Library Street Collective is the driving force behind the redevelopment of The Belt in downtown Detroit. Once a desolate alley, the area has been transformed into a thriving hub for public art over the last six years. Pop-up galleries, murals and installations from local and international artists have regenerated the former garment district location, now a shining light in the Motor City’s artistic renaissance.
This week sees the opening of Library Street Collective’s new permanent gallery space on The Belt. Situated on the ground floor of the former LB King and Company Building, the gallery has been designed by New York-based collaborative design practice Snarkitecture, founded by Daniel Arsham and Alex Mustonen.
A distinctive example of the city’s early 20th-century architecture, the brick façade of the original building has been redesigned around a unique portal feature.
‘We want to invite the public to experience something undiscovered through this strange, anomalous opening,’ says Mustonen, whose studio’s practice often centres on taking everyday materials and transforming them in unexpected ways. ‘Working with the original bricks from the façade, we have reshaped them to create a moment of wonder and surprise for people visiting The Belt and Library Street Collective.’
The portal adds to the existing murals and artistic interventions on The Belt, functioning as a permanent art installation, while also offering a window into the gallery. ‘The portal creates a hint that something might lie beyond the heavy brick, but only by walking by do you discover the bright, open volume of the interior.’
Anchored at the northern end of The Belt, the gallery itself is conceived as a hidden moment within the architecture of the building. Inside, Snarkitecture has created a flexible environment to accommodate Library Street Collective’s varied programming. A display wall at the back of the gallery doubles as a partition, behind which built-in bookshelves, a customised desk, and a sliding ladder allow the space to function as a library and office.
The project marks the second collaboration between Library Street Collective and Snarkitecture, following The Beach Detroit public art installation in 2019.
‘Detroit is a really unique city with a rich history and culture, and as part of our mission to have artists interact with the city, so much of our programming happens within its public areas,’ says Library Street Collective co-founder Anthony Curis. ‘We hope that through breaking down any literal barriers between The Belt and the gallery, our new space will feel accessible and welcoming for pedestrians.’
For the space’s inaugural exhibition, entitled ‘Light’, artist Sam Friedman presents a new series of works, with KAWS serving as curator. Opening on 27 February, the exhibition features paintings that distill natural phenomena such as sunrise and sunset, down to their most essential elements. ‘The works are large in scale with vibrant colours, and they look incredible in the new space with the natural light coming through the portal,’ says Curis.
Building on Library Street Collective’s mission to make art accessible to all, the 2021 schedule for The Belt gallery will include a group show with Paul Pfeiffer, Julia Wachtel and Wendy White; and a solo exhibition from Dallas-based artist Jammie Holmes.
Last summer, the collective worked with MacArthur Fellow Carrie Mae Weems on her public awareness campaign, Resist Covid / Take 6!, and in 2017 it installed Unity on Grand River Avenue, a 118ft by 50ft mural by legendary Detroit artist Charles McGee, who passed away earlier this year. ‘These works are accessible to everyone in the city, and as Detroit begins to build back after the pandemic, we are committed to doing our part to ensure that the arts are helping assist in that recovery,’ says Curis.
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Harriet Lloyd-Smith was the Arts Editor of Wallpaper*, responsible for the art pages across digital and print, including profiles, exhibition reviews, and contemporary art collaborations. She started at Wallpaper* in 2017 and has written for leading contemporary art publications, auction houses and arts charities, and lectured on review writing and art journalism. When she’s not writing about art, she’s making her own.
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