Artists of Pioneer Building at Cass Cafe

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer

Detroit’s Pioneer Building, a one-time auto body plant converted in 1994 to artists’ studios, has over the years become one of the most sought-after addresses for those looking for well-lit space in a well-run building.

As a result, the tenant list has morphed into a sort of Who’s Who of serious Detroit artists, including well-known names like Clinton Snider, Anne Fracassa, John Hegarty and Joan Farago.

Happily for our purposes, the building’s creative output is on display at Midtown’s Cass Cafe through June 25 in “Pioneers: Celebrating the Artists of Detroit’s Pioneer Building” — a lively group show highlighting the work that emerges from its 30 studios.

Curator Peter Gahan, who organized the show, says the Pioneer Building has always been one of his favorite places in the city.

“I spent a lot of time there,” Gahan says. “The building has a good soul. It’s really an amazing place — the artists are all supportive of one another and share ideas.”

Gahan said his only objective was to exhibit work that hadn’t yet been shown locally, and the results are often deeply appealing.

Take Claudia Shepard’s “A Wise Girl — Found in Detroit,” an oil-on-panel painting of a crimson dress hanging in front of a wall with slightly menacing slogans scrawled on it. The gown has been rendered so realistically that it practically pops off the canvas — indeed, at first glance it looks almost 3-D.

Giving the work a queasy political edge, however, is the blood that appears to be dripping from the bottom of the bright-red fabric.

Next to this worrying composition, Gahan has hung “Offering” — as different in spirit as it could be. Here Christine Welch gives us a luminous portrait of a naked woman plunging through sapphire waters, an unlikely bouquet of flowers in her hands.

Where Shepard’s “Wise Girl” is challenging and a bit disorienting, “Offering” feels very much like what it portrays — a plunge into cool, balming water.

As it happens, women figure in some of the most-interesting pieces on display, including the interactive table slide assemblage “Still Life with Little Ladies” by Teresa Petersen.

This good-looking, humorous piece works with advertising images of fashionable 1950s women painted on vertical slats that work a bit like an old slide ruler.

Want your “little lady” to have a different skirt — or a different torso? Just slide the panel.

(313) 222-6021

‘Pioneers: Celebrating the Artists of Detroit’s Pioneer Building’

Through June 25

Cass Cafe/Gallery, 4620 Cass, Detroit

11 a.m.-2 a.m. Mon.-Sat.; 5 p.m.-1 a.m. Sun.

(313) 831-1400