A History of Detroit’s Visual Arts Scene, the Essay (Part One)

August 31, 2014

I’ll try to go through this tangled tale as best I can.  If someone has better information, I’ll keep this project fluid for a while.  This means that there’ll be revisions, additions and subtractions here.

Maybe someday I’ll write a book about all this, or someone else will.  If it’s someone else, I’m sure that my research will be of some help.

This project is A History of Detroit’s Visual Arts Scene. Take One is an actual exhibit of papers and objects.  Take Two is this two part essay.  Take Three is a facebook page.

This is mostly all visual art and mostly “Detroit proper.”  Yet poetry, theatre, music and the suburbs may all make their guest appearances. 

In an effort to keep things brief and concise, I don’t mention artists by name unless they helped run a gallery or I show an image of their work.  I name-checked most of them in the previous post.  That said, the Detroit art scene was full of the most amazing and colorful characters.  There have been some vibrant personalities and some great oddballs.

After a brief recap of previous events, this, Part One covers, roughly 1978 to 1990.  The PHYSICAL exhibition that goes with this will soon be lost and gone.  See it if you can.

I’d like to start by saying a little about how I got into art and the Detroit art scene. 

In the 1970s I was on the staff of the Catacombs Coffee House in Detroit’s Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood.  I was part of a vibrant creative scene.  Visual art was only a small part of this.  Yet it was so wild and surprising.  People flocked to it from all around the Detroit area.  It included music, cinema, theatre, poetry, comedy and much more.

Around this time, my interest in Surrealism and in art history sparked my interest in making art.  I started to go to a lot of art galleries.  These  included the Artist’s Guild of Detroit, at Second and Grand Boulevard.  The Feigenson Gallery was nearby.  There were also galleries downtown.  This was in 1977 or 1978.  I don’t drive, so usually I’d ride the buses all over.  The bus was my key to adventure, as cars are to most people.

Edgar Yaeger also lived in my neighborhood.  He had painted murals for the WPA.  He also had an association with the Scarab Club and a long, productive career.  He and his friend, Frederick J. Kayser, were the first painters that I knew.  Edgar lived to the age 93.

By 1980, I was showing my own work in galleries as well.  Since then, I’ve seen quite a few exhibits!  I’ll try to reconstruct the last 35 years or so from memory, from my notes and other sources.

Art by Paul Schwartz, 1970s (at the Feigenson Gallery in the Fisher Building)

Art by Paul Schwartz, late 1970s  (at the Feigenson Gallery in the Fisher Building)

A History of Detroit’s Visual Arts Scene, Part One

Eventually, the City of Detroit became interested in art and culture.  The Detroit Institute of Arts started out on Jefferson Avenue in 1885.  In 1927, it moved to larger quarters, on Woodward.

In 1932 and 33, Diego Rivera painted his Detroit Industry murals at the DIA.  In 1952, a group fought to have them covered or destroyed.  The murals were saved, but a disclaimer was installed.

Pewabic Pottery opened in 1903.  The Scarab Club began in 1907. The Detroit Artist’s Market started in 1932.  All three of these are still going strong.

The College for Creative Studies started around 1906 as the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts. In 1958, it moved to its present location in the Cultural Center neighborhood. In 1975 it changed its name to the Center for Creative Studies.  In 2001 it became The College for Creative Studies.

Wayne State University has long had a solid arts program as well.  Marygrove College also offers art education and training.  All three have art galleries and put on an array of art exhibits.

The Museums and Universities all have some degree of money, people and power behind them.  They’re the big players.

Sculpture by Bob Sestok
Sculpture by Bob Sestok (at the Feigenson Gallery)

It’s always been a challenge to get the Detroit Institute of Arts and the universities to support local artists in a wider sense.  The museum tends to support and exhibit those who first become well known nationally.  There have been exceptions and experiments.  There used to be galleries for local artist’s work.  Yet local musicians, poets and performers often seem to get more attention and support there than the local visual artists do.

The schools tend to support their own students and alumnae.  This is understandable in a way.  Yet it’s always great to have them surprise us and include “choice outsiders.”  It’s not easy to be open and to see the wider picture.

