Red Door Gallery
“Every work of art is the child of its age and, in many cases, the mother of our emotions. It follows that each period of culture produces an art of its own that can never be repeated.”
—Vasily Kandinsky The Art of Spiritual Harmony, 1917
The Red Door gallery opened on Second Avenue and Willis near Wayne State University, in the summer of 1963. The Red Door was the first avant-garde and cooperative gallery in Detroit and helped lead to the formation of the Artists’ Workshop. The founding members of the Red Door were; Leni Sinclair, Harvey Columbus, Larry Weiner, Carl and Sheila Schurer, and George Tysh. George and Carl planned and booked the exhibitions acting as co-directors for the gallery.
The Red Door was located next to a car wash owned by Larry Weiner’s father. Larry’s Dad donated the space as an “activity center” for his son and friends to use. After inspecting some of Larry’s paintings, his father grew troubled and had him committed to a mental health facility. Red Door gallery friends remember springing him out of the “nut house” on occasion.
The name of the gallery was taken from the brightly painted red door visible from the street. The ground floor space was only several hundred square feet, and was a gathering place for artists, musicians, and poets. It was a practice studio, painting studio, performance and exhibition space. It would soon lead to the formation of the Detroit Artists’ Workshop about one year later. John Sinclair remembers the Red Door as “a kind of spooky and strange avant-garde space” in which he was too intimidated to even enter at the time.
George Tysh: “We started in September and went till June…
The first show was Carl Shurer’s show – it was his paintings at that time. Carl and I ran the gallery together and we decided that the first show would be his show. We were not about being magnaninous and about not showing your own stuff – we showed our own stuff… like you’d publish a poetry magazine and you’d include your own stuff – that’s what Creeley was thinking; the local is the local.
The second show was Eizo Nishira – he was a professor at WSU that painted. The third show was Larry. Then we had a Polish show.. by arrangement with Edmund Ordon, my Polish teacher at WSU. It was a group show of abstractions traveling the US. – and ironically we were one of the stops because Ordon couldn’t get anyone in Detroit interested. I had him for two years before the gallery opened and he knew I had the gallery – I showed the slides to Carl and he said sure lets do it.. but because of insurance problems we had to take the show down every night and lock up the paintings.
We did a group show and a week of happenings by the Once group; Robert Ashley, Gordon Mumma, George Manupelli, Mary Ashley –all these people came down and changed the gallery everyday. One day they made a bag inside the gallery—so when you walked inside you walked into a paper bag. . . one day they had a boxing match in there with guys inside of boxes –with boxing gloves on poles, fighting each other like medieval tanks..
Mary Ashley did a big show of her mammoth oversized pop paintings. She had paintings on paper that went from the floor to the ceiling which was about 12 feet high –and there was no space in between the works so that the whole room was one piece next to another – and when you walked in there, you were in the middle of this humongous painting. I had never seen anything like that before. No spaces between the paintings.
George Manupelli did a night of movies –and I got to know Gordon Mumma then – because later Ashley would invite us all up..”
– Source; Cary Loren interview with George Tysh, Aug., 2013