on shelves, they have linens and candles too. My favorite find of the day was an ice cube tray that produces ice in the shape of both Michigan peninsulas, the tray is even produced in Michigan using Michigan materials, I love it!  Andy and Emily Linn have done a wonderful job with both places, it’s nice to see independent retail coming back into Detroit. Next time you are looking for a unique gift or just something for yourself be sure and visit.

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Heidelberg Project, Father Solanus, Cafe con leche

24 May

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Within about a mile of Jefferson on Mount Elliot there is an interesting variety of places to see including two historic cemeteries, a riverfront park, East Riverwalk and our destinations of the day.

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The Solanus Casey Center is located on Mt Elliot in Detroit. Inspired by the life and example of Father Solanus the center strives to be a place of pilgrimage, healing, reconciliation and peace. Father Solanus was well known in Detroit throughout his more than twenty years of service at St Bonaventure. His ministry of charity, comfort, and concern for the poor inspired the Detroit Capuchins to establish their Soup Kitchen which continues to this day.  The center welcomes people of all religious backgrounds and all walks of life.

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Park on the street, then walk through the garden on your way inside. When you enter the building through the beautiful glass doors you will notice an instant sense of tranquility. Skylights flood the lobby with sunlight and it draws you further inside. There is a small museum like section that tells the story of the life of Father Solanus that I believe anybody would find interesting.  He spent his life in the service of others, in times of trouble and sorrow people sought his prayers and advice, many still pray to him today.  The St Bonaventure Chapel is connected to the center and is open daily from 7:30-5:00pm. Be sure to wander in, religious or not you can’t help but admire the intricately carved wooden alter, the architecture is simple and elegant at the same time. Feel free to have a seat, it is a perfect place to meditate or reflect. 

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Just a short drive away is the Heidelberg Project, these two places couldn’t be more opposite.  Here there is a sense of energy and controversy, it feels loud.  The colors are bright, houses are painted with polka dots and numbers, found items are grouped together in unlikely collections. It challenges you in a way that is whimsical not offensive. Walk the two block area with an open mind, just have fun.

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The Mission of the Heidelberg Project is to inspire people to use and appreciate artistic expression as a means to enrich and improve their lives, and to beautify and preserve the environments in which we all live, work, and play. Tyree Guyton created the Heidelberg Project 25 years ago, in an effort to bring positive change to his community and the city of Detroit. It began as an outdoor art project in the heart of a blighted neighborhood in Detroit, but has grown to be much more. Today the project is recognized as one of the most influential art displays in the country. It is a demonstration of the power of creativity and its ability to transform lives. Each day the project attracts visitors from all over Detroit, the nation and the world. It offers a seed of hope, a forum for ideas, and a bright vision for the future.

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After all of the activity it was time to go to Southwest to Cafe con leche, this is the coffee shop I mentioned in an earlier post. It is one of our favorite places to go and have some sort of espresso drink, sit at a table in the window overlooking Clark Park,and watch. In warm weather or cold, Kris always gets a large Cubano, it is wonderfully rich espresso that is brewed directly into a cup containing raw sugar, so the espresso and sugar mix together, then it is stirred gently and enjoyed. My selection varies from visit to visit, but when it is cold outside you can’t go wrong with a Spanish Hot Chocolate. Owner Jordi comes from Barcelona Spain, so he knows how to make them right. Hot chocolate so thick, you can eat it with a spoon! It has almost a pudding like taste and texture to it, heck, it’s so good, get it anytime.

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This cafe has a loyal following, regulars come and go at the same time each day, the baristas greet them on a first name basis, and ask “your usual”? It is comfortable and friendly, Spanish is the primary language being spoken, but people easily change back and forth to English, and there is usually a nice selection of music being played quietly in the background. They offer a small selection of mostly Mexican pastries, and they recently added Panini sandwiches. Located at 4200 W Vernor, it is a great place to kick back and relax and just hang out.