There were usually two or three well established galleries around.  There were always independent and underground galleries as well.

Amazingly, in 1984 the City Arts Quarterly could only come up with eleven “real galleries” and seven “ringers.”  Granted, this was just Detroit proper.  It seems that there are at least twice as many now.

A piece titled "I Remember how to Fly" by Robert Bielat

A piece titled “I Remember how to Fly” by Robert Bielat (at the CADE Gallery)

The Detroit Artist’s Workshop was a sign of things to come.  It started in the early 1960s.  Both the rock poster/ graphic design paths and the early Willis Gallery artists have ties with this group.   They came next.  They all had the spirit of the times.  I was too young to experience most of the 1960s culture.  I do recall “driving through” Plum Street in days as a hippie haven/heaven.

The Willis Gallery started in the late 1960s.  It went on into the 1970s.  Eventually, it closed.  In the late 1970s, some of the original Willis Gallery artists went with Jackie Feigenson to her gallery in the Fisher Building.  She was married to Mort Feigenson.  He was part of the family that started the Faygo soda pop company.  First it was the Feigenson-Rosenstein Gallery and soon changed to just  the Feigenson Gallery.  Then, in 1981 the Willis Gallery reopened, in the site now occupied by the Avalon Bakery.  It continued into the 1990s.

There were others around too but the main players seemed to be City Arts Gallery, the Detroit Focus Gallery, the Scarab Club and the Detroit Artist’s Market. There was also art shown on the Seventh floor of the J.L. Hudson’s Downtown store.  They had a gallery sponsored by the Artist’s Market.  I believe that this was near the art supply department of the store.

There were good exhibits at the universities such as Wayne State, Marygrove and CCS.

There were always galleries in Detroit’s suburbs as well.  These included The Susanne Hillberry Gallery which started in Birmingham and ended up in Ferndale.    There was the Park West Gallery in Southfield.  I’ll likely explore this eventually yet for now I’m focusing on Detroit.

There were a number of forces in the air then.  These were so vital and so sweet.  They included the new Detroit Film Theatre, Cass City Cinema, the Freezer Theatre, the Grinning Duck Club, Alvin’s, the Stray Dog Saloon, the Song Shop Saloon, the Cass Corridor Food Co-op, the Dally in the Alley, the Fourth Street Fair, the Fifth Estate, the Detroit Metro Times, the Ann Arbor Sun and Cobb’s Corner Bar.  The Horizons in Poetry readings series started at Cobb’s.

The art reporting seemed much stronger and more present than it does now.  Joy Hakanson Colby write about local art for the Detroit News Marsha Miro did the same for the Detroit Free Press Then there was independent work in such publications as Detroit Artist’s Monthly.

There was a truly vital scene going on.  These are but a few of my best remembered spots of those early days.

There were so many different approaches, scenes, neighborhoods, styles, approaches, ethnic groups and connected collectives.  Often, they’d overlap and intermingle.

In the 1980s, a number of independent galleries opened up.  The Willis Gallery reopened.  Artists would take turns running it and organizing shows.  The Michigan Gallery came into its own in the 1980s and held many large and popular  exhibits.  It was largely run by Carl Kamulski and Diana Alva.  Both spaces continued into the 1990s.

From 1985 to 1989 the 55 Peterboro Gallery was open.  This was run by Sue Logan, Dave Roberts and Mary Meserve.  It was in a house between Peterboro and Cass.  Sometimes  they’d hold events in the backyard.  These included an outdoor sculpture show and various performances.

In 1986 Tyree Guyton, his wife Karen and his grandfather Sam Mackey started the Heidelberg Project.   This inspired local artists and helped them to connect with each other.  Early on, we were just glad that it was there.

The Trobar Gallery opened in 1987.  It was on Second near the Bronx Bar.  Those who ran it included Alvaro Jurado, Bryant Tillman, Stella Garner, Charles Gervin, Judith Kunesh  and Kevin Watson.  I showed there in 1988 and did my first puppet plays there.

Joe Fugate’s CADE Gallery was open on Agnes Street near Indian Village.  It later moved to Royal Oak.

The Detroit Focus Gallery had a string of strong exhibits.  They were in Greektown and I showed there in the early 1980s.

