Cranbrook Art Museum Explores Representation

Skilled Labor: Black Realism in Detroit is currently on display at the Cranbrook Art Museum through March 3. Showcasing the work of local Detroit artists, the exhibit explores the representation of the Black body in both personal and cultural contexts. 

Internationally acclaimed Detroit artist Mario Moore co-curated this exhibition with Cranbrook Art Museum Chief Curator Laura Mott. 

“The exhibition came from my observation of noticing the exceptional technical skills of Detroit artists, particularly from the Black art community, and the growing mural movement over the last decade,” Mott said. “I was interested in the interconnection of these artists and then asked painter Mario Moore to co-curate the show with me, since he himself is an exceptionally skilled artist and was generationally positioned to include mentors, peers, and mentees.”

Cranbroook art exhibit

Joy, tension, danger and intimacy are just some of the lived experiences featured in the art of this exhibit. The exhibit is described as rejecting the monolithic nature under which the Black body is frequently conceived and popularly imagined. 

“In curating the exhibition, it was important for us to show a full lived experience, so our selections of work were intentionally made to convey a range of emotions and situations,” Mott said. 

“Skilled labor” refers to highly trained, experienced individuals able to complete complex mental or physical tasks with proficiency. The term also speaks to the featured artists in this exhibit whose work takes on a technically proficient approach. There are 20 artists featured in the exhibit whose work of large paintings and drawings was created within the last decade. Collectively, these artists are using their skills to change the perspective on historical and cultural norms through acts of representation. 

We started with a much longer list of artists reaching back to the early 20th century, but we chose to focus on the last ten years because the amount of artists working with figuration is really at its apex now and most of them work at large scale, so we needed to give the artists the appropriate amount of space,” Mott said. 

Known as the “Michelangelo of Detroit,” the late LeRoy Foster’s work is also on display in the exhibit. Although Foster did not receive proper recognition during his lifetime, he continues to be an inspiration to modern-day artists, including those also featured in “Skilled Labor: Black Realism in Detroit.” Both Moore and featured artist Sydney James attended Cass Technical High School during a time when Foster’s mural (showcased in the exhibition) was on display in its lunchroom. 

“When Mario and I were making our initial long list, LeRoy Foster was the artist that neither one of us wanted to let go of,” Mott said. “He was very important to the artists in the exhibition that knew him personally or had seen his work. He was a discovery for some of the younger artists, and we wanted to push forward his legacy through the exhibition. The museum world was not really interested in a Black queer artist primarily working in figuration in the 20th century, so it’s important to place him within art history now.”

Exhibitions like “Skilled Labor: Black Realism in Detroit” are imperative to the local community because they write what will be future Detroit art history.

The impact of those who see the show and have the publication will influence the next generation of artists,” Mott said. 

Mott hopes attendees of the exhibition leave with a new level of appreciation for Detroit artists and the homegrown excellence of its art scene.

More information on “Skilled Labor: Black Realism in Detroit” can be found here

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