DETROIT — On the heels of their exodus from MOCAD, amid a collective calling to account of the hostile work environment fostered there under recently terminated Executive Director Elysia Borowy-Reeder, curators Tizziana Baldenebro and Jova Lynne have co-curated a new exhibition around a subject close to their hearts: the art of art workers.
The show, ARTWORK, is part of the broader Art Mile virtual festival, which runs from July 29 through August 5 and features programming, installations, online art sales, and participation from dozens of Detroit galleries, institutions, and individuals. Baldenbro and Lynne have chosen to highlight a cohort of works across multiple media by 17 artists, all of whom perform labor in the art world outside of their own personal practices.
“Art workers are at the heart of the creative world,” reads the curatorial statement accompanying the virtual exhibition. This is of course true everywhere, but in Detroit — where uneven economic opportunities meet the “hustle hard” mentality that is both a matter of survival and identity — there are an abundance of artists who support their personal artwork with institutional art work.
“It’s impossible to visit Detroit without understanding the labor history that exists there, the worker’s history that exists there,” Baldenebro explained, during the keynote opening on Zoom for the show, which included a Q&A discussion with two of the featured artists, Sabrina Nelson and Graem Whyte. “So really, when we were thinking about what it meant to do work and what it meant to do art, and how these things often become binary as opposed to sort of merged together — it really became this fruitful conversation between us and the artists in this exhibition,” Baldenebro continued.
Though there are some thematic links,
the exhibition’s organizing principle leaves room for a diversity of interests, media, and expression. The more interesting takeaway is the framework itself, which seeks to center the artists who have, historically, played an invisible role in making the art world turn. As Baldenebro acknowledged during the keynote, this is a particularly rich vein for Detroit — as it has surely been in other places — and one that may see future iterations around the city, as creative institutions seek to reformat and rebuild following this break with business-as-usual.
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