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Local News / Entertainment

Saturday, 5 May, 2012 9:46 AM

'Blue Man Group' & Otto Dix: Detroit Art Icons

Photo Credit: Paul Kolnik

The Detroit cast of "Blue Man Group."


by Mike Wrathell




DETROIT -- Long before the Blue Man Group took over the Fisher Theatre on May 1st, 2012 for its current run til May 13th, 2012, gracing Detroit's Art Deco masterpiece with their Dadaist antics, we had a work of art from another time, WWI, Otto Dix's “Self-Portrait with Carnation” at the Detroit Institute of Arts, probably the most important work of art ever present in Michigan. The work shows the youthful courage of an artist who fought for his native Germany in WWI and whose art Hitler displayed in a degenerate art show after his rise to power in 1933, a show replicated in Chicago back in the 90s – as a way to expose the absurd stupidity of censoring art – that I took Amtrak to go see. (Mitt, if you get elected, you better keep Amtrak, too; or I will talk trash to your wives about you!) Dix wanted to do right by his country and fought for it– little did that matter to the insane ingrate and wannabe artist Adolph who would probably have killed Dix during WWII had Otto not promised to only paint nice landscapes – a promise he did not keep. Bad Otto – bad, bad! LOL!

Many other European artists fought for their respective nations in WWI, too, and many died in No Man's Land – the land between the trenches. Some fled to neutral Switzerland and formed the Dada art movement in Zurich, highlighting the absurdity of Modern Man, and his penchant for war. They gave live art performances at the Cabaret Voltaire, named after the French author of Candide, a timeless classic of world literature. Read it between updates of your status message. You can thank me later.

Marcel Duchamp is probably the most famous Dada artist. He was the one who moved to New York City and displayed an upside down urinal as a work of art. The work of art caused ripples of shock and dismay across the art world, causing fundamental change in what was considered art. Duchamp's “Fountain” has inspired many artists of Duchamp's posterity, including myself. Duchamp once said, "Artists of all times are like gamblers of Monte Carlo, and this blind lottery allows some to succeed and ruins others . . . Everything happens through pure luck. Posterity is a real bitch who cheats some, reinstates others . . . and reserves the right to change her mind every fifty years.”

Without Dadaism, there could be no Blue Man Group. Unlike the Blue Man Group, Dada performances did not go viral. They did not hire performers to stand in their stead and do Dallas (Super Bowl XLV), Detroit, Dresden, Dunkirk, Dubai, Denver, Dubuque, Dover, Dushanbe, Durban, and Dakar. Dada's influence has been acknowledged by Otto Dix, David Bowie, Devo, Symbolism, Surrealism, The Ultra-Renaissance, and countless other artists and art movements.

The Blues are masters of mimed comedic timing, as well as the timing of their drumsticks. They also skillfully incorporate the crowd's energy and spontaneous attempts at humor with the aplomb of Charlie Chaplin, making them all the more adorable. Detroit drank them up like a tall glass of iced limeade. I wanted to resist and harken back to the days of Tristan Tzara peeing on the stage of the Cabaret Voltaire, but the dazzling colors and polished performances of the entire Group was flawless. Perfect like a cold can of Classic Coke.

I had a good time, and I highly recommend the experience, despite it being a bit canned, standardized like a can of President Obama's favorite food: Suharto's Poodle Noodle Soup.

The show started off with three electric banner display signs telling the audience to pee now or forever hold your bladder and to yell on cue. Cute, but canned. I don't like being told what to do. Part of being the son of a Detroit police officer, I think. But most of the audience was yelling on cue as happily as Porky Pig wallowing in the mud, so I guess I am way off base there. So, shoot me. LOL.

The Blue Man Group referenced a few dead white artists like Yves Klein, the creator of a blue pigment called International Klein Blue (IKB). In fact, the three Blue Men who executed the show were very close to IKB in color. In one skit, a Blue Man vacuumed Christina off the landscape of Andrew Wyeth's American masterpiece “Christina's World; it was funny, but also a bit eerily apropos. The real Christina had polio, I just learned, by the way, while researching this review. She was Mr. Wyeth's neighbor in Maine. That was why she was not on her feet in the painting.

I am glad the Blue Man Franchise is providing a good source of income for the three founders – much like Hilton Hotels provides income for Paris, who can live the good life – and it provides employment for a lot of people who would otherwise probably lead rather mundane lives, devoid of neon blues, groovy greens, and rapturous reds – candy for the cones of their eyes and our welcoming eyes, to boot. The joy the Blues brought to Detroit was real, don't get me wrong. Dostoyevsky once said the definition of Man is that he has two legs and is ungrateful. I just want to point out the Group's limitations so other artists do not fall into the same trap; so art lovers will realize that though the Blue Man Group is definitely something to be experienced and enjoyed, there is such a thing as art that does not come in a can – albeit a beautifully-packaged performance – whose players are virtually interchangeable and can occur simultaneously in Detroit, Las Vegas, New York City, and Derby.

The Blue Man Group does not have a Brandon Inge whose plays at third base cannot be made by any other mortal, or a Hugo Ball, the Dada artist who wrote a book called Flight Out of Time: A Dada Diary. But they do have giant blue balls they let the audience play with -- that come with the canned jokes that are implicit with balls. An Andy Warhol will never rise out of this Group.

Enjoy them for what they are, but demand more of yourself when it comes to performance and fine art. Go see Otto Dix at the DIA. Go see “Starry Night” and “Christina's World” at MOMA when you are in NYC and Van Gogh's self-portraits and Grand Wood's “American Gothic” when you are in Chicago.

The Blue Man Group is dazzling and fun, but they are not a destination; they are a stop along the way. You will feel revived after you see them – the three blue stooges of mime, percussion, and IKB; and, after a bowl of poodle, ah, I mean, chicken noodle soup when you get home, you might even be inspired to read a book. Might I suggest something by Hugo Ball....or the 1924 Dadaist play “Handkerchief of Clouds” by Tristan Tzara, a great artist who went on to fight for the French Resistance.

Ticket prices for the Detroit engagement of BLUE MAN GROUP range from $39-$89 (includes parking and facility fees) and are now on sale at the Fisher Theatre box office and all Ticketmaster locations. Tickets are also available for purchase online at or, and by calling Ticketmaster at 1-800-982-2787.

Related Story: REVIEW: 'Beauty and the Beast' is entertaining at Detroit's Fisher Theatre


Otto Dix's "Self-Portrait with Carnation" is at the Detroit Institute of Arts.


"Christina's World" was inspired by Andrew Wyeth's polio-stricken neighbor.


Yves Klein's "Relief of Claude Pascal" is done in IKB, a type of blue he made his own.


"Ultra-Renaissance Fountain" is an homage to Marcel Duchamp's "Fountain."




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Copyright © 2012 All Rights Reserved.
Unauthorized duplication or use of Text, Photos, Videos, Site Template, Graphics and or Site Design is Prohibited by Federal and International laws. See our Notice/Disclaimer.