Artists tackle summer of ‘67 at Detroit Artists Market
With the 50th anniversary of the 1967 disturbances almost upon us, Detroit cultural institutions are gearing up with a series of shows and panels focusing on what some called a riot, and others called a rebellion.
Getting a jump on most venues is Detroit Artists Market with “Now and Then: Artists Contemplate the Summer of 1967,” which runs through May 27.
Curator Jeff Cancelosi moved here from Dallas about 10 years ago, he said, and was struck by that summer’s lingering impact.
“I was blown away by what happened here,” Cancelosi said. “I just wanted to have a better understanding.”
He added that he was interested both in art made at the time, like Charles McGee’s piece, as well as new works created specifically for this exhibition.
The result is a superb 26-person group show, with works that target the trauma of 1967 from myriad directions.
Among Detroit artists represented are Lester Johnson, Shirley Woodson Reid, Olayami Dabls, Carl Demeulenaere and Taurus Burns, among others.
One of the most visually compelling pieces — and the clear winner in the great-idea department — is Antoine SLEEP McDowell’s “Infinite Data.”
This spray-painted, highly realistic version of a black-and-white newspaper photo of urban disorder will look familiar to anyone old enough to remember the nonstop news coverage, with one big exception:
On the right side of the canvas, SLEEP’s inserted a hand holding an iPhone, with the chaos reproduced in miniature on its screen. It’s a jarringly modern intrusion that immediately invokes the videos that gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement.
“It’s all still happening,” said SLEEP, just after his factory shift. “We’ve still got racism and problems. The only thing that’s really changed is people get to see it now.”
The piece by the self-taught artist took about 120 hours of complex, exacting labor.
“I put the image through layers in PhotoShop to take all the tones out,” SLEEP explained. “I ended up with 10 shades of gray. I printed those out, and then cut each one into a stencil. Once cut, they’re sprayed with those different shades.”
Giving the composition extra drama is a red sky overhead.
If SLEEP’s “Infinite Data” — a reference, of course, to digital technology — both electrifies and shocks, Carole Morisseau’s “On the Edge” pulls the viewer right in with a sympathetic portrait of the artist’s mother, seated in the frame of a broken shop window looking stunned.
“I knew the position I wanted her in,” said Morisseau — with chin on fist — “but I didn’t have an actual picture like that. So I had to redo things in my head, and remember what light looked like as it fell on her face.”
All around her mother are symbols of the disturbances — most notably, the neon sign of the Algiers Motel at Virginia Park and Woodward, where National Guard troops killed three young black men.
Most of the meticulously painted canvas is in color, except for reproductions of news images, which Morisseau’s rendered in black-and-white.
She remembers being shocked by what was broadcast.
“This was the first time I know of that images like that came to us through the TV set,” she said, noting that one of pictures was a fire a short distance from her neighborhood.
‘Now and Then: Artists
Contemplate the Summer
Through May 27
Detroit Artists Market
4719 Woodward, Detroit
Upcoming 1967 shows:
“Detroit 67: Perspectives”
Detroit Historical Museum
Opens June 24
“Art of Rebellion: Black Art of the Civil Rights Movement”
Detroit Institute of Arts
Opens July 23
“Say It Loud: Art, History, Rebellion”
Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History
Opens July 23