On a recent visit to see my family for the holidays I made my obligatory trip to the Detroit Institute of Arts. In my nine years of living in eastern Michigan I grew to love this museum, so much so that I became a volunteer for a short while before I moved west. It was a great experience, one that I would recommend to anyone that is passionate about art and the importance of community involvement. Going back after being away for six months made the visit even more interesting; seeing all the changes that have recently been made (more about this in an upcoming post) and viewing some great new pieces that I haven’t seen before.
Their current special exhibit 30 Americans offers a perspective on “America” and its culture from thirty African American artists. Their work is often thought provoking and critical of the way our society chooses to portray race; which often results in broad generalizations and the diminishing of an individuals’ personal experiences. We like to categorize, divide, and organize history to fit a specific context. And in the end, it often ends up being repackaged to fit a commercial need. This is of course my interpretation of the show. And I’m sure each visitor will take away a different perspective on what this show means to them. I highly recommend you check out the DIA’s description of the show here.
Another aspect of the show that I appreciated is the DIA’s approach to bring each individual viewer’s perspectives together as a collaborative whole. This is achieved through a variety of methods, one technique being the more traditional method of having a comment wall at the end of the exhibition.
A newer approach allows for the visitor to record their experience digitally in a photo booth, which then projects the videos together on the screen hanging above. This technique, along with a great multi-media app of the exhibition that can be downloaded to help guide you through the show, totally had the art history lover in me geeking out. I’m always impressed when curators are able to bring the experience full circle; combining new means of communication on multiple platforms, with traditional presentation techniques that ultimately allows for more involvement on the visitor level. Hell, just the fact that they allowed photography in this special exhibit is a huge step. It once again differentiates this show as being different from the norm and increases the likelihood of individuals sharing their experience of the exhibit. This post being an obvious example that it works!
All in all, if you have the chance to visit this show before it ends on January 18th, do it. I believe it to be a fresh perspective on the relationship between art museums and the public. Oh, and the fact that there is some fantastic artwork by some amazing artists doesn’t hurt.
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