DIA eNews April 2011

In This Issue
Director's Letter
Detroit Film Theater
New Acquisitions
Art X Detoit
Art Studio

Director's Letter

Graham W.J. Beale, Director 

We spend quite a bit of time at the DIA discussing which special exhibitions to present here, partly because, despite the shifting landscape in the art museum universe, they remain a significant attraction for just about every museum in the country. A couple of decades ago, there were three major topics guaranteed to draw crowds: ancient Egypt, gold, and late nineteenth-century French painting. Unlike the actual metal, gold as an exhibition theme seems to have lost its proverbial luster, but the other two are still going strong. Given its initial hostile reception, the perennial interest in all things generally associated with impressionism is somewhat ironic, and within this group, several names have particular potency: Van Gogh, Renoir, Monet, and Cézanne. This appeal extends beyond the United States, and we get more loan requests for these artists than just about the rest of the collection put together. (I should, perhaps, explain here that we turn down more loan requests than we approve and that, by and large, I'm talking about some of the world's most famous art museums.)

There are seven paintings by Renoir in our collection, and a couple of years ago all but one of them were out on loan or scheduled to be and the sole survivor would have been, too, but we explained to the would-be borrower that their request had come too late! We also have five Cézannes and recently two of them were requested for the same exhibition--the same two that were among the three loaned in the not-too-distant past to a single exhibition.

Prominent among other artists whose name alone is a guarantee of high attendance are Picasso and Dali and, when our PR and marketing department asked on our Facebook page and on Twitter, "Which work of art would you most like to see at the DIA?," they were both at the top of the list, alongside Leonardo and Michelangelo. Conspicuous by his absence was Raphael, an interesting fate for someone who, for over three and a half centuries, was regarded as the epitome of artistic greatness, a model for all artists, and dubbed "The Divine Raphael." Frida Kahlo requests outnumbered those for her husband, Diego Rivera, and Camille Claudel scored higher than her erstwhile lover, Auguste Rodin. These submissions from 142 art enthusiasts hardly qualify as scientific, but the results were very much in keeping with a staff discussion held shortly before the pages were sent out. Vermeer was also a high scorer, another example of a dramatic change in reputation. Now a sure-fire draw, in his lifetime he could not make a living from his art and worked as an art dealer. After his premature death, the local baker refused to accept several of his paintings that his wife offered as payment for the bread bill, and in the coming decades he was literally written out of the history books, with his works being systematically attributed to other artists, including Gerard ter Borch, Jacob Ochtervelt, and Frans van Mieris--the last name being the one given as the artist of a painting bought by King George III that now hangs in the British Royal Collection as The Music Lesson by Johannes Vermeer.

Talking of names, I wonder if I can conscript your help in a campaign to restore a famous artist's correct name. I hope I will not damage what reputation I have by admitting that I found Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code an ingenious page-turner, but there was, actually, no such artist called "Da Vinci." His name was Leonardo and, eschewing a family name, he was identified in Florence as being the man called Leonardo, who had come from a small nearby town called Vinci. Artists known only by their given name belong to a pretty exclusive club, two others being Rembrandt and Michelangelo. Van Gogh tried to shoot his way in by signing his work "Vincent," but it didn't work--a factor that has no bearing on his almost unparalleled popularity today. In fairness, Van Gogh only wanted to sound friendly, but don't you think it would be good to put Leonardo back where he belongs?

Graham Beal Signature
Graham W. J. Beal

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Rembrandt's Son, Titus


Fakes, Forgeries, and Mysteries

Through April 10, 2011
Special Exhibition Galleries: South

Everybody makes a mistake sometime, and there's only a week left to see ones the DIA has made over the course of its 125-year history. As Director Graham Beal has said, most of the time we get things right, but we constantly re-assess the art in the collection through research, science, and technology, an aspect of the museum rarely seen by the public. But Fakes, Forgeries, and Mysteries, which closes Sunday, April 10, reveals how curators, conservators, and scholars determine the authenticity of a work of art.

Sometimes it takes research in far-flung archives to answer questions about who painted a work and when. Other times, technology is used to determine the age of a work--counting tree rings or analyzing paint samples to see if physical and chemical properties match up with the date assigned to a piece of art. An aesthetic analysis--comparing brush strokes and compositions--can also result in a change of attribution or date. And there are times when the evidence is inconclusive, and the authenticity remains a mystery.

For a this series of videos on how DIA staff members investigate works of art, click here.

Timed tickets are necessary to see the exhibition. Click here to purchase them. Members see the exhibition free. Don't forget to bring your cell phone to access Director Graham Beal's audio commentary on the exhibition. The cell phone gallery guide is provided free of charge; however, you will use your cell phone minutes while connected, regardless of your carrier. A printed copy of the tour is also available.

