Graffiti and urban culture have become hot themes for group exhibits in Detroit galleries. Now, Art Exchange Gallery offers Street Smart, a multimedia exhibit that conveys many views and understandings of the streets of Detroit. Unfortunately, at moments these views are more reflective of the individual artist than the greater subject matter.
Some of the participating artists chose to illustrate Detroit’s streets through a literal portrait of their people, architecture and detritus — such as documentary-esque photographers Tom Stoye, Alesia Zettlemoyer and Lisa Luevanos. Zettlemoyer shows potential but is still trying to understand her medium. Stoye and Zettlemoyer’s prints record both the common man and striking characters within the environment of Detroit. The subjects are posed, and their lack of familiarity with the photographer results in a distance; the relationship of the person in front of and people behind the lens is revealed, and distracts.
Luevanos is able to break beyond the voyeuristic alienation and novelty of the medium and express the character of the moment. Her photography captures a familiarity with the moment, such as the brilliant shot “Carson St. Kids,” a black-and-white print of young neighborhood children caught in the midst of jumping rope.
A few artists manage to transcend their personal identity, and speak of the streets through more universal and interpretive means. Mary Laredo Herbeck has one of the show’s most personal works: “Defensive,” a metal wall hanging reminiscent of primitive weapons, is classical and beautiful yet sends a clear warning. The piece creates the anxious feeling of encountering a stranger with a defensive stance. Vito Valdez’s three mixed media drawings from his series Mojo City Madness are psychologically and sociologically provocative. His active mark-making and quality of tone variation on black paper capture the dark side of the casinos, poverty and the disturbing struggle to acquire power and money. Valdez and Herbeck are communicating an experience, rather than a voyeuristic recording.
Anne Fracassa and Nancy Patek have become local staples, known for their sensitive observational cityscapes. Patek’s collaborations with artist Pam DeLaura, however, create more layers of meaning and bring her homages to Detroit to a whole new level. Fracassa’s paintings on brick fragments are creatively placed on low metal barrels, but the placement puts the work at a disadvantage. The subtlety of the paint and surface texture can’t be seen without squatting.
“Fragments of Memory” is an example of Fracassa’s best work; she depicts a view of the Detroit riverfront, integrating the sky, city and landscape in one variation of value and color.
Curator Todd Hastings has two humorous and ironic pieces, “Looting X-ing” and “Space Invaders”; the latter is a cardboard cutout of a digital alien with black spray-painted edges, pinned to the wall. The result is immediate, literal and creative, but also lighthearted.
Tim Burke offers jewelry and larger than life-size sculptures; though colorful, quirky and fun, they fail to address the nature of being sculpture, stemming from a two-dimensional perspective, and remaining fairly devoid of depth, physically and otherwise.
Art Exchange has made a smart move by inviting Hastings to work in the spacious gallery. The artists are of various ages, gender and cultural backgrounds, and the work is diverse in media and approach. The exhibit isn’t pigeonholed into one specific theme, and the result breathes and speaks in many tongues and comes together in the end.
Through Jan. 1 at 2966 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-831-1200; artgallerymuseum.com. Phaedra Robinson is an artist and freelance writer. Send comments to email@example.com