The Detroit Institute of Arts Day Thread

Happy Friday, everyone!

The Detroit Institute of Arts is one of my favorite art museums, and not just because I live an hour or so away. The premier art museum in Michigan, and one of the best in the Midwest, it started as the Detroit Museum of Art in the 1880s, part of the regional drive for cultural cachet that also saw the creation across Lake Michigan of the Art Institute of Chicago. In the 1920s, it moved to its present location, designed by Paul-Philippe Cret, on Woodward Avenue adjacent to the Wayne State campus and the Public Library. In keeping with its forward-thinking ethos, it was one of the first art museums to organize artists by region and chronology as opposed to medium, something that was apparently as revolutionary in its day as, say, the London Tate Modern’s thematic approach was fairly recently (whether it dates therefrom or not, the vague historical fitness of the rooms’ surrounding decor to their contents, at least in terms of Western art, is also a striking feature).

Henry Fuseli, The Nightmare (1781)

The museum has over 65,000 works in its collection, with a particularly strong focus on early modern Europe and the early United States. While some of the most famous pieces include Breughel’s The Wedding Dance, Henry Fuseli’s The Nightmare, Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith and the Head of Holofernes, and Whistler’s Nocturne in Silver and Gold, the DIA’s probably best known for its central gallery, whose walls are covered with Diego Rivera’s mural (and arguable masterpiece) Detroit Industry, an immersive experience connecting modern production systems with human generative force and mysterious elemental powers. It was commissioned by Edsel Ford in 1932 to celebrate Ford’s then-vicelike grip on much of the American economy (which was doing beautifully at the time) and, as Edsel was surprisingly cool (or at least more so than his killjoy counterpart on the East Coast, Nelson Rockefeller), Rivera was given full freedom for an unforgettable expression that’s many visitors’ main reason for checking the place out.

Diego Rivera, Detroit Industry (1932)

I first went in the mid-aughties, and transit links to Detroit have improved to the extent that I now try and go a few times every year, a personal treat that increasingly feels like a necessity now that I’m drawing and painting regularly. I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad time there, either; there’s always so much to see and do and it’s great to see locals getting to enjoy all this wonderful art (residents of Wayne and a couple of surrounding counties—not Washtenaw, not that I’m complaining—get in free, and the building serves, I understand, as a frequent meeting place, not just for individuals but also for groups like the Detroit Chess Club). Especially noteworthy as an example of community outreach is the prominent African-American collection, not only featuring twentieth century heavy hitters like Jacob Lawrence or Hughie Lee-Smith (the latter a personal favorite I first discovered at the DIA) but also nineteenth century pioneers like Edmonia Lewis and Henry Ossawa Tanner. While their prominence should be the case everywhere, it’s especially rightful and understandable in Detroit.

Hughie Lee-Smith, The Piper (1953)

I’m there right now. It’s pretty sweet. Happy Day Thread!