Arts & Culture » Visual Art

Room to move



On Rosa Parks Boulevard. near Merrick -- somewhere between the Woodbridge historical district and a ghost town -- there's not a parking space for blocks around. The unlikely sight of dozens of cars arrayed around a lonely, yellow, converted two-story storefront with the words "detroit contemporary" painted in bold graffiti on the south wall conjures the same sort of excitement as arriving successfully at a rave site. A piece of plastic tarp dangles from the front of the building, blowing in the November wind, belying in its apparent disarray the scene that is unfolding within.

Inside detroit contemporary, an intensely mingling crowd of more than 100 is checking out the paintings, sculptures and installations in the space's four rooms -- one of which sports a large stage waiting for the evening's musical lineup. They've come to help celebrate the opening of "Sight;Sonic," the art space's inaugural exhibit. Hands are being shaken; smiles fly across the room at familiar faces; sculptures get hit like gongs and heads bow in attentive conversation. In the center of the room, a figure dressed in a full, wide pin-stripe suit, shoulder-length hair hanging naturally as can be, is the eye of the storm, calmly receiving guests. This is Aaron Timlin, the exhibit's co-curator and detroit contemporary's owner.

"I was about to have a nervous breakdown," Timlin says, two days after the crowds that stayed till 5 a.m. have gone home. "At 6:30 p.m., we were still installing the banister; extension cords were running everywhere and Phaedra Robinson was having her musical performance piece. It wasn't until later that (co-curator) David (Hartman) said people might have thought our tools and noise were part of her performance."

Timlin bought the building that was to become detroit contemporary two years ago, not knowing initially that he was going to create an art space.

"I just knew I wanted to do something with it. Then Willis Gallery and other galleries closed. I need art around me -- I've had it all my life and always need to see it," he says. "And it's important to have a place that isn't going to close due to rent rate problems. I wanted to be able to do something where the main thing was to show the work. I want it to sell, but it wouldn't close me if it didn't."

But it wasn't until Timlin's sister, Rachel, encouraged him to put together a family show before she left for university in Scotland last August, that he decided to use the building as an art space. He spent the whole summer preparing for that show, which included art by his siblings and his father, sculptor and CCS instructor-alum Hugh Timlin.

This connection to family and, importantly, his father's participation in Detroit's art community, is crucial to the younger Timlin's understanding of the role of art in people's lives, and his own. Timlin spent his after-elementary school hours playing in the creative environs of CCS, until third grade when his family moved to a farm in the small central Michigan community of Lake (near Clare), where he was homeschooled.

"I was really close to my dad's work. My mom was a weaver. We were encouraged to do whatever we had a knack for, to pursue whatever went with our individual grain. My brother hunted and made wine; my sister danced; I didn't really learn to read until I was 13 -- but once I did I was hooked!"

Once Timlin got out of high school, he went to Europe. On returning to Lake, he realized that he was "a teenager stuck in a really small town after seeing the world." So he came to Detroit and worked for three and a half years as a dialysis technician, not going out, saving his pay which, along with a trusty credit card, allowed him to buy the detroit contemporary building.

"That's sort of a fad for our generation, to start businesses with credit cards," he jokes.

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