One doesn’t walk or ride the streets of Woodbridge without noticing John Sauvé. In fact, one doesn’t roam the entire central part of Detroit for very long without noticing John, or better put, John’s prolific installation series, The Man in the City Project. He’s the orange man you see on rooftops all across town. Aside from the Man, John’s contribution and vision for Art in Woodbridge are part of the reason why the community is largely recognized as one of Detroit’s top public art destinations.
John, a Detroit native, has lived in the city his entire life with only a handful of small diversions. Between his undergrad and graduate work, John worked for the Michigan Commission on Art in Public Places, at the time Michigan had one of the first percent-for-art programs in the country. In effect, every new state building that went up, one percent of the building cost was devoted to public art.
John has been active in not only Woodbridge, but the city as a whole. We talked one cold afternoon at the Woodbrdige Pub, which John believes is the nucleus for all things Woodbridge.
JS: Detroit has one of the best public art collections in the country. With sculptures by Calder, Nevelson, Smith, and di Suvero, Detroit is a destination for public art . Detroit’s public art collection was built by a combination of public and private funds with some of the top collectors in the world contributing to the cities collection.There is a lot documentation about public art in the city of Detroit and the role that art has played in the cities cultural significance.
TL: How did you come to meet Larry John and get involved in what he was doing in the community?
JS: Five years ago, my niece moved into a house that Larry John owned here in Woodbridge and they mentioned something about public art exhibitions that I have curated. He said he’d been trying to find me to discuss my sculpture projects, so Larry and I connected and we started our relationship with public art throughout Woodbridge. I set up his first outdoor sculpture project in the neighborhood. From there I introduced other ideas that i feel are important, like kids’ art programs. Within my first month of setting up the public art exhibit in Woodbridge I was able to initiate a public art education program with YouthWorks Detroit located also located in the Woodbridge neighborhood.
TL: Aside from the work you’ve done and continue to do in this neighborhood, talk about your Man in the City project. It’s safe to say there are a lot of people who don’t know the story and what these orange men represent.
JS: The Man in the City international sculpture project is located on rooftops in the cities Detroit and Windsor. The sculpture project is comprised of fifty sculptures that highlight the architecture in the cities of Detroit and Windsor. The significance of these buildings is either because of my personal relationship with the occupants, and or, because of the architectural importance to the city itself. We are currently documenting the Man in the City international sculpture project in a book with the Detroit Institute of Art’s American Art Curator Jim Tottis writing the book and the DIA’s Head of Photography, Eric Wheeler, capturing the images. The Man in the City International Sculpture Project book is due out some time next year. Jim is also the author of the Guardian Book from Wayne State Press and he brings the architectural/historical vantage point to the Man in the City book. It’s going to be a great read from that standpoint, and it will also document the sculpture project highlighting over fifty sculpture locations.
TL: Are You still installing Man in the City sculpture?
JS: I’m currently installing twenty Man in the City sculptures in the Packard Plant. Getting on that roof is pretty precarious. I was up there yesterday and it’s all pretty dicey. When I’m done at the plant, there will be over 60 sculptures in the Man in the City international sculpture project. The Packard plant is significance because Fernando Palazuelo (owner) has big plans for an art destination at the Packard Plant. He saw the Man in the City project and sought me out to help draw attention to the plant through this public art project. We’ve have a really good working relationship. His goals meet my goals about the project. Also, it’s great to have an opportunity to work with him at the plant and highlight the importance that can play in the transformation of Detroit. One of the highlights of installing the Man in the City sculptures in the Packard Plant is that the 2016 American Pavillion of the Venice Biannual (La Biennale de Venezia) is dedicated to the Packard Plant.
TL: What’s on the stove for Art in Woodbridge in the coming months?
JS: I’m excited about the Green Gallery. We already had Aaron Eschenburgs paintings exhibit last weekend. Laura Grimshaw is doing the next exhibit. It’s like the first time I met Larry — it’s all about bringing art to the community because if you bring it, they will come. If you invest in your community, it comes back to you tenfold. People care about art in Woodbridge and it’s a worthwhile investment and that’s why I’m still here.
TL: It’s a different kind of richness, isn’t it?
JS: It has paid off for me. I am opening my new sculpture studio in the Woodbridge neighborhood in 2016.