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Art or Exploitation?

Well-done report from Detroit News Arts Writer Michael H. Hodges in the paper this week. It is a look at one art museum's decision to run a series of "ruin porn" photographs about Detroit and people's reaction to both the display, the photos themselves and the city as a whole.

The show is called "Detroit Disassembled." It will run through Oct. 10 at the Akron Art Museum. It features photographs from New Yorker Andrew Moore, who spent about three months in Detroit taking pictures between 2008 and 2009. This is the collection's debut, and it will soon go national.

Since when does a city's collapse -- or attempts at reorganizing -- suddenly become art? Or is this art at all?

Lots of people in Hodge's article feel it is art:

"It gets to that sense that things are bigger than you are," said Nancy Barr, Detroit Institute of Arts associate curator for photography, "and how everything falls back to the earth."

But others feel it is yet another cheap shot:
"People here are very sensitive to treating Detroit like it's a big cemetery and our ruins are beautiful headstones," said Maud Lyon, executive director of the Cultural Alliance of Southeastern Michigan. "Those of us who live here don't like to be seen that way."
In an interview on the museum's blog, the photographer notes that he was surprised to see so much "artwork" in Detroit:
The most surprising aspect of Detroit is the amount and variety of abandoned buildings. The most important quality of Detroit is the richness of personal and cultural history that these sites contain.
From the museum's description of the exhibit:
Detroit, once the epitome of our nation's industrial wealth and might, has been in decline for almost a half-century. The city is now one-third empty land—more abandoned property than any American city except post-Katrina New Orleans.

The paper's Cyber Survey showed (unscientifically) that most people find these displays embarrassing, interesting and a hoot in equal parts.

If you've read this blog long enough, you know I don't think of these projects (including freezing an empty, abandoned house in ice) as art. But I'm no critic, and I don't have a vast art background other than one appreciation-style class in college (which I aced, by the way -- ha!)

I don't think Detroit's broken-down buildings are artful. They are sad in parts, humble in others. But it is a living, breathing city. I'm tired of these pictures with their so-called images that offer "a glimmer of hope" for the city and "provide a warning to others who should avoid its fate." I hate to see ugly images of what used to be; I'd rather see people use that energy to create new buildings, businesses, homes and venues.

But that's just me.

What about you?

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