‘Detroit Boom City’ rocks

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer

Beth Malone met Shawn Wilson, the Ford Motor Co. Fund’s manager of multicultural engagement, on a panel in Atlanta two years ago.

Malone is co-founder of an Atlanta nonprofit, Dashboard, that organizes pop-up art shows, often in partly abandoned urban neighborhoods. Malone says Wilson said she simply had to bring her work to Detroit.

So she and her partner, Courtney Hammond, did, over the course of a year organizing a large group show supported by the Ford Fund, “Detroit Boom City,” in an abandoned pickle factory in a countrified part of the city’s east side.

“Detroit Boom City” is open Saturdays and Sundays, and will be up through June 12.

“It’s just an amazing group of artists,” Malone says. “I get chills thinking about who we got to work with.”

The show, with a baker’s dozen of local and national artists — all of whom got commissions from Dashboard — is a rollicking visual treat bound to elicit astonishment and laughter.

Consider the “Popps’ Mobile Sauna,” a 1989 Mitsubishi van whose cargo space has been repurposed as a working sauna. The installation, parked in a courtyard jammed with other large pieces, reconfirms the reputation Graem Whyte, director of Hamtramck’s Popps Packing, enjoys for inspired lunacy and attention to detail.

Not only is the sauna interior clad in wood, but the van’s front seat and dashboard have been filled with cheerful red and white Christmas lights that seem to say, “Come right in!”

For something completely different, walk back into the Pickle Factory and check out Sabrina Nelson’s homage to the late southwest Detroit artist Mary Herbeck.

Titled “Sabrina Nelson,” it comprises a sacred circle on the floor, centered around a pair of ruby slippers straight out of Dorothy’s closet. Overhead, dozens of small, glittering objects hanging by fish wire from the ceiling, create a small enclosure.

An open space at the center of the pendent trinkets begs you to step inside and take your place, a bit like a saint stepping into an altar niche.

It’s a show jammed with contrasts. “You walk around Sabrina’s feminine, elegant installation,” Malone says, “and then you’re hit in the face with (New York artist) Jason Peter’s rigid, strong, dense structures.”

Peter’s construction, “Once Was, Always Will Be,” is a mash-up of what look like brightly colored auto parts stacked in a rough pyramid framed at its base by two large formal orbs of the sort that often grace formal gardens.

“Jason was looking at how these pieces functioned,” Malone says, “and how they’re designed to be stacked for easy transport — he redefined that stacking to create an art piece.”

The show, which opened with a nighttime party May 2, attracted an exuberant contingent of art lovers and local residents, whom Malone made a specific point of including.

Gentrification is something Malone and her partner, Hammond, badly don’t want to encourage, but they concede that holding pop-up shows in places most people avoid “redefines” the space, and can stimulate a new comfort and curiosity.

Previous Dashboard shows have generated commercial interest in the vacant storefronts they occupied, sometimes leading to new occupants renting the space.

“We don’t set out to have an impact on the neighborhoods we set up in,” Malone says, “but it’s something that’s started to happen. So we need to be aware of both the negatives and positives associated with that.”



‘Detroit Boom City’

Pickle Factory

2120 Bellevue, Detroit

1-7 p.m. Saturdays & Sundays