Detroit welcomes Berlin artists to the Museum of New Art.
(Back row, from left) Franziska Hufnagel, Berlin; Christoph Dettmeier, Berlin; Olivia Berckemeyer, Berlin; Joe Neave, Berlin; Eva Bracke, Berlin; Max Schulze, Berlin; Cyrus Karimipour, Detroit; Jef Bourgeau, Detroit; and Alexej Koschkarow, Berlin.
Photo: Rio Scafone
More photos (click to enlarge)
Jef Bourgeau of the Museum of New Art in Pontiac started the Changing Cities exhibit exchange to promote local artists and artwork in other markets.
From now until Aug. 9, art from Berlin's Galerie Eva Bracke will be on display at Bourgeau's museum. Detroit art will head to Berlin in November.
Lack of funding isn’t stopping Museum of New Art’s Jef Bourgeau from putting Detroit artists on a national and international stage.
The founder and director of the Pontiac contemporary art museum is arranging exhibit exchanges with art galleries in Berlin; Beijing; Bregenz, Austria; Tokyo; London; Reykjavik, Iceland; and Otegem, Belgium. He already did an exchange with Chicago and plans exchanges in New York and Toronto. For the 12 artists who belong to Changing Cities, including Bourgeau, it is an invaluable opportunity to expand their reach and build their status.
About two years ago, Bourgeau dreamed up the idea of a national and international art exhibit exchange to help promote Detroit artists. He contacted local artists, inviting them to join the project at no cost. The original five are now 12, and Bourgeau wants to keep adding more artists with varying work and experience. Up until now, all the artists have participated in each show, but in the future, selections will be tailored.
“As a museum director, usually your role is passive,” said Bourgeau, 48, of Rochester. “Artists come to you and you find shows that are moving around the country. In Detroit, you can’t be passive. So we decided to promote Detroit artists here and beyond. We contact galleries, nonprofits in other cities and pitch the idea of swapping artists. It’s not a hard sell.”
Detroit is known as a gritty, industrial city with a great reputation for music — outsiders don’t know much about Detroit’s visual arts, Bourgeau said. At home, lack of support forces many emerging artists to move to Chicago, Los Angeles or New York. The problem, Bourgeau said, is that there aren’t enough buyers.
“We have a few well-known art collectors here,” he said. “But people tend to go to New York or Chicago to buy art. It’s more impressive. It has a bigger cachet if you can say, ‘I got it at a New York gallery.’ ”
With “Changing Cities,” Bourgeau wants to “circumvent the system,” help Detroit artists build careers without leaving Detroit. In arranging exchanges, he decided to focus on new nonprofits, thinking they would be more receptive to the concept. When he started contacting gallery directors from a list of 2,000 garnered from 12 years as a museum director, he found a high level of interest. Not only were gallery directors curious about Detroit visual arts, but with the exchange concept, he could offer them a Detroit platform for their artists.
In the first Changing Cities exhibit in April 2007, Chicago art consultant Paul Klein curated a show of Chicago artists at MONA, a nonprofit that does not take a commission on artwork sold. The exhibit was followed by February show of Detroit works at the ThreeWalls gallery in Chicago, another nonprofit that does not take a percentage of sales. The five Detroit artists made many new connections. Birmingham resident Alison Wong, who works in oils, colored pencils and graphite, was featured in “Time Out Chicago” and began discussions on another potential show in Chicago. Mary Fortuna, exhibition director at Paint Creek Center for the Arts in Rochester, saw her fanciful dolls featured in photos on a Chicago artist’s Flickr photo-sharing site and e-mailed to numerous media outlets and galleries. Fortuna also sold a piece, after the exhibit, with the promise to allow her to show it in Berlin.
“It adds to the provenance of the work,” Fortuna said, explaining that the history of the work lends more prestige and value to it.
In the next six months, MONA plans to do artist exchanges with Bregenz, Austria; Reykjavik, Iceland; Antwerp, Ghent and Otegem, Belgium; London; and Beijing. Since MONA has five galleries, more than one Changing Cities show may run concurrently.
Next up is an exchange with Berlin’s Galerie Eva Bracke.
How can Bourgeau afford to do an international show without funding? He gets creative. Instead of shipping heavy, framed paintings and sculptures in crates, he limits shows to works on paper — rolling them in lightweight tubes that can be shipped inexpensively. The artists plan to share the $400 to $500 cost of shipping. In the future, work may be photographed and saved to CDs, or e-mailed as attachments and printed at the destination.
“Every corner we can cut, we plan on doing it,” Bourgeau said.
As buzz grows about Changing Cities, Bourgeau expects to garner private funding. He hopes grants will come in the future.
He is currently seeking a corporate sponsorship to reduce costs of the Berlin show. Eva Bracke, director of the Galerie Eva Bracke in Berlin, is looking for German private funds to help fly the Detroit artists in for the November opening.
“Cooperation between the U.S. and German art scenes has become more and more important within the last years but it was more concentrated on the usual art cities like New York and Los Angeles,” Bracke said. “With this project, we want to build bridges between two cities that have emerging art scenes.”
MONA is hosting “Moving Walls,” a show of nine artists from Galerie Eva Bracke through Aug. 9. The Detroit artists whose work will travel to Galerie Eva Bracke in November, will exhibit in another gallery at the museum, also through August 9.
Participating artists are: Dietmar Krumrey of Mount Pleasant, video; Rachel Hunt of Bloomfield Township, textiles; Cyrus Karimipour of Bloomfield Township, photography; Marla Karimipour of Bloomfield Township, oil painting; Alison Wong of Birmingham, oil painting, colored pencil and graphite; Hartmut Austen of Rochester Hills, painting and drawing; Mary Fortuna of Royal Oak, sculpture; Kelly Frank of Birmingham, photography; Jacque Liu of Pontiac, mixed media; Vagner Whitehead of Ferndale, photographic- and time-based media; and Kyohei Abe of Royal Oak, photography. Also on display will be a photograph, credited to a local art collective called Plan b. Bourgeau, who has a history of making art under pseudonyms, says Plan b is made up of six artists, who prefer to remain anonymous so they can be experimental, not branded. He said the photograph is a joint selection from the group.
For Bloomfield fine art photographer Cyrus Karimipour, 35, like many of the artists, the Berlin exhibit will be the first time he shows his artwork abroad.
“I think it will help,” he said. “It makes the resume more appealing. It’s a big milestone.”
Pontiac mixed-media artist Jacque Liu, 30, added, “The most important thing is there’s a community that’s being built (among participating artists.) And the community is extended when we meet artists in other galleries.”
Bourgeau plans to build a Web page highlighting the Changing Cities artists on www.detroitmona.com.
Cezanne Charles, director of creative industries for ArtServe Michigan in Wixom, sees efforts like Changing Cities as “crucial to the continued success of what’s being done in Michigan, helping to make a sustainable and vibrant arts community.”
As a practicing artist who lived in Manchester, England, and Edinburgh, Scotland, she believes Detroit is beginning to show up on the national and international radar as a viable art community. She sees a pioneer spirit in the Detroit art scene.
“Changing Cities is a perfect example of someone having an idea and making it happen,” Charles said.