When is a corporation not a corporation? When it’s an art concept that uses slick advertizing style pieces to spotlight Detroit’s vacant buildings. The Hygienic Dress League started in 2006 in Honolulu when Steve Coy and his wife, Dorota, created a gallery show under the same name.
Coy, a native of Detroit, says that the concept of the Hygienic Dress League is intended as a comment on the ubiquity of advertising: “Our mission is to promote our mission,” Coy says, laughing. “It’s a self-serving mission of advertizing … it’s just a self-promotion machine.”
Many Detroit residents encounter the Hygienic Dress League through its installations, which often take the form of big high-gloss pop-art influenced pieces on vacant buildings. The art often features flur-de-lis, pigeons, and fashionably dressed men and women wearing gas masks. Coy says of his work: “I think it questions the value of things. I think it’s a deconstruction of commercialism, corporatism and marketing… how you can create value based on how you present yourself.”
The Hygienic Dress League’s latest and most ambitious piece, titled “No Vacancy,” is currently displayed on the deserted Roosevelt Hotel in Corktown. While Coy’s previous installations have featured painting as the primary medium, this installation takes the form of a 30’ by 9’ solar-powered neon sign. The funding for “No Vacancy,” totaling about $12,000, was raised in a matter of weeks by a combination of online fundraising, help from local businesses, and a grant from the Knight Foundation.
Jerry Paffendorf played a large role in fundraising efforts, and believes that “No Vacancy” is provocative because it will inspire people to think about the long-abandoned Roosevelt Hotel and potential for re-birth. Peffendorf hopes the piece will have an impact on “all those who come down to the park or drive by on Michigan Avenue or enjoy a meal at Slow’s an look over and [think]: ‘What is that thing? What is that building? Wow! Holy cow! What is happening with this spot?’”
Coy agrees that such reactions are a goal of the collective’s art. He says that the Hygienic Dress League aims “to call attention to these spaces and maybe in some way incite people to do something with it. Ours is a temporary solution. Obviously a city filled with our paintings on boarded up buildings is not going to solve much … but I think it’s a really good start.”