Detroit Institute of Arts
Detroit has always been a blue-collar town, yet city founders amassed enough green during the heyday of the auto industry to fund what eventually became one of the country’s finest art museums. The Detroit Institute of Arts (5200 Woodward Ave., 313/833-7900, www.dia.org, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Wed.–Thurs., 10 a.m.–10 p.m. Fri., 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Sat.–Sun., $8 adults, $4 children 6–17) attracts more than 500,000 visitors each year. The sometimes-confusing 100-plus galleries contain some of the greatest art treasures of the world, including works by Van Gogh, Rodin, Rembrandt, Brueghel, and other masters.
The Detroit Institute of Arts strives to present an encyclopedic collection, with a multicultural scope that traces creativity in all of its forms, from prehistory through the present. Important collections include the French Impressionist, Italian (the largest outside Italy), German Expressionist, African, Asian, Native American, and 20th-century.
It’s worth hunting for the museum’s generally accepted best works, including Rodin’s pensive Thinker, Brueghel’s Wedding Dance (look closely and you may see some remnants of paint on the bulging codpieces; they were once painted over), Van Eyck’s tiny treasure, St. Jerome in His Study, Romare Bearden’s colorful Quilting Time, and Rembrandt’s enlightened Visitation.
While the building may seem to be full of art made by and for the ruling class, the city’s workers have the last laugh in the breathtaking Detroit Industry frescoes. Mexican muralist Diego Rivera captured the droning monotony of the assembly line in 27 huge panels surrounding the museum’s central courtyard. Rivera spent nine months in Detroit in 1933 before unveiling the series to great controversy.
A visionary Edsel Ford stood up to virulent criticism of the Mexican socialist’s frescoes, which were damning in their innate criticism of capitalism. Many city leaders wanted the walls whitewashed as soon as the scaffolding came down, but Ford stood firm, defending the murals, which, unlike another series in New York’s Rockefeller Center, were saved.
Relax and rest your feet with a cup of java or something stronger in the Kresge Court Café, a soaring green and light-filled space modeled after Florence’s Bargello Palace.
If you’re visiting on a weekend, stick around long enough to take in a movie at the Detroit Institute of Arts’s acclaimed 1,150-seat Detroit Film Theatre (313/833-3237), which offers important premieres by new and established directors and is one of the few venues in the city to show restored, rarely seen classics in their correct aspect ratios. Variety called it “the best buy for cineastes in America.”
by Laura Martone from Moon Michigan, 3rd Edition, © Avalon Travel