Monday, March 19 , 2018, 2:37 pm | Fair 67º


Frank McGinity: Hidden Behind a Rough Exterior, Detroit Is a Work of Art

World-class museums certainly a bright spot in a city well-known for challenges and setbacks

“Why go to Detroit with all its problems?” a friend of mine remarked. I told him we were off on a remarkable adventure of visiting world-class museums and private collections. My wife is associated with the Museum Trustee Association, which promotes governance and best practices for museums throughout the country. The organization was meeting in Detroit, and I attended as a spouse.

While there were lectures on insurance for art collections, fund raising and techniques for evaluating art work and provenance issues, the true enrichment for me was visiting the Detroit Institute of Arts Museum, the Cranbrook School and Art Museum and the Henry Ford Museum.

Let’s start with the Detroit Institute of Arts Museum. Located in downtown Detroit, it is a facility of more than 600,000 square feet. As you would expect, contributors from the automobile industry are prominent throughout the museum. The Ford family, Chrysler, Fisher and Kresge — to name a few — have collaborated to make this an extraordinary museum. It was impossible to cover the entire museum in one day but we were able to view the Diego Rivera permanent exhibit in the Rivera Court. Rivera painted the murals in 1932-1933 during the Great Depression. They depict the manufacturing process at the Ford Rouge plant and cover the entire walls of the Rivera Court and carry Diego political messages at that time.

We were fortunate also to view the art work and videos of the famous artist, Shirin Neshat. An artist from Iran, Neshat is a pioneer for women’s rights and justice in Iran. The Huffington Post proclaimed her the artist of the decade.

One type of exhibit I had never seen before was a table setting and, with live video, it showed four guests dining using the china and silverware in the adjacent display cases.
We followed that exhibit — appropriately — with dinner at an Iranian restaurant, Phoenicia in Birmingham, Mich. It is well recommended.

The Detroit Institute of Arts Museum includes an impressive permanent exhibit of muralist Diego Rivera's work. (Frank McGinity photo)
The Detroit Institute of Arts Museum includes an impressive permanent exhibit of muralist Diego Rivera’s work. (Frank McGinity photo)

With perfect weather, we made the trip to our second unique museum, Cranbrook. The 319-acre facility was founded by the Booth family, which made its fortune in publishing. It is renowned for its school, art institute and museum. Mitt Romney attended school here. And the architect, Eliel Saarinen, became famous for his work on the many buildings spread out over manicured grounds. His home, with a Frank Lloyd Wright look, was a special treat.

Our final stop was the Henry Ford Museum located in Dearborn. It consists primarily of two major exhibits — the Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford Museum. Greenfield displays the history of old America and how we lived in the 1800s and early 1900s. The Henry Ford Museum contains an extensive display of automobiles, tractors, furniture and memobilia. Even John F. Kennedy’s presidential limousine and the bus Rosa Parks rode are here.

We would go on to several marvelous private collections in Detroit, many containing museum-quality paintings and artifacts. You never know what is in your neighbor’s collection next door!

Detroit still has some problems to overcome. There are too many empty and boarded-up homes. But progress is being made. Empty high-rise buildings are being renovated. Programs to lure families back to downtown Detroit have been effective. If you want a one- or two-bedroom apartment in downtown Detroit today, you’d be put on a waiting list. The results, including Detroit’s Riverfront Redevelopment Project, is a great example of private and public organizations revitalizing a city.

So don’t sell Detroit short. It’s a great place to visit.

— Frank McGinity is a Santa Barbara resident. The opinions expressed are his own.

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