Ruined recently, Michigan’s first city in the United States is reborn with its artists and attracts worldwide attention with its galleries, trendy hotels and entire streets dedicated to murals.
Street art galore, red brick mansions, Art Deco skyscrapers, cubic factories, ruins galore… This heterogeneous ensemble gives Detroit its uniqueness and charm. After being declared bankrupt in 2013, the old “Motor City” is going back up. “Even if there is still a lot to do, in five years, the changes have been dazzling”, observe the Detroitians (680,000). Just look at the number of pop-up stores, designer-style restaurants, concept galleries and 100% Detroit boutiques that are flourishing in the heart of the city to understand this new craze. Just hipster enough not to fall for the cliché. The inhabitants know how to be, above all, authentic.
When the population deserted what was called the “Paris of the Midwest”, due to the crisis, the artists imagined their El Dorado there. It was in the abandoned factories that they found refuge and redesigned the identity of Detroit. “Here, we’ve always had to survive together, and it’s through art that we do it,” says Robert Davis of Red Bull House of Art, an artistic residency.
Here, we have always had to survive together, and it is through art that we do it
Robert Davis de Red Bull House of Art
This is exactly the message Tyree Guyton wants to convey with The Heidelberg Project: an entire street transformed into a work of art in order to forge new links between the inhabitants of the district. When this citizen returns home in 1986 and sees his street eaten away by drugs and crime, his grandfather encourages him to take up the brush rather than the guns. Since then, the installation has become a must. And when Charles McGee painted a mural in the middle of the city in early June, another big step was taken to associate Detroit with art. With sinuous lines and geometric shapes, in black and white, the work recalls, at first glance, the work of Jean Dubuffet.
In the process of reconstruction, the city consists of small, secure neighborhoods, often around a single street. Never venture haphazardly. From Downtown to Midtown, via Corktown and Eastern Market, guided tour.
First step at the Detroit Institute of Art (DIA)
It all starts on Woodward Avenue, the main street that crosses the entire city. Here, at Midtown, the DIA is enthroned. In front of the building, the Thinkerof Rodin on his rock, quite a symbol. The treasures of the museum almost disappeared. In the midst of the crisis, he was on the verge of bankruptcy. To pay off the debt, the state of Michigan is offering to sell 38 works for $ 2.5 billion. Management fights to keep them and wins. Today, this neoclassical building houses more than 65,000 works, one of the largest collections in the United States. If one finds there Rembrandts, Van Eyck, Picasso, Bruegel, one of the centerpieces remains a mural of Diego Rivera, The Detroit Industry or Man and Machine. Arrived in 1932, during the Great Depression, with Frida Kahlo, the Mexican painter embarked on the creation of 27 panels illustrating the industrial world that fascinated him. It highlights the paradoxes of a booming capitalist industry. The style is still inspired by cubism but also by the curves and colors of pre-Columbian art.
5200 Woodward Ave. Closed Mondays, nocturnal on Fridays. € 14 entry.
The Foundation Hotel, a former barracks
From Midtown, take the brand new streetcar, the Q-Line, towards the river. This is Downtown, where billionaire Dan Gilbert bought a little over 90 abandoned buildings to make it his empire, a second Silicon Valley. In a former fire station, all red brick, the new hotel has just opened 100% (or almost) “made in Detroit”. Arty, trendy and ultra-luxury at the same time. Very proud, the service teams show off their Detroit is The New Black t-shirt and their Detroit Denim Company jeans. Same spirit in the rooms, where the design is local like the peanuts and digestives from the minibar. For Kevin Robinson, the co-founder, the message is clear: “It is our role to promote our art and, in the end, we have succeeded in creating links between the artists.” It was alongside Matt Eaton, the director and curator of Red Bull House of Art, that he worked in tandem to find the best designers in town. Not to mention that the 2 Michelin star chef Thomas Lents left Chicago to participate in this adventure by opening the Apparatus Room restaurant in the hotel lobby. The man’s mission is to work, above all, with the farms of the region and to revisit traditional dishes. He also cooks many river fish such as trout, accompanied by deer broth, or poached halibut.
