Thursday, October 17, 2013

Day Four: A Day with Degas, Diego Rivera and more at the DIA

When the Detroit Institute of Arts moved to its current building on Woodward Avenue in 1927, the new building was immediately dubbed the "temple of art." The nickname referred to the building's architecture, but it might also apply to the spiritual experience that a visit to the museum can elicit.

Art, poetry, music and literature are humanity’s way of sharing emotions and ideas without being bound by time. To stand before a work of art that someone created fifty, one hundred, or a thousand years ago is to time travel to the day that painting, photograph or sculpture was created. Sometimes you might walk away saying, "I don't get it," but sometimes you will look closely enough and feel the artists emotions within yourself and perhaps achieve a better sense of your own place within history.

I admit that I am not a museum person. I enjoy museums after I actually cross their thresholds and behold the beauty of their exhibits. However, crossing the threshold is the hardest part for me because most of the time I just take museums for granted. Maybe, I do not feel any urgency to visit museums because I know they will always be there for me. With the recent talk of the DIA possibly selling some of their collection to meet Detroit’s debt, I could not take the DIA for granted anymore.

As I approached the front of the museum from Woodward, I was struck by Rodin’s statue The Thinker but even more so by these words inscribed above the main entrance:


The enjoyment of art makes us uniquely human, and it saddens me that art is often the first thing that is cast aside when financial troubles loom. Without art, literature and music, we are hollow shells of ourselves. No other creatures on earth write poetry, compose symphonies or punk rock anthems, paint portraits or build museums and libraries. More Detroiters (and residents of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties) should take advantage of the free admission to the DIA that they are entitled to. This art is dedicated by the people of Detroit to all of us. This art can remind us where we have been and make us think about where we are going.

The DIA is one of the top six art collections in the United States, and it has a little something for everyone. With such a large collection, I do not know if I could see everything in one day. After all, I was there for several hours and did not make it past the second floor.

When you enter the building from the main entrance on Woodward, you will find yourself in the Great Hall on the second floor. The Great Hall is a fitting entranceway for an art collection of this magnitude. I felt like I was entering a grand palace with the suits of armor lining the hall as if they are guarding the treasures within.

After passing straight through the Great Hall, I found myself in Rivera Court, which in my opinion is the highlight of the DIA. I could spend a whole day looking at Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry. Rivera’s frescos cover portions of all four walls of the court and depict Detroit manufacturing and technology in the 1930s.

As a native son of Detroit whose ancestors worked in Stroh’s Brewery, Wyandotte Chemical’s plant and a steel treatment factory, I had a visceral connection with this room. The room is a source of pride and pain for me: pride in the role Detroit played in the development of our country into a manufacturing and technological giant; and pain for my ancestors who toiled so tirelessly while exposing their bodies to conditions that would not be allowed in today’s factories. The Rivera Court is a beautiful testament to our forbearers and is the heart of the DIA.

Moving on from Rivera Court, the second floor is filled with art from some of the most renowned painters of all time, such as Van Gogh, Degas, Matisse, Picasso and Monet. The second floor contains sculptures and painting grouped together by era, style or nationality of the artists. The enormity of the collection and the building itself make it easy for one to get lost among the art.

Unfortunately, I did not make it past the second floor, but I will return to the DIA to see more of its collection. Detroit is a great city, and a great city deserves an art museum of the DIA’s caliber. The DIA is beautiful, and I thank the people of Detroit for increasing my knowledge and enjoyment of art.

Here are some of the highlights of my visit (click on any picture to open a full gallery of photos):

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