Friday, November 8, 2013

Detroit Part 3: DIA

The Detroit Institute of Art is often in the news since the city filed for bankruptcy. This was another reason for our road trip - to visit the museum and support the arts. I had long heard that DIA's general collection was one of the top ten in the nation and that proved to be true as we walked through galleries in amazement at their holdings. I will voice my dissent loudly if the city decides to auction the work. It is truly a tourist destination as there were visitors from all over the world last Sunday. Here are some of my favorite pieces that we encountered (some were expected and others were a sheer surprise).

Cracks in Albert Pinkham Ryder's The Tempest.

Hannah told me Ryder mixed bear fat in his pigments and it is a conservationist's nightmare. Some of his artworks need to rest on a flat surface to keep the paint from separating. The Tempest reminded me of my past failures in graduate school to create a cracked surface on negatives. Hannah made it a mission to finally figure out how this could be achieved after we discussed this work at length (and every other painting in the American Collection where this flaw was represented).


The Rivera Court generated quite the crowd while memories of teaching 20th century art at Washington State University - Vancouver flooded back. I spent more time looking at the details and how Diego Rivera sectioned off areas to paint while the plaster was still wet. We found his signature and marveled at how different the city was when he created these murals in 1933. There were elements of Cubism and Abstraction within the representational imagery of industry. We wondered if the upper left portion of the South wall featuring medical tools (including scissors) was painted with Frida Kahlo in mind.

Ray Johnson, January/February, 1966

I could have stared at this collage of painted wood and board on paper for far longer than we had time. After studying countless examples of his mail art, learning about this work broadened my view of his accomplishments.

Samuel van Hoogstraten, Perspective Box of a Dutch Interior, 1663 (with contemporary reproduction and blurry illuminated view through the peephole)

Whenever I talk about my inspirations for Strange Objects: A Photographic and Found Object Wunderkammer, this box is featured. It is one of my all time favorite art objects and I could not believe my eyes when Hannah and I encountered it in the Dutch Collection. I did not stop talking about it for hours and it was, hands down, the best thing I saw all weekend (despite a lot of competition). One of the many things I love about it is its failures. When the front panel is in place, it is too dark inside for viewers to see the details of the wealthy Dutch interior. DIA presented a far larger and well illuminated reproduction alongside the 17th century piece and for the first time, I could see what van Hoogstraten envisioned with his experimentation in trompe l'oeil.

We also encountered Eva Hesse's Accession #2, Morris Louis's Alpha Gamma, and a superb collection of black-and-white photographs by Gerhard Richter in the Foto Europa: 1840 to Present exhibition.

It was invigorating to spend the entire weekend looking at artwork. We have a list of nonprofits and galleries to see next time as a return trip will occur in the spring.

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