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    It’s a Barn, Not a Museum … (For now.)


    Museum of New Art - Armada, Michigan

    Museum of New Art. Armada Site. Interior

    Although the auction was a success the new museum project of the Museum of New Art’s Jeff Bourgeau and collaborator Paul Smith in Armada, Michigan developed a wrinkle. The project needed to have the right zoning and building permits. According to Christine White, secretary for the Armada building department, “Seeing in on the front page of the Romeo Observer, was the first time we heard about it.” The local paper, The Voice, reports “Smith said he may have received the stop work order after the event, but assured the board he has stopped operating the museum.” In the same article Smith goes on to say that he applied for permits and will follow codes.

    Jeff Bourgeau told Arthopper.org, “As for the zoning, at the moment we are still a barn. An art barn, albeit. He seems confident that the zoning for a ”cultural center / museum” will not be a problem after the permit issues are fixed. He said, “The process has begun.“

    This Saturday art patrons have a rare opportunity to attend the Armada site while it exists as a “non-museum”. Perhaps there should be a collector’s pin for those who do.

    Below is the original text and exchange between Ron Scott and Jeff Bourgeu shortly after the auction.

    The Museum of New Art has been around since 1996, tucked away in downtown Pontiac, Michigan in a building divided into several exhibition spaces, just twenty-Five miles north of Detroit. Under the tutelage of the artist, museum director and entrepreneur, Jef Bourgeau, the museum has hosted over thirty exhibitions showing works from artists as far away as China. Bourgeau has been an integral part of the Detroit art landscape as a painter and conceptual artist whose personal work plays on iconic imagery and irreverent materials, often creating provocative controversy. In 1990, the then director of Oakland University Gallery, Kiichi Usui, curated pieces of Bourgeau’s that used new work generated from computers and video. The struggles of operating a new museum aside, Bourgeau has now teamed up with a devoted supporter and generous donor, Paul Smith and launched a new home base, the MONA gallery, in the rural cornfields of Armada, Michigan.

    To launch the Armada site, they used some of Paul Smith’s property to build a large two story brick building that serves as the gallery. They hosted a silent auction featuring donations from seventy artists, including well know Detroit artists; Gilda Snowden, Robert Schefman, Stephen Magsig, Rick Vian, Peter Williams, Harmut Austen, and Erin Parish. On August 24, 2013, art collectors bid while drinking wine and nibbling on hors d’oeuvres. By the end of the evening, more than two-thirds of the work was sold.

    I sat down briefly and ask Mr. Bourgeau a few questions about the Armada project.

    Ron Scott: Can you give me some background on how the MONA / Armada idea got off the ground?

    Jef Bourgeau: The idea of building, a museum in the middle of a cornfield thirty miles North of Detroit was Paul Smith’s. He bought the 60 acres in Armada, then came to me with the idea of doing the unthinkable: to build a state-of-the-art museum there. Of course, I agreed to join him in the effort. I would be crazy not to and, at the same time, be called crazy for doing so. It was a win-win for me. Paul spared nothing on its construction. In the end, the space is as much an event as the work it will exhibit.

    RS: Could you give me some background on Paul Smith and his interests in MONA?

    JB: Paul is a doctor of clinical psychology. He owns and runs Abaris and Pioneer counseling groups operating throughout the Detroit Metro region. He became interested in art by collecting it first, and then wanting to create spaces for it to be seen and shared more broadly, such as establishing the contemporary museum in Macomb County. The Museum of New Art (MONA) and Paul was a match made in art heaven. Both are risk-takers.

    Museum of New Art. Armada, Michigan silent auction

    Museum of New Art. Armada, Michigan.

    You mentioned four events would be scheduled there over the upcoming year?

    On September 28th, Saturday from 6 to 10pm we’ll be launching our first show at the new museum in Armada. DOCUMENTA USA will be the largest art exhibition in America’s newest museum. Over one thousand artists from thirty-five different countries will be coming together here.

    DOCUMENTA USA creates an archive of all the materials used to decide an exhibition – slides, images, postcards, reviews, catalogs, art boxes – all in the attempt to eliminate the curator as the middle-man and deliver art to the public straight-with-no-chaser.

    The event will be presided over by renowned NYC art critic Jerry Saltz. This also a call for artists to come out and not only meet and talk with Jerry, but to share your art with him and all the other museum-goers that night.

    During the Documenta, the Museum of New Art will also be opening its doors to any artist! An open call to all artists to exhibit a single work in any medium on a walk-in basis. Show one work in the museum and add it to your resume. As long as it fits through the door, no artwork will be turned away. And each artwork will remain on the museum wall until the next artist arrives to replace it with their own work. One by one. And so on …

    We also plan on a long-overdue update titled KICK OUT THE JAMS 2. The original show opened at the Detroit Institute of Arts in 1980, with its focus on a small group of artists working in Detroit’s Cass Corridor. We’d like to broaden the scope of such a survey to include the best artists throughout the region, whether painters, filmmakers, musicians, sculptors, fashion designers, architects.

    The museum wants to reinstate one of its most successful programs and exhibitions as well. Changing Cities was a project that swapped Detroit artists with those from Chicago to Beijing, city by city. It created an awareness and appreciation of the art being created here around the globe.

    Blow Me! will be a totally fun exploration of art that is inflatable, from Jeff Koons balloon dogs to the giant balloon sculptures of Jason Hackenworth.

    Musuem of New Art. Armada, Michigan. Exterior.

    Museum of New Art. Armada, Michigan. Exterior.

    What is the big picture vision for MONA?

    The big vision for MONA is to put a contemporary museum on every corner. We have had the space in Pontiac for 10 years now. We’ve been in Detroit, on and off, since 2000. We’re just about to officially launch the new museum in Armada. And we’re preparing a photography and new media museum to open by the end of the year. That one will be in Troy.

    Was the auction a success?

    The museum’s auction was an overwhelming success. It proved that hundreds of people would come out to Armada to see and buy art, some of it the most edgy and important at the moment. Works offered by such artists as Pae White, Erin Parish, Annette Lemieux, Thaddeus Strode, China’s the Gao Brothers, mixed up together with regional greats like Stephen Magsig, Gilda Snowden, Rick Vian, Chris Samuels and Robert Schefman. The world is a Museum.

    The goal of the MONA /Armada project is to create a lively and intimate space in which to experience contemporary art by living artists in a non-conventional environment. Perhaps Mr. Smith and Mr. Borgeau have been whispering in each other’s ear, “if you build it, they will come.”

    MONA Museum of New Art
    15655 33 Mile Road
    Armada, Michigan

    Ron Scott is a pseudonym for a writer based in the Detroit area.  View more articles by Ron Scott.

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