The Art Scene
Real Best Of Detroit 2010
Best Local Photographer: Joe Gall
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It will undoubtedly “gall” certain people to see our esteemed friend (and occasional RDW contributor) Joe Gall enjoying a belated kudo for his talents with the camera — and the bad pun we just used probably didn’t help either. But we have the online votes to back it and Joe himself can furnish enough from his personal archives to dispel any and all naysayers. We live in a current age where the plethora of digital tools has cast the once demanding art of photography into a questionable light. Joe Gall, we’re happy to say, is not resigned to short-cuts or half-measures when it comes to capturing the right photo. He gets the picture always — and he does so with a strong sense of both style and substance.
Best Film Series: The Burton Theatre
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Burton International is one of the most beautiful public school buildings in Detroit — a modest yet dignified brick edifice on Cass named after one of the town’s most famous citizens. Of late it has also become a joyous cinematheque for those who have no use for octoplex offerings or the overly self-conscious “art” screened at certain art houses. We’ve been following the Burton’s unique approach to dishing out celluloid candy for some time now — everything from Videodrome to Spirit of the Beehive — and we’re delighted to discover that our enthusiasm is shared by you. Special kudos to Nathan Faustyn and David Allen.
Best Street Art: Antonio “Shades” Agee
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The whole damn world is a canvas, people. A few others (human and divine) may have gotten here before you, but there’s still plenty of space to use. Street art is (to our thinking anyway) a rather ambiguous genre to either define or identify, but whatever — if that’s the art Antonio “Shades” Agee is doing, please let him continue for a long, long time. A native Detroiter and a very active member of the Cass Corridor collective, Shades started tagging the walls before graffiti became an academic subject. From there he proceeded to conquer the world with an ever-expanding catalogue of works — canvases, murals, installations and a plethora of commercial items that vindicate the often questionable alliance between the muse and the marketplace. This is bright stuff indeed. No wonder we need Shades.
Best Exhibit: Avedon — DIA
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The recent DIA exhibit devoted to Richard Avedon neatly embraced two subjects. Naturally it was about fashion — about the changes that inevitably arise in an industry devoted to style and shifting mores. But the show was also a surprising (and unintentional?) meditation on the ephemeral quality of human beauty itself. The faces and the forms captured by Avedon’s camera all have a poignant subtext about time’s inevitable toll on our flesh, our hearts and our souls. Vanity of vanities — even on the cover of Vanity Fair.
Best Gallery and Best Store: MOCAD
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MOCAD is focused when it comes to its approach to modern art. Its mission sems to be predicated on the assumption that there are people in Detroit who don’t mind being challenged by visions in a manner out of the ordinary. But most importantly, MOCAD’s commitment to this vision is not sullied by elitist assumptions or an arrogant dismissal of the public. There are no snobs running this place and the principal raison is a spirit of welcome. A spirit of fun too — especially if your perambulations find you strolling through one of the best-stocked stores in town with a veritable wealth of awesome from art and fashion books to fragrances.
Best Novelty Performance Troupe: Detroit Fire Guild
Anyone can play with fire — true artists make fire play for them. Prometheus was not only an archetype, he was a harbinger of showbiz — a guy who knew that giving the public what it wants is the surest way to make the public come back. And the public (you guys) have certainly become enthused over the Detroit Fire Guild, a talented crew of incendiaries that draws its inspiration from the circuses of the past and the sideshows of the present day. These people don't just play with matches. They bring out a whole repertoire of tricks — like unicycles, rope darts, meteor, devil sticks, hoops and ... a bull whip? Well, that’s one approach to crowd control that never fails.
Best Museum: The DIA
Try to imagine what Detroit would be like if we ever lost the DIA. Take a moment to conjure up in your mind the gaping abyss ... the aridity drying up our souls ... the sheer and unmitigated emptiness that would eclipse any and all previous disasters that have bedeviled our town for the past several years. Scary, right? There are jewels everywhere in the Motor City, but this priceless oasis of treasures is the one we simply cannot live without. It sustains us and fills us with pride. It gives us art, music, film and (most importantly of all) a crucial sense of community.
