ROAD TRIP #4: Detroit

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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.

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Museum of Contemporary Art, Detroit. Photo by Lilly Lampe.

 
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Mike Kelley’s Mobile Homestead. Photo by Lilly Lampe.

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.
Buddy's pizza. The pepperoni was our favorite but this is the picture that turned out best. Photo by Lilly Lampe.
Buddy’s Pizza. The pepperoni was our favorite but this is the picture that turned out best. Photo by Lilly Lampe.

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 Motown Museum. Photo by Lilly Lampe.
The Motown Museum. Photo by Lilly Lampe.

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.
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Lunch at Lafayette Coney Island. Photo by Lilly Lampe.

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.
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Hamtramck Disneyland, photo by Lilly Lampe.

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.
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Hamtramck Disneyland, photo by Lilly Lampe.

 
Installation shot of The Memory of Skin, an exhibition by Ann SunWoo at MONA. Photo by Lilly Lampe.
Installation shot of The Memory of Skin, an exhibition by Ann SunWoo at MONA. Photo by Lilly Lampe.

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.
View of Saarinen House at the Cranbrook Academy of Art. Photo by Lilly Lampe.
View of Saarinen House at the Cranbrook Academy of Art. Photo by Lilly Lampe.

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.
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Saarinen House at the Cranbrook Academy of Art. Photo by Lilly Lampe.

 
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Latkes at the Polish Village Cafe. Photo by Lilly Lampe.

We stopped at the Polish Village Cafe in Hamtramck for a dinner of dumplings, duck blood soup, and cucumber salad.
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Dutch Girl Donuts. Photo by Lilly Lampe.

Then it was on to Dutch Girl Donuts for dessert.
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The fryer at Dutch Girl Donuts. Photo by Lilly Lampe.

 
The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA). Photo by Lilly Lampe.
The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA). Photo by Lilly Lampe.

We spent most of the next day exploring the collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA).
A scene from the Diego Rivera murals at DIA. Photo by Lilly Lampe.
A scene from the Diego Rivera murals at DIA. Photo by Lilly Lampe.

The collection is surprisingly spectacular, and the museum itself quite grand and interesting.
The Wedding Dance, 1566, by Pieter Bruegel the Elder was one of the most stunning paintings in the collection. Photo by Lilly Lampe.
The Wedding Dance, 1566, by Pieter Bruegel the Elder was one of the most stunning paintings in the collection. Photo by Lilly Lampe.

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
Part of the Heidelberg Project. Photo by Lilly Lampe.
Part of the Heidelberg Project. Photo by Lilly Lampe.

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.
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Part of the Heidelberg Project. Photo by Lilly Lampe.

Some of the houses are painted in eye-catching colors and designs…
Part of the Heidelberg Project. Photo by Lilly Lampe.
Part of the Heidelberg Project. Photo by Lilly Lampe.

…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.
Michigan Central Station. Photo by Lilly Lampe.
Michigan Central Station. Photo by Lilly Lampe.

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.
Photo by Lilly Lampe.
Photo by Lilly Lampe.

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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