Cranbrook’s Latest Art Exhibit Explores the Work of the Detroit Printing Co-op

The graphic design techniques the alternative printer experimented with in the ’60s and ’70s are still “fresh” and “contemporary”
Clockwise: Fredy Perlman, The Incoherence of the Intellectual, C. Wright Mills’ Struggle to Unite Knowledge and Action, Black & Red Press, Detroit, 1970; Radical America; Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, Black & Red Press translation and edition, 1970; Right: Revised second edition of the book, 1977. // Photograph courtesy of Cranbrook Art Museum

Cranbrook Art Museum’s latest exhibition, Detroit Printing Co-op: The Politics of the Joy of Printing, debuts tomorrow. The exhibit showcases the works of the Detroit Printing Co-op, a small alternative printer that set up shop in the city in 1969 and went on to produce materials that supported unions, anti-capitalist sentiments, and Black empowerment.

The Detroit Printing Co-op emerged at a time when, according to Cranbrook, social activism was giving rise to an underground press. During its years in operation, the co-op collaborated with like-minded individuals and organizations to produce the book imprint Black & Red and the left-wing political magazine Radical America. It also worked with the publishing arm of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers and Fifth Estate, a local anarchist newspaper.

“Some have compared recent social events with those of the 1960s,” says Cranbrook Art Museum Director Andrew Blauvelt, who curated the exhibit with graphic designer and educator Danielle Aubert. “This show helps us understand some of the many issues that they were grappling with more than 30 years ago through the lens of the Detroit Printing Co-op, a small but prolific producer of urgent community messages.”

Detroit Printing Co-Op: The Politics of the Joy of Printing — which is based on a previous exhibit produced by the now-closed Hamtramck gallery 9338 Campau and research by Aubert —  features a number of works that the co-op printed and explores the role design plays in spreading political messages and social activism. “Although the content of the work is political and academic and very much of its time, what is most striking are the printing and graphic design experiments that still appear fresh and contemporary years later,” Blauvelt says.

The unveiling of The Politics of the Joy of Printing comes a week after the museum debuted Headspace: Jim Dine’s Glyptoek. The exhibit pairs prints by artist Jim Dine with sculptural works from the museum’s permanent collection. Dine’s pieces are inspired by a trip he took in 1984 to Glyptothek, a museum in Munich, Germany, that focuses on Greek and Roman sculpture.

Shapeshifters: Transformations in Contemporary Art, an exhibition that explores how artists redefine themselves, debuted in July and is still on display. Guests can see the three exhibitions in the upper and lower galleries of the museum.

Cranbrook Art Museum is now open Wednesday through Friday, with extended hours and free admission every Thursday. Visitors must register online before visiting, and all guests are required to wear masks in the museum.

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