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The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit

The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD) defines itself as the place “where adventurous minds encounter the best in contemporary visual, literary, music, and performing arts.”

The museum is housed in a 22,000 square-foot building located between Garfield Street and Woodward Avenue in Detroit, Michigan.  Its mission is to be responsive to a diverse audience through art that “contextualizes, interprets, educates, and expands culture.”

Background of the Museum of Contemporary Art 

Founded in 1995, the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit aims to expand the contemporary art community in Detroit. Its founders hoped that the MOCAD would serve as an organization where anyone could visit and learn about contemporary arts and music.  Through such learning, the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit would help uplift Detroit through the arts.

Museum of Contemporary Art

Major players behind the creation of the museum include Marsha Miro, then an art critic for the Detroit Free Press, and the late Susanne Hilberry, the owner of the Susanne Hilberry Gallery.  The also Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit came to fruition and acceptance through the efforts of other people, including Julie Taubman, who directed the first major fundraiser for the museum and convened its first board of members.

Mobile Homestead 

Galleries and sites around the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit include a host of interesting contemporary art pieces. One work is Mobile Homestead by the late Mike Kelley. The work is a full-scale replica of Kelley’s childhood home with a removable facade installed on a chassis.  It was christened and launched in 2010, two years before Kelley’s demise.

By creating a homestead, Kelley envisioned a place where local communities in Detroit could carry out a variety of activities relevant to their cultural interests.  It was this vision that inspired the mobility of the art piece, enabling the gallery to drive it around Detroit and surrounding areas to make its public services accessible to more people.

Sonic Rebellion: Music as Resistance 

Another integral element of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit is its focus on music as a form of art. The museum offers attractions in musical form. One of the most prominent is Sonic Rebellion: Music as Resistance. This exhibition is inspired by the history of music in the city and is particularly influenced by the legacy of conflicts that occurred in the city in 1967. The exhibit examines the nexus of music, art, and politics.

Sonic Rebellion: Music as Resistance consists of artworks by forty participants and artists. Their pieces illustrate how music may be an instrument (no pun intended) for social change and empowerment. They demonstrate how race, the politics of identity, and dissent against oppressive ideals contribute to resistance movements.

Artists and Exhibitions

Mobile Homestead and Sonic Rebellion: Music as Resistance represent only a tiny fraction of the Museum of Contemporary Art. The museum’s first-ever exhibition opened in 2006. Called Meditations on an Emergency and curated by Klaus Kertess, the exhibition included a wealth of works by notable artists such as Mark Bradford, Kara Walker, Nari Ward, Tabaimo, and many others.  During that opening, the museum hosted 2,500 people, a gathering that represented a thorough mix of the city’s communities.

Since its first exhibition, the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit has had more than a dozen subsequent exhibitions, each with different themes and renowned curators.  For instance, the second exhibition, Shrinking Cities, was inspired largely by the theme of urban population decline.  The exhibition was organized by the German Cultural Foundation, reflecting the institution’s interest in international affairs as well as local ones.

This inaugural exhibition was a huge success, establishing the Museum of Contemporary Art as an important installation for contemporary arts in Detroit and beyond.  More than a dozen exhibitions later, the museum has established a rich performance history. It has hosted internationally renowned artists such as Julianna Barwick, RoseLee Goldberg, Juan Atkins, Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson, Paul McCarthy, Phil Niblock, and Kraftwerk.  It has also hosted highly acclaimed writers such as Bill Berkson and John Giorno.

The Musem of Contemporary Art is open on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and on Thursdays and Fridays from 11:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. The museum is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

As a non-collecting museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art does not offer nor collect publishing royalties on behalf of its artists. This decision influences the museum’s suggestion for a $5 donation to enter exhibitions. The suggested donations support the museum’s operations.  Nonetheless, students, members, and children under the age of twelve may enjoy the museum’s offerings free of charge. And there is a good chance that they will enjoy them.

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May 8, 2019 Guest Posts

Written by

Lifetime Michigander born and raised. Currently full time content writer for Sunshine Behavioral Health.


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