Wayne Northcross

20 Questions with MOCAD Manager Wayne Northcross

August 27, 2018

SEEN caught up with art enthusiast Wayne Northcross, member manager at Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. He shares upcoming MOCAD exhibits and his ultimate art road trip in 20 questions.

By Rachel Schostak

1. Can you tell us about your career journey? I have had a non-traditional path. I studied foreign languages at Wayne State then law at the University of Miami. I have always known I would work in a creative field. I left Miami for New York months after passing the Florida bar. Bill Bull, a very dear friend and native Detroiter, had a tailoring and design business in Chelsea. I went to work for him, doing admin, running errands. Bill is a fashion-insider’s little-known secret weapon, a couturier who does personal and on-set tailoring for fashion magazine editors, including Vogue’s Anna Wintour. I couldn’t have had a better fashion education than running up to Condé Nast to drop off fabric swatches and dresses. I was also writing art reviews for local New York City journals and newspapers. My first magazine job was at Esquire as assistant to Stefano Tonchi (currently editor-in-chief of W). Stefano showed me how to seamlessly combine art and fashion for the general reader. After Esquire, I did freelance styling. I was pulled firmly into contemporary art with my first gallery job at Lehmann Maupin, an important contemporary New York gallery that represents Tracey Emin, Juergen Teller, Mickalene Thomas and Alex Prager, artists whose work or personal style often straddle the line between fashion and art. More gallery jobs followed as well as turns as an independent curator, writer and art advisor. Until recently, I wrote for the Observer on fashion and art, mostly about creative collaborations. In addition to my role at MOCAD, I am currently a contributor to Un-Titled Project, an art and style journal, published by photographer Dennis Golonka.

2. Any career highlights you are most proud of? They’re all highlights! When you’ve had so many different careers as I’ve had it’s really hard to choose.

3. Have you always been interested in art? My first brush with art as a discipline was a one-semester Survey of Art course at Wayne State. My teacher took my class on a field trip to the DIA. After walking through the European painting galleries, I was hooked.

4. When did you join the MOCAD team, and what do you enjoy most about working at MOCAD? I joined MOCAD in January of this year. MOCAD has a great team of dedicated, passionate arts professionals. I am very lucky. In my role I work primarily with MOCAD members, especially with New Wave, our young professionals, and with Collectors Circle, our patron group, developing and planning experiences for them such as visits to artists’ studios or travel to national and international art fairs and exhibitions. I enjoy any opportunity to talk to MOCAD members and the public about contemporary art.

Wayne NorthcrossSylvia Jarrus/SEEN

5. We enjoyed working with you on our fall fashion spread. It was a cool opportunity to combine fall fashion with the unique art that was on display. Can you share a bit about the art that is featured in our spread?  

The shoot took place in several spaces at MOCAD: the cafe, main entrances, and Woodward gallery. “this is not Detroit” was a solo exhibition in MOCAD’s Woodward gallery by the Copenhagen-based artist Tal R. The multipart installation manifests the artist’s fantasy of Detroit, acting as a meditation on dream places, identity and whimsy.  Seven large-scale paintings, rendered in a rich and moody palate of blues, depict the artist’s vision of specific Detroit neighborhoods he has never visited. The abstract works use primitive shapes and symbols to investigate the visual language of displacement and place. These unique imaginings invite viewers to reflect on Detroit as a place, and as an idea — a parallel dream space. All works in the show, including the paintings, were completed in Detroit, at MOCAD, as part of the artist’s immersion in the space.

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6. What new exhibits are coming to MOCAD? On Sept. 7 MOCAD opens three new exhibitions. “2+2=8: Thirty Years of Heidelberg” is a retrospective ode to the work of Tyree Guyton whose multi-decade outdoor installation, Heidelberg Project, was initiated in 1986 at the site of his Detroit childhood home. Also opening on Sept. 7 in the Mike Kelley’s Mobile Homestead is the exhibition “Pocket Size,” a group exhibition of contemporary miniatures, inviting viewers into worlds both twee and bizarre, and featuring work by Coco Catallo, Jennifer Catron and Paul Outlaw, Rosie Sharp, Krista Peel Starer and Norman Walker. In the MOCAD store we will have the second installment of the MOCAD Store artist pop-up, featuring Katie Kimmel. Bit by bit, Kimmel builds worlds of sensible shtick out of ceramics and other functional objects. More info at mocadetroit.org.

7. Do you have certain type of art you are drawn to? Which artists do you have an eye for? I love portraiture and the human figure, whether it be expressed in photography, painting or performance, especially modern dance and ballet. I am also drawn to artists whose work evinces a social or political message or tone.

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8. If we were to take an “art road trip” – where would you suggest going, whether it be street art, museums, etc. Anywhere in the Portuguese speaking, Lusophone world: Lisbon, Cape Verde, Porto, Mozambique, São Paulo, Bahia, the Azores. Geographically distant, they are nonetheless connected by a rich language and complex history. Add Brazilian samba, axe, and bossa nova, Portuguese fado, and Cape Verdean morna and you get a incredible musical and cultural tapestry.

9. Who inspires you in business or art industry? Artists.

Now on to style…

10. Three words to describe your personal style? Classic, gamin and prep.

11. What’s currently on your playlist? Expensive Soul, Alina Baraz, Siouxsie and the Banshees.

12. Most recent book you’ve read: “Black Detroit” by Herb Boyd.

13. Where do you like to shop local? Linda Dresner. A fashion temple. I bought my first designer piece there in 1986, a Jean-Paul Gaultier fleur-de-lys scarf, which I still have and wear.

Wayne NorthcrossBoswell Hardwick for SEEN

Linda Dresner’s boutique in Birmingham.

14. You can never leave home without? My MZ Wallace black, nylon backpack or one of the 20 canvas totes I have picked up at art fairs.

15. You’re never fully dressed without? Fragrance.

Now on to your Local Love List…

16. Are you originally from Detroit? How does it feel to be back in the city? Born and raised. I grew up in the Grandmont-Rosedale Park neighborhood. My family and I still live there. I have been wanting to move back to Detroit for a while ever since MOCAD opened. MOCAD in particular and contemporary art in general are great vantage points from which to view, experience and understand the cultural, political and social changes happening in Detroit right now.

17. When not at work where can we find you? In an art gallery or museum. Really. Art is my social life. Gallery openings are great fun. They’re casual, consciousness raising events, sometimes with wine or beer.  But I do like hotel restaurant bars after work. I meet the most interesting people during twilight hours at The Detroit Foundation Hotel or The Townsend.

18. Your current go-to for lunch in Detroit? MOCAD’s Café 78. The cafe is also my preferred work space.

19. Your current go-to for dinner? Lady of the House. I met chef Kate Williams in New York a few years ago at an artist-curated dinner in Brooklyn. Since then, I have been obsessed with her cuisine.


20. Words to live by? “Mmh, yes.” From my fave Kate Bush song “The Sensual World.” 


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