Best Underrated Gallery: The Butcher’s Daughter
There are many variations of “the kamikaze lemming syndrome” (a term coined by our very own Robert del Valle), but the desire, the ambition and the commitment to open up an art gallery during these trying and ominous days is probably the most startling example. However, when we became acquainted with the Butcher’s Daughter in Ferndale (both the showcase and the titular offspring), a number of things were happily reaffirmed: that our town still has a vibrant and creative energy; that we are not entirely moribund when it comes to fashioning works of beauty; and — mirabile dictu! — there are still people like Monica Bowman fighting off the pessimistic malaise of our prevailing zeitgeist. “Instead of seeking options outside myself,” she explains, “I developed a plan to fill a niche in contemporary art in Detroit. There are so many opportunities here but nothing comes easy. Somehow that reassures me.” We feel very assured now. So, reader, set your weary feet in the direction of this new (and criminally overlooked) garden of delights sometime soon, OK?
Best Locally-Produced TV Show: The Ded Dave Show
Colin (“Please don't play with my camera!”) Duerr took what he learned from school and the practical experience of documenting rock bands to the much more demanding task of bringing a zombie saga to life on CW50. The result is the Ded Dave Show, an entertaining exercise in free-style ghoulishness (created by and featuring Dave Taylor of The Amino Acids) that has also become an enthusiastic showcase for local talent. At one point or another, DDS has featured raconteur Jimmy Doom, model Alison Haling, retro-bon vivant John Davies and the musical energy of Downtown Brown, Daniel Gillies and “Creepy Rick” Mills. Throw the occasional art work by Glenn Barr into that mix, and you have the best house party 3 a.m. has to offer.
Best Theatrical Ensemble: Torch With A Twist
At some point in history, between the “goat song” of ancient tragedy and NASCAR bread and circuses, there was a mode of entertainment in this country so utterly perfect that (naturally) it couldn’t last. It went by a number of names — cabaret, vaudeville, burlesque, review — and it gave us names that are found or remembered today only on wikipedia. At least in Detroit we have Torch With a Twist, an ongoing and reverential homage to these shadows of yesterday. Performing chiefly at Cliff Bell’s and other venues, the troupe is a collective time machine without noisy whirring or electrical overloads. Just the grace of romantic melodies, the splendid shimmying of superb bodies and the wry humor of an optimistic spirit.
Best Burlesque: The Dizzy Dames
At some point (hopefully in the near future), burlesque will be accorded the same respect as classical ballet, interpretive dance and (dare we imagine?) salsa. Until then, the brave and hearty ladies who entertain us here under the “nom de g-string” Dizzy Dames will soldier on like sexy Spartans fighting at the Hot Gates. And it does get HOT! You saw them at the Dirty Show and you’ll be seeing more of them in the months ahead. Yes, that was a double entendre ...
Best Local Filmmaker: Robert Joseph Butler
A filmmaker devoted to a very personal vision of how movies should be made, Robert Joseph Butler is also unique in his commitment to other local directors and actors — a commitment that will manifest with the Detroit Independent Film Festival in March. Those who have been following the works shown at the Mitten Movie Project and other venues are well acquainted with Butler’s oeuvre (Solitude and Dark Heart to name only two). Now they will have an opportunity to assess other qualities and also get a close-up look at one of the individuals who is making “Midwest Hollywood” a reality.
Best Comedy Club: Mark Ridley's Comedy Castle
Ridley invented the three-tier comic format that is now standard at comedy houses around the country and he still spends much of his time on the road scouting talent, and that's why Mark Ridley's Comedy Castle is the place to check out a handpicked selection of the nation's best up-and-coming comics. Dave Coulier and Tim Allen famously got their start at this Royal Oak laugh factory — and you can too, at the omnipresent Wednesday open-mic nights.
Best Comedy Company: Go! Comedy
Those characters at GO! Comedy in Ferndale are really good, or maybe some of you just need to get out more. For the second year in a row, the funny fashionistas on 9 Mile have been selected by a discerning readership as the best troupe in town when it comes to Thalia’s temper tantrums. With a resident cast that includes Scott Myers, Lauren Bickers, Pj Jacokes, Tim Krzyczkowski and others ... with such regular features as the Improv Bailout Tournament Spectacular, The Opal Show and Dial R for Radio Drama ... with a permanent abode that is way better heated than the last wigwam they occupied, who are we to argue with vox populi?
