Virtual SITE exhibition inserts contemporary art into Detroit’s architectural landmarks
The Library Street Collective art gallery in Detroit has launched a new online exhibition that gives virtual visitors access to the city’s most precious – and in some cases forgotten – examples of historic architecture, while showing a range of works by an exciting and diverse group of contemporary artists.
SITE: Art and architecture in digital space, as the Library Street Collective put it, promote “a unique digital connection between visual art and the built environment, incorporating aspects of storytelling, architectural history and the unique perspective of an artist.” Architectural photographer James Haefner , whose striking photographs of Detroit landmarks serve as the backdrop for pasting the artwork above, was key to bringing SITE to life. As the Library Street Collective pointed out in a statement, the exhibition is fully digital, which means that “the art on display is skillfully and seamlessly transferred to its surroundings” without the need for on-site installation work. The gallery also found that this type of virtual exhibition is ultimately more environmentally friendly when compared to traditional, site-specific events because it removes the carbon-intensive “exhibition transit” from the equation.
SITE’s first itinerary began last week within the walls of McKim, the state-owned Mead & White savings bank, a neoclassical downtown gem also known as the Savoyard Center, which was completed in 1900. Much like Detroit’s sizable stall of historic structures, the building fell into disrepair in an advanced state of decay in the second half of the 20th century. The 72,000 square foot structure (a seamless extension by Donaldson and Meier completed in 1915) was acquired by the office supply company Silvers Inc. in 1980 and used as a showroom. Silvers retired from the centuries-old building in 1994, resulting in almost 25 years of abandonment. After a major renovation under the direction of Bedrock Detroit, the state-owned savings bank opened its doors in 2018 to Doug Aitken’s site-specific installation Mirage Detroit, presented by Library Street Collective.
“The state-owned savings bank mirrors a number of historic Detroit structures that were built in the early 20th century at the height of the city’s cultural and industrial height,” said Library Street Collective. “These structures were representative of unprecedented prosperity at the time they were designed, but were no longer used after decades of America’s widespread economic, racial, and social inequality that was particularly exploitative and polarizing in Detroit.”
Kennedy Yanko’s SHELTER. (Image courtesy of the artist and the Library Street Collective; image and rendering by James Haefner)
According to the Library Street Collective, future SITE exhibitions will take place in “buildings designed by renowned architects such as Minoru Yamasaki and Albert Kahn that once housed Detroit’s past automobile manufacturers.” “You will encompass some of the most significant and historically important structures in the Detroit area, each with a unique story to tell.”
Back at the state savings bank, the following artists can be seen as part of the first SITE exhibition: Daniel Arsham, Kadar Brock, Greg Fadell, Simphiwe Ndzube, José Parlá, Rachel Rossin, Phillip K. Smith III and Kennedy Yanko. You can view each of the artists’ contributions to SITE above, while the exhibition website has artist statements and additional works for sale by each individual artist. Ten percent of the revenue from the first iteration of SITE will be donated to the Ruth Ellis Center, a Detroit-based nonprofit that provides vital services and support to homeless and at-risk LGBTQ youth and young adults in southeast Michigan.
“The whole idea of the SITE exhibition is that it is not physical, but still emotional. We still have an answer to that, ”said Phillip K. Smith III of California, whose light-based work portal 8 is now digitally on display at State Savings Bank. “We are curious about it and ask questions about what we see – typical questions we would have while looking at an exhibition – but it is starting to propel the idea of how work in digital space can be put together while dealing with a lot much concerns true physical objects. “
Despite the fact that its physical space in downtown Detroit was temporarily closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, Library Street Collective has been busy for the past few weeks. In addition to launching SITE, the gallery hit the headlines in March for a two-week initiative to provide nutritious dinners to local schoolchildren. A coloring book – colored pencils and a sharpener – was included with every meal, with line drawings by KAWS, Nick Cave, Shepard Fairey, Virgil Abloh, Doug Aitken, and others, including several Detroit-based artists. Library Street Collective’s WE ALL RISE coloring books can now also be downloaded as e-books or purchased in print, with all proceeds going towards the forgotten harvest.