BURNAWAY Magazine presents ROAD TRIP, a summer photo series covering critics Lilly Lampe’s and Alex Robins’s path as they make a circuitous journey from Atlanta to Brooklyn. Below find highlights from their visit to Detroit!
Detroit was our next stop after Chicago, and was the sleeper hit of the trip. We originally planned to stay just a night but quickly realized it’d be a mistake not to linger, so extended our visit by a few days. While in Detroit, we experienced a mixture of alternative art projects, solid art institutions, and great local food. One of our first stops was MOCAD, Detroit’s excellent contemporary art center which is currently host to Mike Kelley’s Mobile Homestead.
Mike Kelley commissioned a recreation of his childhood home—Kelley grew up in Detroit—that is intended to be a community space. We is unfortunately weren’t able to go in (this community space has limited opening hours). We were, however, at the museum as the same time as the family who currently lives in the actual childhood home, which was pretty great.
After the drive from Chicago we were famished so we drove to the Hamtramck neighborhood (where we found ourselves many times during the course of our visit–Hamtramck is where it’s at for tasty cheap eats) for Buddy’s Pizza, home of Detroit’s original square pizza.
The next day we made a pilgrimage to the Motown Museum, which is in the original site of the famed record company. Much of the original furniture remains, including the couch where a young Marvin Gaye would supposedly nap.
For lunch we visited Lafayette Coney Island, a Greek-owned, East-coast inspired institution. According to Detroit lore, it’s either the place where Patti Smith met her husband Fred “Sonic” Smith, or it’s where they had their wedding reception, or both. Whether or not that’s true, it’s worth a stop for the chili dogs.
We returned to Hamtramck to see the Hamtramck Disneyland, a yard installation built atop two garages. This wild installation, featuring references to Santa Claus, Elvis, aviation, and America, was built by Ukrainian immigrant Dmytro Szylak after he retired from a job at General Motors. It’s an amazingly-dense and well-maintained sight.
Afterwards we drove to Pontiac, MI to visit the Museum of New Art. We interviewed founder Jef Bourgeau for an Out There Atlanta which will air this fall.
On our way back into town we swung by the Cranbrook Academy of Art to see the architecture by Eliel Saarinen, who was a professor at the school.
We stopped at the Polish Village Cafe in Hamtramck for a dinner of dumplings, duck blood soup, and cucumber salad.
Then it was on to Dutch Girl Donuts for dessert.
We spent most of the next day exploring the collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA).
The collection is surprisingly spectacular, and the museum itself quite grand and interesting.
As well as the famed Rivera murals, the collection also includes some lovely Cezannes, sculptures by Claes Oldenberg and Fred Wilson, works by Conceptual and Fluxus artists, and many more. The day we left Detroit the city declared bankruptcy. Since then, there have been talks about deaccessioning pieces in the DIA collection to bolster the city’s coffers. It’s a heartbreaking and misguided idea. The DIA collection is a gem for the region and a big draw in terms of tourist dollars. Selling off parts of the collection would only be a bandaid for Detroit’s deeper problems
An art project designed to bring attention to the issues facing Detroit is the Heidelberg Project. Started by Tyree Guyton and his grandfather Sam Mackey in 1985, Heidelberg is an attempt to reinvent one of Detroit’s many deteriorated neighborhoods through art activism.
Some of the houses are painted in eye-catching colors and designs…
…others are downright creepy.
The Heidelberg Project has attracted much positive attention, but has also faced many issues of its own. The houses, though decorated, remain abandoned and several have been demolished or burned down over the years. Through the neighborhood is arguably safer, given the foot traffic, presence of school groups, and attention from fashion photographers and curators, the houses are frozen in time. Unlike the folk art installations that predate and likely inspired Heidelberg, these works are not well-maintained and the homes they decorate remain inhospitable.
To say Detroit is a complicated city is a wild understatement. Abandoned and bombed-out buildings are an unmistakable aspect of the landscape. Great poverty is apparent as well as, in the suburbs and outskirts, great wealth.
It is truly a city dogged by deep-rooted problems, but also one of great history, potential, and perhaps, hope.
Next stop: Toronto!
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