Ann Arbor Art Center At It Again

. September 20, 2016.

It sounds funny, but the Ann Arbor Art Center, now in its 107th year, is getting better with age. Take the Pop-In, Pop-Up, Pop-X and Re:Formation/Gallery Project shows. Two have just ended, one is ongoing and one is upcoming. All are worth mentioning, illustrative of how cool and ever-evolving the AAAC remains.

Pop-Ins and Pop-Ups

Last month saw the third and final of this year’s Pop-Ins, one-night multi-media extravaganzas. In the old days we used to call them “happenings,” advance-guard party/concerts designed to raise consciousness or just get high as hell with or without drugs. I don’t think there are happenings any more; perhaps the closest we’ve come to it was in raves, except that there was so little conversation at raves, while at happenings boys and girls would look at each other and say profound things, like “Far out” and “Groovy, baby.”

At a Pop-In the AAAC turns over all three of its stories to a variety of arts and artists: music, video, dance, and hands-on instruction/creation.  Best of all: free and open to the public. Look for them next year.

Also just ended earlier this month was the “Pop-Up” exhibition, curated by photographer and music impresario, Doug Coombe.  Based in both Ann Arbor and Detroit, Coombe has been a principal photographer for the MetroTimes. He has worked extensively with Rolling Stone and other national publications.


Pop-up is a two-week showcase for local artists and musicians, always fun, and I mention it now so you’ll look for the next Pop-Up show and because it starts with “Pop.”  Now playing and running through October 16 in the Center’s first floor 117 Gallery is an exciting exhibition, Re:Formation/Gallery Project.  Founded in 2005 the Gallery Project bills itself as a gallery of ideas, and indeed it is. It provides a venue for contemporary art that is socially sophisticated, intensely individualistic, bombastically brave and thoroughly thought provoking.

Its latest format presents annual single-themed, dual-site exhibits.  The first was the 2013 show on drones, shown in Detroit and at the Art Center, that you read about in this space. Before coming to the Center this year’s show began in Toledo, where the Gallery Project is now based.  The exhibit is explicitly political, exploring Flint’s water scandal, terrorism, gun violence, race, gender, income, religion – things we don’t usually discuss politely and casually over the dinner table unless everyone dining has a concealed carry permit.  This is not simply a question of social justice warfare or virtue signaling.

In my opinion art is the way to deal with these problems, not rioting and murdering. What we must never accept is the threat of violence, or actual violence, used to close down this or any other political art exhibition. Hats, shoes and clothes off to Rocco DePietro and Gloria Pritschet, intrepid founders and directors of Gallery Project.


Opening on September 22 and running through October 1 is Pop-X, a ten-day outdoor contemporary arts festival taking place in adorable Liberty Plaza.  Within this happy space, ten exhibition pavilions designed by architect, Kreg Norgaard, each 100 square feet, house the work of outstanding local artists and entertainers.

Around the space will be demonstrations, performances, social gatherings and participatory art making.  Exhibits include leading individual artists and collectives, like Ann Arbor Women Artists and FLY Children’s Art Center.  One individual artist whose work I’m looking forward to experiencing is Martin Thoburn, one of Ann Arbor’s most dynamic and innovative young talents. With a background in graphic design, animation and digital media he has produced and directed outstanding short films, animated and live action, including the official trailer for this year’s Ann Arbor Film Festival.

Check him out, and check out the Ann Arbor Art Center whenever you can.


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