The Cass Corridor art movement is Detroit’s aesthetic undead. Like a zombie rising up from the earth, it keeps coming back no matter how many times you try to kill it. And not unlike a George Romero B-grade movie, in some respects it’s understandable why it continues to hold our fascination. It reflects a place and time of creative foment — the slum area just south of the Wayne State University campus in the mid-1960s to late 1970s — when art in Detroit appeared to be serious business indeed.
The Detroit art world was in fact pretty robust then. Artists were in their studios hard at work (and in the off-hours even harder at play), a small but intrepid band of collectors were supporting the artists’ production, and both of the daily newspapers’ full-time art critics (imagine that!) were conceptually connecting the dots and documenting it all. (Side note: My first encounter with the Cass Corridor came as a teenager in the suburbs reading Joy Hakanson Colby’s multipage full-color spread on the scene in the now-defunct Detroit News Sunday Magazine.) The whole thing was capped off with a blockbuster exhibition mounted by the Detroit Institute of Arts in 1980 titled: “Kick Out the Jams: Detroit’s Cass Corridor, 1963-1977.” Legends grew up around the major players that echo to this day.
One of the caretakers of the Cass Corridor legacy is Dennis Alan Nawrocki, an art historian and curator who was there for a good piece of the action and who from time to time has come forward to draw attention to Detroit’s aesthetic heyday. The most recent iteration is currently on view at N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art in the area now known as the Sugar Hill Historic District in Midtown. The show raises some timely and important questions, and Nawrocki and gallery director George N’Namdi deserve credit for mounting it.
The show is titled “Menage a Detroit: Three Generations of Detroit Expressionistic Art, 1970-2012.” As the title . . .
Read more: Specters of the Cass Corridor @ N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art in Detroit
Carducci continues his series of reflections on art in the age of de-industrialization in this post on the work of Scott Hocking. -Jeff
It was recently announced that after more than five decades of abandonment and neglect, the sprawling, decrepit Packard Automotive Plant on the east side of Detroit will be demolished by its ostensible current owner Dominic Cristini. (For news coverage, click here, here, here, and here.) Designed in the early 1900s by industrial architect Albert Kahn, the 40-acre, 3.5 million square foot complex was once the headquarters and main production site for the Packard Motor Car Company, one of the premier American luxury automobile brands of the 20th century. The plant was the first large-scale reinforced concrete industrial construction project in the world and at its opening in 1907 was considered to be the most advanced facility of its kind anywhere. The plant’s opening preceded by three years Henry Ford’s legendary Highland Park Plant (also designed by Kahn and immortalized by Louis-Ferdinand Celine in Journey to the End of the Night — for $5 a Day) and the moving assembly line by six years.
Since its closing in 1958, the complex has progressively fallen into decay with several sections in collapse as a result of exposure to the elements and a succession of fires; although, most of the buildings remain structurally sound due to their reinforced concrete construction. Much of the wiring and other building materials have been stripped by scavengers over the years. In recent times, the plant has also served as an enclave for so-called urban explorers, graffiti artists, and purveyors of the photographic genre known as “ruin porn.” Without question, the most significant work done in this environment is that of Detroit artist Scott Hocking.
Born in Detroit in 1975, Hocking has been surveying the postindustrial landscape of Detroit for more than a decade. His project Relics, begun . . .
Read more: Scott Hocking’s Garden of the Gods