In 1983 Olayami Dabls and his wife S. Jill Miller-Lewis opened Dabls-Perette’s African Gallery.  In 1985 George N’namdi opened the G.R. N’namdi Gallery.  Both were in the David Whitney Building.  Both are still going today, in different locations.

To be continued…..

George N'namdi

George N’namdi

A partial list of some memorable exhibits from this time: Demolished by Neglect, 1987/ No Brand Art, held at several venues, in various years/ and the Box Shows at the Willis Gallery.  I’ll add more here later.

A painting by Bradley Jones, 1989

A painting by Bradley Jones, 1989 (at the Willis Gallery)

Part Three of this, the Facebook page:


Information on the Exhibit:


The Willis Gallery:


Detroit Focus:


Detroit’s Visual Arts Scene, Names Named

July 30, 2014
POETIC DETROIT? City Arts Quarterly, Ron Allen, and the Heidelberg Project

POETIC DETROIT? City Arts Quarterly, Ron Allen, and the Heidelberg Project

Who has written about the local art scene in Detroit?  The main players have done some interesting work.  This is usually centered on their own orientation, interests and participants.  The Detroit Institute of Arts and the Universities come to mind here.

Then too, I think the Detroit Focus Gallery and the Detroit Council of the Arts both had quarterly publications.  Was Detroit Artist Market’s newsletter a quarterly as well?  What about the Scarab Club?  Are any of these galleries still doing publications? Some have likely switched to the internet.

In a more grassroots mode, the Alley Culture newsletter comes to mind.  Thanks to Sherry Hendrick.  I’m sort of a grassroots arts writer myself, in my blogs and in my photo-copied handouts.  Another independent of note was Mary Fortuna’s Ground Up art magazine.  Bryant Tillman used to do this some too, on the internet.  Diane Spodarek and Randy Delbeke published a Detroit Artist’s Monthly in the 1970’s.

Of course, the late Joy Hakanson Colby wrote about local art at the Detroit News for 60 years.  Marsha Miro wrote at the Detroit Free Press for quite a while.  Sometimes you’d actually get two different reviews for your exhibit, in two different daily papers.

George Tysh, Hobey Echlin, Glen Mannisto, Phaedra Robinson, Nick Sousanis, Manon Meilgaard, Christina Hill and Rebecca Mazzei wrote for the Detroit Metro Times.  Robert Del Valle, Natalie Haddad and others wrote for Real Detroit.

Nick Sousanis also did great work at the online magazine the Detroiter.  He even reviewed exhibits that no one else was reviewing.  Others who’ve written  on our local visual arts include Dennis Nawrocki, Ken Mikolowski, James Crawford, Vince Carducci, Ann Gordon, Arwulf Arwulf, Gerry Craig, Rayfield Waller, Dolores Slowinski, Kristin Palm, Keri Guten Cohen and Perry Giovannucci.

Currently there’s Michael H. Hodges at the Detroit News.  At the Detroit Metro Times,  Lee DeVito.  Then there are the blogs and online magazines.

I’m sure there are plenty others that I’m missing or trying to track down.  I’ll add them later as I find them.

Art by Mike Mikolowski, articles on Barbara Green and the Trobar Gallery

Art by Mike Mikolowski, articles on Barbara Green and the Trobar Gallery

As for the artists, first there’s the original Cass Corridor/Willis Gallery group.  I only knew a few artists from before this time. Only Robert Sestok is still in the thick of it, active and on the scene. Most of the others have left town or seem to be reclusive, keeping a low profile. I’ve met most of them, some wonderful artists.

