A biennial for the people

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The Museum of Contemporary Art, Detroit pairs established artists with individuals outside the mainstream art world

The artist Scott Reeder has teamed up with the Milwaukee-based independent film-maker Xav Leplae (above) for the People’s Biennial

Next month, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Detroit (MOCAD) is due to unveil a biennial featuring work by an unconventional cast of characters, including a lawyer, an English professor, an engineer—and even a radio host by the name of Fearless Fred.

The second edition of the People’s Biennial (12 September-4 January) showcases marginalised or overlooked talent. For this year’s event, the curators Harrell Fletcher and Jens Hoffman asked 17 recognised artists to select and collaborate with individuals who are not part of the mainstream art world.

The performance artist Liz Magic Laser has paired up with the dancer Wendy Osserman, while the artist duo Allora & Calzadilla will work with Robert Rabin, a professor at New York University’s law school who specialises in health and safety. The fruits of these collaborations, as well as those of contributors including Rick Lowe, Alec Soth and Hank Willis Thomas, are to be displayed in freestanding structures in the museum’s recently refurbished galleries.

Many contributors to the People’s Biennial are active in the field of social practice, a growing discipline that uses art to address larger social issues. MOCAD wants to become “a leader in the social practice arena”, says the museum’s director Elysia Borowy-Reeder. The museum is also the permanent home of Mobile Homestead, 2010, by Mike Kelley, a model of the artist’s childhood home that is now used as a community centre to host events ranging from philosophical discussions to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

Borowy-Reeder plans to invite speakers including Nato Thompson, the chief curator of Creative Time, and Claire Bishop, a professor at the City University of New York, for a series of conversations with museum staff and community members during the biennial. “I’ve worked at a lot of museums, and it’s much easier to say, ‘This is the painting that goes on the wall like this. Appreciate it.’ There is an opportunity for larger conversations about community to happen in Detroit.”

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