We never thought of ourselves as bad guys, but for many years art museums were acquiring works of art to which the seller or donor did not have good legal title. While there might have been some justification for this behavior, it’s different these days, and we find ourselves addressing issues of stolen art. In the United States, there are four main categories: Nazi looted art, Native American art, looted antiquities from around the world, and art related to specific historical events, such as the wholesale seizure of Benin sculpture by the British army as part of the so-called Punitive Expedition of 1897.
We’ve had six Nazi-related claims, each very different in character, resulting in very different outcomes, ranging from the return of a painting by Claude Monet in 1950 to the recent rejection of a claim for an artwork that, upon investigation, turned out to have already been returned to the claimants’ uncle and then sold on the open market following his death in 1958. Unlike a number of European countries, the United States has no special committee set up to adjudicate contested claims, so the courts here are the place of last resort. I represented U.S. art museums at a Holocaust conference in Prague–a grueling experience where I listened to denunciations of U.S. museums in one session and, in the next, applause for a curator at a European national art gallery as she denounced her museum for holding on to thousands of looted pieces. (I don’t know if she kept her job, but I do know that none of those pieces has been repatriated.)
The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) is difficult to summarize but, for practical purposes, I think of it as designed to facilitate the return of human remains and associated items, as well as sacred objects, that were wrongly separated from Native American nations and individuals. Shortly after my arrival here, we were able to return a wonderful bear claw necklace that was being claimed as personal property by a descendant of the chief who sold it many years ago. The Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska also entered a claim, asserting the necklace was an important community object needed for religious ceremonies, producing something of a quandary for the DIA. The demise of the descendant cleared the way for the necklace’s return to the tribe, and we transferred it to the Kansas Historical Society, where it is stored in appropriate museum conditions for use in the relevant religious ceremony–twice yearly, if I remember correctly.
As our ancient Egyptian, Middle Eastern, Greek, and Roman collections are adequate to represent these vanished realms, I decided some years ago that the DIA would not use its precious human and financial resources to add to them because the likelihood that anything being considered for purchase had been illegally excavated was extremely high. Similar strictures apply to our pre-Columbian collections. We also have to exercise extreme care when considering certain types of sculpture from countries such as Myanmar (Burma), Indonesia, and Cambodia. This is a big change from when I entered the profession forty years ago. In those days, little thought was given to the origins of proposed acquisitions, which the Boston Globe recently described as “swashbuckling.” This was followed by a period of “don’t ask, don’t tell” before finally being replaced by a set of recommendations that stress a range of legal, historical, and moral issues.
Through September 7 Special Exhibition Galleries: Central
Noted photographer Bruce Weber first came to Detroit in 2006 to shoot a spread for W magazine featuring the model Kate Moss. “Over the years, I’d see pictures by Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank, portraits done in Detroit,” Weber says, “and I’d say, ‘I wonder why all those guys went there.’ And as soon as I got there, I knew why. There’s a freedom there that doesn’t exist anywhere else.”
Images from that visit and those from a second trip in 2013 for an ad campaign for Detroit’s Shinola watch and bicycle manufacturer are the basis for this exhibition, which includes pictures taken on Belle Isle, at a Sunday church service, in the now closed Kronk Gym, and at a Detroit Hair Wars competition. Also included are photographs from other times and places of well-known figures with Detroit ties–Aretha Franklin, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, and others.
For decades, Weber’s work has appeared in such magazines as Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, and Vogue. Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue and artistic director for Condé Nast’s publications, says what makes Weber’s work inspiring is his love for his subjects. “He sees people in such a kind way,” she told the Detroit Free Press. “Bruce has a love affair with his subjects. He photographs the people he admires, and it makes no difference what kind of background they come from or how successful they are. He sees the person.”
For more on Weber and a slide show of exhibition images, click here.
A catalogue, poster, and other exhibition-related items are available in the Museum Shop.
Sketch of Monadnock Mountain, 1897, oil on canvas; Abbott Handerson Thayer, American. Museum Purchase, Funds from Robert H. Tannahill Foundation Fund and Dexter M. Ferry Fund
The DIA has recently acquired its first work by prominent fin-de-siècle American painter Abbott Handerson Thayer (1849-1921), Sketch of Monadnock Mountain (1897), currently on view in the American art galleries.
Thayer and his family spent summers in Dublin, New Hampshire beginning in 1888, before taking up permanent residence there in 1902. Mount Monadnock, located about six miles southwest of Dublin, became one of the artist’s major motifs. He painted at least fifteen versions of the subject in oil; the museum’s is one of the earliest.
