Red Bull House of Art
Gallery unveils its latest crop of emerging artists.
Published: August 7, 2013
When news broke last year that Red Bull, the Austria-based energy drink giant, was opening an art gallery in Detroit’s Eastern Market, the general reaction seemed to be ... huh?
Here was a brand more often associated with attaching itself to extreme sports like snowboarding, motocross and other stunts. What did any of this have to do with Detroit’s art scene?
Any confusion, though, soon dissipated, since the venue where Red Bull chose to locate is admittedly one of the more hip spaces in town. Located at the E & B Brewery Lofts on 1551 Winder St., Detroit, the House of Art bills itself as an “art incubation project” and has hosted four exhibitions so far — showcasing up-and-coming local talent — with the latest exhibition set to open Friday, Aug. 9. (Full disclosure: Metro Times’ production manager Desiree Kelly is among the latest featured artists).
The House of Art is just one manifestation of Red Bull’s massive marketing strategy, aimed squarely at the 18-35 millennial set, a demographic typically wary of traditional advertising models. The idea is not to create a commercial that interrupts a story, like a banner ad or a TV spot — it aims to be the story itself. (If this reporter fell for it hook, line, and sinker, at least he is aware of it.)
Red Bull’s more conventional approach to marketing and promotion has typically been accomplished through sponsoring extreme sports events or performing stunts other media outlets are happy to cover — like sending a spacesuit-clad skydiver to the stratosphere in a helium balloon to perform a record- and sound barrier-breaking jump. The product itself is hardly mentioned; in this way the Red Bull brand is not attached only to the silver-and-blue cans filled with questionable ingredients, but instead to the idea of a high-octane lifestyle.
The debate about corporate sponsorship in art is beating a dead horse — at least in 2013, anyway. Red Bull House of Art gallery curator Matt Eaton shrugs off any accusations of an “elaborate advertising scheme” at play. A practicing artist and native Detroiter himself, Eaton first worked with Red Bull through previous collaborations over the last decade while living in New York.
“Even if you view it from a corporate advertising perspective, it still does more for local artists than any other corporation here,” he says via email. “The fact that a European company like Red Bull can recognize the importance of being here in Detroit and doing this kind of thing speaks volumes for their business model,” he adds. “Any number of local corporate monsters could have, and should have been doing this kind of thing years ago.”
The House of Art is not the first time Red Bull has attempted to attach itself to the creative instead of the athletic, and also not the first time they have worked specifically in Detroit.
“They have a few initiatives in place globally that are similar but in different creative fields,” Eaton says. “It only makes sense for Red Bull to build a nest here when they are actually involved in many annual events such as Movement and other sports-related programs.”
The Red Bull Music Academy stage has been a mainstay at the Movement electronic music festival for years, and in 2008 they held the Red Bull Air Race over the Detroit River.
“Detroit is just one of those places bristling with energy and filled with creativity with very little support for artists from the people in power,” says Eaton of the choice to build in Detroit. While not the only House of Art — there are others in São Paulo, Brazil, and Lisbon, Portugal — it is so far their first and only foray in North America.
The House of Art was built in Eastern Market’s E & B Brewery Lofts. Formerly the Eckhardt & Becker Brewery, at first glance the space looks more or less of what one would expect from any art gallery: White walls, a bar and large workstations for the resident artists to create art. Yes, there are refrigerators built into the walls stocked with plenty of you-know-what, but the main gallery turns out to have a uniquely Detroit charm about it. Turn the corner, descend the stairs, duck under a dim, brick dungeon-like archway and emerge into a wide-open, underground space that can host hundreds of guests and DJs on an opening night. In addition to art shows, the space also holds workshops and visiting artist lectures.
The artists featured in the latest show vary considerably, from the meticulous, realistic paintings of Camille LaMontagne to the raw metal and neon sculptures of Steven McShane. But the artists are united in other ways: All are young and most are recent art school graduates just starting their careers.
“The selection process for the current crop of artists was just the same as every round,” Eaton explains. “The goal is not to find the hippest, coolest artists (though I think they are all very cool), but to find the people who may not typically have a voice.”
LaMontagne, for one, appreciated the opportunity to take the next step in the evolution from art student to functioning artist. “[Eaton] wanted people to get spotlighted and to encourage people to continue with their artwork,” LaMontagne says. “Because, you know, after art school you’re really hyped up about doing artwork but then you take a couple months’ break and all of a sudden it’s a couple years’ break. He wanted to make sure that people were continuing what they loved and that they were supported and that people saw it.”
A Red Bull residency grants the artists 24-hour access to the space for three months in addition to covering the cost of materials — and providing snacks (and Red Bull). LaMontagne used the opportunity of a communal setting to bounce ideas off her fellow artists. “I’ll ask one of the artists there, ‘Is my painting looking alright? What do you think of this idea?’” she says. “Sometimes when you’re working on something for so long you need kind of a fresh perspective.”
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