Art walk through Detroit’s Riverfront Park

Arts / Article

Despite some rainy moments, Memorial Day Weekend in Detroit afforded numerous opportunities for everyone to rest, relax and enjoy the holiday in the manner of their choosing. For my part, it was inconceivable to spend more time than necessary indoors, so I joined an upbeat cross-section of Detroiters enjoying the riverfront walkway against the audible backdrop of the Detroit Electronic Music Festival. Along the walk, which runs almost continuously from Joe Louis Arena all the way to Mt. Elliot Street, there are a number of works by some of Detroit’s best-loved artists on display for public enjoyment and engagement, many of which are outfitted with supplemental information, including QR codes.

At the stretch connecting the two paths around the native marsh conservancy within William Milliken State Park, I encountered “Seinsfrage,” a work by reknowned sculptor John Sauvé, part of his “Man in the City” series. Rendered in Sauvé’s trademark medium of brushed stainless steel, the man stands easily over 10 feet tall, and makes an imposing figure, sharply defined and standing out starkly against the cityscape. I couldn’t help but wonder about the significance of the three lengths of pipe piercing the statue, and speculate whether they might produce holes in the man-shaped shadow given the right trajectory of setting sun.

Next, along the stretch between the carousel plaza and the staircase into the GM Wintergarden, I encountered “Free Form 5,” a work in black welded steel by Detroit-born artist Robert Sestok, much embraced as an integral contributor to the Cass Corridor art scene. The sculpture appears to be a chaos of shapes and symbols coalescing into a tower of sorts, the concept of which is perhaps reinforced by the towers of the GM building looming in the background. However, Sestok’s piece appears more as a Tower of Babel — a kind of rigid order springing out of the seemingly random intersection of signifying parts.

Continuing towards the GM building, one will next encounter a pair of pieces by Tyree Guyton, best known locally and internationally for the Heidelberg Project, a shining example of Detroit salvage, artistic reclamation and a true passion for forging self-expression with the materials at hand. In true Guyton style, this pair of self-portraits are rendered on discarded automobile hoods and stand back-to-back, with “Boogaloo” facing the river, and “Side Talkin Kay,” facing the street. The imagery, color palette and materials will be instantly recognizable to any fan of Guyton’s work, and serve as an excellent introduction to anyone who has not yet experienced the Heidelberg Project (a constantly-evolving work which this blogger highly recommends you check out, whether you’ve seen it recently or not).

Finally, “Midmiem,” a work in stainless steel by Iraqi-born Rothko protégé Sasson Soffer. The pair of smooth steel tubes, creating two separate and loosely circular infinite loops, were being used as a play structure by two young children when I first approached them. Taken individually, they appear to be fluid and abstract shapes, but taken straight on, they seemed to me to resemble a set of giant eyes, viewing the viewer.

A fun day at the riverfront and an epic art tour, no ceiling required!

All photos by Sarah Sharp.