Renowned artist Tyree Guyton honored with University of Michigan exhibitions

In celebration of renowned artist Tyree Guyton’s 30-year devotion to transforming his impoverished East-Side Detroit neighborhood into a world-inspiring outdoor art environment, the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) and the university’s Department of Afroamerican and African Studies’ GalleryDAAS are currently hosting exhibitions of his work.

"The Art of Tyree Guyton: A Thirty-Year Journey” at UMMA runs through Jan. 3, 2016 and features two components – a 30-year retrospective, and a site-specific work that will be created on the burned site of one of the original installations on Heidelberg Street in Detroit, home to Guyton’s massive, two-block art installation known as the Heidelberg Project. The ground-up creation of the new work can be watched live via video feed.

A related exhibition, “What Time Is It? Tyree Guyton, New Work” is on display at the University of Michigan’s (U-M) GalleryDAAS through Nov. 6, 2015. This exhibition features new works that amplify Guyton’s concentration on time as it relates to the social, political and spiritual times. The artist also introduces a new series of “Faces” painted on Plexiglas with complex layers and bold, popping color. “The times are very complex,” says Guyton. “As the clock ticks, my conscious takes me into new dimensions and my work goes deeper. I want folks to really think about the importance of time.”

On Sept. 25, from 5:30 until 7:30 p.m. at U-M’s Helmut Stern Auditorium, Guyton and Heidelberg Project Executive Director Jenenne Whitfield will reflect on what the Heidelberg Project has meant to the culture of Detroit over the past 30 years and give the audience a glimpse of their plans for the future. Exhibition curator MaryAnn Wilkinson will offer remarks about the exhibition at UMMA and Guyton’s work within the context of the global art community.

“The 30th anniversary of the Heidelberg Project is a pivotal moment in Tyree Guyton’s career,” explains Wilkinson. “These two exhibitions bring his work to a more far-reaching audience, who may not get to Detroit, yet will have an opportunity to experience one of the world’s largest outdoor art environments. They will also have the chance to look both backward and forward, as the UMMA exhibition looks at his work from a historical perspective while the GalleryDAAS exhibition is all new work.”

Details on the U-M exhibitions can be found at and

For a schedule of related gallery and family programs and tours, visit

The Heidelberg Project is one of the longest-running site-specific installations in the country, covering abandoned homes on two sparsely populated residential blocks and even the street and trees with arresting collections of found objects and vivid paintings. Guyton’s work also inspired the Heidelberg Project nonprofit, which has offered free arts programs to thousands of children on the street and in Detroit and suburban schools alike. “I wanted to use my art in a way that would wake up the people in this community,” says Guyton.

Guyton’s story is one of resilience, tenacity and overcoming adversity. Growing up on Heidelberg Street, he was inspired by his housepainter grandfather to choose art as an alternative to the street violence and drugs that took the lives of four siblings and threatened to engulf him. Following stints as a firefighter, an automotive factory line worker and serving in the U.S. Army, Guyton studied art at Detroit’s Center for Creative Studies (CCS). After being told that he did not fit in, Guyton dropped out. In 2009, CCS awarded Guyton an honorary doctorate of fine art.

Tyree Guyton’s work has been showcased locally at the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Museum of African American History, Michigan State University and other venues, as well as internationally from as far as Sydney, Australia to Romania, Japan and Russia.

“The fact that the Heidelberg Project attracts hundreds of thousands of people annually from across the globe seems like a magical tale, able to live only in the imagination of a 9-year-old boy from the challenged streets of Detroit. Yet, Guyton turned what most would dare to imagine into a living testament for the world to see, as well as an iconic international tourist attraction for Detroit,” explains Whitfield.

As the Heidelberg Project’s 30-year anniversary in April 2016 draws near, Guyton’s work is garnering increased attention in his hometown. He has been selected as Hour magazine’s featured artist for this year’s Savor Detroit, a five-night dinner series featuring Detroit’s most celebrated chefs Oct. 5-9, and the Detroit Wallpaper Co. has partnered with the Heidelberg Project to offer bold and eclectic designs from many of Guyton’s house installations, which will be revealed during this year’s Detroit Design Festival. 

“Thirty years is quite a stretch,” says Whitfield. “To honor this time, we will be celebrating 30 months of the Heidelberg Project, beginning with the opening of the UMMA exhibit, and there’s lots more to come – so stay tuned.”