When, sometime in 2012, Addie Langford and I sat down with a group of friends and former students (Biba Bell, Jessica Newberry, Marissa Jezak, Andrew Mehall, Dan Steadman, and Kevin Beasley) to discuss the landscape of art writing in Detroit, there was relatively little at the time that could be said to be more than documentary or occasional writing, rather than writing that sought to develop a critical language, history, and theory about developing practices in Detroit since the heyday of Cass Corridor artists.((In 2007, Craig Fahle at WDET’s Detroit Today, convened a panel discussion on arts writing in Detroit in the light of the recent opening of MOCAD in 2006 and new developments on the art scene. Listen to a recording of that conversation with Nick Sousanis, Rebecca Mazzei, George Tysh, and Michael Stone-Richards here at http://www.michaelstonerichards.com/audio.html))
In order for artworks to have a future, it has been said, not only must they be made, collected and exhibited, they must also be written about and become part of a discourse and conversation about value. Sometimes the critical language is ahead of the art (as may have been the case with New York art-writing in the 1980s and 1990s), at other times (as was the case with Cubism in pre-World War I Paris, say) the art is ahead of the language and it takes decades to find the right language and strategies for talking about the art and its possible subjects. (One of the least compelling things that can be said about any work of art is that it speaks for itself, hence the largest part of any history of art is the history of forgotten objects.) Today, as the second volume (Spring-Fall) of Detroit Research appears there is a veritable flowering of art writing in Detroit as witnessed by an article by Michael Hodges for The Detroit News when he asks, writing in April, 2015:
Want more proof of the quickening in the Detroit art scene? Consider the small explosion of local art journals that have popped up in the past year or two.
“It’s like mushrooms after a rain,” says Royal Oak artist Mary Fortuna, who edited the mid-1990s journal Ground Up. “I am delighted by the breadth and variety, and the something-for-everyone quality.”
The newest of the bunch, Detroit Research [the most academic], just launched a month ago, joining other recent arrivals Infinite Mile, Essay’d, The Periphery, Detroit Art Review, and ZIPR.((Michael Hodges, “New Journals showcase Detroit Art Scene,” The Detroit News (April 14, 2015). ))
The landscape – the political, economic, and cultural landscape – between 2012 and now could not be more different: the inaugural issue of Detroit Research in 2015 began with an extended reflection on art in the context of Detroit’s Emergency Manager Law, the Grand Bargain (and the extraordinary role played by the DIA and its donors therein), and art as a symptom or medium of representation of social and political tensions. The first issue of Detroit Research also contained a brief essay by Mary Fortuna on her journal Ground Up and the challenges facing her and her peers in keeping up a critical reflexive practice in the Detroit of the mid-1990s. If bankruptcy – both economic and political – was a keynote of conversations but a few years ago, today the conversation and cultural landscape are markedly different: now, political and social talk is dominated by the image of Midtown, Downtown and environs((When will someone write a cultural essay on the new restaurants (and restaurant architecture) of Detroit as image of the changing relations to the suburbs and the image of Detroit to itself?)) – the names are contested, so for some “Midtown” is really “Cass Corridor” – and the need for economic resources to reach the neighborhoods, since it is all but agreed that the city core of Detroit is well on its way back to economic sustainability. Today, the conversation is race and demographic displacement in light of vastly increased property values;((Since, however, nothing is simple, cf. Kelefa Sanneh, “Is Gentrification really a Problem?” The New Yorker (July 11 and 18, 2016), http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/07/11/is-gentrification-really-a-problem. Accessed 08-01-16, and Michael Stone-Richards, “Thoughts Propadeutic to Talking about Gentrification, or, The Coruscant Effect,” Infinite Mile, no. 16 (April 2016), http://infinitemiledetroit.com/Thoughts_Propaedeutic_to_Talking_about_Gentrification,_or,_The_Coruscant_Effect.html. Accessed 08-01-16.)) likewise is the contemporary art scene the subject of much conversation both in and outside Detroit, and which is in no small part a function of the considerable social and capital investment made over many years by foundations – Kresge, Knight, Erb and many more – and often in innovative ways. Detroit Research, Infinite Mile, Essay’d, some of the new forms of art writing in Detroit straddling the web and physical copy, for example, are either recipients of Knight Foundation Art Challenge Grants or applicants. Since being invited to guest edit this issue of Detroit Research on Dance, Biba Bell – about to start her new life as Assistant Professor of Dance at Wayne State University! – has become a Kresge Fellow (2016), and Leni Sinclair, the great photographer of Detroit, on whom, I am proud to say, we had long planned two articles, has become a Kresge Eminent Artist (2016), and the Danish-Detroit ceramicist Marie T. Hermann (and most recently Visiting Assistant Professor and Head of Ceramics at the College for Creative Studies), the featured artist in this issue, is a Kresge Fellow of 2013. It is scarce possible to think of any accomplished artist on the Detroit scene who has not directly or indirectly benefitted from the considerable investment made by the foundations in the various art practices of Detroit – social practice, community arts, post-studio practice, architecture, film, music and performance, writing, and yes, painting and traditional studio practices. The investment in the arts of Detroit has also, most importantly, served to attract talent from outside Detroit and many such people have become part of the practice – or the politics – of staying, as Rick Lowe of Project Row Houses has so tellingly put this as the core of any idea of social practice. For these and many more reasons – some of them structural, to be sure – the writing and conversation about art in Detroit has qualitatively changed since this journal was but a conception and the many forms of art writing now available testify to this change, are, indeed, themselves both symptoms and agents of such change. The local economies of art and art writing are reaching a new complexity and so inevitably will seek to capture different if overlapping concerns and this issue of Detroit Research devoted to dance and ceramics, with a tribute to the late Tony Hepburn, former Artist-in-Residence in Ceramics at Cranbrook, will be our attempt to give representation and visibility to an emerging discourse, as well as to join with our friends in other new art writing ventures in building new archives for the future (l’à-venir, that which is yet to come).
