A few museums in Detroit take a stab at exploring cities on the decline:
"It wasn't resonating in Manhattan," says the Cranbrook museum's director, Gregory Wittkopp, of a much smaller version of the show that has been seen in Manhattan. And why would it? "Shrinking Cities" is deeply engaged art, passionate about moral and practical issues that don't always animate the contemporary art scene in New York. It has all the edge, the irony, the gamester play with the conventions and boundaries that one expects of a major exhibition of contemporary art in a thriving metropolitan center. But it also has gravitas.
In a section of the exhibition called "Organizing Retreat," the curators examine ideas that would have caused howls of protest among the prickly boosters of Detroit only five or 10 years ago -- accepting shrinkage and using it to advantage, to new environmental or agricultural ends. They look back a quarter of a century to the radical Italian architectural firm Superstudio with a print called "Continuous Conveyer Belt City." The diagram shows a terrifying apparatus, as wide as a city, that chews up raw land and spits out new buildings, which slowly decay, fading back into the landscape like water behind a boat.
That all sounds like fancy art talk to me, though. I'm just a hillbilly. But some of this sounds oddly grim and even fascinating:
Another project demonstrates that as people in Detroit purchase the empty lots around their houses to assemble large urban yards -- or "blots" -- they are effectively "surbanizing" the old city.
In another, there's a video about how people in the areas outside Detroit are exhuming their dead relatives from urban cemeteries for reburial, closer to home, in the vastly expanding suburbs.
Check it out.