Here’s a listing.  There are plenty of people missing.  I can’t quite list hundreds and hundreds of names.  These are most of the ones that I’ve known or remember. These people have shown their art in Detroit art galleries, in many cases, for a long time. They’ve been “in the trenches” (so to speak).  In some cases, I recall their work better than I do the person.  Here goes:

Gordon Newton, Leni Sinclair, Al Loving, Bill Rauhauser, Nancy Pletos, Charles McGee, Brenda Goodman, Gary Mayer, Michael Luchs, Kathryn Brackett Luchs, James Chatelain, Barbara Greene-Mann, Jorg Erichsen, Ed Fraga, Allie McGhee, Carole Alter, Nancy Mitchnick, Ruth Goldfaden, Lowell Boileau, Bruce Luttrell, Nicholas Maffei, Diane Carr, Mary Aro, Nick Nagy, John Egner, Betty Brownlee, Tricia Soderberg, Bob Marsh, Sandra Yolles, Victoria Stoll, Stephen Goodfellow, Gilda Snowden, John Piet, Ellen Phelan, Aaron Ibn Pori Pitts, Sue Logan, Mary Meserve, Dave Roberts, Jerome Ferretti, Michael Mikolowski, Marie-Theresa Fernandes, Carl Angevine, Joe Banish, Gary Kulak, Ruth Leonard, Sherry Hendrick, Ann Marie D’Anna, Catherine Peet, Jim Pallas, Sue Trupiano, Miriam Marcus, Brad Iverson, Ron Gabaldon, Mary Fortuna, Sergio de Giusti, John Hegarty, Rick Vian, Rachel Reynolds, Bill Bryan, John Benson, Pi Benio, Mark Jones, Lois Teicher, Jack O. Summers, Sherry Moore, Renata Palubinskas, Dolores Slowinski, Jack Johnson, Rick Lieder. Susan Aaron-Taylor, Kevin Watson, Mel Rosas, Judith Kunesh, Michelle Gibbs, Bryant Tillman, Alvaro Jurado, Tyree Guyton, Teresa Peterson, Tim Caldwell, Jean Wilson, Shirley Parish,  Kathleen Rashid, Valerie Parks, Charles  Pompilius, Diane Spodarek, Cyndy Weeks, David Barr, Jim Lutomski, Ralph Rinaldi, Carl Lundgren,  Robert Bielat,  Azucena Nava-Moreno, Robert Hyde, Karl Schneider, Jim Puntigam, Diana Alva, Eric Mesko, Joan Painter Joans, Donald Anderson, Irene Will, Vito Valdez, George Graveldinger, John Elkerr, Roger Hayes, Patrick Dodd, M80 aka Michael Dion, Rico Africa, Maureen Maki, Christine Hagedorn, Meighan Jackson, Patricia Duff, Bill Sanders, Mark Schwing, Gary Eleinko, S. Kay Young, Peter Williams, Jef Bourgeau, Linda Mendelson,  Don Mendelson, Gwen Joy, Graem Whyte, Dennis Pruss, Jo Powers, Cedric Tai, Rose DeSloover, Rachel Reed, Deborah Sukenic, Jean Wilson, Marie Tapert,  Tom Phardel, Sharon Que, Billy O’bryan, Diana May, Mary Ellen Croci, Mose McCann, Jeanne Poulet, Erica Chappuis, Ronald Warunek, Kyle M. Stone,  Pete Palazzola, Matthew Hanna, Sean Bieri, Jerry Vile, Andrew Krieger, Nelson Smith, Niagara, Kevin Joy, Scott Hocking, Taurus Burns, M. Saffell Gardner, Kevin Stanislawski, Angelo Sherman, Douglas Bedard, Lynn Avadenka, James Dozier, Faina Lerman, Dennis Orlowski, Shaque Kalaj, Tim Burke, Andy Malone, Mark Esse, Jocelyn Rainey, Teresa Atkins, Sean Hogan, Victor Pytko, Marcia Hovland, Tom Thewes, Monte Martinez, Clinton Snider, Kristin Beaver, Ray Macdonald, Nicole Macdonald, Jeff Karolski, Gretchen Kramp, Mary Potts, Sue Carman Vian, Mark Sengbusch, Simone DeSousa, Michael Segal, Ronald Warunek, Julie Russell Smith, Jennifer Gariepy, Davin Brainard, Clint Anderson, Harold Allen, Phaedra Robinson, Jim Nawara, Tom Humes, Sandra Cardew, Mel Rosas, Christian Tedeschi, Kathy Leisen, Topher Crowder, Chris Turner, Melanie Manos, Julie Sabit, Deb King, Sara Lapinski, Julie Fournier, Matthew Breneau, Renee Dooley, David Clements, Christine Monhollen, Bruce Giffin, Tom Carey, Lisa Poszywak, Ryan Standfest, Marilyn Zimmerman, David Philpot, S. William Schudlich, Mark Arminski, Steve Zatto and I’m sure that I could go on and on and on….

