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Detroit Art Expedition

Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer

Feeling the need for a little art and culture? Head to Detroit, where a rich and varied art community awaits. You can spend an afternoon, a weekend or a week soaking up the huge variety of artistic expression on display in Michigan’s largest city.

Any visit must start at the landmark Detroit Institute of the Arts where, for the last 128 years, visitors have strolled through more than 100 galleries noted for their amazing diversity of collections. Art from outstanding American, European, Modern and Contemporary masters, even Graphic art, as well as important works of African, Asian, Native American, Oceanic, Islamic, and Ancient art comprise the collections.

When you walk up the broad stone steps and enter the Beaux Art building, you might agree that that the DIA’s collection is among the top six in the United States. I’m not the only visitor who adores the massive frescos of Mexican artist Diego Rivera entitled “Detroit Industry” from the 1930s. Another gem in the collection for me was the world famous “Self Portrait” by Vincent van Gogh.

If all of the walking and art viewing is making you hungry, there are two museum restaurants, CaféDia and Kresge Court.  I love Atlas Global Bistro located across the street from the Institute. I really enjoyed its twist on a classic French dish, lamb bourguigon, with lamb shank replacing beef and braised in red wine. The high ceilings and exposed brickwork complement the eclectic, international menu.

Just a few miles away was a completely different art experience, the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, located in an old auto dealership. The bones of the dealership provided flexible and cavernous spaces, perfect for contemporary art. Right now, a new permanent exhibit has sprung up on the grounds of the museum, called Mobile Homestead by the late artist, Mike Kelley. The white ranch style home is both a public sculpture and as well as a private personal architecture based on the artist’s childhood home on Palmer Road in Westland, a neighborhood which primarily housed workers for the Big Three auto makers: Ford, Chrysler and General Motors. 

Inside MOCAD, you can view a companion special exhibit called Goin’ Home: Mike Kelley’s Mobile Homestead Videos and Documentation.

Another interesting Detroit art space is the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, which houses one of the largest private collections of African American art anywhere. The combined works cover more than a century of art in every genre, and the exhibit is anchored by contemporary abstract paintings. For sustenance, a friend recommended Seva Vegetarian Restaurant, also located at the Center, a sister restaurant to one of the same name in Ann Arbor. From their menu, the black bean and sweet potato quesadilla looked very tempting.

On  nice summer day, a walk through a completely unique art exhibition called  the Heidelberg Project is an adventure. It’s an open-air art environment on Detroit’s East Side. The Project was founded by the artist Tyree Guyton, who used everyday, discarded objects to create a two-block area full of whimsy and artistic expression. For the past 27 years, the Heidelberg Project has used the canvas of urban Detroit to create outdoor art.

To experience Detroit’s emerging artists, the Red Bull House of Art gives new artists a workspace for eight weeks and then a place to exhibit. Some 32 artists have been selected to create and display their works over the last year, eight every quarter, sponsored by the Austrian energy drink company. The gallery is only open on Saturdays near Eastern Market.With all of its diversity, it is clear that the Detroit art scene offers something for every taste.

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