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 . . .