Inside a Game-Changing Detroit Art Space

Moran Bondaroff gallery has made a name for itself as one of the leaders in downtown art scenes in New York, Los Angeles, and Miami. Now they're setting their sights on Detroit. Come along as we take a closer look!

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When you think "gallery show" the first thing that comes to mind is probably the white cube space which so often have the same, familiar layout—but Moran Bondaroff gallery founders Al Moran and Aaron Bondaroff are trying to overturn these kind of preconceptions. They're taking their Los Angeles gallery to downtown Detroit for a year-long residency that begins today. Making the gallery's home in a 50,000-square-foot cathedral dating back to 1925, the founders aim to harness the vast space for grander versions of the cutting-edge exhibitions they're already known for.

Founder Al Moran in the expansive cathedral-turned-exhibition space.
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The Opening Show

Taking its name from the 1983 film War Games, which starred a young Matthew Broderick as a high school hacker, the opening exhibition uses the ideas behind the film character's cyberpunk sensibility and applies it to today's young artists. "All artists could be hackers," curator Benjamin Godsill says. "But these artists in particular, who grew up with computers in the home, are taking technology and misusing it."

By "misusing," Godsill means the artists are distorting the normal uses of commonplace digital technology and imagery. For example, artist Yngve Holen's works that use parts of CT scanners as appropriated sculptures will be on view alongside Haley Mellin's handmade paintings created in a style that looks digitally produced. "These artists are finding an alternative way of living with technology," Godsill says. "They're finding new ways to determine what technology means for them."

The raw cathedral space is the perfect contrasting backdrop for some of today's most invigorating contemporary art.
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Grand Plans

The skeletal Gothic cathedral, which New York gallerist Paul Johnson bought in 2014 for $6,700, was what initially attracted Moran Bondaroff to Detroit. "We were drawn to the possibilities of what could be accomplished in a grand space like this," Moran explains. "The residency is an extension of our aspirations for the gallery as a whole—to stimulate thoughtful discourse, engage with a wide audience, and inspire artists." 

Visitors can explore the exhibition from many vantage points.

Local Culture

The vibrant arts culture of Detroit was an added bonus for the founders. "The residency could have been located anywhere, really," Moran says. "After spending some time here, though, it became apparent that the city would weave itself into this project in wonderfully unexpected ways." For War Games that means a special project by Anders Ruhwald, the head of the ceramics department at the nearby Cranbrook Academy of Art ("Anders created an impactful installation that's one of the highlights of the exhibition," Moran says). Otherwise, the Moran-Bondaroff team hopes to engage locals through screenings and talks held at the space throughout the residency.

Up Next

Emerging on the art world stage in 2008, when their gallery began in Miami under the name Ohwow, founders Moran and Bondaroff have become known for tapping into what's new in youth culture. "They're always there first," Godsill says of the two, who now also run Know Wave radio out of New York. "They're not afraid to mix up the tried-and-true standards with what's happening with the kids on the street." That means you can expect more exciting residencies like this one: "We're focused on Detroit, but we've thrown around ideas for subsequent cities such as New Orleans, Mexico City, and Havana," Moran says. Be sure to keep an eye out!

War Games will be on view through August 6 at Woods Cathedral, 1945 Webb Avenue, Detroit, Michigan. For more information, see moranbondaroff.com.

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