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Fleeting time highlighted at Whitdel Arts

JenClare Gawaran tweaks the placement of one of Haylee Ebersole's dehydrated gelatin containers.
JenClare Gawaran tweaks the placement of one of Haylee Ebersole's dehydrated gelatin containers.
Alonso del Arte

It was only a matter of time before a major art gallery in Detroit devoted a show to the vagaries of time: The Temporary Show at Whitdel Arts, the plucky little gallery in Mexicantown, opened last night. Normally, the gallery's top officials roll up their sleeves and work hard at preparing the gallery for each show and installing the artwork in such a way that it will not change during the course of the exhibit. They also worked hard to prepare the current show, but instead of ensuring the artwork remains fixed for the duration of the show, they worked to ensure the pieces in the show will change, some more noticeably than others, over the next few weeks.

At 8:32 p.m., Joe Culver (right) and his friends gather around his piece to take photos of it with their cellphones.
Alonso del Arte

“We wanted pieces that would change without viewer input,” explained JenClare Gawaran, president of the board running the gallery. There was an open call for artwork and Gawaran led the jury committee to select artwork for the show. The Temporary Show is different from the Engage: Detroit Interactive Art Exhibition of 2012, though The Temporary Show does include artwork that involves viewer participation. For example, Haylee Ebersole made dehydrated gelatin containers and instructed that they be placed near each other on the gallery floor in such a way that patrons will inevitably step on them, causing them to change. However, “I want some of them to last to April,” Gawaran said.

But most of the pieces in the show will change even if the gallery's patrons don't come into physical contact with them. Joe Culver made a piece that suspends some bronze with wax over a box of gravel. “I hope the wax will come through the bronze, and that part of it falls through the bronze and into the gravel,” Culver said. At 8:30 p.m. last night, the artist and his friends gathered around the piece to simultaneously take a picture of it with their cellphones from different angles.

One of the pieces in the show which will change slowly is a lumen print by Young Kim. "It's like taking a photo out of the developer but not putting it in fixer," explained Terry Hall, one of the gallery's new top officials. As the print is exposed to more and more light, the image will fade. However, they don't want it to fade too fast, so they cover the print with an opaque material before leaving the gallery for the day.

A piece by Christina deRoos will change more quickly and more obviously because it involves ice and glass. “Since it will melt, parts of this piece may topple over and fall off the pedestal. Watch out for falling glass!” the artist warns in a tag on the pedestal. It would have been more difficult to predict how the piece would change if it was an outdoor installation, and extreme weather was a concern for the opening reception as it was for the homage to Prof. Gilda Snowden that preceded the current show. “I would have come through the window,” Culver joked in response to a hypothetical scenario in which four or five feet of snow filled the bottom of the stairwell in front of the gallery's front door. “I would have started shoveling,” deRoos said.

The wine served seems to have been purchased specifically for the occasion. Leelanau Cellars, based in Omena, Michigan, near the Upper Peninsula, makes four season-themed wines: Winter White, Spring Splendor, Summer Sunset and Autumn Harvest. There were some generic California wines on hand in case they ran out of the season-themed wines. It is too early to tell whether this will be a pattern for Whitdel of buying Michigan wines for their opening receptions (if it is, the pattern started with St. Julian Red Heron and White Heron in January).

In the Emerging Artists space, Alice Gadzinski is showing work that will probably not change over the next few weeks. But she does see a connection to the main show in her own work. Rachel Bourgault, one of the gallery's top officials, “is a friend of mine, she contacted me about [the Emerging Artists space]. … I don't think Rachel saw a connection,” Gadzinski recalled, and Bourgault confirmed.

The show will be up until April 19, according to the gallery's website. Gallery hours are Saturday from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m., and on Third Thursdays at night. “This is the show to come by and see every time we're open,” said Hall, in order to witness how the artwork changes. But there is a shortage of qualified gallery assistants at Whitdel, and the gallery's top officials often take on the important duty of gallery hours.