Of all the unlikely storylines emerging from Detroit these days–GM turning a profit, the Big Three actually making decent cars, the Lions maybe being finally good–the one where world-famous artist Matthew Barney pulls the cadaver of an ’67 Chrysler Crown Imperial from the bottom of the Detroit River has got to the most unlikeliest.
But it happened: Last October, Barney held part two of “Ancient Evenings,” his site-specific opera based on Norman Mailer’s reincarnation tale, in Detroit. The eight-hour performance took an audience down the Rouge and Detroit Rivers where the car’s body was lifted, cut into pieces, melted into molten liquid, and poured from five custom-built furnaces into an open, molded pit in the earth at the site of a derelict steel mill. And on view now at Barbara Gladstone Gallery is “Djed,” a monumental, 25-ton cast iron sculpture poured during this performance. Other works invoke similarly Rust Belt materials like cast bronze, lead, zinc, graphite block, painted steel, and ink and sulfur.
The Chrysler Imperial has been a long-running character in Barney’s projects, first in his Cremaster 3 movie, and now as the protagonist through the first two parts of Ancient Evenings. The car, once famed for its toughness and prized by demolition derby drivers everywhere, here becomes a relic of the past as well as a symbol of regeneration. And there are signs that the city itself may be making a comeback too.