by Laura Bien
The dull gray facade of a big warehouse on Michigan Avenue just east of downtown Ypsilanti hides a thriving, vibrant art colony. Through sheer willpower, the seven members of Gallery 555's managing collective have transformed 13,000 square feet of an abandoned industrial cave into an inviting, spacious gallery and a series of ministudios for local artists.
The studios, built to house the members of the collective and other artists who rent space, are the most interesting part of the building. Squirreled away on either side of the gallery, these cozy warrens brim with half-finished work and found objects, such as an old six-pane window covered with paint. Built from scratch with two-by-fours, plywood, and materials salvaged from the demolished Ann Arbor Technology Center, each cubicle is a quiet nook seemingly ideal for art production.
Steven Samuels, a member of the collective, zips by on a silver scooter. "Fastest way to the fuse box," he explains, soon hitting the lights in the airy gallery.
Eight New York artists with ties to the area have works on display, in an exhibit called Approaches that runs through Friday, March 5. It's good stuff, ranging from Sang-Ah Choi's bubbly and sensual pink anime-inspired confections to Clay Hensley's gritty gray-and-beige manhole cover rubbings and Loretta Staples's abstract inky arcs suggesting unsprung Chinese calligraphy. One of two huge Hensley canvases depicts a vague white figure in a dress surrounded by rusty blotches and rough patches of paint, resembling an antique photo in the last stage of decomposition.
A long, rough road led up to this latest exhibit, as the collective battled with the city of Ypsilanti to extend its lease past May, when the building is slated to be demolished to make room for townhouse construction. In all fairness, notes Samuels, the group knew from the outset that the building was scheduled to be torn down. He sees the temporary nature of the space as emblematic of the lack of area art
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