The mad art in the basement 

Since February’s First Friday Gallery Walk, anywhere between 15 and 40 people have sidled on up to the counter at Studio M. Hair in place, they’re not looking for cuts or color. Self-assured individuals ask to be taken to “The Installation.” Early one Sunday morning, Michael Barger—owner, artist, guy who cuts hair—found Rudy Autio standing outside the glass door. Others, says Barger, wander into the studio looking lost. But unequivocally, they’ve heard there’s something to see.

The stir emanates from the basement, through the office, up 12 steps along a brick wall decorated with the occasional cigarette butt. Here, photographer, father, UM professor, man with a wild laugh Marty Fromm hauled eight carloads of coiled wire, empty prescription bottles, broken pressure gauges, a wooden cross, black lights and photographs of photographs, including one of a woman whose nose was stolen by cancer.

Years ago, Fromm read William Styron’s Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness. Finally, he says, someone had described what it felt like to experience mania and depression. Fromm, who himself is bipolar, set out to answer another question: “What does it look like to feel like this?” And what are the effects of caffeine and pharmaceuticals and nicotine and shock therapy treatment on the mind?

For about four weeks, the artist installed. “This is one of my favorite parts,” says Fromm, lighting up. “I got to smoke and drop it on the floor and leave it here.” The idea seemed to be general decay. The show was complete, says Fromm, when “I was upset at the end and it was making me crazy.”

The pill bottles are mostly Fromm’s. Barger has watched some visitors, maybe optimists or entrepreneurs, shake and open bottles. They’re empty.

Fromm admits to lurking in the basement posing as a fellow passerby, striking up conversations with the real gawkers, pressing them to call the artist a wack-job. No luck. He did strike up a conversation with one woman as he opened up a medicine cabinet. The woman, Fromm remembers (wild laugh), scolded: “’I don’t think you’re supposed to touch installation art.’”

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