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Old Posted Apr 21, 2006, 5:03 PM
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Edgy new art museum headed to Detroit

Opening date is set for October at Woodward and Garfield among several art galleries.

Joy Hakanson Colby / The Detroit News

An impressive and ambitious group of Metro Detroit art-world movers plans to open a museum on the edge Detroit's cultural center this fall.

The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit will be located in a 1920s building on the southeast corner of Woodward Avenue at Garfield Street, said Marsha Miro, volunteer acting director of the museum's founding board. The museum will be near a strip of galleries that includes CPop and the Detroit Artists Market.

The influential board includes Townsend Hotel owner Keith Pomeroy, arts advocate Julie Taubman, fashion boutique owner Linda Dresner, and video producer Danialle Karmanos.

The museum will concentrate on the art of today, while the Detroit Institute of Arts maintains an encyclopedic collection that goes back to prehistorical time. Also, the new museum will not build a permanent collection but will stage special exhibitions.

While some insiders are excited about the venture's prospects, others are dubious about its financial feasibility. But, all agree the need is there.

Gilbert Silverman, an internationally respected collector of contemporary art and a Detroit Institute of Arts board member emeritus, believes it will be difficult for a young museum to survive on its own during a soft economy when all arts organizations are competing for shrinking funds.

He said he's heard seasoned museum veterans estimate that such a venture would need a $20 million endowment to yield the $1 million needed for annual operating funds. Instead of being independent, Silverman argues, "it should be part of the DIA."

But Barbara Kratchman, president of ArtServe Michigan, an art advocacy group, is confident of the museum's success.

"If you look at who these people are, they're younger people who can afford to bring substantial resources to the museum, and it will attract other people like them," she said. "There are many young collectors who want to learn more about contemporary art."

George N'Namdi, owner of the G.R. N'Namdi gallery, is thrilled about the museum.

"It's something we've needed in our community for a long time. A lot of other communities have contemporary museums but we don't have one. There will be challenges (in getting MOCAD off the ground), but they're going about it in a very positive way and they have the ability to accomplish what they've set out to do.

"It will broaden the base of patrons for art," N'Namdi said. "The DIA can't get everyone to come out. If anything, this will provide the kind of positive competition that helps everyone grow."

The DIA, which is struggling to complete its $158 million renovation project by fall 2007, is not a likely partner.

Said DIA director Graham W.J. Beal: "I have had conversations with the MOCAD people over the past couple years. But we are not formally involved."

Michelle Perron, director of the nearby Center Galleries on the campus of the College for Creative Studies, welcomes the museum. "The potential this project has for reinvigorating the arts in our community is great. I have high hopes for their success," she said.

"There's been a burning need for a contemporary museum here," said Detroit artist Mitch Cope, who is acting curator for the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. "Other cities like Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami and Cincinnati all have such institutions."

Later this year, he is expected to present a "Shrinking Cities" exhibit at the new museum in collaboration with Cranbrook Art Museum.

This isn't the first contemporary art museum in the area.

The Museum of New Art, which has operated for 10 years in Detroit and Pontiac, is struggling and artist Jef Bourgeau has supported it out of his own pocket for most of that time.

Meanwhile, plans for the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit are being finalized. It will rent space from the Manoogian Foundation, which owns the building. Masco Corp. head Richard Manoogian, one of the main supporters of the Detroit Institute of Arts, is not involved financially with the new museum, according to Lillian Bauder, Masco vice president and DIA board member emeritus.

"The Manoogian Foundation stipulates that the building must play a civic and cultural role in the community," Bauder said. "MOCAD had the right qualifications to rent the space because they will show art of high quality."

Andrew Zago, who has offices in Detroit and New York, signed on as the architect for the new museum. "Initially, the project will be modest," Zago said. "We will do what is necessary to get the 20,000 square feet of space ready for showing art."

Zago described the one-story building as "structurally sound with 18-foot ceilings." He added that it originally served as an automobile showroom.

Miro said New Yorker Klaus Kertess, a well-known dealer, art writer and educator, is working on an inaugural exhibit of installations featuring such nationally known artists as Kara Walker, Barry McGee and Nari Ward.

"We want to bring in people from outside with independent voices," Miro said.
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