Detroit artists fill up Cobo Center’s stark white walls

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer

The towering, white walls inside Cobo Center are starting to fill up with some very cool artwork by Detroit and regional artists.

It’s a logical place. Cobo does a booming convention business, and why shouldn’t visitors have something to look at while hustling from, say, the Grand River Ballroom to the Cityview Lounge?

A hopeful detail from Sister Jane Mary Sorosiak’s 2016 ceramic mural “Legacy of Gabriel Richard in Detroit.”

Work by five more local artists was unveiled at a private party last week, another step by the nonprofit Art Foundation of the Detroit Regional Convention Facility Authority and its plan to create a gallery feel within the vast convention center.

“We’d kind of like Cobo to become a destination,” authority curator Maureen Devine said afterward. “It’s a public building, even if we often forget that. It’s meant for everybody.”

Part of the point, she noted, was to use art to encourage visitors to get out and explore the actual city.

So here’s a concept. Find yourself downtown and feeling a little art-starved? Consider a leisurely stroll through Cobo.

The new arrivals include glassworker April Wagner, sculptor Sergio De Giusti, photographer S. Kay Young, ceramic-muralist Sister Jane Mary Sorosiak, and the late painter Gilda Snowden.

Also in the spotlight last week was muralist Hubert Massey. His 30-foot-by-30-foot Detroit historical fresco is at present a huge black-and-white preparatory “cartoon,” mostly out of view in the artist’s temporary studio within Cobo.

Sculptor Sergio De Giusti’s 2004 “Transcending” is at Cobo Center.

But come the New Year, if all goes to plan, the $500,000 work will be painted on wet plaster on a highly visible Cobo wall sometime after the 2018 North American International Auto Show.

Right now, Devine estimates there are about 80 pieces of art scattered around the convention center’s 723,000 square feet of exhibition space. Artists who’ve been on display for some time include Shirley Woodson, Jocelyn Rainey, Tyree Guyton, Nancy Mitchnick and Roslyn Grosky.

“Maureen and the art team are doing such a fabulous job curating the collection,” said glass artist Wagner, whose “Solstice” was introduced with the other new additions Thursday.

S. Kay Young’s hallucinogenic photo, “Fish,” was shot this year.

“I’ve been so impressed every time I’ve walked through Cobo,” she added. “Maureen’s introduced a sense of flow I don’t remember from before.”

“Solstice” is a multi-part glass installation that wraps around a stairwell connecting the second and third floors.

Located close to huge windows overlooking the Detroit River, the piece catches light in dazzling ways, practically begging you to wander down the stairs and follow its contours.

Roslyn Grosky’s acrylic-on-paper “Wonders of Michigan 1-6” series, painted in 1999.

“Maureen and I walked all around Cobo looking at spaces,” Wagner said, “and I was immediately drawn to that wall. I knew just what I wanted to do.”

There followed six months of blowing glass, and beginning to assemble the hundreds of the ridged and curved pieces. After that came the challenging task of installing the bits on three sides of a very tall wall.

“The installation I thought would take two days actually took four,” Wagner said with a laugh. “But it was really important to me that the edge flowed correctly where it wraps around the corner.”

Like many of the works that Devine has hung near the river, “Solstice” invokes the water, as well as the sun.

Wagner says she was basically reaching for something joyous.

“A lot of good Detroit art is intense and heavy,” she said. “So I wanted to make something bright and accessible to all viewers,” she said, “remembering that they might be walking through Cobo to a Red Wings game.”


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Twitter: @mhodgesartguy