Ever wonder how a museum gets new art?
Take a peek at “Out of the Crate: New Gifts & Purchases,” a new, permanent gallery at the Detroit Institute of Arts that will exhibit recent additions to the museum’s collection.
DIA Director Salvador Salort-Pons picked the artworks, and concedes it was no easy task.
“Because of the variety and high quality of hundreds of art purchases and gifts in the last years,” he said Friday, “it was difficult to choose only seven.”
The five purchases and two gifts Salort-Pons selected will be on display for the next six months or so, at which point another group will take their place. The current exhibit ranges from an 18th-century, life-sized statue of St. Benedict to an installation created from the stairway in the London house Jimi Hendrix lived in.
Since late 2014, when Detroit emerged from bankruptcy, the museum bought 237 works of art and received another 438 as gifts. Money for new purchases doesn’t come out of the museum’s operating budget, but from restricted funds donors have created for that purpose.
The Hendrix installation, “There must be some kind of way outta here,” is by British sculptor and installation artist Cornelia Parker. It’s constructed out of a dozen or so stair fragments arranged on the wall in a large triangle, topped by an odd little slope-topped door with a brass handle.
Hendrix’s flat, where he lived from 1968-1969, was right next to the building where the celebrated composer Handel lived — an interesting juxtaposition of musical icons, albeit separated by 200 years.
The side-by-side houses in Mayfair are now a museum devoted to the two musicians. The stairway — which dates from the 1700s, and which Hendrix used — had to be removed for an elevator, says Laurie Ann Farrell, DIA curator of contemporary art.
Confessing that she’s a big Hendrix fan, Farrell acknowledges visitors will bring differing interpretations to the abstract work.
“Some will see Detroit and the way it’s being rebuilt,” she said. “Others will see Jimi Hendrix.”
Another striking contemporary acquisition is Japanese architect and photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto’s “Fox, Michigan,” a huge black-and-white picture taken in the Fox Theatre in 1980.
At the time, the theater was a movie palace. Sugimoto’s photo is an astonishing time-lapse image taken while an entire film played out on the screen.
Architectural details in the darkened hall are nicely illuminated, like the massive globe chandelier, but the picture — which is utterly mesmerizing — is dominated by the blindingly white rectangle of the movie screen.
“We felt it was really important to bring Detroit into the galleries,” Farrell said, “and important to share when such a noted international artist comes to Detroit to mine our city for creative inspiration.”
Equally compelling is “St. Benedict of Palermo,” who greets you as you enter the gallery.
The life-sized wooden statue is attributed to Juan Pascual de Mena from the late 1700s. What may stop you in your tracks is the fact that this St. Benedict — whose parents were in fact brought from Ethiopia to Sicily as slaves — is plainly and proudly black.
The other five works on display include a 19th-century African maternity figure, a photo printed on copper plate by Cristina Iglesias, a Whistler etching, and a gorgeous Art Deco ceramic vase by Lajos Mack, cast about 1900.
The museum has also designed a series of small signs that lead visitors through the steps involved in checking out and acquiring a new piece of art.
The hope, obviously, is that visitors will enjoy having the curtain pulled back on the mysteries of museum operations.
“When I speak, I often get asked whether the DIA still collects artwork,” said museum Interpretive Planner Alison Jean. “So, hopefully, this gallery will speak to that curiosity members of the public have.”
‘Out of the Crate: New Gifts &
Detroit Institute of Arts
5200 Woodward, Detroit
9 a.m.-4 p.m. Tue.-Thur.; 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri.; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat.-Sun.
Admission: Free to residents of Wayne, Oakland, Macomb counties; all others: $14 adults, $9 seniors, $8 college students with ID, $6 kids 6-17