Detroit Institute of Arts
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Founded in the early 1880s and originally called the Detroit Museum of Art, The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) is the fifth largest art museum in the United States (the second largest municipally-owned museum), with one of the best collections of fine art in the world. Located in the city's Cultural Centre Historic District near Wayne State University, the Museum's orginal building was designed by Paul Cret. Following a substantial renovation and expansion program, completed in 2007, it now boasts over 100 galleries, and occupies more than 670,000 square feet. The museum's encyclopedic permanent collection, valued in 2003 at more than $1 billion, consists of more than 65,000 works dating from the 4th Millennium BCE, and illustrates creative achievements from all corners of the globe. The Detroit Institute of Arts is also home to the Detroit Film Theatre and hosts major art exhibitions.
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Following the 1889 gift to the Museum of a group of 100 works by Old Masters by newspaper magnate James Scripps, the Museum gradually began collecting in earnest and its acquisitions were many and varied. Early examples included: a relief sculpture from the ancient city of Babylon, reliefs and statuettes from ancient Egypt. Then, from 1924, under the direction of director William Valentiner, and with the assistance of several notable benefactors, another important group of oil paintings was acquired including masterpieces like The Wedding Dance by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, St. Jerome in his Study by Jan van Eyck, and Madonna and Child by Giovanni Bellini. Other purchases included works by Peter Paul Rubens, Albrecht Durer and Rembrandt, as well as modern painters like Claude Monet, Odilon Redon, and Edgar Degas. Other gems acquired by the Detroit Institute of Arts included a Vincent van Gogh self-portrait, along with important works by Henri Matisse, Hans Holbein the Younger, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Eugene Delacroix, and Auguste Rodin. As regards 19th century works, the DIA benefited significantly from the 1970 Robert H. Tannahill bequest of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works.
The Museum authorities also fastened onto German Expressionism at an early stage, securing numerous masterpieces for the Museum's Modern collection. In addition, it purchased Diego Rivera's Detroit Industry cycle of frescos, as well as the highly popular Nut Gatherers by William-Adolphe Bouguereau. Because the museum entered the European market at a comparatively early stage, it was able to capture a number of important works and establish itself as one of the best art museums in the world. By comparison, the richer J Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles began collecting at a later stage and, as a result, has been able to acquire mostly lesser works.
Among the finest individual works of art at the Detroit Institute of Arts are:
Glazed brick Dragon from the Ishtar
Gate at Babylon (604-562 BCE)
These collection highlights help to make the Detroit Institute of Arts one of the best art museums in America.
The Detroit Institute of Arts divides its permanent collection into the following departments: Africa, Oceania and Indigenous American Art; General Motors Center for African American Art; American Art; The Arts of Asia and the Islamic World; European Art; Prints, Drawings, and Photographs; The James Pearson Duffy Department of Contemporary Art; and Performing Arts (not covered). Here is a brief overview of each.
Africa, Oceania and Indigenous American
Indigenous American Art
General Motors Center for African American Art
This is a curatorial department and resource centre that pursues acquisitions, organizes special exhibitions, lectures, symposia and workshops on African American arts. Founded in 2000, the GM Center for African American Art represents one of the first departments concerned exclusively with African American art at any major art museum. The centre's collection currently numbers some 400 objects in various media, with a focus on modern graphic art. Notable African American artists represented in the collection include: Benny Andrews, Romare Bearden, Robert Colescott, Roy DeCarava, Beauford Delaney, Robert Scott Duncanson, Sam Gilliam, Richard Hunt, Jacob Lawrence, Al Loving, Hughie Lee-Smith, Allie McGhee, Gordon Parks, Howardena Pindell, Martin Puryear, Alison Saar, Augusta Savage, Lorna Simpson, Henry Ossawa Tanner, Robert Thompson, Carrie Mae Weems, William T. Williams and Hale A. Woodruff.
The Detroit Institute of Arts collection of American Art spans a wide range of media and objects, dating from the early Colonial period to the mid-20th century. Holdings include painting, sculpture, furniture, the decorative arts and architecture. The great strength of the American collection is its paintings. Highlights include Watson and the Shark by the portraitist and history painter John Singleton Copley; The Trappers Return by the Luminist frontier painter George Caleb Bingham; Cotopaxi by the Hudson River School artist Frederic Edwin Church; Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket by the Symbolist and Impressionist James Abbott McNeill Whistler; and Mosquito Nets by the society portrait artist John Singer Sargent.
Other American painters represented include: George Bellows, Alexander Calder, Mary Cassatt and Childe Hassam, (see also American Impressionism), Thomas Cole, Thomas Eakins, Robert Henri (see also Ashcan School), Charles Willson Peale, Winslow Homer, Hiram Powers, Georgia O'Keeffe, Paul Revere, Frederic Remington, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, John French Sloan, Gilbert Stuart, Andy Warhol, and Andrew Wyeth.
Also included is Diego Rivera's celebrated Detroit Industry fresco series, the most important work by a Mexican mural painter in the United States. Commissioned by Edsel Ford and museum director William Valentiner, this vibrant work chronicles the importance of industry to the city of Detroit.