Following the lead of transcendentalists Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, both of whom climbed and wrote about the mountain, Thayer turned Monadnock into a personal symbol of self-reliant individualism that he sought to achieve in his own life. Both Emerson and Thoreau used the panoramic view from the summit as a metaphor for the kind of expanded understanding they thought every person was capable of achieving. For them, Mount Monadnock was a natural symbol for moral and intellectual self-reliance.
While Thayer’s portraits from the early 1880s are highly finished with smooth surfaces, his mature work, a mixture of figurative and landscape pictures, was typically sketchy, with a vigorous application of paint. Although he sometimes belabored his paintings, the best of them were painted quickly or, at least, preserved the feeling of having been painted quickly, with large strokes of often pure colors.
The DFT remains dark this July to accommodate much-needed renovation of the theater’s 1927 air-handling system, but Curator of Film and Video Elliot Wilhelm has some suggestions for summer viewing:
“Until our reopening this fall, moviegoers can find a number of opportunities to catch some extraordinary new films in other locations or catch up on a major DFT event they may have missed via home video formats.
Courtesy of Music Box Films
“Director Pawel Pawilkowski (My Summer of Love) returned to his native Poland to create his latest work, and, based on my single viewing of it at last fall’s Toronto International Film Festival, I suspect it may prove to be his masterpiece. Set in the 1960s, Ida is the story of a young woman raised in a convent (a haunting performance by newcomer Agata Trzebuchowska) who, just prior to taking her vows, makes a discovery that will change everything in her world, including her very notion of who she is. Filmed in black-and-white with austere, eloquent simplicity, Ida is a profoundly affecting and totally assured work of art; it’s not surprising that it won the Best Film prizes at the London and Warsaw Film Festivals, as well as the Critics’ Prize in Toronto. Ida can be seen in July at the Maple Theater in Bloomfield and the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor.
“Also in July, Detroit’s Redford Theater presents Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 Vertigo (which recently supplanted Citizen Kane as the ‘greatest film of all time’ in a poll of 846 international critics, programmers, and academics conducted by the British Film Institute [BFI]) in a restored 70mm print created from original VistaVision film elements and a newly remastered soundtrack. In the 1950s, the VistaVision process was used to give films a startling visual clarity and resolution, and this large-format restoration gives Hitchcock’s dreamlike images a thrilling new immediacy.
“The BFI’s greatest films list makes a good starting place for those who want to explore motion-picture history, and viewers can plunge right in to the addictive, 15-part (one hour each) documentary The Story of Film: An Odyssey by Irish film critic Mark Cousins. His personal and insightful commentary ingeniously connects the hundreds of film clips and interviews contained in this series. Even if you caught all of this amazing work at the DFT two years ago when we presented it over seven consecutive Saturdays, you’ll find a revisit an energizing way to rekindle your love of the movies. The Story of Film is available on DVD, as well as via streaming video services. What could be a better way to get ready for the many superb new and classic films coming to the DFT in October?”
Coming in August: Three weekend evenings of Movies at Metroparks featuring the original Godzilla and the recently restored A Hard Day’s Night. The first screenings are Friday, August 1, and Saturday, August 2, at Kensington Metropark in Milford. Showtime is 8:45 p.m. both evenings. For more information on dates and locations, click here.
The DIA welcomes three musical groups to the South Lawn (weather permitting) Friday, July 11, and Sunday, July 13, as part of the annual Concert of Colors, metro Detroit’s free music festival featuring performers from around the globe.
PanaMO (left), a jazz band led by Panamanian master percussionist Obed Succari, kicks things off Friday at 5 p.m., performing original compositions with strong Latin roots and flavor, as well as jazz standards with inventive arrangements. Later, at 7 p.m., Cuddle Magic takes to the stage creating chamber pop though a blend of traditional and modern instrumentation. In addition to their vocals, guitars and keyboards, layered with bass clarinet, trumpet and percussion, toy-piano virtuoso Phyllis Chen joins the band.
The music continues on Sunday with a Japanese taiko drum performance by members of the Great Lakes Taiko Center (left), at 2 p.m.. Taiko, Japanese for drum, features a wide range of two-sided stick percussion instruments.
In case of inclement weather, concerts will be moved indoors. Inside or out, they are free.
Concert of Colors, now in its twenty-second year, runs July 5 and July 10 through July 13 in locations throughout Midtown Detroit. For a complete schedule, click here.
