Tag Archive | Van Gogh

Detroit: The Detroit Institute of Arts

After we left the Motown Museum, we headed to our next downtown Detroit destination – the Detroit Institute of Arts. The DIA was built in between 1923 and 1927 in the Beaux-Arts, Italian Renaissance architectural style. The museum is made of white marble, and is absolutely beautiful! It provides a stark contrast to some of the nearby urban decay. After a renovation of the building in 2007, the museum contains over 100 galleries and 658,000 square feet of gallery space. The building and collections are technically owned by the City of Detroit, but an endowment and foundation are responsible for fundraising and paying the museum’s expenses now. It truly is a success story in a city that has had more than its share of troubles.

So, the collections… First, let me say that it would be impossible to see all of it in one day. This would be a great museum to be a member of if you lived in the area. We started off perusing some of the collections on the first floor, which include Native American baskets and pottery, Mayan and Incan figures, and masks. Then we headed upstairs, where we walked into a gallery with a series of two-story Diego Rivera murals covering all four walls. If you see nothing more in this museum, these murals make it worth the price of admission (and if you live in the three closest counties – you can go for free!).

The murals explore the story of the manufacturing industries in Detroit. Rivera was known for depicting the indigenous cultures of Mexico, and the DIA murals are considered to be a depiction of industry and technology as representing the indigenous culture of Detroit – an interesting way of seeing the auto empire of the 1930s!

One Wall of the Diego Rivera Mural at the Detroit Institute of Arts

One Wall of the Diego Rivera Mural – With Sunlight

The museum also has several lithographs and etchings by Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, and paintings by Picasso, Matisse, Van Gogh, Monet and Rembrandt. They even have a giant Andy Warhol self-portrait.

Vincent Van Gogh – Self-Portrait With Straw Hat – Painted 1887

They have a motorcycle carved from one piece of wood, which is extremely intricate, and an exhibit of beautiful blown glass pieces.  Near the blown glass is their modern art area.  If you have been following this blog for long, you know that modern art isn’t really my thing.  However, they had some pretty cool modern art pieces (I can’t believe I just said that)!

Motorcycle Carved From One Block of Wood – Someone is WAY More Patient Than Me

Modern Art – Blown Glass Prescription Drugs – For the Baby Boomer Who Has Everything!

So, here’s the sad thing about the Detroit Institute of Arts.  We were mostly alone…  Some of the popular exhibits had maybe a half dozen people looking at the artwork, but in the permanent collection areas, we were generally by ourselves (except sometimes an attendant).  We went down to lunch in the cafe, and Jon loved the pay by the ounce salad bar, and I had a delicious sub sandwich.  The cafe was crawling with people and I thought all the patrons had just gone to get a bite to eat, until I noticed that about 80% of the people in the cafe had employee badges around their necks.  It struck me as pretty sad that there would be so few people taking advantage of seeing all this amazing artwork – especially when it is free for county residents!  I know it was a Thursday and all, but…  I would love it if we had a museum like this at home!

Gauguin at the Seattle Art Museum

Recently, Jon and I made a trip to Seattle to see the Gauguin special exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum.  It is a short term exhibit through April, 2012.  The SAM has spent the last several years compiling and organizing an exhibit documenting Gauguin’s time in Polynesia towards the end of his life.  They made arrangements for loans of 60 Gauguin artworks and the same number of Polynesian artifacts, including headdresses, tiki statues and decorative weapons.  Apparently bringing the Polynesian artifacts into the U.S. was quite the undertaking, because all of the artifacts that contained shell, animal hair, feathers, bone and teeth had to be cataloged with their exact animal components.  That can be tough when they were made 200 years ago, and since now the art form has pretty much died out.

Paul Gauguin was born in Paris, France in 1848 to a French father and a part-Peruvian mother.  He spent the first several years of his life in Peru with his mother, after his father died on the trip there.  They returned to France when he was 7, where he grew up and became, of all things, a stockbroker.  After working for 10 years as a stockbroker, and becoming increasingly more interested in studying and purchasing fine art, the stock market crash in 1882 convinced him to leave the profession for good.  He didn’t begin painting until he was in his thirties, and started out in the Impressionist movement before becoming disillusioned with the art style.  He spent a period of nine weeks collaborating with Van Gogh, spending time and painting with him while both fought depression.  At the end of this nine weeks, Van Gosh threatened Gauguin with a razor and then fled, culminating in Van Gogh cutting off his own ear in a brothel.  Although he didn’t harbor any ill will, and even invited Van Gogh to collaborate again, Gauguin never saw his colleague again.

After the market crashed in the 1880’s and Gauguin lost his job as a stockbroker, he became increasingly disillusioned with the European scene.  He began dreaming of traveling to the Polynesian islands to escape from the developed world and be a part of a simpler, less corrupted lifestyle.  Unfortunately, when he arrived in Tahiti, he found a culture and people that had been devastated by 100 years of colonialism and disease.  The people had almost lost their native cultural traditions and art.  Gauguin proceeded to drown his sorrows by shacking up with a 13 year old girl (because that’s different than what the colonists did!), and using her as his muse.  She appeared in several paintings, including The Spirit of the Dead Keep Watch.

The Spirit of the Dead Keep Watch

Unfortunately, as is the case with many artist muses, Gauguin fathered her child and then left her when he made the trip back to Paris.  There he contracted syphilis after having sex with a prostitute.  His health started to decline, and he was unable to sell many of his paintings in Paris.  He went back to Polynesia, this time to the Marquesas islands, which were less developed and had maintained more of their native culture.  He created several more paintings,  and had several more children with his mistresses, and managed to piss off the colonial authorities when he sided with the natives on some colonial matter.  Some accounts state that the colonists were also tiring of his hard drinking/drugging lifestyle and the fact that he was spreading syphilis around among the local population (what a charmer right?).  He was convicted of libel and sentenced to a month in the island’s jail.  Before he could begin his sentence though, he died of a heart attack coupled with an overdose of morphine.  The year was 1903, and Gauguin was 54.

Anyway, I’ve digressed, because I couldn’t help much give a few more of the juicy details of his life.  But if you have a chance, take the time to see this exhibit – it is worth it.  It makes you wonder what more he could have contributed to the art world, had he not died so young.  Of course, on the flipside, the Marquesas might have been wiped out by syphilis if he had lived much longer!  I’ll leave you with one of my favorites from the exhibit – Three Tahitians.

Three Tahitians