Imitator of Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn; Rembrandt's Son, Titus, about 1880; formerly Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, Dutch; oil on canvas. Collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts

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It's A Zoo In Here! Prints and Drawings of Animals

Through September 25, 2011
Schwartz Galleries of Prints and Drawings

The Bird of Washington or Great American Sea Eagle 

John James Audubon, American; The Bird of Washington or Great American Sea Eagle, 1827; engraving, etching, and aquatint. Founders Society Purchase with funds from Mr. and Mrs. Edgar B. Whitcomb


The concept for this exhibition is simple--just pictures of animals--but the interest and ingenuity it reveals about art across the ages is impressive. From Albrecht Dürer in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries to Picasso, Matisse, and Diego Rivera in the early twentieth, to contemporaries such as Jane Hammond working just a few years ago, artists have found animals to be rich subjects that convey many levels of meaning from straightforward portrayals to richly nuanced symbols and suggestive metaphors. John James Audubon attempted to be as true to nature as possible in his depictions of the Birds of America, showing each specimen, including the American eagle, life-sized (left). Other works tell elaborate stories: the detailed 1558 pen and ink drawing of Callisto by Domenico Campagnola captures precisely the moment that she is transformed into a bear in a famous legend from Greek and Roman mythology. Antonio Tempesta's views of hunting scenes from the late seventeenth century reveal detailed costumes and intriguing practices that might make a viewer wonder about life from a long-gone time.

It's a Zoo in Here! is meant to please, inspire, and intrigue audiences of all ages and interest levels. Under its simple, but widely embracing categorization of art, it includes some of history's most inventive and progressive creators as well as many lesser known but as talented individuals who made pictures that continue to captivate. Art can be defined as many things, and as this exhibition shows it seems almost everyone has found it can always be made about animals.

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An Intuitive Eye: André Kertész Photographs, 1914-69

Through May 29, 2011
Albert and Peggy de Salle Gallery of Photography

The Cafe du Dome 

André Kertész, American born Hungary; The Cafe du Dome, Paris, 1925; gelatin silver print. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Noel Levine


André Kertész (1894-1985) asserted that his photography was intuitive, and that his images were a personal response to the world around him. With an adept eye, he created balanced compositions by combining the photojournalistic "snapshot" with dramatic viewpoints and attention to line and pattern.

This exhibition celebrates the innovations of a  legendary photographer with works spanning the breadth of his long career. These photographs chart his movements from his native Hungary to Paris, in 1925, and to New York, in 1936, where he and his wife, Elizabeth, settled and became U.S. citizens.

The photographic style Kertész developed is characterized by carefully composed scenes defined with light and shadow. His contemplative shots of city streets and his elegant still-life compositions are now icons of modern photography.

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Annual Detroit Public Schools Student Exhibition

April 30-June 5, 2011
Walter Gibbs Learning Center in the Wayne & Joan Webber Education Wing

Cityscape with skyscrapers and helicopter 

Kyle Williams, Untitled; pastel. Burton International Academy, Grade 5

Close up photograph of a violin 

Angelica Okorom, Light as an Instrument; digital print. Renaissance High School, Grade 11


Art by Detroit Public School students, from kindergartners to high school seniors, is showcased in this annual exhibition. Among the variety of objects on view are paintings, drawings, ceramics, collages, photographs, videos, and jewelry.

More student art work, this time from across the state, is on view in the Forty-third Michigan Student Film and Video Festival, playing Saturday, April 30, at 10 a.m. in the Detroit Film Theatre. The festival is unique in the nation for providing a public venue for the work of kindergarten through twelfth-grade students.  Admission to the festival is free.

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Detroit Film Theatre

The Detroit Film Theatre finishes its Winter 2011 season with films from across the globe for both the regular features and the DFT 101 matinees. From France, comes Queen to Play, starring Oscar-winner Kevin Kline, in his first French-speaking role, and the luminous Sandrine Bonnaire. The two square off in this stylish and sophisticated dramatic comedy playing the weekends of April 22 and April 29. On Saturday, April 30, DFT 101 offers Wooden Crosses, also from France, depicting the travails of one French regiment during World War I.

Kuroneko is set in medieval Japan, pitting a war hero against a vicious demon at the Rajomon Gate. But when the warrior arrives, he is startled to find two beautiful women who resemble his lost mother and wife. It plays the weekends of April 8 and April 15. DFT 101's Tokyo Story, showing April 23, is one of the greatest of all Japanese films, unfolding from the simple tale of an aging rural couple visiting their married children in the big city.

Le Quattro Volte

From Italy comes Le Quattro Volte (left), a dialogue-free meditation on man and nature, the glorious cycle of life, and the rituals of rural folk in the Italian region of Calabria. The film plays the weekends of April 15 and April 22. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, playing the weekend of April 29, is a Thai film about a farmer suffering from kidney failure, who is tended to by loved ones and visited by the ghosts of his wife and son.

For the complete DFT schedule or to purchase tickets, click here.

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New Acquisitions

Detroit Industry murals, north wall 

Diego Rivera, Mexican; Detroit Industry, North Wall, 1933; fresco. Gift of Edsel B. Ford.


Three small sketches, recent additions to the DIA collection, represent some of Diego Rivera's earliest thoughts on what would become the museum's great mural cycle devoted to Detroit's industry and Michigan's bounty. They show the evolution of Rivera's thoughts and reveal the astonishing speed with which he conceived the tremendously complex Detroit Industry fresco cycle.

Rivera arrived in Detroit on April 21, 1932, to begin the mural commission approved by the city's Arts Commission a year earlier for two walls of the then Garden Court. He immediately immersed himself in sketching the workers and the auto-assembly operation at the Ford River Rouge plant. On May 21, 1932, he presented two highly developed preliminary drawings of what would become the finished North and South Wall main panels to a small gathering of DIA officials at a dinner party in Grosse Pointe.

The drawings, given the subsequent great development of the subject, must represent some of the artist's earliest jottings, done sometime between his arrival April 21 and the May 21 dinner. Very little of the sketches' detail actually appear in the frescos. The drawings show that from the onset, Rivera was thinking about segmenting the large panels into a series of compartments, but the configurations seen in any of the three are not what Rivera finally settled on. The large bucket that appears in two of the drawings represents a dominant aspect of the automobile manufacturing scene, which did stay in the finished murals, as did a central curvilinear arrangement of beams for the overhead conveyer-belt system, complete with rising steam, smoke, and fire.

A shadowy darkness on the right edge of the pen and ink drawing North Wall, Automotive Panel, Detroit Industry Mural (above, middle) suggests additional drawing was done on the other side of the sheet but that is not the case. The paper is actually a piece of hotel stationery, and the shadowy section is a hotel logo and address. We have to assume that Rivera had an idea on the spot and reached for the nearest drawing materials to record his thoughts.

Within five days of the dinner party at which the proposed murals were revealed, Rivera was in talks to expand the scope of the project to all four walls of the Garden Court as well as the upper reaches of the space. On May 30, 1932, he was offered a contract, and by June 10, all parties signed a final document. Rivera began painting the murals on July 25 and completed what is today Rivera Court on March 13, 1933.

To see the sketches and hear Curator Nancy Sojka talk about them, click here.

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Art X Detroit

Louis Aguilar
Chido Johnson

Come to the DIA Saturday, April 9, for Art X Detroit, a celebration of public art, special exhibitions, dance, music, and literary readings. The five-day festival features newly commissioned works created by the 2008-2010 Kresge Eminent Artists and Artist Fellows in events held throughout the Cultural Center.

Starting at 4 p.m. at the DIA, Chido Johnson brings his Wire Car Cruise to the Woodward Circle. The cruise features vehicles made from wire with a long handle that allows them to be pushed down the street. In southern Africa, wire cars are toys similar to objects included in the exhibition Through African Eyes. The festivities move indoors for a 5:30 p.m. concert by Rick Robinson and the CutTime Simfonica, six strikingly fantastic string players from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, who blend classical music with urban dance, jazz, gospel, and other folk idioms.

Louis Aguilar's The Troublemakers: The True, Epic Story of Diego and Frieda in Depression-Era Detroit is a multimedia telling of the battle over Diego Rivera's Detroit Industry murals. It will be shown, appropriately, in Rivera Court at 7 p.m. Community leaders and artists recreate the impressions Rivera and his wife, Frieda Kahlo, had of Detroit through their own words in a three-act play.

The evening concludes with a performance by flamenco dancer Valeria Montes beginning at 8:30 p.m.

While you're in the neighborhood, check out artist Charles McGee's newly commissioned eight-by-twenty-two-foot sculpture Spirit Renewal, installed in front of the Horace H. Rackham Memorial Building across from the DIA's Farnsworth entrance. McGee's large mixed-media Noah's Art: Genesis is on view in the contemporary galleries on the museum's second floor.

Kresge Arts in Detroit, funded by the Kresge Foundation and administered by the College for Creative Studies, provides significant financial support to metropolitan Detroit artists through the Kresge Artist Fellowships and the Kresge Eminent Artist Award.

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In The Art Studio

Looking for something to do with the kids during Spring Break? If your school district is off the first week in April, then the DIA can help you out with weekday drop-in workshops. Each workshop, held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Webber Education Wing, features a different kind of book art: Chinese Slat Books on Wednesday, April 6; Origami Star Books on Thursday, April 7, and Japanese Stab Binding on Friday, April 8. The Family Fitting Room will also be available to create customized tours for families in Prentis Court from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on those same dates.

For a complete list of studio activities, visit the DIA Web site.

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Double Discount Days

Members' Double Discount Days begin in the museum shop on Friday, April 29, and run through Sunday, May 8. All museum members receive a 20 percent discount on purchases, twice the usual 10 percent.

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