For its part, Detroit Research aims to situate the recent art practices of Detroit within a national and international setting: we expect each issue to reflect this dialogue between the national and international even more beginning with volume 3 devoted to The Art of Sound, to be guest-edited by the inter-media artists Adam Lee Miller and Nicola Kuperus of the Detroit-based electronic band Adult., and will include, we hope, Kevin Beasley, as the featured artist (to be curated by Dick Goody and Monica Bowman), and essays by the great French curator Jean-Hubert Martin, and the French philosopher and art historian Georges Didi-Huberman. In each issue we shall have a historical section on a Detroit journal or art event (in this volume George Tysh writes on the Detroit Artists Workshop with photography by Leni Sinclair), a Detroit art collection (here Addie Langford writes on the Joy and Allan Nachman collection; Taylor Aldridge will be our next writer on a significant art collection), and topics on drawing Detroit, public engagement, social practice, and Biopolitics. The aim is not simply to capture or to report or describe but to develop a critical language anchored in Detroit’s emerging art practices as the basis of a critical theory of social practice broadly conceived since “life too is a form of art [approached through] the study of places and people.”((Arthur Symons, “Preface,” Plays, Acting, and Music (London: Constable & Company, 1909), viii.))
Many individuals, communities, and institutions combined have worked together to make Detroit Research possible. First and foremost, we should like to acknowledge the crucial interest of Katy Locker, Knight Foundation Program Director for Detroit and the indispensable support of the Knight Foundation in the form of a Knight Art Challenge Grant in 2015. With volume 2, Detroit Research is produced in collaboration with the College for Creative Studies (CCS) whose President Rick Rogers has given unstinting support along with Nina Holden, VP of Institutional Advancement at CCS and her colleague Shannon McPartlon, Director of Foundation Relations, at CCS. Sooshin Choi and Vince Carducci, Provost and Dean respectively of CCS, have also been highly supportive of this project. Many artists and friends across the community – and indeed beyond Detroit – have also donated artwork, money, and time to make this project possible, amongst them those we have come to consider as our Founding Members (or Art Angels): Barbara Estrin, Dr. Norris and Mrs. M. Langford, Marie T. Hermann, Jane Schulak, Gayle and Andrew Camden, Marc Schwartz, Toby Barlow, Marsha Miro, Linda Dresner, Lois Cohn, McArthur Binion, Michael E. Smith, Scott Hocking, Vievee Francis, Nicola Kuperus, Adam Lee Miller, Chris Tysh, George Tysh, Paul Kotula, Greg Fadell, and Biba Bell. The Episcopal Cathedral Church of St Paul Detroit, and the Rev. Dr. William Danaher, Rector of the Episcopal Christ Church, Cranbrook were generous in their support of this project. We have also been fortunate to receive corporate support from Avanti Press and Wells Fargo. To the gallerists Michelle Perron of Center Galleries, CCS, Hazel Blake of the Susanne Hilberry Gallery, Christine Schefman of the David Klein Gallery, and Simone DeSousa of the Simone DeSousa Gallery we express our heartfelt thanks for their continued support. Dr. Nii O. Quarcoopome, Co-Chief Curator of the DIA, was exceptionally generous of his time in helping us with several key works from the Ceramics Collection of the DIA for use in our section on the work of Marie T. Hermann. The design work for Detroit Research has been a labor of love and the team that pulled it together nothing less than exceptional: our lead designer Joshua Smith, Assistant Editors Marissa Jezak and Jessica Newberry, our web designer Curtis McGuire, and our social media / Indiegogo magician Kristin Wellmer. All are alums of the College for Creative Studies – and as it happens, all have worked in Critical Theory at CCS and their continued presence through the journal will be felt as the College makes steps toward the invention of new approaches to Critical Studies. I cannot thank them enough. The list could continue – and will need to do so if the journal is to be produced at this level – but it is sufficient to show what it has taken to make this work possible.
Editor, Detroit Research
Chair, Committee on Critical Studies
College for Creative Studies