Archive for January, 2016

A Visit with Salvador Salort-Pons, director of Detroit’s DIA

January 31, 2016

jasept 043

Last Tuesday, January 29th, I visited Detroit’s Main Library.  It’s a great old building and is right across the street from this building, the Detroit Institute of Arts.

There was a talk and slide show by Salvador Salort-Pons.  He was appointed as the director of the Detroit Institute of Arts in September of last year.  Graham Beal had last held that post. He retired after 16  memorable years of work.

This was the first talk in a series of six.  Others are upcoming.  For information, see the last of the web links below.

It was billed as a “Director’s Cut” talk.  There were only around 35 people in the audience.  They were sharp though.  They asked some good questions.

Part of the slide show portion was focused on some of his favorites works at the DIA.  These included Self Portrait II by Joan Miró, the great African Nail Figure and Diego Rivera’s amazing Detroit Industry frescoes.

He also discussed Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s painting The Wedding Dance.  This is one of the most famous works in the collection.  It was bought in 1930 by William Valentiner, in London.  It was a real coup because the painting was thought to be lost!  Also, he got them to put up the money, sight unseen and without authentication.  He did send them to the library to look at photos of similar works.  Their faith in his taste and knowledge got our city a masterpiece.

He talked about the dramatic events of the past few years.  When art seems to be priceless, it’s rough to watch people touring the museum and appraising everything.  How much is this one worth?  How much is that one worth?

It all turned out alright in the end.  Someone in the audience even got up and thanked the DIA for helping to save her pension.

He stressed the need to involve the people from other two counties who supported the museum by voting for a millage.

He wants to do a women’s art show and to continue to do projects involving African-Americans and Latinos.

He also mentioned that he had a work hanging in his office by the late Gilda Snowden.  She was one of my tribe, the local Detroit artists who create like mad and work non-stop.  This led me to ask the final audience question of the day.

I asked if he had any plans to investigate local art and artists.  Did he think that the museum might work with or interact with this group, this resource?  He replied that he thought so.  He seems to think that things will happen.  Something will come of it.

I think he’s open to checking out the strong and solid visual art being created in this area.  Some of us have had long careers, going back to the 1980’s or even the 1960’s.  There are also interesting things from some of the younger artists.

One night, back in 1989, local artists held a protest and projected a slideshow of their artwork onto an outer wall of the museum.  They thought  that this was the only way they’d ever get any connection or representation there.

Since then, there have been signs of improvement.

Salort-Pons wants to try and find out what’s happening on the Detroit scene, partly through venues like MOCAD and the universities.

The first obvious possibility is to do workshops and demonstrations by local artists.  They’ve been doing those.  It’s nice to let the public see some of the process.  Making art can be a performance.  Also, they sponsor some local music, cinema and theatre.  A few years ago, I did a puppet show there.

The second obvious possibility is to buy Detroit artists’ work for the collection.  Some of us already have work at the DIA.  These are mostly the longtime, well-established artists.  It’s good to see work by people I know or have met.  These include Charles McGee, Tyree Guyton, Gordon Newton, Allie McGhee, Jim Pallas, Robert Sestok, Michael Luchs, Clinton Snider and Ed Fraga .

Connected with this, maybe there could be an occasional exhibition featuring a small or large group of Detroit artists.  I remember that they did try this once, many years ago.

The closest thing to it recently is the annual Detroit Public Schools Student Exhibition.  Sometimes this is at the DIA, sometimes at the library.  It’s been going on now for nearly 80 years.

There are plenty of ways in which the museum could connect and interact with local artists.  Yet I’m excited to think that they might go beyond the obvious.

In his October Detroit Free Press interview, he said:

“But we can buy contemporary art, and we can look at emerging artists.  We’re in a great place to do it.  We’re in Detroit where things are happening.  It’s a place that has this inspirational force.  What we need to change is the idea that because it’s made in Detroit, it’s not good enough.  We need to think that things made in Detroit are great, and we need to remind people of how these great things came here.”

An interview from October 2015:

The Wedding Dance:

From the Detroit Institute of Arts website:

Upcoming “Director’s Cut” talks: