Another Look at Detroit

A new exhibit celebrates the Motor City’s art community.

Destroy All Monsters

“An exhibition about Detroit is not going to be contained in a couple of Chelsea galleries,” says the curator Todd Levin. “It couldn’t even be contained in a large institution the size of MoMA.” Which perhaps explains why Levin, who lived in the Motor City until he was 30, opted for a highly personal point of view in assembling Another Look at Detroit, his two-century celebration of the city opening June 26 (through August 8) at Marianne Boesky Gallery and Marlborough Chelsea. “The exhibition isn’t about me, but in the end, it’s about the things that affected how I thought about art at many different stages in my life,” he says. Some of the contributors included were born in the city, others were inspired by it from afar or just happened to pass through, but all managed to convert the raw energy of Detroit into something lasting. You’ll find original LPs from Metroplex Records; pieces from Anna Sui’s first collection; 19th century landscapes by Ronald Duncanson and works by contemporary artists such as Nick Cave, Julie Mehretu, Dana Schutz, Jim Shaw, and the late Mike Kelley. Of course, no show about Detroit’s innovation would be complete without a sampling of automobilia (1957 Cadillac adverts, Diego Rivera’s portrait of Edsel B. Ford) or the standouts from the Cranbrook Academy of Art (classic pieces from Harry Bertoia and Charles and Ray Eames). Here, Levin walks us through a few highlights.

Photos: Another Look at Detroit

Destroy All Monsters, the band started by Mike Kelley and Jim Shaw, was a crucial part of my adolescence. I really wanted to include Jim and Mike as individual artists and also separately give a nod to their band. This is one of four amazing banners they created. We couldn’t include all of them because they would have taken up the whole gallery. Destroy All Monsters Collective (Mike Kelley, Carey Loren, Jim Shaw).

Courtesy of the artists and the Estate of Mike Kelley.

Anna Sui was born in Detroit and for a lot of her early designs the city was one of her biggest influences. We’re going to be including a dress from her first collection.

Suit from Debut Fall Collection, 1991. Courtesy of Anna Sui, New York.

This is a beautiful standalone painting of Edsel B. Ford by Diego Rivera. The story of Edsel and Henry Ford and Detroit’s automobile history couldn’t be ignored. I remember looking at this image as a little boy. I didn’t know about Edsel B. Ford and the failure of the Edsel and the difficulties between him and his father and all this stuff I learned later.

Edsel B. Ford, 1932. Courtesy of the Detroit Instituted of Arts, Bequest of Eleanor Clay Ford.

I was raised in the inner city and then lived in a little city bordering on Detroit before my mother remarried and we moved to the wealthy, new money Northwest suburbs. We lived near the Cranbrook Academy of Art and I went there on weekends—it loomed very large in my upbringing. There are about 12 or 13 pieces loaned from Cranbrook.

Katherine McCoy’s Fluxus, 1989. Courtesy of the Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, MI.

I have a doctorate in musical studies from the University of Michigan. When Deutsche Grammophon released a complete CD of all my orchestral pieces recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra in Abbey Road Studios, they asked me who I wanted to design the cover. I asked for P. Scott Makela who at the time was the head of the 2D Design Department at Cranbrook. Scott passed away at a very young age from a freakish virus he caught on an airplane.

Katherine McCoy and P. Scott Makela’s The New Discourse, 1991. Courtesy of Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, MI.

The painter Dana Schutz is from Levonia, Michigan, which is right next door to Mike Kelley’s house. She’s total Detroit all the way.

Dana Schutz’s Girl on a Horse, 2014. Courtesy of Private collection, New York.

Jim Shaw’s piece is really great. It’s this Uniroyal/Goodyear tire with this hand coming out of it gripping the road. It reminds me of an advertisement when I was a young kid showing how well the tires had traction—only now you’ve got the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse shooting out of it so there’s this weird relationship to Albrecht Dürer.

Untitled, 2013. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York.

Detroit has an amazing musical history—jazz, Motown—but the most influential musical memory for me was the birth of techno from the Belleville Three in the late Seventies. They started off on Cybertron Records, which became Metroplex Records. Somebody else might curate a totally different show on Detroit and concentrate on Motown but if I tried to make the show too historical on all fronts it would just turn into Disney’s Hall of Presidents. You know, “Welcome to Detroit!”

Cybotron and Metroplex records, 1978 – 2000s, Cybotron: Private collection, New York Metroplex: courtesy Alex from Queens. Photo by Robert Costello. Image courtesy of Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York.