Detroity Toity

Detroity Toity

Housed in a 7,000-square-foot former fire station in Detroit’s Eastern Market, the Wasserman Projects, conceived by Allied Metals CEO Gary Wasserman, held its opening exhibition on September 25. It was immediately one of Detroit Design Festival’s must-see events.

Wasserman, an ebullient art collector, native Michigander, and unabashed Detroit booster, envisioned the 5,000-square-foot space as not only a gallery, but also as an incubator for emerging artists, a showcase for established practitioners, a destination for out-of-towners, and a forum for community events.

The opening exhibition featured a sound sculpture by Detroit-based artist John Brumit, a sculpture by Toronto’s Harley Valentine, works on paper by Brooklyn artist Markus Linnenbrink and THEFIRSTONEISCRAZYTHE-SECONDONEISNUTS, a collaborative installation by Linnenbrink and Miami architect Nick Gelpi of Gelpi Projects.

Previously, Gelpi designed everything from skyscrapers with Steven Holl to furniture and is currently working on a book detailing the history of full-scale architectural mock-ups.

The duo designed a digitally fabricated, angled wood “house paint pavilion” whose interior is a “walk-all-over” painting done up in Linnenbrink’s signature bright stripes. With the two halves together, visitors enter the installation through an irregularly shaped portal. Inside, viewers are surrounded floor-to-ceiling by vibrant painted lines that reflect off a plastic-coated base.

Visitors stepped gingerly into the painting, careful not to slip on the frictionless floor. The best viewpoints were the postcard-sized portals, carved at eye level to offer sightlines into the piece.

The piece also cleaves in the middle to accommodate lectures, musical performances, and a novel sitting space.

Prior to the opening, a quartet from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra played inside the half shell. The acoustics were not concert quality, but the wooden shell amplified the sound nicely and cushioned it against the harsh concrete interior.

Beginning next year, the space will host the Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, a permanent installation by Belgian artist Koen Vanmechelen. Vanmechelen and his team will crossbreed chickens from different countries as a comment on human diversity. To engage the community, hens’ eggs will be harvested and distributed to locals.

Wasserman is adamant that Detroit is not “the new [insert hip city].” Detroit, he mused, “is a new urban experience.” When asked to elaborate, Wasserman said, “We still don’t know what that’s going to look like.” Putting the project in context means considering the urban fabric around it. The tone and content of the opening exhibition suggests that Wasserman Projects is a dialect derived from a shared language of renewal that arts initiatives use here (and elsewhere) to justify their reason for being.

Implicit in Wasserman’s vision of Detroit is the idea that cities grow organically, and, despite cycles of decline, have a capacity for renewal through less-than-tangible processes: community, arts, and urban experience. However, cycles of change in Detroit, or any other city, are not random. Government policy, capitalism, and prevailing cultural attitudes facilitate the revival of urban space or contribute to its decline. It’s too early to see how or if the venue will make an impact on Detroit’s “urban experience.” But when one separates Wasserman’s urban vision from his project, the space can still be appreciated for what it is: a nice gallery.