Ongoing at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (a Knight Arts Grantee) is the site-specific collaboration between two legendary artists, Joshua White and Gary Panter. Although it’s absolutely accurate to call both White and Panter artists, the term feels a bit staid in this context, and in any case isn’t particularly descriptive in terms of the kinds of artwork that White and Panter create, respectively. In the ‘60’s and early ‘70’s White pioneered psychedelic liquid light show techniques — for performances at Woodstock and the Fillmore East —that have become so fundamental to that era it’s almost difficult to remember that someone (White) invented them. Panter — a prolific illustrator, painter and designer with punk rock roots — is best known for doing the set design of "Pee-wee’s Playhouse." When the two work together, what results is more like a funhouse for grownups than a conventional art show. White and Panter have been collaborating since the ‘90s, with the current show being their largest collaboration to date.
The show — which utilizes nearly the entirety of the 22,000 square feet of gallery space and runs through April 29 — will be serving as a backdrop for numerous multidisciplinary performances taking place at Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. However, although the show almost demands or requires active audience participation with the work, it is interesting beyond its usefulness as a backdrop. There are massive screens of swirling liquid light effects, color-shifting overhead lights, an occasional rainbow and a gigantic, flashing picture of Iggy Pop dotted by fluorescent tabs of paint. There are also rough-hewn wooden constructions that display different designs depending on the shifts in overhead lighting, changing from cartoon wallpaper to previously invisible black light illustrations that invoke shades of Panter’s "Playhouse" lurking below the unassuming facades of the fort-like structures.
Many of the illustrations throughout the show land somewhere between hieroglyphics and bathroom graffiti. I was particularly drawn to the stage — an actual performance space for bands and video artists — featuring an assortment of cartoonish figures and objects, and I likewise found myself staring for a long time at a large (roughly six foot) backlit cartoon rabbit. Also on display is archival material from both Panter and White, providing a sense of the scope and depth of their work, which stretches back nearly five decades and includes looping History Channel documentaries on White’s light show techniques, vintage Jimi Hendrix posters and a "Seinfeld" screen shot, to name a few of many examples.