At the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, Tal R Paints the Michigan Of His Dreams. Julia Felsenthal
Detroit has always played an outsized role in the American imagination. It was Motown. It was rock n' roll. In its boom days it was Motor City, land of the American dream and the best of American manufacturing, an industry that enabled highways, suburbs, road trips, and our willful sprawl across the continent.
Then Detroit went bankrupt: factories moved; populations withered; city services broke down; short-sighted urban planning proved toxic. The city seemed not just a shadow of its former self, but a missive from some post-apocalyptic future, a cautionary tale for other once-great American metropolises: you're next. "The arc of Detroit," summarized the New Yorker in 2009, "reads like a tragedy in three acts." That was before a redemptive coda: a DIY, bootstraps urban revitalization effort (with major finance investment) that has rendered it a symbol of something else: a phoenix rising from the ashes; in a popular coinage, "the comeback city."
In other words, for non-residents—even those like the Israel-born Danish painter Tal R (nee Tal Rosenzweig), who come from far, far away—it's as much an idea as it is a place. "I know all these things," says the artist, who will unveil a new site-specific exhibition this weekend at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. "I know all these things, but I know them like an outsider, like a ghost."
Image: Tal R, Swedish Softice, 2017
© Tal R, courtesy the artist