Celebrating the legacy of sonic resistance in Detroit and beyond, Call & Response features the work of Romare Bearden, Chakaia Booker, Tony Cokes, Saffell Gardner, Allie McGhee, and Tylonn Sawyer. The refurbished Blue Bird Inn Stage is at the heart of the exhibition and is an iconic example of African American mid-century vernacular art and design. The stage was located in the Blue Bird Inn, a legendary bar established in the late 1930s. In the 1940s, at a time when Tireman, the venue’s street, marked the “Jim Crow” line for the city of Detroit, the bar’s owner Clarence Eddins decided to specialize in the presentation of bebop jazz. The venue continued to run as a jazz club until the early 2000s, playing a vital role in the history of the city and of American music. The stage, on which hundreds of musicians performed, was a premier stop for renowned African-American musicians such as Miles Davis and John Coltrane. It was a catalyst that nurtured a vibrant intellectual community that inspired generations of artists’ decades after the civil rights movement gained momentum. Until recently, the history and narrative of the Blue Bird Inn Stage was almost forgotten within the mainstream popular culture. Acting as archeologists, Detroit Sound Conservancy (DSC) revived the stage,preserving and rebuilding it in its current modular form. Today, the stage is exhibited across the globe to amplify and feature known and unknown voices across southeastern Michigan and beyond.
At Stamps Gallery, the Blue Bird Inn Stage will continue to catalyze and connect as it becomes the touchstone for a larger group exhibition that echoes the pulse and energy of live jam sessions. From the vibrant hues and textures of Bearden’s iconic collage featuring four musicians to Sawyer’s arresting portraits of Martin Luther King and Nina Simone looking back at the viewer, the artists in the exhibition call upon the audience members to imagine new heroes and legends for the present time. Booker envisions new lives for mundane urban detritus such as tires, metal and wooden scraps. She transforms them into vibrant and powerful works that blur the boundaries between 2‑and-3-dimensional forms to convey the rigor and toil of factory work that built American cities. Meanwhile, Detroit artists Gardner and McGhee pay homage to the labor of jazz musicians in their paintings, respectively. Gardner imagines spectacular headdresses for groundbreaking musicians such as John Coltrane and Miles Davis, while McGhee’s playful strokes of color evokes a desire for freedom and remembrance. Cokes’ incisive video, Evil. 27. Selma, 2011, borrows text from the Selma, Alabama collective, “Our Literal Speed” to remind viewers that “the American Civil Rights Movement took hold in a society moving from radio to television,” where everything wasn’t instantly visible as it is in the extreme ocular-centric digital society of today. Rather, the video surmises that perhaps it was the conditions of non-visibility that empowered everyday people to courageously visualize an alternate society, based on the principles of equality and justice.
Drawing inspiration from the Blue Bird Stage and the artists featured in Call & Response, the Stamps Gallery transforms from an exhibition to a performance space, a listening room and an open platform that pays homage to the legends of the past, inviting audiences to envision what an equitable and thriving society of the future could look like.
This exhibition takes place in partnership with Detroit Sound Conservancy.