Art Practical and Daily Serving are proud to jointly participate alongside other art media in heralding A Day for Detroit. Seven writers from both publications have each selected a work from the collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), a treasure trove that could inconceivably be sacrificed if Detroit’s emergency manager forces a sale of the collection to alleviate some of the city’s staggering debt. We present the works here along with commentary by the writers on why their selections resonated for them. In doing so, we invite our readers to imagine the magnitude of what would be squandered should the sale occur: not only the work but also a source of immense civic pride. Both residents and visitors to Detroit can attest to the means by which art has coalesced some neighborhoods and revitalized others. How might it contribute to the city’s recovery? We can begin by considering the DIA’s collection: its breadth and the wealth of experience it bestows on its audience. After surveying our writers’ selections, we encourage you to delve deeper into what the DIA has to offer and to add your voice to those who support it. —PM
Catlin Moore: Much like his afflicted hometown of Detroit, Mike Kelley was well acquainted with the pageantry of politics and premature demise. His work oftentimes alluded to the bureaucratic tomfoolery running rampant under the American big top. Today, his Carnival Time (1990) feels eerily apropos in the DIA’s collection, as the skewered heads of crooked politicians are coupled with the mercenary icons of big business, a voracious sow, and composite figures of the dissenting Motor City punk scene.
Genevieve Quick: As a young person, Nancy Graves’s Variability of Similar Forms (1970) was a revelatory piece. It was like an archaeological excavation, but all of the bones remain eerily vertical and still to defy the disorder of gravity and time.
Rob Marks: In this image of the work, Dionysus is just visible at the top right, held aloft by Hermes’s displaced arm. #1: Only gods effortlessly become, disintegrating and reintegrating. Arman translates becoming into visceral experience: I feel both inside and outside my body. #2: My body, as (broken) open as Arman’s Hermes, as promising as the infant Dionysus, whom myth reports Hermes protected from Hera. #3: Can Detroit, misused and abandoned, itself play both nurturer and nurtured?
Heidi Rabben: Part earthwork, part performance, part documentation, Dennis Oppenheim’s Gallery Transplant (1969) upends our understanding of real time and space by displacing the boundaries of an interior gallery to a snowy expanse in Ithaca, New York. By documenting and displaying a record of this ephemeral, external action in a museum, Oppenheim prolongs his play with exterior and interior, space and time, and gallery and artist.
Alexander Bigman: I studied Henry Fuseli’s The Nightmare (1781) daily for the better part of a year—though not quite under museum conditions. A reproduction of the work adorned my college bathroom, where it hung at eye level above the toilet. There it bewildered visitors and frightened people at parties. For me, though, in its frank, proto-Freudian symbolism of the worries of the unconscious, it offered strange comfort.
Patricia Maloney: I have always loved the fetishistic quality of Eva Hesse’s sculptures, and Accession II (1968-69) is no exception. An open cube made of steel screens perforated with innumerable flaccid vinyl tubes discloses an interior that is dense, bristling, and sensuous. The hard geometry and precision of Minimalism is evoked but disrupted, replaced with a tactility that is both alluring and grotesque.
Liz Glass: Visible at the end of a short hallway at the DIA, in Alex Katz’s Ann and Billy (ca. 1981) peer in various directions toward the edges of the painting’s frame. There is something about Katz’s signature style—matte, blocked into large swaths of color, his paint strokes completely smooth—that has always intrigued me. The flatness of the hair, skin, eyes, and expressions of Ann and Billy somehow build a luminous and remarkably graceful portrait of intimates.