The puppets are coming in all shapes, sizes, and forms for seven different productions, appropriate for all ages, during the three days of the 2014 Puppeteers of America Great Lakes Regional Festival, July 25 through July 27. The Puppeteers of America, founded in Detroit in 1937, was the brainchild of Paul McPharlin, who formed the DIA’s puppet collection.
Manual Cinema‘s unique blend of overhead projectors, shadow puppets, actors in silhouette, and live music can be hard to explain, according to the Chicago Tribune, but whatever it might be, a New York critic said he’d “never seen anything else like Lula Del Ray.” This story of a lonely girl (left) who, inspired by the songs of the Braden Brothers, a soulful country music duo, runs away from home into a world of danger, deception, and disappointment, can be seen Friday, July 25, at 7:30 p.m. Shadow puppets are also featured in Mefiez-Vous de la Vache Garou (Beware the Werecow!), a collection of scary stories, creepy comedy, and terrifying twists, all set in the swamps of Louisiana, on Saturday, July 26, at 1:15 p.m.
Marionettes take center stage when three generations of the Melchoir family, all women, present a puppet variety show Saturday, July 26, at 12:15 p.m. Other performances featuring stringed puppets are The Snowflake Man (left), about a pioneer of snowflake photography on Friday, July 25, 3:30 p.m., and a retelling of Rudyard Kipling’s classic Jungle Book, on Saturday, July 26, 10:30 a.m.
For a mixture of puppet types–hand, stick, and strings–check out The Yellow Wallpaper and The Crane Maiden, stories exploring the relationship between society and nature on Sunday, July 27, at noon. Beauty and the Beast, Sunday at 11 a.m. (check here for location), marks the return of Dick Myers‘s one-of-a-kind puppets crafted forty years ago for the original staging of this classic story.
While performances are appropriate for all ages, Saturday’s The Jungle Book and Melchior Marionettes are especially suited for children ages three to seven, accompanied by an adult.
And, in keeping with the weekend’s theme, drop-in art-making workshops feature different types of puppets: Model Magic Pencil Puppets on Friday, July 25, 6 to 9 p.m.; Glove Finger Puppets, Saturday, July 26, noon to 4 p.m.; and Felt Snake and Spider Marionettes, Sunday, July 27, noon to 4 p.m. Click here for specifics.
Up-to-date information on times and locations are available on the DIA website. Puppet performances and art-making workshops are free with museum admission.
Motor City Puppet Blast is sponsored by the Detroit Puppetry Guild and the DIA.
Spend a lazy summer day at the DIA and let us do the driving. The museum’s free county days provide bus transportation from multiple locations in Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties. Spend a leisurely few hours looking at art, participate in an art-making workshop or grab a quick snack before hopping on the bus back to where you parked your car.
Oakland County day is Saturday, July 12; Macomb day is Saturday, July 19; and Wayne, Saturday, July 26. Pickups at the various county locations are 9:30 and 10 a.m. and the buses leave the DIA at 2 and 2:30 p.m.
Admission to the museum is free for residents of Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties. While the bus transportation is free, advanced reservations are necessary, available by telephone 313.833.4005 or on the DIA website.
Bruce Weber at the Museum Shop Merchandise related to Detroit–Bruce Weber, including the exhibition catalogue, Detroit Has Been Good to Me, and a poster, are now available in the museum shop. Among the volumes in stock are a monograph featuring ballet sensation Roberto Bolle, a book of fashion photography dedicated to luxury jeweler Cartier, and two volumes from Weber’s All-American series.
During July, receive free shipping to destinations within the continental United States on all purchases over $75 made online (does not apply to oversized items). Take advantage of this special offer to send gifts or stock up on essentials. See what’s new and what’s on sale!
Book Group Space is still available in the Friday, July 18, session of the DIA’s Art + Authors: Book Discussion Group’s exploration of James McBride’s novel, The Good Lord Bird. The National Book Award-wining book, which tells the story of a young boy born a slave who must pass as a girl to survive as a member of John Brown’s antislavery crusade, will be paired with Jacob Lawrence’s powerful John Brown print series on view in the African American galleries. The program, from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., is free with museum admission, but advanced registration is required. Check the DIA website for more information or to register. The book is available in the museum shop.
Summer Art-Making Workshops Looking for something to do with the kids during the long summer break? Try the weekday drop-in art-making workshops held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. On Tuesdays in July the project is collage portraits; Wednesdays, refrigerator magnets; Thursdays, toy spinners; and Fridays, Islamic decoupage. The workshops are free with museum admission, no advanced registration necessary. A different set of workshops will be offered in August. For a complete listing of summer workshops, click here.