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It's happening

By Daniel Carlin, Daily Arts Writer
Published October 25, 2012

In the words of Jay-Z, “Welcome to the party life.” In Ann Arbor, the art scene is putting the “art” back into the “party.”

In an effort to showcase avant-garde works, Ann Arbor artists recently began curating experiences in unexpected sites, harkening back to the 1960s Happening movement.

“There was a certain dissatisfaction among some artists who felt certain established venues might not be appropriate for them,” said Associate History of Art Prof. David Doris. As a result events, or Happenings, that merge various art forms began to occur, including painting, sculptures, film, light, music, dance, theater and poetry.

“They were trying to really question the boundaries of art, music and theater,” Doris added.

While there is a level of spontaneity and improvisation, the main aspects are devised in advance. The multidisciplinary elements attempt to blur the line between the artwork and audience — eventually allowing the audience to become a part of the art.

American artist Allan Kaprow coined the term in the 1950s, but the events became more popular in the following decade. In fact, one of the strongest and most developed Happenings was once hosted in Ann Arbor.

Between 1966 and 1967, pop-art pioneer Andy Warhol organized a series of multimedia events called the “Exploding Plastic Inevitable.” While each Happening was not exactly the same, he worked with a consistent group of artists: the band The Velvet Underground, actress and musician Nico and members of his own studio, the “Factory,” which included artists Gerard Malanga and Mary Woronov as well as actress Edie Sedgwick.

“Exploding Plastic Inevitable” went on a short tour in 1966, which included Ann Arbor. Warhol also brought “Up-Tight,” an iteration of “Exploding Plastic Inevitable,” to the Ann Arbor Film Festival.

Almost a half century later, Ann Arbor is redefining the Happening movement through pop-up galleries, local businesses, warehouses and house parties. Though technological advances since the 1960s have assisted contemporary Happenings, they have continued to foster live, social interactions, creative play and community.

Finding art in a hopeless place

Due to Ann Arbor’s increasing retail rent, it’s difficult for small businesses — let alone experimental art facilities — to survive. The empty storefronts across Ann Arbor’s downtown streets testify to the fact that space is not the issue. According to LoopNet, a commercial real estate listing service, local retail prices have been increasing by 1.4 percent per year.

“Downtown Ann Arbor is just difficult to get that good balance between a really nice gallery space and, actually, some gallery that can stay in it,” said Chaely Chartier, co-founder of Charlie LaCroix Art Brokerage.

A little more than a year-and-a-half old, the brokerage represents local contemporary artists. While they have no fixed gallery site, the company maintains a consistent pop-up space on Main Street called LePop Gallery, where their fifth show opened last week.

Charlie LaCroix Art Brokerage does not pay rent for the space. Instead, the brokerage convinced a real estate agent that it was better to have them than an empty space on the ground level. While the property is still on the market, the pop-up acts as “commercial staging” and theoretically will raise the value of the space for prospective leasers.

Pop-up shops have grown internationally popular and no longer hold a seasonal stigma. LePop acts as a social forum while connecting artists to potential buyers.

Last week at LePop, Detroit artist Michelle Tanguay opened her first solo show, “Sweet Tooth.” Her inspiration came directly from candy, she said.