For this post, I’m not really naming those who run the art spaces, unless they’re artists as well.  Thanks to these people.  Thanks to the collectors, to those people who actually purchase or barter for art.

I’m not really naming most galleries and art spaces here.  The ones that made the first section did so because they’ve written about local art.

I’m not naming many street artists, unless they also do gallery art. Many are anonymous, or nearly so.  For every piece that I hate or dislike there’s another one that I like or love.  I’ve done street art myself, extensively.  So do it, but try to do top-notch work, ok?

Thanks to the rest of the audience too, the crowd.  Some come around for the free drinks and food.  Some come around for “the scene.”  Yet many of these people have, or will develop, a genuine appreciation for the art.  They try to be supportive as best they can.

Thanks to these as well.  A great audience is essential to having a great scene and community,  Maybe someday we’ll get there.

More of the current Exhibit: Mary Fortuna, Aaron Ibn Pori Pitts, Gilda Snowden etc.

More of the current Exhibit: Mary Fortuna, Aaron Ibn Pori Pitts, Gilda Snowden etc.

In Memory, we’ll always remember you: Gerome Kamrowski, Jacques Karamanoukian, Edgar Yaeger, Sam Mackey, Ron Allen, Faruq Z. Bey, Mary Herbeck, Mick Vranich, Marty Quiroz, Robin Sommers, Mary Ann Aitken, Russell Keeter, Kathy Clifford, Paul Schwartz, Gary Grimshaw, Matt Blake, Bradley Jones, Jim Gustafson, Sandy Zenisek, Ann Mikolowski, David Blair, Ray Johnson, George Haessler, Aris Koutroulis, William Girard, Arnold Dreifuss, Keith Aoki, Brian Buczak, Moses McCann, Tony Williams and others.


More information on the related exhibition July 11 to September 8, 2014:


If you come see this show, note that it’s in two parts.  There are a series of showcases when you first walk into the library.  Then there are two more showcases far off to the side.

Painting Big

June 26, 2014
detail, lower left hand corner...

Detail, lower left hand corner…

From June 5 to June 24, I created this huge painting for the BIG PAINTINGS Invitational.  It’s in this great old building at 333 Midland in Highland Park, Michigan.

I mix up the right shade of dark grey for the background.

I mix up the right shade of dark grey for the background.

First, I mixed a custom shade of grey with black and white paint, thinned with water.  I mixed exactly the right amount somehow.  None was left over.  I applied it with a  house-painting roller on an extension pole.

I started it while it was flat.

I started it while it was flat.

The first day, June 5,  I just did this rough background.  The next session, on June 10, I started to put on the colors.  This was a long workout.  The painting was now vertical, standing up.  I applied paint with rollers, brushes and my fingers.

.....and we're off to the races!

…..and we’re off to the races!

I got quite a bit done at this second session.  This was Tuesday June 10.I had the strategy in my mind.  I’d done a few small related sketches, but I didn’t even bring them with me.  As is often the case, I knew what I was doing and what I wanted.

Ready to call it a day, note my old pin "Potential Collateral Damage."

Ready to call it a day, note my old pin “Potential Collateral Damage.”

I came back to finish it two days before the opening, on June 17.  They were thinking of hanging it, so I rushed to get the top part done first.  I applied more colors and filled in the empty spaces.

In progress, once again...

In progress, once again…

After I had most of the color filled in, I started the outlining.  It was too tall to do this while it was standing up.  To do the top part, I had to lay it flat and working on it upside down.  This is a frequent strategy with me.  I get the colors just how I want them.  Then I draw on top of them, using black (or other dark-colored) paint.

Heading toward the home stretch!

Heading toward the home stretch!

Then it went upright again and I finished the detailing.  I also added little bits of color and some fine glitter.  I noticed another artist used glitter too.  Go glitter!  That’s cool, but I’m usually subtle with it.  On the earth-toned figure, some of the paint had sand mixed with it, for texture.  I wanted to put some candle soot on but the wind kept blowing out the flame.  Yes, Special effects!

