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DETROIT — As the saying goes: be careful what you wish for, you just might get it. For years, participants in Detroit’s close-knit art scene have pointed to the underlying struggle: there is space, there are makers, and there are scenesters, but buyers are few to be found. The dearth of art-buying capital within city limits seems all the more unjust in light of the ostentatious wealth concentrated in pockets of the Metro Detroit suburbs, like the cities of Rochester Hills, Birmingham, and Grosse Pointe. But this fall, the blue bloods have at last come to town, celebrating the respective openings of two very different gallery spaces, both with roots in the downtown arts district in Birmingham.
David Klein Gallery has been a Birmingham mainstay for more than two decades, with a stable of proven mid-career artists and a strong following of devoted buyers — assets that have prompted gallerist David Klein to finally pull the trigger on a long-speculated auxiliary space, in the prime real estate territory between the rapidly developing Midtown and Downtown districts. Wasserman Projects is newer to the game, and metals magnate–cum–gallerist Gary Wasserman has assumed greater risk in this project, entirely pulling up stakes in Birmingham and investing in a floor-to-ceiling gut renovation of a massive space in the Eastern Market district — hoping to capitalize, perhaps, on the destination equity of the Saturday farmer’s market, already a common draw for visitors to the city.
Conceptually, the two galleries diverge sharply. Klein is a commercial venture first and foremost, and the inaugural show is basically a showcase of the 30-plus artists the gallery already represents, including some of Detroit’s best-known names, like Mitch Cope and Susan Goethel Campbell. When I visited, the entire back wall was devoted to a section of Relics, the collaborative piece by Scott Hocking and Clinton Snider that debuted at the Detroit Institute of Arts in 2001. While the plan is to shuffle content, giving each of the artists in the stable some time on display, the overall feel of the show is more survey than anything particularly cohesive.
Despite having 20-plus artists in its arsenal, Wasserman Projects, by contrast, has put all its eggs into two high-production-value baskets for its opening salvo, juxtaposing the work of local sound sculptor Jon Brumit with an ambitious architectural piece by German-born, Brooklyn-based artist Markus Linnenbrink in collaboration with Miami Beach architect Nick Gelpi. The latter work, titled “THEFIRSTONEISCRAZYTHESECONDONEISNUTS,” is part modular housing, part bandstand, part experimental performance space — a house literally divided, and on wheels, with segments that can do-si-do into different formations depending on the occasion. Arrayed in drippy, candy-colored, funhouse stripes at perspective-bending angles and viewable through little windows at odd heights, even when closed flush, the space brims with potential and invites engagement. For the two-day run of opening events, a cadre of musical acts performed inside, including Detroit DJ, Jeedo X, and guest saxophonist Saxappeal, and experimental classical collective New Music Detroit. Brumit’s works, “Elf Waves, Earth Loops” and “*Spatial Forces” mash up some of his recent themes by transforming a corrugated metal silo into what’s essentially a giant speaker. It will eventually transmit abstract compositions, haunting and sonorous as whale song, down a chain of broadcast towers along the Eastern Market.
Operationally, there are also major differences here: David Klein Gallery is relying on the continuing leadership of longstanding contemporary art director Christine Schefman, while Wasserman Projects has brought on Alison Wong to pilot the foray into new waters. This is a canny move on Wasserman’s part, picking a curator with a strong vision and formidable connections to the city’s existing art ecosystem, honed by years of working on Butter Projects with partner John Charnota (their gallery will continue in some capacity, alongside Wong’s involvement with Wasserman).
Even so, it will not be a seamless transition. Both openings saw Detroiters signifying their lo-fi aesthetics with T-shirts and work clothes, getting side-eye from elaborately appointed suburban glitterati who rocked stilettos and valet-parked their BMWs. After years of wishful thinking about potential buyers from the surrounding area, there is still some oil-and-water class conflict to be reckoned with in these new spaces.
David Klein Gallery Detroit is located at 1520 Washington Boulevard; the inaugural exhibition continues through October 31. Wasserman Projects is located at 3434 Russell Street, #502; the inaugural installations are on view through December 12.