Best Movie Theater: Palladium 12
Ticket prices keep rising, but Birmingham's Palladium Theaters ensure that we get the most bang for our buck. Twelve wall-to-wall curved screens, stadium seating and state of the art visuals and sound ... as we ride that escalator to our seats, we feel like we're at a cinema that was imagined in a Jetsons episode. It's like the Palladium scientifically engineered their theater to provide the most comfort possible. The Dinner and a Movie combo, which offers a buffet plus free popcorn, is the most decadent cinematic experience in Detroit. Plus there's valet! For a cheaper experience, you can't beat seeing a movie during Matinee Madness, when just $5 will get you a seat in the big time.
Best Local Artist: Taurus Burns
Quietly and unobtrusively, Taurus Burns has embellished a solid reputation as a painter with an equally impressive one as an effective booster of the local community. A quick glance at his curriculum vitae (countless solo and group shows, the curating of numerous events and respectful tributes from critics and colleagues) strongly confirms that this is a man who takes the importance of art seriously. His canvases are invariably drawn from the landscape around us — urban shadows brought to life by a skillful brush and a discerning eye. More importantly, however, Burns does not imbue his subjects with that superficial optimism so many of his contemporaries prefer; his works would be untruthful if they did not hint at sadness or misery. But there has always been a sovereign cure for melancholy and most (if not all of it) is dispensed by individuals like him.
Best Theatre Company: Breathe Art
The first time we saw the Breathe Art thespians was at 1515 Broadway downtown. The space was limited, the seating so-so and the air conditioning left something to be desired. But minutes after “the curtain” rose, absolutely no one in that audience was heeding a thing except the words and the actions on the stage. Formed in 2004, this respiration repertory is committed to producing challenging and relevant plays.
Best Dance Company: Hardcore Detroit
Any dance company that can lighten the mood during halftime at Ford Field is obviously tapped into some very positive vibes. Hardcore Detroit did that — it also managed to give an Auto Show more RPM and made Campus Martius march to a different beat. Formed in 2001 as the definitive Motor City urban dance ensemble, it’s done it all — from Funk Night at The Majestic to Cardboard Kickout III at Western Michigan University. Here are ambassadors of artistry to make us and the city proud.
Best Community Theatre: Actual Reality
Britain has (or had?) a repertory network to bring theatre to communities well beyond Stratford or the Old Vic. Our own community theatres — so often maligned by critics who never deign to see their productions — provide a similar service in towns and small cities. We got a surprising volume of positive feedback regarding Actual Reality Theatre in Wyandotte — and we think your votes are right on the footlights with this one. Described succinctly as “a company meant for art,” the Actual draws support, spirit and actors from their very own neighborhoods. Judy and Mickey would approve.
Best Place to Buy Art: 323 East Gallery
This budding gallery and boutique has made quite a name for itself despite having been open for just a few years. With its vibrant lime green exterior, 323 East lets visitors know they are definitely here and are not toning it down anytime soon. Inside the small shop with a massive vision, art and culture enthusiasts shop regularly for one-of-kind art, apparel and accessories from a large scope of over 100 artists including the likes of Glenn Barr, Ron Zakrin, David Foox, Cyberoptix, Mark Arminski and Kill Taupe. With a fresh perspective on art, shopping and connecting people, the 323 folks sure do know how to put the “art” in “party.”
Best Local Art Theatre: Detroit Film Theatre
World film. Art-house. Short film. Classic cinema. When the multiplex won’t do, we escape to the DIA’s Detroit Film Theatre. Savvy curating delivers the most provocative and memorable movies ever caught on reel to our city. The gorgeous craftmanship of the 1920s-era Cret designed hall is just as rewarding to the eye as the films we show up to see. Plus the DFT isn’t afraid to push the limit: evidenced by evocative programming like last May’s Live in Time, a visual and sound spectacular featuring composer Virgil Moore, intermedia artists Merge and Detroit’s own nospectacle. Our gateway to a bigger world is only a $7.50 ticket away (and even cheaper if you’re a member!).
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