In Detroit, it seems like theres a special bar night every night. Dives around town have tried everything from haircuts to feather bowling. But Wednesday, oh, Wednesday has gotten good.
In a cozy brewery on Canfield Street, where the air smells more like a cider mill than common swill, you never know what youre in for. On one evening, two girls in lab coats conduct séances, channeling dead artists with Ouija boards and magic eight balls, producing replicas of famous masterpieces and handing them out to patrons. On another night, a guy stands sheepishly next to a microwave hes filled with foil-wrapped potatoes. By a remote control hidden in his pants pocket, he runs the microwave, sparking fire from the earthly turds and turning them into tuberous explosives.
These happenings are part of This Week in Art, an informal yet always exciting exhibition series at Motor City Brewing Company. Once a week, artists contend with barely more than a few yards of space, and viewers pack in uncomfortably to look. Conversation, rather than hushed and coded, is boisterous and freeform.
It started because I wanted to get more people in the bar on dead Wednesday nights, says bartender and artist Graem Whyte, the series organizer. (Calling him the curator would imply a kind of formality he shuns). Owner John Linardos and the staff used to host outdoor swap meets and garage sales in the summer, where the community bought and sold records, old books and T-shirts. But when it got too cold, they decided to prop up makeshift walls and exhibit art, just to have a regular event indoors.
Come this January, This Week in Art celebrates its one-year anniversary with a show featuring works the size of a credit card by more than 56 artists. Over the last six months, the series that began with a show by Mike Segal has become the place to share in an intelligent dialogue with bar regulars, artists, musicians and filmmakers, as well as professors, dealers and enthusiasts all lovers of both booze and art.
Because of Whytes connections as an artist and technician at the College for Creative Studies foundry department, and because owner Linardos isnt depending on art sale commissions to make money, the brewery is edgy with its lineup. Two upcoming exhibits spotlight Dean Westerns band fliers and art by 7-year-old Izzy Alo. Emerging artists can sidestep group shows at galleries for a chance to show off solo, the way most visual art really shines.
And well-known artists are experimenting with their work, moving out of their comfort zone. Some of them just whip up something the night before the show, and its refreshing to see unstudied, less self-aware work. But theyre also using the event as an opportunity to take their work in new directions, testing more experimental ideas on the crowd. This year artist Clint Snider premiered his paint-dipped objects at the Brewery, before exhibiting them at a gallery. And recently, Chris Turner presented eight small versions of the large-scale paintings currently holding his studio hostage. Working in a folk art tradition quite different from what he typically does, Matt Blake painted country scenes on saw blades.
Another great thing about the series is that it offers itself as a collectors starter kit. Really strong work is always priced cheaply, usually between $20 and $60, with some stuff going for $100 to $200. Even noteworthy collectors will tell you they started buying on a small budget, and handing over cash for one piece was all they needed to catch the bug. The artists are making out well too. Whyte says that one noted artist recently sold off almost everything in the show at $25 apiece, and he walked out that night with about $800.
Artists are having fun with the space restraint, transforming the nook into an isle of one-liners. Cranbrook grad student Laith Karmo made it tricky to mill about, with his ceramic and milk-crate coffin shipwrecked in the small space. Christian Tedeschi also pulled off a great sight gag. Only those who took their eyes off the prize (his colorfully string-wrapped bike), and made an effort to scan the rest of the area, discovered the secret pleasure of a razor, a paperclip and some tinsel hidden high up on the wall. In one of the first Wednesday-night exhibits, Danielle Kenczik and Gabby Buckay exhibited photo portraits featuring local folks in freak show poses. They decorated the space with brightly colored frames and hanging fabric.
This Week in Art isnt the only thing to look forward to at the Brewery. Linardos has set up musical performances as part of the Ghettoblaster beer you can hear series of live recordings, and the Brewery has also premiered local films on its digital projector. He says theyre trying to hook up with local schools to present experimental animation and shorts as part of a weekly screening room. On a Sunday night last month, artist Mitch Cope even presented a slide lecture on his trip to Turkmenistan.
When Whyte and artist Faina Lerman got engaged recently, they mailed out invitations with an RSVP card, asking guests to draw and mail back self-portraits. The greatest of the 200-some impromptu art works were recently shown at the Brewery (they were not for sale).
The popularity of This Week in Art may be spreading by word of mouth, but the series is still just as intimate as it was when it began a year ago Whytes and Lermans album of drawings are proof. For one night only, looking at the shoddy stick figures and exquisite renderings was like flipping through the photo album in a big Detroit family room.
7-11 p.m. Wednesdays at Motor City Brewing Works, 470 W. Canfield St., between Cass and Second avenues, Detroit; 313-832-2700.Rebecca Mazzei is Metro Times arts editor. Send comments to [email protected]