LeRoy Foster, Renaissance City (detail), 1978/1985. Oil on canvas. Collection Cass Technical High School.
One of Detroit’s most intriguing figures, artist LeRoy Foster (1925–1993) was an exceptional talent and a leading figure in the Black artistic community. Perhaps best known for his large mural at the Douglass Branch of the Detroit Public Library, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, (1972), Foster studied art at Detroit’s famed Cass Tech High School, the Society of Arts and Crafts (now the College for Creative Studies) and, it is believed, at Cranbrook Academy of Art.
Foster embodied his moniker “the Michelangelo of Detroit,” drawing inspiration from the drama of High Renaissance paintings. This passion also led him to study overseas in London and Rome, growing his deft skills in figuration. Conceived as a companion to the concurrent contemporary-art-focused exhibition, Skilled Labor: Black Realism in Detroit, LeRoy Foster exemplifies the rich local history of Black realism.
Foster was openly gay during a time of hostility and oppression towards the LGBTQ+ community and was championed by other legendary Detroiters, such as queer activist Ruth Ellis, artist Charles McGhee, and philanthropist Charles Wright. Foster was uncompromising in his artistic vision, which didn’t always fit with the larger art world’s expectations and stylistic trends, leaving him essentially unrepresented in twentieth-century art history and underrepresented in scholarship on Black artists. The exhibition’s title, Solo Show, is a nod to the fact this is his first significant recognition from a museum, but also a testament to the freedom in which he conducted his life—quite literally living and working in a former theater adorned with gold lamé—like a “solo show.”
While researching the exhibition, the mural Renaissance City was recovered from storage at Detroit’s Cass Technical High School. The mural had previously been installed in the school’s old building from the early 1980s until 2005—this exhibition will be the first time it has been on view in nearly 20 years. The work is undergoing restoration at Cranbrook Art Museum thanks to the efforts of Rochelle Riley, Director of Arts and Culture for the City of Detroit, and the Office of Arts, Culture, and Entrepreneurship. The restored work will debut in the exhibition and be returned to the new Cass Technical High School to be placed on permanent view to the public.LeRoy Foster: Solo Show is organized by Cranbrook Art Museum and curated by artist Mario Moore and Laura Mott, Chief Curator, Cranbrook Art Museum. The exhibition is generously supported by the Gilbert Family Foundation, the George Francoeur Art Museum Exhibition Fund, the David Klein and Kate Ostrove Exhibition Fund, and ArtMembers of Cranbrook Art Museum. The conservation of Renaissance City is generously supported by the Kresge Foundation through the City of Detroit Office of Arts, Culture, and Entrepreneurship.
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