REVIEW: Detroit gallery crawl



I spent this past Saturday enjoying what I can only think of as one of my favorite Saturdays in a long while.  Through an event organized by the U of M’s Joe Levickas, a group of students were given a well-planned introduction to what Detroit’s art scene has to offer.  In the morning we boarded a bus to downtown Detroit, given a map and some details about the galleries in the area, and released to explore the city.  Here is a list of the galleries and their websites.

Signal Return
Red Bull House of Art
InnerState Gallery
The Scarab Club
N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art
Detroit Artists Market
Review Contemporary Gallery
Dell Pryor Gallery
Lester Monts Hall

Below I’ll go into a little more detail about my experience at the galleries.

Signal Return

The first stop the bus made was at Detroit’s Eastern Market district.  Crowded streets, covered produce markets, and busy local food joints were the first things I noticed.  The Signal Return space was less than a block from the covered markets.  Part printmaking studio, part store front, the space aims to preserve the craft of handset printmaking by offering instructional classes to selling prints made by artists.  The space was really clean and the architecture of the space was as interesting as the art they were selling in the store.  It was built in a renovated egg crate manufacturing building and preserves a lot of the original brick of the building.  Large open windows line the store front making it more welcoming to passersby.  Being right off the Eastern Markets there were lots of Saturday market goers around.  The atmosphere reminded me of how much I love the community of a city.  The upstairs of the building was closed when we visited, but occasionally features printmaking shows.  The artistic director there mentioned that a lot of the type set and letter presses are taken up from local print making businesses that have closed down.  She also educated us in a bit of the historical influence of printmaking and letterpress expressions on today’s vocabulary, such as the terms ‘uppercase’ and ‘lowercase’ which came from printmakers storing the uppercase letters in the upper level case and the lower case ones in the lower.  Another

Afterwards, I treated myself to a scoop of chocolate and cherry amaretto ice cream from Mootown Ice Cream Shoppe, which I’d definitely recommend dropping by.


I remember there was some jazz music playing in the background.  It is a large, bright space with cement floors that has a small grouping of shelves that sat at the back, which house a random collection of old paperbacks ranging from poetry to communist texts to classical fictions.  The entrance of Trinosophes is a cafe with just enough seats for patrons without overcrowding the space.   The chairs were noticeable because they ranged from vintage wooden kitchen chairs to bright orange 80s style cushioned seats.  Partitions divide the cafe off from the gallery space and served to blocked the view from one side to the other while still allowing sound to flow back and forth between the two areas.  The current show is a collection of various old posters, which contained images about nearly everything from war propaganda to equal rights for the sexes to petitions supporting the rights of immigrants.  I had only a few minutes in the space so I didn’t quite finish the reading the description for the opening, but from what I gathered the collection of posters had come from one man’s numerous political friends with packrat tendencies.  Given more time, I would have liked to sit awhile and I have some coffee.  Maybe next time.

Inner State Gallery

Two or three doors down from Trinosophes is Inner State Gallery.  A smaller space, the gallery is currently hosting a solo show by artist, Tyree Guyton.  Guyton, with his grandfather, began the Heidelberg Project. (A note on the Heidelberg Project:  For those who aren’t familiar, the project started in 1986 as an outdoor art environment.  Heidelberg street was transformed into a war torn neighborhood during the riots of the 60s.  To protest, Guyton and his grandfather began painting the houses bright colors and arranging salvaged items into sculptures, turning the neighborhood around and reclaiming it through art making and re-appropriating it as a public space.)  His show featured works on paper as well as old car hoods that had been scraped and burned by fire, and now hung up like canvases on the gallery wall.  The warped nature of the hoods add to the disfigurement of each featured portrait.  They were painted with bright colors and various shapes in place of facial features, and each portrait is of someone Guyton is acquainted with.  He also had an interesting installation art work: a taped off square filled with standing, non-functioning vacuum cleaners, each painted in a solid coat of paint of a different color.  It signifies a clear message about how the people assigned to clean up the city of Detroit are not performing their jobs.

Red Bull House of Art

The first floor of the Red Bull House of Art featured private studios for artists.  The stairs off to the right take you down to what appears to be a dark brick tunnel but actually opens up to a low-ceilinged brick lounge and bar area, before leading you down a ramp to a large bright gallery.  It is easy to feel like you’re trespassing on some abandoned basement before you realize that is a part of the charm of the space.  The large basement is currently holding a show of four artists, some of them young and most of them from around the area.  One of the artists featured futuristic mythological pieces painted in bright pinks and cyans.  The feeling of contrast between such modern images against the unfinished brick structure of the gallery created for an all the more interesting experience.

Scarab Club

The Scarab Club is located in a building originally built in 1907.  Taking the stairs to the gallery space on the second floor, you see a large fire place, piano, and decor that makes the room feel like a classic house in 1920s film set.  The wooden beams on the ceiling of the house are engraved with the signatures of famous people like Diego Rivera, Marcel Duchamp, and Norman Rockwell.  Below can be heard the tunes of a blues band performing in the gallery space below.  Back upstairs, the current exhibition features a painter by the name of Sam Karres.  His paintings took a lot of marks from impressionists.  The history of the gallery space and thinking about all the people who had come through there made me want to sit awhile and just enjoy being there.
There were many galleries to see and not enough time.  I would definitely consider checking back in with some of these spaces in the future.  Certainly another weekend trip to Detroit is in order.

One thought to “REVIEW: Detroit gallery crawl”

  1. So glad you enjoyed the trip, and it’s great to read your thoughts and impressions about some of the galleries we visited. I thought it was a successful day, and it was exciting to get to introduce the group (and myself) to some of the excellent work and spaces that make up the Detroit Art scene. Thanks for your blog!

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