The aesthetic chaos of Dabl’s African Bead Gallery
At the corner of Grand River Street and West Grand Boulevard stands a building with an amazing facade. A mixture of mirrors surrounded by black and white stripes and graphic shapes in sparkling colors. Here, far from the crazy renaissance of the city center, Olayami Dabls has created his little kingdom. The man of African-American origin has set up a museum of pearls collected since 1970, some of which date from the 16th century. Hundreds of small glass bottles arranged on the shelves give a voodoo atmosphere, suggest an Ali Baba cave, mystical trend. In the backyard, an abandoned house has been turned into a work of art. Still in the raw spirit, with salvaged objects and a few cans of paint, the artist highlighted the materiality of wood, iron, stone and mirrors, four elements that speak, according to him, to all cultures. “I wanted to show the energy between African Americans and Europeans for the past 500 years. The chaos is very present in what I am telling. ”
6559 Grand River Ave., open Monday through Saturday, 12 p.m. to 7 p.m., admission free.
Eastern Market, the trendy market
Head to Detroit’s covered market, one of the oldest in the United States, where locals flock every weekend as early as possible to buy local produce from nearby farms. There are mainly fruits and vegetables, honey, dried meat. Amishs from the surrounding countryside sell homemade pies there. Note that in May, the Sunday following Mother’s Day, the Flower Festival takes place. A long awaited moment. It is time to party, the street musicians are busy, the restaurants are crowded, especially Supino, the most popular pizzeria. But it is the graffiti on the facades that give the district all its character. An art, originally illegal, has become a trademark. Every year, in September, 40 artists come to cover the walls with drawings in ultra-pepy colors. For ten days, make way for the festivities. Launched in 2013, the idea came from the Inner-State gallery, a few streets away, in collaboration with the Eastern Market. Open every weekend, the gallery has since succeeded in making a name for itself by selling, in particular, through their 1X Run boutique, street-art prints. An original souvenir to slip into your suitcase.
2934 Russell Street. Open every Saturday from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The N’Namdi center, in a former district of dealers
In Midtown again, stroll around to discover the multitude of spaces dedicated to art. The perfect opportunity to jump on a Mogo, the brand new urban bikes (€ 8 per day pass). At the time when the district was still called Cass Corridor, known for its crimes between dealers, artistic influence was already showing. Seeing this movement reborn is no accident. One of the most famous galleries is that of George N’Namdi, a pioneer. In 2001, he left the suburbs to settle in the completely neglected city center. “I wanted to relaunch the art scene. Even though the neighborhood was dangerous, I felt good vibes, something strong, unique to Detroit. Shortly after my arrival, the Mocad (the Museum of Contemporary Art) opened its doors. I was right. ” To stand out and not forget the crucial role of communities, the gallery owner decided to focus on African-American art.
52 E Forest Ave. Open Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Sandwiches and cocktails in Corktown
In the evening, on Michigan Avenue, in the Corktown district, the new trendy youth hurries up and hesitates between two restaurants. On the one hand, Slows Bar.BQ offers a typical American menu with grilled meats, ribs and especially sandwiches. The Yardbird, made with chicken, mushrooms, apple smoked bacon and honey mustard, is the most requested. The reason is simple, he won third prize for Best American Sandwich from the Adam Richman TV Show. On the other hand, Gold Cash Gold offers a more modern cuisine, inspired by market products, with often surprising and pronounced flavors, such as asparagus velouté with sorrel with lemon emulsion and fennel. When the choice is made, dinner is over, head to Sugar House for an original cocktail. We fell in love with the Tunnel of Love, a blend of mezcal, tequila, spicy carrot extract, passion fruit and chili.
And aller: From € 900 round trip in economy class and € 1900 in business class with Delta Airlines, arrival at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport. Around 7:50 a.m. flight time. fr.delta.com
The Foundation Hotel has just opened and the All-Detroit is jostling there. Arty, trendy and luxurious at the same time. We sit in the large designer hall of this former fire station to sip a cocktail and dine at the table of chef Thomas Lents. From € 220 per double room. 250 W Larned Street.
Tel .: 001 313 915 44 22 and www.detroitfoundationhotel.com
The David Whitney, very private and quiet. No room service, only a reception and a grocery store. The establishment operates on a very chic residence model. Marble, white bricks and decoration in gold leaf. From 200 €. 1 Park Avenue. Tel .: 001 313 237 17 00 and www.aloftdetroit.com
Selden Standard, a restaurant with a refined style, wooden ceiling, metallic furniture and white tiles on the walls. The cuisine is refined, light and the mixtures surprising. There are no starters but a list of assorted vegetables to combine with the main course. Carrots with honey, cumin, sesame, feta and lemon are as surprising as halibut with green curry. 50 €. 3921 2nd Avenue. Tel .: 001 313 438 50 55 and www.seldenstandard.com
Antietam. No need to look for the name on the facade with Aztec inspirations, it is not there. Curiously all in paneled wood, the first room invites you to have a drink before pushing up large curtains and entering another world for dinner. A blend of Art Deco and ultracontemporary design. An intimate and warm lounge. A bubble cut off from the world. Precise service and a wide choice of vegetarian dishes. Count 40 €. 1428 Gratiot Avenue. Tel .: 001 313 782 43 78 and www.antietamdetroit.com
Ask about: Tourist Office in Detroit. Phone: 001 313 202 1808. visitdetroit.com