On a Thursday evening in Pontiac’s popular club district, a steady stream of people wanders into a large building — not the site of another trendy club or restaurant, but the home to three new art galleries holding their inaugural opening as the Oakland Art Center. The space was launched by local artist Jef Bourgeau, whom you might recall from his former positions heading up Pontiac’s now-defunct Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) and the Museum of New Art (MoNA) in Detroit’s Book Building (Bourgeau left when the Book space was rented to another tenant). You might also remember him from such headline-grabbing scandals as the obscenity trials sparked by an MCA art symposium in 2000 or his short-lived DIA exhibit, Art Until Now, which was yanked when museum officials deemed it religiously and racially offensive.
Bourgeau’s spacious new digs house a refreshed MoNA as well as the A.K.A. Gallery, headed by former CPOP denizen Mary Harrison, and The Forum Project, a non-commercial art space run by John Cynar, the former exhibition director at Paint Creek. One of the building’s owners, local club owner and art collector Amir Daiza, was instrumental in making the new project a reality.
The vision Bourgeau paints for the new MoNA is certainly an admirable and exciting one — a place for young, edgy artists to cut their chops and for artists, collectors and the general public to see what’s happening on the contemporary scene.
“Detroit is one of the only major cities in the U.S. that doesn’t have a contemporary museum,” Bourgeau points out. “It’s something that needs to be done.”
The opening featured a MoNA “store” in the building’s lower level, with work for sale by Bourgeau. The museum proper will open with a biennial on May 15, in a second-floor space that currently holds the Habitat Gallery International Glass show. Bourgeau says that for the biennial, he plans to bring in work by regional and international artists to showcase side-by-side with local creations. Bourgeau has been critical of what he sees as a tendency by other museums to segregate local artists.
Bourgeau is particularly interested in work by young artists recently graduated from art schools, but will show “whatever we think is exciting.” Scheduled exhibits include Going Dutch, of works by photographers from the Netherlands, and Children’s Hour, featuring art that focuses on children. When MoNA moves to the space in the building’s second level, Bourgeau says he hopes to open the lower-level rooms to students from Wayne State University, the College for Creative Studies and Cranbrook — giving them an opportunity to run the space and exhibit work on their own.
Harrison opened her A.K.A. gallery with an exhibit entitled, Friends and Severed Relationships: A Collection. The assemblage of “post-pop” work by various artists focuses on the Detroit scene, with notable pieces by Ron Zakrin and Niagara along with work by Davin Brainard and Donato Mancini. There is also a lush, exuberantly whimsical painting by Tracee Miller entitled “Meet Me in the Moonlight,” and a print of Miriam Shapiro’s “Frida and Me.” Harrison says future exhibits will strive to mix lowbrow art with more erudite offerings in a pretension-free environment.
Cynar’s space features work by various local photographers, including his own works and those of Rob Kangas of Royal Oak and David Rayfield of Midland. Cynar shies away from the term “gallery” because of its connotations with commercialization and art-as-commodity. Instead, he says he wants the space to provide an encouraging atmosphere for artists to display their work.
Although funding for artistic ventures is always a wild card, Bourgeau holds characteristically valiant hopes for his latest endeavor. “One good thing about not having a lot of money is that you have to get creative,” he says.
On May 1, MoNA will present a free show by the Dziga Vertov Performance Group, featuring mixed video imagery and original music. Doors open at 7 p.m.; the performance starts at 8 p.m.
The Oakland Art Center is located at 7 N. Saginaw St., north of Pike St., Pontiac. The current exhibits run through April 25.Christina Kallery is a freelance writer for Metro Times. Send her tips and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org