DETROIT — Detroit exists these days amidst a flurry of newcomer enthusiasm, rapid development, and media characterization that sometimes leaves longtime residents struggling to identify with the way “new Detroit” is being presented — and more importantly, packaged — for outside consumption. Even the art scene is experiencing a sea change, with new galleries, collectors, and curators coming in to set up camp in a landscape that has functioned as a relatively closed system for some time now. It is never comfortable to put a price on something you love, and this makes it an awkward moment for Detroiters who have always seen the value in this unique city to be told that it finally is regaining value, even as that “value” comes at the cost of some much-loved and longstanding city fixtures falling by the wayside — not to mention thousands of displaced residents struggling to hold their ground against a rising tide of foreclosures and water shutoffs.
All of this was encapsulated beautifully in a spoken word performance entitled “Performance Capitalism and Its Discontents” by Katie Grace McGowan, which acted as the centerpiece of a Detroiters-on-Detroit show currently running at the Detroit Artists Market. The Change We Want To See: Artists Reflect on Detroit, is curated by Jeff Cancelosi, an artist in his own right, but better known as the guy with the camera who obsessively documents the majority of art openings in the city. With a bird’s-eye view rivaled by very few, Cancelosi has done a magnificent job of picking works that not only showcase Detroit’s diversity, but also highlight artists that who are using art to consciously question the identity of the city and the role that artists can play in shaping its future. This amounts to lots of portraiture, including more artists and subjects of color than one is typically apt to see in a Midtown gallery setting, as well as literal cityscapes, and works that speak more abstractly to Detroit’s layered circumstances.