Compiling a list of the art giants of Detroit is hard work. But fortunately Jim Pallas has already done the heavy lifting. Last year, Pallas presented a series of 16 paintings at George N’Namdi’s gallery depicting the 16 art giants of Detroit. The word ‘painting’ is not entirely accurate, as these pieces have an almost sculptural three-dimensionality to them. The pieces, at six by six feet each, are gigantic for an art gallery, but surprisingly not heavy at all.
Some could fault Pallas on his selections, but most likely it will be on a matter of omission rather than one of inclusion. There is one omission Pallas has already explained: there is no self-portrait in the series, as he stands on the shoulders of these giants. In another decade or two it will be necessary to acknowledge a few more art giants of Detroit. But for now, the list compiled by Pallas stands almost unimpeachable.
There will be no attempt here to rank the artists by any criteria, objective or subjective, but since they must be presented in some kind of order, they appear in alphabetical order by last name.
David Barr’s installations can be found throughout the Midwest. Perhaps his most impressive installation is Transcending, which can be seen from Windsor, Canada, across the Detroit River.
Other artists in this list have exhibited at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA). But Bourgeau may be the only one to have exhibited work there which was later censored. These days he manages the Museum of New Art in Pontiac.
Jean Sibelius once said that no one has ever put up a statue for a critic. Joy Colby, who wrote for the Detroit News for several years, may very well be an exception who proves the rule.
Sergio De Giusti
Born in Italy, Sergio De Giusti has been fully adopted by Detroit. He was not only an art student but also an instructor at Wayne State University (WSU).
Tyree Guyton is of course the mastermind behind the Heidelberg Project. His work is also indoors at the Heidelberg Project Gallery, not far from the Heidelberg Project site.
Michael Hall was born in Upland, California, but later made his home in Hamtramck, Michigan, and is now recognized by the DIA as a Detroit artist.
Many of the artists on this list have strong links to academia. Sculptor Alvaro Jurado, who has shown at Detroit Artists Market, on the other hand, is self-taught.
There is much artistic potential in fabric, and this is something Gerhardt Knodel realized early on. Knodel has exhibited in almost every continent.
Pallas didn’t just look at painters and sculptors for his list. Sue Marx is a filmmaker whose work has shown on PBS, films such as Flip Clips from 2011.
Like his Googleganger the Tuskegee Airman, Charles McGee has been a trailblazer. The painter, a Marine veteran, did not let illiteracy stop him from becoming a major artist and one of the founders of the Contermporary Art Institute of Detroit (CAID).
Like Sergio De Giusti, Dennis Nawrocki has also taught at WSU. Nawrocki is also the author of the landmark book Art in Detroit Public Places, available in a few different editions in both hardcover and paperback.
George N’Namdi is probably the most important art dealer in the Midwest, a trusted adviser to many of Michigan’s most important artists. The N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art was at one time considered a major gamble.
There is beauty on the streets of Detroit, and photographer Bill Rauhauser is one of the few people to see it. His Detroit street photos have shown all over the country, such as at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He has also documented the North American International Auto Show.
UPDATE: January 10, 2014. The Kresge Foundation has named Bill Rauhauser their 2014 Eminent Artist. The prestigious award includes a $50,000 prize. Rauhauser is said to be reviewing old negatives of his photos that have never been printed before for an upcoming new exhibit.
Odds are the Cass Corridor Art Movement would not have happened without Robert Sestok’s leadership and vision. His work includes sculptures, drawings and paintings.
The Museum of Modern Art in New York has a major collection of Fluxus art (an art movement similar to Dadaism). But that collection began and grew in Detroit, thanks to Lila Silverman and her husband Gilbert.
With her long tenure at the College for Creative Studies (CCS), Snowden has exerted tremendous influence on three generations of artists. Like McGee, Snowden has been recognized by the Kresge Foundation. She has a couple of major shows coming up in late 2013.
UPDATE: January 11, 2014. Last night at Whitdel Arts, the plucky little gallery in Mexicantown, there was the reception for Gilded, an homage to Snowden. The show, which will be up until February 22, includes the portrait by Pallas.