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November 08, 2007 - Image 59

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2007-11-08

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Arts & Entertainment


Presenting its world-class collection in an entirely new light,
the Detroit institute of Arts gets ready to reopen its doors.

Suzanne Chessler
Special to the Jewish News

Behind The Scenes

DIA staff members have been part of
planning teams that reached out to con-

Sta ff p ho tos by Ang ie B


dolph Gottlieb, the late Jewish
American abstract painter
known for enigmatic symbols
and complex grids, is represented in the
collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts.
His painting Falling Star — long exhib-
ited in the museum — now has a new
Before the renovation of the museum
and the reinstallation of every piece of art,
the Gottlieb work was shown in terms of
the development of style linked to abstract
movements of the 20th century. Its new
locale has to do with the work's intellec-
tual content and symbolism related to sur-
realism and the unconscious.
The rethinking of the painting's wall
assignment falls right in line with the
DIM renovation and reinstallation that
has taken more than six years and has
kept doors closed since May. The museum
staff and consultants have come up with
new, visitor-friendly arrangement themes
that encompass every artwork on display.
Visitors can see it all — including new
interactive technology — beginning
Friday, Nov. 23, when the DIA reopens to
the public to showcase its $158 million
expansion and presentation design. After
the grand opening at 10 a.m. on the 23rd,
the building will welcome the public for
32 consecutive hours, closing at 6 p.m.
Saturday. Free admission for that time
period invites the community into the
celebration of new artistic vistas enhanced
by the entertainment of musicians and
Preview events prior to the public grand
opening include Arts Alive!, a fundrais-
ing gala celebration to be held Saturday,
Nov. 10 (sold out); and Member Preview
Days, a three-day celebration with live
music, storytelling, entertainment, drop-in
workshops and family activities running
Friday-Saturday, Nov. 16-18 (free to DIA
members; for more information, call 313-

A quartet of Jewish staff members was instrumental in planning the renova-
tion of the new DIA. Standing in front of Jewish artist Ben Shahn's paintings
Bookshop: Hebrew Books, Holy Day Books and Composition for Clarinets and
Tin Horn are Kenneth Myers, curator of American art; Barbara Heller, chief con-
servator; and Nancy Jones, director of education (not pictured, Tara Robinson,
exhibition designer).

sultants and patrons in the renovation of
the DIA.
"The reinstallation is organized around
the way the objects speak to individual
cultures and periods of time, and I think
there's something for everybody," says
Tara Robinson, exhibitions designer. "This
really has been a group effort to enhance
the visitors' experience, knowledge and

desire for more information."
Robinson, whose interest in art reaches
back to childhood activities at a Zionist
camp in New York State, has worked at the
DIA since 1986. Arriving with professional
experience gained at the Philadelphia
Museum of Art, she has been an exhibi-
tions manager and educator in charge of
touring DIA holdings around Michigan.

"The technology now is mostly projec-
tion of one sort or another, but it's the way
the projection is used and integrated with
the collection that's quite different:' she
explains. "It shows how objects have been
used and thought about and it expands
the context of the objects.
"In the African section, there is a video
of dancers wearing the kinds of masks
viewers see around them. This creates an
experiential environment that visitors can
feel part of physically."
Barbara Heller, chief conservator and
30-year staff member, looked after the
collection as all the changes were being
made. Preserving the works of art involved
planning for climate control, packing,
moving and storing.
"We have more than 60,000 works in the
collection:' says Heller, who was raised in
Michigan. "About 10 percent of the collec-
tion is on view while 90 percent remains
in storage.
"The DIA has hundreds upon hundreds
of works by Jewish artists throughout
the galleries. Although we don't have any
Judaica per se, there's a lot of subject mat-
ter that comes from the Bible.
"Jewish artists appear strongly in the
18th-21st centuries. The range includes
19th-century Dutch artist Josef Israels and
French impressionist Camille Pissarro,
20th-century Russian artist Marc Chagall
and Americans Louise Nevelson and Mark
Rothko and 21st-century artists working
Heller, who is active with Congregation
Shaarey Zedek, joined the DIA staff after
working in Italy during the 1970s. She
was among specialists restoring artworks
damaged by floods in Florence.
"Art is a reflection of social, economic
and political times, and the new arrange-
ments give a better understanding of why
art changed as times changed;' she says.
Kenneth Myers, curator of American
art, joined the museum almost three years
ago and quickly became involved with the
"I work with a suite of 16 galleries and
this is the first time since World War II
that any curator has had an opportunity
to really rethink all 16 so dramatically:'

DIA on page B14

November 8 • 2007


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