Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Visit to the Detroit Institute of Arts

We recently visited the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), close to Wayne State University in downtown Detroit. It would have been Diego Rivera’s 125th birthday. The Institute contains one of his most famous works, The Detroit Industry Murals.

Rivera’s known for his giant murals painted on the sides of buildings. The Detroit Mural, started in April of 1932, required eleven months to complete, and consisted of twenty-seven panels. Diego Rivera’s works can be defined in three M-words, Murals, Mexican, and Marxist. Many of the panels depict Mexican indigenous roots to its modern culture. In the other panels, he shows Detroit’s industry and technology and its association with the worker and management. His creations exhibit a Marxist underpinning.

Being that his works were completed in the 1930’s, and Marxism was an extremely dirty word in America at the time, controversy surrounded Rivera and his murals. Upon completion of his work in Detroit, the Rockefellers commissioned him to do a mural at Rockefeller Center entitled Man at the Crossroads. In this mural he placed a portrait of Vladimir Lenin attending a May Day parade. The Rockefellers ordered the mural destroyed.

The Ford family commissioned the Detroit Murals. When asked why they did not take offense to the murals, and have it destroyed, Edsel explained, you can hire an artist, but you shouldn’t control the artist’s freedom of expression. Thankfully, the Fords did not destroy this painting and the American public has access to Rivera’s talent.

In addition to the mural, the DIA houses a tremendous amount of other artistic materials. One of the special collections currently on exhibit is Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus. This exhibit is running through February 2012, and requires an additional ticket. It includes 64 of Rembrandt’s drawings, paintings and prints portraying Jesus and events in the Bible.

Detroit Revealed: Photographs 2000-2010 contains fifty contemporary photographs of Detroit’s urban prairies, a nice way of saying Detroit’s dilapidation. It shows her closed factories, abandoned schools and houses in a new light. This collection is very touching, and the talent fantastic. One would think it would be depressing, but it is actually uplifting. It shows Detroit’s desire to rise from the ashes and become the Paris of the Midwest once again.

The collection of European paintings is also wonderful. It contains works from Renoir, Monet, Degas, Rembrandt and Bellini. These are but a few of the masters on display. We only had three hours to tour the collection, and it was not enough to do it justice. Definitely give yourself more time.

As you are leaving the Institute, snap some pictures of Rodin’s, The Thinker. He is positioned out front, and reminds people that art is about the effect. If art doesn’t elicit a response from the viewer then it has failed.