The last session took just over 6 hours, non-stop, without a break.

Finished, at the opening.

Finished, at the opening.

I finally finished it.  I think that it took me 15 to 20 hours.I came back for the opening, great.  It’s a lovely and unique space with a lot of possibilities.  The other artists worked hard too.

It’s called Elemental Figures with the obvious connections to sun/light/glow, vegetation/treetops, water/sky and earth/dirt.

I wanted to come Friday but I had other things that I had to do.  Saturday night, I performed with Spaceband as part of the Summer Solstice “Grand Opening Special.”  That was a lot of fun and we had a positive response to the show.

Looking Up.

Looking Up.




Angry Artists!

May 22, 2014
A Ruined Visit

A Ruined Visit

Everyone knows that these aren’t the best of times.   Every time has its share of grief and misery.  Anyone who has a good “radar” can detect some of this.

Yet Artists are often experts at sensing trouble and disaster.  Maybe some of us are more sensitive than “normal people.”   Or maybe we’re just more attuned to things or more in tune with things.

These days, more than ever, I feel like a canary in a coal mine.  There’s plenty of trouble in this world.  There are many battles which need to be fought.  Yet of all of these,  I feel a real urgency on the issue of climate change.

I have vivid pictures in my head of what will be if we don’t change our ways in a serious way.  I’ll probably go into detail in my poetry.  Suffice to say that these consist of unpleasant visions including dead trees, bad weather, melting ice and suffering creatures, both human and otherwise.

This past cold Winter is likely a taste of things to come.  It should be a wake-up call, if people had the sense to see it as it is.

People that say that humans are not responsible for climate change are delusional.  We’re experts at fouling our own nests.  Our destructive and polluting ways may well have a breaking point.  Let’s not ruin our “visit” to Planet Earth!

Why am I so upset?

Maybe it’s because I really care about the future and the deep future.  This is the only world we have.  I mean, we’re not all going to live on the moon.  It’s not happening.

So here and now, in Detroit, Michigan on May 22, 2014:

Angry artists!  Wake up the world!  Live in defense of posterity.  Be madly, irrationally in love with the future generations and with the Earth itself.  Embrace and assist the threatened creatures and plants.  There’s too much extinction and near-extinction going on.

One needs to be aware, deeply aware, and then struggle to wake other people up as well.  I’m so angry that I see stars.  Yet I feel that this is a positive, invigorating anger.  I don’t let it eat away at me.  It’s an anger that has a sense of humor.  It can laugh at itself.  It chooses its targets carefully and then takes careful aim.

Talk to each other.  Write letters and emails.  Network and protest and take to the streets.








Yes We Can, Can (aka “¡Si se puede!”)

March 29, 2014


The History of Yes We Can seems to start with Allen Toussaint and the first artists who recorded it. Lee Dorsey made a record of it in 1970. It was co-produced by the song’s writer Allen Toussaint. The Pointer Sisters version, in 1972, was a big hit.

In 1972, the great César E. Chávez started to use “¡Si se puede!” as his slogan to organize the farm workers. This translates to something that’s very similar to “yes we can!” I’m not sure whether Chavez was inspired by the song or if the idea was just in the air.

In 2008, Barack Obama used “Yes We Can” as his campaign slogan. I think that he was inspired both by the song and by Chávez.

It’s a classic slogan. Yet mindless or misdirected “positivism” can be a dangerous thing. We need to think carefully about which battles we fight. Then we need to devise impeccable and true strategies within each battle. Then, it’s like “All bets are off!”

The underdog can wear down or outsmart the overdog. It happens again and again. Sometimes it takes a long time though. Persevere! Don’t Quit! Never say die! We can do it, yes we can!

The song:





César Chávez:




The slogan has also been used in promoting home canning:


“The fundamental cause of trouble in the world today is that the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.” Bertrand Russell

This post is dedicated to my brother Dennis on his birthday.

Waking Up the Day

February 28, 2014

2000 october 18

In the realm of total silence, a small child yawns and stretches.  Occasionally, he pauses to grasp at straws.  The room fills with a flood of spattered rainbow and warm mist.  An old woman walks in and says “We will wake up the day.  Humanity has been caught up in dark and tangled slumbers for far too long.  We need to see the absolute truth, to taste it and smell it.”

