Who can afford some of the stuff galleries present as “functional art” these days, like a $4,000 glass and steel shelf or a $2,400 wood table no bigger than a bench? I sure don’t have room in my budget or my house for such accoutrements; but, I suppose, for people who buy $10,000 paintings for cavernous homes, some of this stuff — finely crafted sculptures with everyday-use potential — would be awe-inspiring.
Such are my thoughts as I peruse Detroit Artists Market’s design, art and fashion show on Friday night. On this night, as suburbanites in full-length fur coats and tuxedos make their annual trek to the North American International Auto Show gala charity event, another group of similarly well-heeled folk, gallery VIPs and patrons, enter the inauspicious Detroit Artists Market on the edge of the Cass Corridor to negotiate peel-and-eat shrimp and oysters in celebration of yet another city commodity: design.
The Design Show, curated by Ivana Kalafatic, managing editor of Royal Oak’s glossy Clear magazine, and furniture designer/CCS professor Maxwell Davis, the gallery soiree is a departure from the so-called anti-auto shows hosted in years past by Aaron Timlin, director of the Artists Market. While Timlin ran the urban-bohemian detroitcontemporary gallery (which he founded), he hosted an anti-auto show there featuring paintings, photographs, sculptures, performance art and music as a sort of artist’s rebellion against the auto.
This year’s show at DAM isn’t really an anti-auto show, though Timlin says the idea is to provide an artful alternative to the automakers’ advertising celebration taking place a few miles away. (This year’s actual “anti-auto” show has been picked up by the RAT Productions theater troupe and will be held Friday.)
Instead, DAM’s show revolves around bold, austere furniture expertly and painstakingly created by designers such as Bryce and Kerri Moore, Gary Murphy, Tom Carbone and Maxwell Davis. The curators juxtapose large industrial-inspired works (made from chunks of smooth glass and metal) with more playful, organic pieces made from wood and metal. Each piece is its own sculpture, and priced accordingly.
Davis’ works are grandiose creations (with grandiose prices to match) of clear glass and steel, including tables with legs that look like icicles. His pieces are harsh and slick, like furniture in a rich industrialist’s Norwegian ice castle. Carbone’s wooden and metal chairs and tables are cut in smooth, sinuous lines that scream geometry and defy gravity, such as wood planks balanced on steel spikes that look like a protractor.
Murphy incorporates tree trunks into his tables of gorgeously rich wood, creating furniture that defines elegance and recalls Western lush/rustic cabins adorned with fireplaces.
At the entrance to the brightly lit gallery hangs the Design Show’s most stunning feature: three dresses by Cristin Richard made from what are described as “pig casings,” ethereal yet sturdy crepe paper moldings suspended in thin air, as if the mannequin models they once robed simply evaporated, leaving disembodied shells, floating yet somehow full of vitality. The nearly colorless dress sculptures, hovering several feet from the ground against a white wall, are stunning expressions of pure fashion art. The crepe sculptures are yellowish off white, giving them a natural organic feel. The designs themselves aren’t new — one is a strapless bodice with a puffy princess skirt; another is a Natalie Wood-style number, again tight on the bodice with fabric loped around the neck for an elegant presentation of the bust — yet they are perfectly modern.
Things start to jazz up at the soiree when the fashion show begins. By this point, the formalwear suburban gallery crowd is tipsy and chatty and parking their glasses on the furniture art. As the models take to the runway, WDET-FM DJ Liz Copeland plays French music by the Gotan Project. As is most often the case with Copeland’s selections, the tunes could not be more perfect for the occasion: sexy and playful but upbeat and soulful.
The models, 16- to 18-year-old waifs from the metro area, float onto the runway in ’40s-inspired garb and double-French-Twist hairstyles — hair sprayed into big curling waves on either side of their heads, like secretaries in World War II movies. The clothes, though inspired by the war era, are decidedly modern, accessorized by pink bows, little flowers and Asian-influenced embroidery. The couture is co-designed by Detroit-based Emilia Giolitto and Kalafatic. Several of the tops are mesh coverings displaying perfect little breasts, while some of the bottoms end at the buttocks. The treat is missed by few, as evidenced by the ogling, whispering and audible “ahs” of the crowd.
“That’s just like a 1937 hairstyle,” whispers Jacqueline Bernhardt, an 80-year-old West Bloomfield dog groomer, as a model traverses the runway. “Oh, she’s got a jewel in her bellybutton!” she gasps.
“What’s new?” retorts her girlfriend.
Melding with the show’s general dichotomy of severe and soft, the fashion show alternates selections in pink, yellow, navy and white with all-black, retro-’80s punk, with a hint of S&M-inspired leather pieces. The bodices are elegant yet sexy and offer plenty of breast. The highlight is a Hannibal Lecter number that features a spiked mask over the model’s mouth, designed by Detroit-based James Kwiatkowski.
Kalafatic, Clear’s fashion director, later objected to describing pieces in the show as S&M-inspired, opting instead for describing the black pieces as Edwardian.
“I think people will be more likely to believe this than that Clear magazine falls into the S&M trend, which is what is usually associated with Detroit fashion shows,” she writes in an e-mail. “The show was intended to elevate the Detroit sensibility to fashion design and the type of fashion design that is taking place on an international level — this was a groundbreaking event made to that point.”
After the show, Bernhardt admits to being “a little stunned to see the nipples on the models.” The miniature woman with two humongous diamond rings is deeply tanned beneath her wrinkles. She lectured at DIA for 20 years, she says, and now swims five times a week, dates “younger guys,” and considers herself, “a swinging widow.”
Of the DAM show, she says: “I love it, amazing, avant-garde and terribly expensive,” meaning the furniture.
Having our fill of fine fashion and design, my companion and I head to the Johanson Charles Gallery in Eastern Market for the opening of Bomani Diop’s solo show. The collage paintings employ bright blues, blacks, yellows and reds to plumb and probe inner arguments over self-image. Though the works are definitely worth seeing, the vibe of the gallery itself is a welcome shift from the formality of the night. People dressed casually in urban-chic socialize around the keg in the spacious gallery as a little girl chases the owner’s sprightly little dog.
My companion and I head to Union Street and order the sinfully delicious Dragon’s Eggs (I say they should be called Devil’s Balls. Order them, you’ll see what I mean.) A group of married men in tuxes tries to pick us up. They say they flew in on a chartered jet to represent a bank at the auto show gala, and are riding around in a limo looking for trouble. They seek entertainment advice, and one insists wherever we send them is “primarily Caucasian.” We quickly lose interest in assisting. When we tell them about the DAM show, describing the sexy, nearly-topless fashion and raw design, a newlywed man shouts, “Guys, I wish we had been there!”
So glad they weren’t. So glad we were.
See Bomani Diop at Johanson Charles Gallery at 134 S. Division in Eastern Market. Call 313-586-9409 or 313-333-0926 for information
The Design Show runs through Jan. 25 at the Detroit Artists Market, 4719 Woodward Ave. at Forest St. The gallery is open Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Call 313-832-8540 for information.Lisa M. Collins is the arts editor of Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org