Detroiters don’t get modern art. Residents of the metropolis don’t go to museums and galleries, generally speaking. And they certainly don’t buy art, as a general rule. It’s the case across most of America, except in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and a handful of other major cities. Detroiters suffer artistic apathy.
At least that’s the opinion of Dick Goody, director of Meadow Brook Art Gallery on the campus of Oakland University in Rochester. See, Goody is from London, where museums and galleries are packed and people talk about art and artists; where patronage is strong and artists can make a good living and even become celebrities.
“I want to see that here,” says Goody. “It’s a cultural thing. The culture here is monolithic. It’s the auto industry. Who is here? Engineers. What do engineers think about except engineering and pen holders?” (Although Goody says he’s got nothing against engineers and only hopes they flood the gallery.)
“People drive to work, they drive home, they go to Pistons games, they watch television. People have not been socialized to go to museums.”
And it’s a shame, says Goody, who’s very positive about local art.
“Art in Detroit is constantly surprising,” he says. “I really think we need to get the word out.”
He blames his industry.
“We’ve made art appear elite,” laments Goody. “I try to encourage everyone to come out here. But people have to be taught from a young age.”
Grunts of horror escape visitors’ mouths when Meadow Brook exhibits contemporary art, Goody says. “Oh, no, I can’t deal with formal abstraction,” he mocks.
The Royal Oak resident is a funny man. He’ll make you laugh out loud during a conversation, several times. It’s fortuitous. He does, after all, run a fine art gallery in greater Detroit, and the job apparently requires a well-developed sense of humor.
Goody, a contemporary painter himself, left London in the ’80s to follow his wife to Michigan. Though he’s an outsider, “being English, it’s not a disadvantage in this industry,” he chuckles.
“I married an American. Coming here, it was very risky. I always say my second wife will be from Santa Barbara.”
With a soft-spot for sardonic wit and one-liners, Goody revels in what he describes as the obnoxious, sarcastic, ironic nature of Brits.
Goody made a splash when he took over Meadow Brook Gallery in 2000. He dove fearlessly into the barbed-wire heart of the southeast Michigan art community, making it his point to showcase what he considers the best in local talent.
He’s credited with turning Meadow Brook around, taking it from a gallery that was off the radar to a hot spot in Detroit’s contemporary art scene. His first show, one he’s quite proud of, was of Detroit painter Peter Williams, who uses images of clowns, cartoonish animals and bright circus-like colors to present complex narratives about race and racial stereotypes. Williams is considered among the best painters in Detroit, though he’s not well known by the population at large. Last year, he was selected to be part of the Whitney Biennial in New York City, a media-hyped show that aims to spotlight the best in American contemporary art.
Goody is commended locally for another reason: He puts out catalogs for each Meadow Brook show, creating an invaluable documentation for artists and the community. Art show catalogs are collectible books that display art and discuss its meaning and relevance. They’re sold to fans, other galleries, museums and art history libraries.
Detroiters this weekend will have several chances to disprove Goody’s theory about our collective art ennui, not the least of which opportunity is at his own gallery, which is commemorating 40 years of art collecting with a show of more than 75 works. The event will flaunt Oakland University’s impressive collection of pieces by internationally recognized artists. Highlights include two works by pop modern New York painter Alex Katz, of casual everyday people exhibiting subtle to nonexistent emotion (Katz’s signature); a poster painting by Cass Corridor artist Gordon Newton; a vertically aligned print by German Renaissance superstar Albrecht Dürer; an amazing black-and-white photo of ’60s New York art curator Henry Geldzahler by Arnold Newman; a colorful painting of cars and chaos by Haitian painter LaFortune Felix; a Botero of a fat nun with an apple falling on her head and an annoying but funny neon pink piece by British contemporary Pete Snadden.
The list goes on, and while Goody says he hopes the show generates interest in the gallery, he admits, “It’s really about the names.”
A collection of African masks and wooden figures, donated to the museum by former Michigan governor and U.S. diplomat to Africa G. Mennen Williams will also be on display.
While none of the gallery’s works are ever for sale, Goody wants Meadow Brook to stimulate in Detroiters a passion for art. He sees the gallery as a place for "cultural evangelism."
“The reason people need art is because they need unique objects in their lives. People spend amazing amounts of money on furniture and cars. Why not spend it on something that will last forever?”
Meadow Brook Gallery’s 40 Years of Collecting: 75 Master Works from the Oakland University Art Collection opens March 5, from 5 to 7 p.m. A gala event will be held March 13 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $75, which includes strolling cocktails and supper, wine and music. For tickets call the gallery at 248-370-3008.