'Springsteen: Troubadour Of The Highway'
Cranbrook Art Museum - June 7th to August 31st
Cranbrook Art Museum is a contemporary art museum located at the heart of Cranbrook Educational Community, one of the nation's greatest architectural complexes. The Art Museum offers both a glimpse into Cranbrook's remarkable past through its collection and tours of the campus while offering changing exhibitions of the finest contemporary art.
The Art Museum is part of Cranbrook Educational Community, which also includes Cranbrook's Academy of Art, Institute of Science, Schools, and other affiliated cultural and educational programs. Cranbrook's Art Museum is accredited fully by the American Association of Museums.
‘Springsteen: Troubadour of the Highway’, is the first traveling exhibition focusing on the musician, Bruce Springsteen. The exhibition is curated by Colleen Sheehy, Weisman Director of Education and adjunct faculty in American Studies at the University of Minnesota. Included are 6 videos and various photographs by photographers such as Bruce’s younger sister, Pamela Springsteen, Annie Leibovitz, David Kennedy, Matt DiLea and Frank Stefanko.
Speaking with Greg Wittkopp, the Director of Cranbrook Art Museum, he first explained what his thoughts were with regard why the new ‘Springsteen: Troubadour of the Highway’ exhibition had been culled together in the first place. ”Colleen [Sheehy] has been very interested in looking at the inner sections between American art and popular culture and eventually decided to do this project that looks at the music and the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen. But, looking at them through the windshield, if you will, of the automobile in a way that he has used in his music: the highway, the road, the car. Using them all as a metaphor and a back-drop for so many of the events, the rituals that we all experience in our lives.”
As I get my own guided tour of the aforementioned exhibition, I wondered what the public would be able to look forward to within these sacred walls. ”The exhibition is varied photographs, and includes people like Annie Leibovitz who is one of the best known celebrity photographers there is. The photographs look at three types of genre. There are the iconic images of Bruce Springsteen. There are ones that relate a little bit more directly to his music career – they are the images that in many cases were used to generate album covers. And then the last section of the exhibition, as far as photography is concerned, is a body of work by his little sister, Pamela Springsteen, who worked with him on the production of the The Ghost of Tom Joad album and the music video. Which itself is a project that took its departure from John Steinbeck’s novel ‘The Grapes of Wrath’  which looks at a migrant work who comes to the American Southwest in search of the American dream. And, ultimately, finds it to be elusive.
This is a body of photographs that was incorporated into both a commercial for the album as well as the music video of the same name. What strikes me about these is that on the one hand you look at all these images of the Southwest and you can see the promise that it offers. This vast, open landscape where at times anything seems possible and then you look at them another time and you see the desolation of the desert and of an environment that is very hard to eke out an existence in. So, at the core of the exhibition are all these photographs, however we also have two different music listening tables, where people can sit down and listen to his music - in carefully selected songs that are especially poignant in the context of this ‘Troubadour of the Highway’ theme.
And then, the exhibition ends, as we are drawn in by the open road here, [he says motioning toward a large, black and white photo of a said long, open road] into the music video theatre where there are four music video selections [‘Thunder Road’ 1980, ‘Born To Run’ 1987, ‘Atlantic City’ 1982, ‘I’m On Fire’ 1985] presented larger than life on the wall.”
As we walk back though the exhibition, I notice some hand-written paperwork safely ensconced behind a plastic case on the wall. ”Those are some of Springsteen’s notes to ‘Prove It All Night’ from the 1978 album, Darkness On The Edge of Town,” Greg knowingly informs me. ”There are some cases where there’s a little bit of memorabilia included in the exhibition, but not very much We are an Art Museum and we really want to focus on the more fine art representations of his music, career and image. Because he’s an artist who has very carefully constructed his image and how he’s presented to the world is a very important part of that.
In most all of these cases, these are photographs here he’s working very closely with the photographer on. These aren’t just casual snap shots taken by some fan at a concert, and not that there aren’t some great photographs within that genre as well, but what we really wanted to look at was the way a career could be constructed visually through these photographs.”
Asked for his personal opinion on the artist, Bruce Springsteen, and Mr. Wittkopp doesn’t blink an eye before he is resoundingly appreciative in his response. ”Bruce Springsteen is an artist that crosses right through the middle of the American population. He’s somebody that people in their 40’s and 50’s are committed fans to him, who grew up listening to his music early on. There’s a whole new generation just discovering him through The Rising, so we know that this is an exhibition that is going to appeal to a very broad cross-section of the metropolitan Detroit area. To those people that are traditional museum goers as well as people that have never probably been to the Cranbrook Art Museum before.”
”I guess one of our hopes,” he continues, ”is that those people will come through the doors for the Bruce Springsteen exhibition, but in the process will experience four other exhibitions. We have our Graduate Summer exhibition which presents the best of the graduates of Cranbrook Academy of Arts. They will also be able to see some selections from our permanent collection, including some of our fairly recent acquisitions from the Dr. John and Rose M. Shuey collection of contemporary arts. They can go to our lower level where they’ll see an exhibition of the alumni of the academy called ‘Body Shop’ including the photography of Judy Elyias who is based in Ferndale, Michigan. Then, last of all they’ll see an exhibition of work from our collection called ‘Cranbrook and the British Arts & Crafts Movement’ which looks at work collected by the father of Cranbrook, George Booth. Mr. Booth was one of the original publishers of the Detroit News and a leading component of the Arts & Crafts movement in the United States.”
As we head out of the highly impressive, and thoroughly entertaining ‘Springsteen: Troubadour of the Highway’ exhibition, Mr. Wittkopp finally feeds me a touch more information on two more upcoming events. ”On the fourth Friday night of each month we are open late and we present what we are labeling ‘New & Experimental Music.’ A lot of it is electronic music, techno music. One other special event that is upcoming is that Dave Marsh is going to be lecturing at the museum on Friday, June 13th. Dave Marsh is a native of Detroit and in fact while he was in Detroit founded ‘Cream’ magazine. He then moved to New York and became quite a well-known writer for many different outlets on rock ‘n’ roll. About ten years ago he wrote what is still one of the definite biographies on Bruce Springsteen, ‘Glory Days.’ Which looks at Springsteen, in particular, during the 1980’s.”
”And, of course,” he finally adds, ”in the middle of all this is our big summer fundraiser, ‘Serious Moonlight’ which this year we are subtitling as ‘Serious Moonlight Rocks!’ (Serious Moonlight Rocks Web Site) in honor of ‘Troubadour of the Highway.’ And that day would be a great opportunity to hear three different music groups, do some dancing, eat some great food and have an opportunity to take home some art from our silent auction tent. This will include about 100 works, most of them by alumni of the academy, but also by some great design works as well."
Tickets are $95 in advance; $115 at the door; and $200 for patron level donors. For tickets, call the Serious Moonlight Hotline at 248.645.3144 or visit www.versopass.com. Proceeds support Cranbrook Academy of Art and Art Museum programs.
Interview and ‘Springsteen: Troubadour of the Highway’ exhibition photographs by Russell A. Trunk – copyright 2003, Chrisam Enterprises.
Cranbrook Art Museum / Springsteen Exhibition
*The exhibition is presented at Cranbrook through the generous sponsorship of Dow Automotive: www.DowAutomotive.com
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