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Detroit Institute of Arts: The Most Loved Museum

January 31, 2018
Officer of the Hussars, 2007 - Kehinde Wiley

Officer of the Hussars, 2007 – Kehinde Wiley

Detroit in January has a lot going for it:

  • Ease of access with $126 roundtrip flights from BWI. For any time travelers just arriving from the 1800s, $126 is not as much as it might sound.  For that price, a metal tube in the sky delivers you after 1.5 hours to your destination hundreds of miles away without you having to fight bears or forge rivers.
  • Car rentals at $26 / day including taxes and fees. Yes, that’s right. You can rent a car in Detroit in January for the entire day for less than the cost of an Uber ride from Georgetown to Navy Yard.

    Kate Elliott and John Scalzi, ConFusion, 2018

    Kate Elliott and John Scalzi discuss the writing life, their favorite dog breeds, and other random interesting stuff, ConFusion, 2018.

  • The ConFusion Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention. It’s like the big, crazy SF/F conventions with all the people I wanted to see and with all the panels I wanted to attend, but without the crowds. It was perfect. Plus, my Clarion West 2017 class decided to have a reunion there. Go Team Eclipse!
  • The Detroit Institute of Arts. Admittedly, of the four items in this list, only the Detroit Institute of Arts is available outside the bounds of January. But it was the presence of the other three items that made it inevitable that I would finally go to the Detroit Institute of Arts this year. That was even before I knew I would see Kehinde Wiley’s awesome Officer of the Hussars, 2007 (see above, and click here for a close-up of the signage that explains the painting). Kehinde Wiley has been commissioned to paint President Obama’s official portrait for the Smithsonian. SQUEE!
Watson and the Shark, 1782 - John Singleton Copley

Watson and the Shark, 1782 – John Singleton Copley

 

 

 

I’ve been casting around for an excuse to visit the Detroit Institute of Arts since I saw the movie Frida and learned how, in 1932, Frida Kahlo came to Detroit with her husband Diego Rivera. He had been commissioned by Ford Motor Company to paint twenty-seven murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts. I was intrigued by what kind of city commissioned a famous Mexican artist in 1932 for such an undertaking. I wanted to see the murals first-hand, and I wanted to get my eyes on the rest of collection that had caused so much controversy.

Detroit Industry Murals, 1932-1933 - Diego Rivera

Detroit Industry Murals, 1932-1933 – Diego Rivera

Over the last few years, the DIA has had a rough time of it. They almost lost their artwork. The City of Detroit, which owned the DIA, went bankrupt and started making moves to sell the art collection to pay for city pensions. That caused a kerfuffle, to say the least. One thing led to another, and in 2014, the DIA was returned to its non-profit status (independent of the City of Detroit) with its collection intact. That was less than four years ago.

Girl Reading, 1938 - Pablo Picasso

Girl Reading, 1938 – Pablo Picasso

Visiting in January 2018, I expected a somewhat rundown museum that needed love. I was so wrong. The Detroit Institute of Arts is the most loved art museum I have ever visited, and it’s exhibits satisfy a range of tastes.

 

 

 

Art museums that can afford to do so redesign their interiors to enhance the presentation of their artwork. From my visitor’s perspective, adjustments to interior design normally seem to consist of repainting walls, adjusting lighting and optimizing the location of partitions between and within rooms.

DIA Church Alcove Replica, 2018

DIA Church Alcove Replica, 2018

But at the DIA, they’ve gone far beyond those surface adjustments. Attention has been paid to the crown molding in each room, the height of the ceilings, the type of flooring and the aesthetic necessity of built-in wall recesses.

Each room’s flooring was unique. The most striking example was in the Medieval and Renaissance Room, which contained cobblestone in some places, wooden slatted floors in others plus stone tile and brick. That room even held an alcove set up to appear like it was within a church. A stained glass window lit by a courtyard completed the look. I was amazed.

Setting aside the wonders of flooring, I was struck by the feeling that each piece of art at the DIA had been carefully curated and lovingly placed on display. In addition, the staff was friendly and helpful, and the courtyard was filled with the sound of children’s voices. The DIA is free to the local community, and on the day I visited, an after-school group was setting up a couple dozen tables to play chess.

The Moods of Time, 1938 - Paul Manship

The Moods of Time, 1938 – Paul Manship

Seeing all the kids inside the museum after school was what did it for me. Of course, Detroit residents and art patrons in the 1930s would commission the most famous Mexican artist of his time to paint twenty-seven giant murals representing the city that they loved. The DIA was part of the community and an expression of it as it continues to be. I’m so glad I visited. The DIA is truly a special place.

In addition to the artwork above, below are more photos of the pieces I most enjoyed at DIA. I’m pleased to report I inadvertently missed the third floor of the museum. That can mean only one thing: Detroit in January 2019, here I come!

Self-Portrait, 1962 - Beauford Delaney

Self-Portrait, 1962 – Beauford Delaney

Nativity, 1954 - Jacob Lawrence

Nativity, 1954 – Jacob Lawrence

The Piper, 1953 - Hughie Lee-Smith

The Piper, 1953 – Hughie Lee-Smith

Mosquito Nets, 1908 - John Singer Sargent

Mosquito Nets, 1908 – John Singer Sargent

Girl and Laurel, 1870 - Winslow Homer

Girl and Laurel, 1870 – Winslow Homer

Dripy, 2013 - Mitchell Schorr

Dripy, 2013 – Mitchell Schorr

Hardball III, 1993 - Robert Moskowitz

Hardball III, 1993 – Robert Moskowitz

Variability of Similar Forms, 1970 - Nancy Graves

Variability of Similar Forms, 1970 – Nancy Graves

Portrait of a Collagist, 1989 - Benny Andrews

Portrait of a Collagist, 1989 – Benny Andrews

Something You Can Feel, 2008 - Mickalene Thomas

Something You Can Feel, 2008 – Mickalene Thomas

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