Art Beat: Just Do It!

Dec 24, 2018

Sign at the entrance to the "Do It" exhibit at the KIA
Credit Katie Houston / Kalamazoo Institute of Arts

Don Desmett began his art career thinking he’d be a sculptor. But he walked away from that, feeling that he just didn’t have it in him. But Desmett did have a good eye for great art, so he became a curator instead.


Desmett was the founding director of exhibitions for Western Michigan University’s Richmond Center for Visual Arts. When Desmett retired, his skills were still in demand, and he's now the curator of the "Do It" exhibit at the Kalamazoo Institute of the Arts.

The exhibit is what a curator might call "scary."

“It’s not scary to come and see or participate in, but for me, as a curator. I'm one who usually plans 18 to 24 months ahead. I’d know pretty much where things were going to go in the different spaces. This is the opposite.”

What will the guard do if you don't start humming?
Credit Katie Houston / Kalamazoo Institute of Arts

Hans Ulrich Obrist created "Do It" in 1993 in Paris. The ever-changing exhibit has traveled the world since then before landing in Kalamazoo. While some pieces travel with the exhibit, much of it depends on local artists and organizations. Instructions on how to participate are in a large book. Participants must choose one or more of them to create their art.

“Obrist is a very well-known curator and has written extensively about the process of curating exhibitions and the responsibilities of museums in showing culture,” Desmett says. “He met with a few artists in the early 90s and they talked about an idea of conceptual artists: the idea is the artwork. It's based on a book of instructions from different artists, curators and art historians. Right now, I think there are now about 400 instructions.”

Just a few participants in the KIA's version of "Do It" include the Kalamazoo Children’s Chorus, the Black Arts & Cultural Center, and Wellspring/Cori Terry & Dancers. Nayda Collazo-Llorens, Emily Berezowski, Karen Bondarchuk, and Audrey Mills are among the area artists who've created original pieces, as are students at Kalamazoo Public Schools and Education for the Arts, from Western Michigan University's Foundation Art Program, and other Kalamazoo-area arts organizations.

As the exhibit travels across the globe, it has gathered artworks from Australia, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Mexico, Costa Rica, Slovenia and Uruguay as well as the U.S. One of them, the "Wish Tree," is created using instructions by Yoko Ono. Desmett says it's the most popular piece in the exhibit.

“It’s a work she’s been doing for a long time. It is a live tree. One of her instructions was that it should be native to the area, so we have a northern maple. We’re hoping to keep it alive until we can plant it in spring. We made up tags near a place to sit and people are invited to write down their wishes and wrap them around the tree branches.”

The "Do It" exhibit will run through March 3, 2019, at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts. For more information, go to the KIA's web site or call (269) 349-7775.

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