DIA Inside|Out Art Walk
Location is everything
The Detroit Institute of Arts' Inside|Out Exhibition brings nearly eighty reproductions of masterpieces from the DIA's collection to the streets and parks of metro Detroit. Six of those reproductions have landed in our fair city, and they are literally posted, not in a museum, but outside in various displays in glorious, weatherproof, living color.
The Ann Arbor pieces are all clustered within walking or biking distance of one another, and the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum provides guided tours of the exhibit every Saturday and Sunday through June 23. Since I have a fear of viewing art with strangers, my friend and I head out on an early spring day on our own, with a map of the locations.
The first piece we locate is Carlo Saraceni's The Fruit Vendor, from the 1600s. A woman offers a stern looking vendor one coin, with her hand outstretched. It's a bit of a mystery. What happens? Does he accept her coin and sell the melon? Will we ever know? Its placement on the wall of the Kerrytown Market & Shops is quite clever, too.
The more paintings we find, the clearer it becomes that their locations are not accidental. With the exception of the anonymous Egyptian painting Head of a Woman, each replica is located on the wall of a building, framed by its natural surroundings. Head of a Woman is nestled amongst shrubs, trees, and grasses just outside the People's Food Co-op. This woman lived nearly 2,000 years ago and had her portrait painted in her youth in order to place it over her mummified body after she died.
Frederic Edwin Church's Syria By The Sea sits on the western wall of the Ann Arbor Fire Department. The artist placed crumbling ruins against a seascape and glowing sun, the DIA notes, to "remind us that while human civilizations rise and fall, nature remains constant," according to the DIA description. The reddish-brown brick wall looks like part of the painting, and its sheer
size is impressive, especially when Church's vision of inevitable downfall is juxtaposed with the fire department.
After walking around like a tourist in a city I've lived in for most of my life, I find my favorite. Created in 1625, Artemisia Gentileschi's Judith and Her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes is absolutely stunning. Judith peers out of a tent flap after beheading Holofernes, an Assyrian general who was about to destroy her home city of Bethulia. Judith apparently used her beauty to gain access to his tent--and then used a sword to decapitate him.
The painting, created by a female artist, unusual for that era, depicts Judith's maidservant wrapping up Holofernes's head and waiting for her mistress to lead them the heck out of that tent.
The placement of this amazing piece of art? At the end of an alley off Liberty, under a fire escape, with Judith's calm expression facing the entrance to the street.
Clearly, someone put a great deal of thought into this.
[Originally published in June, 2013.]