The sport of shopping is a world unknown to me. Not being gay (or even metrosexual) or female, or particularly interested at looking at “things” for eight hours has always been a handicap this time of year. The only things I can successfully dawdle over are things that I want for myself: videotapes, books, fresh meat and produce. The very thought of pulling into a mall parking lot armed with a list of things I have to buy for other people makes my hands sweat and my eyelids quiver. I’d rather eat a turd.
The “gift certificate” is about as thoughtful and sophisticated as I get. Let them wait behind a bunch of fat-ass cretins who reek of Orange Julius and Hot Sams to ring up their belts and blouses and scented candles. I’ll be at home, not buying anything.
There’s a way around such vexations. There’s a place without skinny Santas or wicker baskets of sausage and cheese. There’s a place where “shopping” is replaced by gazing, “purchasing” replaced by acquiring, and “buying for others” replaced by bestowing. That place is the Detroit Artists Market, and it’s been an alternative to the horrors of the season for 67 years now. Its Holiday Show runs through Dec. 21, and although I had six bucks in my pocket, ratty clothes on my back, and a haircut that screams “shoplifter,” I didn’t spot a single security guard or a single walkie-talkie through my entire tour of their gallery.
Christine Stamas, one-time volunteer and now full-time gallery manager, patiently showed this shopping cripple around the spacious, well-lit digs one afternoon. The nonprofit Detroit Artists Market is normally the setting for more traditional gallery offerings throughout the year: sculpture, painting, video installation and the like. But when the cold, turkey-scented winds of the holidays blow through this town, D.A.M. clears the metal and clay and paint of artists great and want-to-be-great off its walls and floors and replaces them with objects that are a little more functional, a lot less expensive, and way more accessible and sentimental.
When Christine puts the word out, glassblowers, candlestick makers, pillow constructers and ornament builders heed her call to offer Detroiters something handcrafted and original. If it’s a doll you’re looking for, why not the 7-foot giants with the names “Male Order Bride” and “Schoolgirl Robotica” that tower over the bowls and plates and vases? If it’s a children’s toy you seek, why not the many blocks of wood that hang on the wall like an abstract puzzle? In this venue, the choices take time. The options are not the latest handheld whatever versus the latest game for the X-Box. They are which calligraph will Grandma dig, which hand-painted table will the roommate like more: the one with the monkey king on it, or the one with the diva surrounded by snails?
A wall full of glass Christmas ornaments, to me, is a wall in need of a smashing. The more beautiful and delicate, the more wispy and fragile the creation, the more I want to destroy it. There is a wall at the D.A.M. gallery that nearly made me weep with frustration. Big hand-blown balls of color, thin curlicues of blue and orange and red sweeping through their circumferences hang in geometry not unlike a target. I had to walk away.
One item I couldn’t seem to walk away from was a doll sitting amongst other dolls a little ways beyond those torturing ornaments. It’s about the size of your average doll. It’s wearing rather normal doll clothes. But there’s something very peculiar about its head. It has no eyes. It has no nose. It doesn’t wear a smile. It does have ears, however. As a matter of fact, that’s all it has. Ears. All over its peachy head. It will instantly conjure a joke, and then a philosophical conversation, and then nothing. You’ll just stare.
Some of the most striking objects in the show come from April Wagner and Jason Ruff, a glassblowing duo called “epiphany.” Huge glass bowls, psychedelically colored and twisted into balanced yet flowing shapes, dazzle on the tables set up in the middle of the showroom. I wanted to smash them too, but the urge subsided and I moved on to the sculptures made of found metal and garden tools by Tom Crimboli.
As far as “shopping sprees” goes, this one comes highly recommended — your nerves will thank you.
You can catch the Holiday Show through Dec. 21 (Wednesday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.) or as part of the Detroit’s Cultural Center Winter Gallery Crawl on Saturday, Dec. 6). Call 313-832-8540 for information.E-mail Dan DeMaggio at firstname.lastname@example.org.