Lifestyle

Curators Pick the Must-See Art at the DIA, One of the US's Best Museums

Published On 05/26/2016 Published On 05/26/2016

The Detroit Institute of Arts is our fabled marble hall of treasures, housing some of the greatest works of art displayed in any of the country's museums. Recently, we -- who admit to being woefully unqualified to comment on art beyond stating, “Hey, that’s quite a nice-looking painting!” -- were given a tour of some of the museum's most important pieces, as per the personal opinions of select members of its curatorial staff. Being that the DIA houses about 65,000 works of art, we hope you take this armchair tour as a taste of the greatness within and go there to see it all for yourself.

Courtesy of the Detroit Institute of Art

“Watson and the Shark,” John Singleton Copley, 1782

Oil on canvas
Year acquired: 1946
Why the experts think it's important:
“Copley used his skill in rendering precisely detailed portraits to fill this composition with dynamic energy. The painting depicts a group of men attempting to fight off a shark and rescue their friend from the waters of Havana Harbor. This is one of three versions of the scene Copley painted. Its success helped to establish the Boston-born portraitist as one of the leading history painters in London.” -- Benjamin W. Colman, DIA associate curator, American art
Why we think it's important: Dude, shark art.

Courtesy of the Detroit Institute of Art

“Cotopaxi,” Frederic Edwin Church, 1862

Oil on canvas
Year acquired: 1976
Why the experts think it's important:
“This ‘Great Picture’ -- the period term for paintings exhibited as popular attractions for paying audiences -- shows Frederic Edwin Church’s abilities as a careful observer of nature and student of natural history. Inspired by geological accounts of the Andes Mountains, Church traveled to South America and sketched this volcano in Ecuador in 1853 and 1857. Back in his studio, he combined details from those sketches to capture the dramatic contrast of the verdant landscape in the foreground against the smoking mountain and rich orange glow of the sunset in the background. “ -- Benjamin W. Colman, DIA associate curator, American art
Why we think it's important: As if there were a grander, more beautiful way to depict nature in chaos.

Courtesy of the Detroit Institute of Art

"Judith and Her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes,” Artemisia Gentileschi, c. 1623/1625

Oil on canvas
Year acquired: 1952
Why the experts think it’s important:
“This painting announces the extraordinary talent of a 17th Century woman artist. Artemisia Gentileschi depicts the story of two women (Judith and her maidservant Abra) working together to save the Jewish people from slaughter under the regime of the Assyrian general Holofernes, whom they just beheaded moments ago.” -- Eve Straussman-Pflanzer, head of the European art department and Elizabeth and Allan Shelden curator of European paintings
Why we think it's important: Badass women with swords. That is all.

Courtesy of the Detroit Institute of Art

“The Conversion of the Magdalene,” Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, 1598

Oil and tempera on canvas
Year acquired: 1972
Why the experts think it's important:
“Caravaggio's painting reveals how everyday conversations can lead to extraordinary change; in this instance, the conversion of Mary Magdalene from a life of sin to one of virtue.” -- Eve Straussman-Pflanzer, head of the European art department and Elizabeth and Allan Shelden curator of European paintings
Why we think it’s important: Straussman-Pflanzer says it all: capturing the sublime in the smallest moments. Plus, those colors tho.

Courtesy of the Detroit Institute of Art

“Self-Portrait,” Vincent van Gogh, 1887

Oil on canvas
Year acquired: 1922
Why the experts think it's important:
“This work is one of the 36 or so self-portraits that Van Gogh painted between 1886 and 1889. The DIA acquired the painting in 1922, making it the first Van Gogh to enter a public museum in the United States.” -- Jill Shaw, associate curator, European modern art
Why we think it's important: You've, like, heard of van Gogh, right?

Courtesy of the Detroit Institute of Art

“View of Le Crotoy from Upstream,” Georges Seurat, 1889

Oil on canvas
Year acquired: 1970
Why the experts think it’s important:
“This is one of only two pictures that Seurat painted in the summer of 1889 at Le Crotoy, a picturesque village located on the English Channel in northern France. The DIA’s work is housed in the artist’s original, painted wood frame, very few examples of which still exist today.” -- Jill Shaw, associate curator of European modern art
Why we think it’s important: Something something, post-impressionist sex on the beach, something something.

Courtesy of the Detroit Institute of Art

"Something You Can Feel," Mickalene Thomas, 2008

Rhinestone, acrylic paint, and oil enamel on wood panels
Year acquired: 2012
Why the experts think it’s important: “'Something You Can Feel' by Mickalene Thomas exemplifies her talent in creating uniquely evocative portraits of black women that subvert traditional notions of the African American body. The painting’s glitter, beading, sequins, and Swarovski rhinestones add texture and light that emphasize many of its details, such as its textile patterns reminiscent of the 1970s, the black outline of the woman's figure, the netting of her hat, etc. The tactile quality of the dazzling artwork is heightened by Thomas’s use of varnish that causes the entire painting to remind us of glossy photographs of the past.” -- Valerie J. Mercer, curator of African American art and department head of the GM Center for African American Art
Why we think it's important: Patterns and medium and serious style.

Courtesy of the Detroit Institute of Art

“Officer of the Hussars,” Kehinde Wiley, 2007

Oil on canvas
Year acquired: 2008
Why the experts think it’s important:
“'Officer of the Hussars' is a non-traditional equestrian portrait of an unidentified contemporary young black man. The image was inspired by the French Romantic artist Theodore Gericault's 1812 painting of the same name that depicts a cavalry officer that served in Napoleon Bonaparte's wars. Both male images convey masculine power, confidence, and prowess. Wiley’s art is critically acclaimed for his clever transposition of traditional European history painting by replacing the white male with a black male of today’s Hip Hop generation to honor black masculinity of the 21st Century.” -- Valerie J. Mercer, curator of African American art and department head of the GM Center for African American Art
Why we think it’s important: Goes without saying.

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Megan Frye is a writer based in Detroit and Mexico City. Her favorite work at the DIA is one that can incite a double entendre -- which in her rotten mind, is pretty much anything. Tweet her with what brings you to the DIA at @fryechild.

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1. Detroit Institute of Arts 5200 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48202 (Midtown)

Detroit Institute of the Arts, located in a Beaux-Arts building in Midtown, features more than 100 galleries. One of the top six in the country, DIA's collection includes American, European, modern, contemporary, and graphic art, as well as dedicated center for African-American art. Perhaps the most famous painting in the museum is Vincent Van Gogh's 1887 self-portrait, which was the first Van Gogh to enter a US museum when the institute acquired it in 1922.

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