DIA eNews September 2010
In This Issue
Director's Letter
In the Art Studio

Director's Letter

Graham W.J. Beal, Director

I have been working in art museums for quite a while and, as I look back, for a field generally regarded as static and staid, I see a great deal of change--incremental at first but now reaching sea-change status. My first position, at Sheffield City Art Galleries in the United Kingdom, was as "academic assistant to the director," the implication being that the director needed help with his own scholarly research--as was indeed the case. I joke that if today, as director, I was to request a line item for such a position, I would probably be fired for dereliction of duty!

It is the exponential growth of the museum field that has driven this transformation. In the last four decades museums have gone from being mission-driven entities with disparate--if not quirky--administrative and financial structures, to businesslike operations requiring disciplined management.

Emblematic of this shift was the "blockbuster" exhibition. Museums had always organized special exhibitions, but the extraordinary success of "King Tut" in the 1970s opened many eyes to the possibility of other exhibitions that would actually make a profit. Shows about gold, Egypt, and impressionists dominated the last quarter of the twentieth century, with Picasso, Vermeer, and a few other nonimpressionist individual artists exercising great pull. Initially seen as exciting by some and lamentable by others, these exhibitions seemed to be manifestations of real change. In some ways, though, nothing much changed at all. Rather, museums had found a way to market themselves more aggressively by exploiting a narrow range of existing practices. Within our own world, though, we continued to emphasize that the core mission remained the same: to "collect, conserve, and interpret" art. The barbarians, it turned out, were not inside the gates after all. In fact, they weren't even outside the gates!

But, despite a continued lack of barbarians, profound change has occurred over the first decade of the twenty-first century. It is, I believe, driven by two major factors: one, the proverbial baby boomers achieving executive status and following through with ideas developed in the '60s, and two, the unimaginable technological transformations personified by virtual reality and social media. These are profoundly democratizing forces that are causing real change--exciting change--in how we do business. To me, perhaps the most exciting feature revolves around our use of the word "interpret." Just who exactly are we interpreting for? Whose "language" and what vehicles should be used? We now have the opportunity not so much to administer top-down "interpretation" but to engage our audience in "conversations" about art in a multiplicity of ways not possible with gallery panels, flip labels, and programmed computer stations.

Where does this leave the traditional role of the museum as a repository for unique objects? When color reproduction began to replace black and white it actually increased desire to see the original of the work of art being depicted. So, I believe, will virtual access to institutions and individual works of art enhance the anticipation and experience of visiting and seeing the originals. A few years ago I was having a drink with an eminent director, since retired. "I love my job," he said, "but I'm glad I'm at the end of it and not the beginning." We were discussing looting and antiquities, and I understood exactly what he meant but, much as I enjoyed my stint as academic assistant to the director, right now I feel exactly the opposite.

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Francisco Goya, A Way of Flying


In Your Dreams: 500 Years of Imaginary Prints

Schwartz Galleries of Prints and Drawings
September 8, 2010--January 2, 2011

If you can think it, you can recreate it as an image on paper as this exhibition clearly demonstrates. The approximately 120 European and American prints on view represent fantastic interpretations of events, stories, sayings, personal recollections, and just simply made-up subjects from the last five centuries. Some are symbolic in their meaning, others illustrate recognizable but impossible scenarios, or present episodes described in literature, while others defy any definitive reading at all. Many types of beasts--some fierce, some friendly, and almost all bizarre--abound in imagery that so often touches on the uncertainties of the human condition.

Significant images include selections from Albrecht Dürer's 1497/98 visionary woodcut series The Apocalypse, including The Four Horsemen, representing conquest, war, famine, and death; the complete sets of Piranesi's fantastic but spatially impossible stone interiors of his Prisons, from 1761; Goya's eerie Los Proverbios, 1816, complete with winged, batlike humans (above); and Odilon Redon's iconic lithographs from his Temptation of Saint Anthony, 1888, with its well-known free-flying eyeballs. Individual works by artists such as Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso, and Joan Miro present more modern twists on unworldly subjects inspired by each artist's thoughts.

Above: Francisco Goya, Spanish; A Way of Flying, Proverbios Plate 13; ca. 1816; etching and aquatint. Founders Society Purchase, John S. Newberry Fund

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Detroit Film Theatre

The Alloy Orchestra

It's the best meets the best when the Alloy Orchestra returns to the DIA this month. Critic Roger Ebert calls the three Boston-based musicians "the best in the world at accompanying silent films." Metropolis, Fritz Lang's silent classic, has been fully restored into an astonishing new version of the visionary science fiction tale. The Alloy Orchestra's performance of their original score during the screening of this nearly complete Metropolis on September 25 will be one of this year's must-see cinematic events. The Alloy Orchestra also provides accompaniment for Man with a Movie Camera, a minute-by-minute portrait of a day in the life of a great city, and Underworld, the very first gangster film, which served as a model for the entire genre that followed.




The fall season opens the weekend of September 10 with the Irish film Kisses, about two kids who escape their drab suburban existence for the bright lights of Dublin, and The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector, a look at the work and trouble-filled, often bizarre, life of the legendary pop music genius. Also on the schedule is the Mexican film Alamar (To the Sea), a love story between father and son, man and nature, water and sky. The complete fall DFT season, including times, dates, and further descriptions, can be found on the DIA Web site later this month.

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Arts and Minds Lectures

The DIA's annual lecture series, Arts and Minds, returns with a another full slate of fresh views and candid conversations on art, history, and culture. The talks by noted curators, historians, and artists range from modern math in medieval Islamic architecture to a celebration of art and literature in the modern and contemporary galleries. The series is organized by DIA curators and museum auxiliary groups, sponsored with a grant from the Founders Junior Council.

Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons 

Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons


Three lectures are on the schedule for September: "Multimedia Art as a Celebratory Gesture of Resiliency," with Cuban-born artist Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons; printmaker Susan Goethel Campbell discussing her latest projects inspired by weather data and images of the Detroit skyline taken from a web cam installed in the Fisher Building; and "Collecting in a Changing Market: How the Global Economy Is Shaping Collecting Trends across All Sectors of the Art Market," with Paul Provost, a senior vice president at Christie's auction house in New York.

All lectures are free with museum admission. For more information, dates, and times, click here.

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In the Art Studio

Throwing pots on a wheel at the DIA Studio 

Ever want to try your hand at throwing a pot (on the potter's wheel, not the wall)? This fall, the DIA's art studio offers one-hour classes to try it out. The three sessions, open to children (ages 5-8 with an adult), teens, and adults, are scheduled on the afternoon of Sunday, October 24. There are only five slots per class, so register early. The studio also offers courses in painting and sculpting in wood and metal, among others. Preregistration and prepayment are required for all classes. The complete schedule is available at www.dia.org/learn.

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