The child laughs and rubs his hands together.  The woman opens the window and the room fills up with the caws, tweets and cackles of hundreds of nearby birds.  Two more people enter the room.  They all start laughing and chanting the words “Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes….”

2013: Trouble at Detroit’s Heidelberg Project

January 1, 2014

Last_part_of_july 024

Eight houses have been destroyed in seven months at Detroit’s Heidelberg Project.  This all took place this year and they’ve all
been classified as arson.

Detroit is plagued by deliberate fires.  Some of these are done for payment or for revenge.  Others are done for no reason at all or for “kicks.”  In any case, such fires often turn deadly.  They can spread to inhabited homes.  Residents or firefighters can be injured,  or worse.  Why the Heidelberg Project is being attacked is anyone’s guess.  Rumors and stories are in the air.  I’m not sure whether it’s one person and his friends or if there are several perpetrators.

In any case, it’s a terrible thing.  Detroit’s had enough trouble this year without this.

I helped them when Coleman Young’s Detroit government tore down four houses in one day in November 1991.  This is the worst attack since then.  This time it’s not “legal.”

In the 1991 assault, Tyree Guyton told me that he was inside of one of the houses trying to retrieve some of his art work.  The bulldozer smashed through the wall with him inside the house!  Luckily, he wasn’t seriously hurt!

We were down there, helping him clean up and trying to save what we could.  I held a long interview with Mr. Guyton around this time.  His work helped inspire me to do my own massive street art project on the late, great J.L. Hudsons Building in downtown Detroit.

They’re doing what they can.  I hope that they rebuild and renew.  I hope there’s no further trouble.  I wish them all the best.  These are my wishes for a great 2014 to Tyree Guyton, Jenenne Whitfield and all the Heidelberg Project crew!

Maurice Greenia, Jr.  December 31, 2013

Last_part_of_july 019




This film gives a good picture of the current “fire situation” in Detroit:


Last_part_of_july 027

John F. Kennedy on Art: October 26, 1963

November 27, 2013

Less than a month before he was killed, President John F. Kennedy gave a speech at Amherst College.  This was part of a ceremony at the groundbreaking of a new library named after the poet Robert Frost.

Frost had died earlier in 1963.  In January 1960, Frost read his poem The Gift Outright at Kennedy’s inauguration.  Prior to giving the speech, Kennedy received an honorary degree from Amherst.

I love these quotes which follow.  Maybe JFK would have done more for the arts, had he lived.

Here are some quotes from that speech:

“There is inherited wealth in this country and also inherited poverty.”

“The artist, however faithful to his personal vision of reality, becomes the last champion of the individual mind and sensibility against an intrusive society and an officious state. The great artist is thus a solitary figure. He has, as Frost said, a lover’s quarrel with the world. In pursuing his perceptions of reality, he must often sail against the currents of his time. This is not a popular role.”

“If sometimes our great artists have been the most critical of our society, it is because their sensitivity and their concern for justice, which must motivate any true artist, makes him aware that our Nation fails short of its highest potential. I see little of more importance to the future of our country and our civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist.”

“I look forward to an America which will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business or statecraft. I look forward to an America which will steadily raise the standards of artistic accomplishment and which will steadily enlarge cultural opportunities for all of our citizens. And I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world not only for its strength but for its civilization as well.”

October 26, 1963








Trouble at the Detroit Institute of Arts

October 9, 2013
September 6, 2013 A protest rally in front of the Detroit Institute of Arts

September 6, 2013 A protest rally in front of the Detroit Institute of Arts

1. The Detroit Institute of Arts is in trouble.  There’s talk of selling off some of its most important works.  This would raise money to pay off creditors and, maybe, to help pay off the pensions of city workers.  Some of those creditors are very wealthy, others less so.

Some would have a bad taste in their mouths from it.  They don’t enjoy getting their money by attacking an art museum.  Others won’t care.  Money is money.

