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Sunday marked my first visit to my local art museum, the University of Michigan’s Museum of Art, since the pandemic started. I’d become a pretty regular visitor over the past few years (I basically live just a few blocks away) and it had become such an integral part of both my personal art education and local geography that it loomed as one of my main specific casualties of the past year’s crisis.
Jaume Plensa’s Behind the Walls (2018) with Mark di Suvero’s Orion (2009) in the distance.
It’s been open to Michigan students and staff on a limited basis for a couple of months now, but they finally opened back up to the public (with health screening) a few weeks ago and I only found out last Saturday. Reserved my space Sunday (foolishly, perhaps, a mere hour before the Euro final) and rode on over through a very light drizzle that continued throughout the day.
Dana Schutz’s Presenter (2018), one of the newer additions.
Distancing was largely followed, and maybe a third of the visitors wore masks (this has definitely become a more ad hoc thing with my area’s high vaccination rates, and I confess to being somewhat inconsistent in my own approach thereto, but I went masked that day). Even given the constraints, if such they really were, it was great to be back. Having so much art available through the Internet is a wonderful thing, but there’s not quite an adequate personal substitute for seeing it in a real-life context (however heavily curated) and not least with the fellow audience (however withdrawn).
Posing with a mid-20th century Senufo bird sculpture from Cote d’Ivoire.
Much remained as I remember, though there were a few changes since my visit just before the crisis. Some were less than welcome; Chris Ofili’s gorgeous, captivating Odyssey 11 had been replaced by something by Richard Diebenkorn or one of those guys. Others appealed far more; the African section, traditionally reliant on… well, traditional sculptures, now centered on Zimbabwean Michigan alum Masimba Hwati’s spectacular—and very contemporary—Ngoromera.
Masimba Hwati’s Ngoromera (2020).
The early modern (Euro-American) section was shaken up by Kalamazoo-born Titus Kaphar’s striking Flay, reinterpreting the image of James Madison in context of his near-primary identity as a slaveholder.
Titus Kaphar’s Flay (2016).
Last but not least, I was delighted to be reminded anew of the undersung Cuban-American modernist (and former Michigan professor) Carlos Lopez (1908-53), whose paintings of Southeast Michigan (Detroit, Ann Arbor, and others) were ably represented by his Downtown Detroit (1947), which to cap it all had been done in gouache. It was part of the temporary exhibit section, so no photos allowed, but can be searched on the museum website. Our public library opened up again the very next day, and between these two resources being available again, I can already feel the energy at work.
First IRL museum copy sketch since before the pandemic (of Juan de Valdes Leal’s 1661 The Annunciation); done hurriedly and having forgotten my glasses.
How’s your work going?