The American decorative art collection features furniture of the 18th and 19th century, made by craftsmen like Duncan Phyfe, Henry Belter, the Herter Brothers and Louis Comfort Tiffany. Also represented are works by silversmiths including Paul Revere, Gorham and Tiffany & Co., along with a ceramic collection based around the pottery of Pewabic Pottery and renowned Arts and Crafts potter Adelaide Robineau. The American glass collection illustrates early 20th century designs.
Pre-Islamic Middle Eastern Art
The Ancient Middle East collection features a group of objects produced between 3000 BCE and 600 CE. These artworks and artifacts illustrate the increased incidence of writing, of trade, of religions, of urban development and of imperial conquest in the great civilizations of the Ancient Middle East. Exhibits include: cuneiform clay tablets, carved stone reliefs, seals and carved gemstones, metalwork, pottery, glass, textiles and coins. One of the special highlights of the collection is the glazed brick Dragon from the Ishtar Gate at Babylon (604-562 BCE).
Ancient Western Antiquities
The museum's collection of ancient art features a selection of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman works, including sculpture, jewellery, amphorae, and other decorative artworks. Established under the direction of William Valentiner, important works include the Greek Panathenaic Prize Amphora from the Panathenaic games in the 4th century BCE, the exquisite Etruscan Bronze Horseman, and the Roman statue, Venus Genetrix.
The Islamic art collection features ceramics and metalwork from the central Islamic lands, a large collection of medieval Egyptian fabrics decorated with religious inscriptions, lusterware from Iran, Egypt, Syria and Spain, silks from early modern Iran, and carpets from Western China, among other items. Unusual highlights include: a 13th century enameled glass bottle from Egypt made for a Yemeni Sultan, and an elaborate 15th century Quran inscribed on coloured Chinese paper.
The DIAs collection of Asian art largely features material from China, Korea, Japan and Southeast Asia, dating from 2500 BCE to the present. Many of Asia's philosophies and traditions, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism etc., are represented in a variety of artworks including: jades, ritual bronzes, funerary and functional ceramics, painting on scrolls and screens, lacquerware, furniture, textiles, and religious sculpture.
Southeast Asian Art
The Detroit Institute of Arts' collection of European art is one of the largest and most important in America. It features a diverse range of fine art painting, and sculpture from across Europe, exemplifying almost all historical periods and artistic movements from Classical Antiquity up to the 20th century.
The European paintings collection encompasses very large holdings of paintings, from the Renaissance (1400-1530), Mannerist (1530-1600) and Baroque (1600-1700) periods, by artists such as Jan van Eyck, Giovanni Bellini, Hans Holbein the Younger, Albrecht Durer, Titian, Caravaggio, the Frenchman Nicolas Poussin, and many others. Its assembly of Dutch and Flemish schools is also renowned for its depth and quality, and features works by Rubens, Bruegel, Rembrandt, Van Ruisdael and others.
Sculpture and Decorative Arts
The collection of European sculpture and decorative arts has roughly 7,000 pieces. Dating from the Dark Ages (c.400-800) through the 1800s, it illustrates all major movements and traditions from the early Christian art era thru the Renaissance up to Art Nouveau, and includes includes armour, ceramics, furniture, glass, ivory carvings, jewellery, precious metalwork, tapestry, and sculpture - statues, reliefs and busts - in all media. It is especially strong in Italian Renaissance sculpture, with works by Nino Pisano, Donatello, Luca della Robbia, Gianlorenzo Bernini, and other important sculptors. Northern Renaissance sculpture is exemplified by important exhibits of German limewood sculpture and stained glass. French decorative art is represented by Sèvres porcelain, furniture, silver, as well as Gobelins and Beauvais tapestry art.
The collection of modern art features a breathtaking array of 20th century European artists, including: Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Joan Miro Yves Tanguy, the "rediscovered" William Adolphe Bouguereau, the German Expressionists Franz Marc, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Max Beckmann, Emil Nolde, Lovis Corinth, the sculptor Ernst Barlach, Erich Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Paula Modersohn-Becker, the Austrian Oskar Kokoschka, the Russians Wassily Kandinsky and Chaim Soutine and the Norwegian Edvard Munch. The collection also comprises a number of important sculptures by Henry Moore, Max Ernst and others.
Prints, Drawings, and Photographs
This collection, numbering some 35,000 items, features a wide range of prints, drawings, photographs, watercolour painting, posters and artists books, dating from 1500 onwards. Many different cultures are represented although the collection is strongest in European and American works. Highlights include: 2,500 sketches by the 19th-century American landscape artist, Thomas Cole, acquired in 1939. Donations by John S. Newberry (1965) and Robert H. Tannahill (1970) significantly expanded the collection, and in 1980 the Schwartz Galleries of Prints and Drawings was opened to best display the collection. The Albert and Peggy de Salle Gallery of Fine Art Photography followed in 1983.
The James Pearson Duffy Department of Contemporary Art
Detroit's department of contemporary art covers works from 1950 onwards, with a focus on postwar American art, notably Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, and Pop Art. Many important contemporary exhibits - including works by Willem de Kooning, Donald Judd, and Andy Warhol - were donated by the arts patron W. Hawkins Ferry or his museum support group the Friends of Modern Art. The collection of postwar European art also features important works by Alberto Giacometti and Francis Bacon. Acquisition of contemporary works by young artists continues and the collection is beginning to introduce new art media including installation and video art.
For more about famous art-buyers
and their collections, see: Art Collectors.