The City of Detroit did not buy this art as treasure.  It did not intend the art to stand as insurance against any future disaster.  I doubt whether it crossed any of their minds at all.  If it did, they probably laughed and shook their heads or muttered “Ah!  No way…”

Yet now it seems as if some of the most loved works in our collection may soon be up for sale.  If so, it may threaten the very existence of the Detroit Institute of Arts.

It’s not just about losing key works of art.  There’s a sense that losing the art would set off a chain reaction of trouble and woe.  If they’re only able to stay open one or two days a week, on weekends say, it’d be bad for the city as a whole.  Why diminish or injure one of our prime attractions?

This would also be bad for other museums around the country.  An attack on one art museum is an attack on all art museums.

I’ve long wondered whether this day would ever come.  In my wildest dreams though, I never thought it could happen in my local art museum, less than a mile from my home.

Also September 6, 2013

Also September 6, 2013

2. Some of us are totally convinced that the current artistic system is flawed.  An artistic system is the entire sphere of art and artists as they relate to the cycles of recognition and payment.  As it is now, a few artists make a lot of money.  Most of those who do, make a lot of money after they are dead.

Others eke out some sort of living through their creativity.  They manage to survive without having to get a “day job.”  Others work full-time at their normal jobs and struggle to work full-time with their art as well.  It all seems to be rigged against the artist.  This can be an annoyance.  There are troubles and hassles yet you become accustomed to them.  Sometimes it can be far worse.  It can be cruel, exploitative and soul-killing.  Sometimes the deck seems to be stacked against you.  Under pressure, only the strongest, toughest and most determined stick to the creative path.

Artists suffer every day from the art-commodity system.  Price tags are on everything, yet some people refuse to let you price their flesh, hearts and minds.  We’ve been suffering from this for years.  Even some of the most successful sense that things are not as they should be.

Now, if the museums and galleries start to suffer from it as well, maybe someday the system will change.  If we all suffer, will we have the stupidity and timidity to grin it and bear it?

The art lovers and fans have their place in this too.  They can act in solidarity with the artists and with the museums both.

Some of the artists have teeth!  Will our anger over these attacks have any juice?

The state, federal and local governments all did serious damage to our city.  Now that there’s trouble, the state and federal governments tend to blame it all on Detroit.  They did their part to make a bad situation worse.  NAFTA is only the most obvious example.  Of course, our local government has often done us wrong too.

They really set us up for the fall and added to a bad situation.  It finally got to the point where the people who were supposed to be helping us were hurting us.  They stepped on us, kicked us and robbed us while we were down.  Some feel sure that many of them got away with it.  Well maybe not entirely so.  As I write this, one of our former mayors is about to receive his prison sentence.  Others have been caught and punished.

If the art work didn’t have this extreme “artificial value” they wouldn’t be trying to sell it to help the city.  For many of us, its Wall Street value or auction value is usually of little concern.  The art meets our gaze and it moves us.  Now we’re forced to pay attention to the monetary value of the art.  It’s come full circle and it’s too bad.  Good luck!  Some of us will stand with the D.I.A. as best we can and hope for the best, work for the best and fight for the best.










I got by this protest rally in front of the DIA last Friday:



The Doppelgänger (Homage to René Magritte)

September 26, 2013
New York City, circa 1996

New York City, circa 1996

This photograph was taken with one of those old “drug store” panoramic cameras. They were on the market from 1996 to 1998 or so. They gave you a whole camera. You’d use it and they’d develop it, giving you back the prints and negatives.

This was one of my favorite photos I’ve taken with that format. It’s a bit grainy but my timing was good.

It looks like a printing error but it’s not. I did this intentionally. The section on the right is a mirror image of the image on the left. Note the reverse writing on the truck.

The man walking (with the white pants) is the same man whose head appears on the shoulder of the figure at left. The woman walking by has her hand and the tip of her shoe appear on the left.

The figure on the far right and the far left are the same man. On one side is the “real” person and on the other is his reflection.

Many of us have doubles or ghost selves. I’ve often had people swear they saw me or tell that they saw someone who looked exactly like me. I’d wonder “Who is this person? What if I was to run into them?

September 26, 2013 for René Magritte



Not to be Reproduced:


You can click onto the photo to enlarge it, or click twice to enlarge it further.


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