Thursday, January 26, 2012

Day at the DIA

I finally made it to the Detroit Institute of Arts to see the Rembrandt exhibit, and it was so very, very worth it. It was a once-in-a-lifetime collection, and they are considered masterpieces for a reason.

It was a nice day trip for my mom and me, as neither of us have been to the museum in years. It was crowded, mostly around the exhibit, and we bought tickets for eleven o'clock. I'm happy to see how many people have been drawn in by this attraction, so much so that the DIA has extended their weekend hours to ten at night. They let groups in an hour at a time, and it takes about that long to get through it all.

We had an hour before our group, so we checked out the rest of the second floor, where most of the art I'm interested in can be found. The first piece I was taken by was this Madonna and Child by Sassoferrato. The web version gives you a little of the sense of dimension and color, but standing in front of it is mind-blowing. It glows, positively glows. It looks like you could reach in and feel the bright fabrics. Four hundred years later it looks freshly dried. It's located in the Promenade outside the Renaissance rooms.

A little further down the hall is Rivera Court which houses the panel murals Diego Rivera did in the 1930s depicting Detroit's auto industry. Unlike any of the other art at the DIA, this wasn't brought from anywhere. Rivera completed this opus in less than a year right here in the middle of the museum. This is the mural's home, a high, open court with his bright symbolism on all four walls. I probably saw this once a year when we took field trips in school, but I think it takes an adult appreciation for history and labor to really take it in.

Past that is the "modern" collection of European art, a tantalizing assortment of the biggest names of the nineteenth century. The DIA has an impressive Van Gogh collection, consisting of The Diggers, Bank of the Oise and Auvers, a venerable portrait of Postman Roulin, and what I think is the best of all his self-portraits. I'm probably biased, but of all the self-portraits I've seen online or in books, I find it both the most attractive visually and the most expressive in the eyes.

So after all this we got in line for the Rembrandt exhibit. They let people in in a controlled flow, sort of, and when you get in they give you a neat digital audio tour device. There are numbers next to a lot of the pieces and you just punch in the number and hit play to hear the commentary on that piece. One cool thing is that a lot of them featured my old art professor, Dr. Shelley Perlove. She's the one who taught me about Rembrandt in the first place.

We looked at the sketches and etchings first, as an appetizer. The paintings, of course, are the main course. Did I mention it was crowded? It was crowded. I was sharing my personal space with about four people at a time, but like I said it was worth it. All along one wall were studies of the same model he used for Jesus. The effect of looking at one after another gave the impression of a series of photos of a subject in motion. You can only get that with such an exhibit with all these pieces brought together.

The two big stars of the show shared a wall at the end of the hall in the portraits room. The first I studied was Rembrandt's Head of Christ (more like upper body of Christ). It was the same model as the other portraits, but it's like he took all he learned from doing those and amplified everything into this one impossibly deep painting. Physically it is small, but you only notice that approaching. Once you're looking at it, it's huge. Christ is portrayed as contemplative, approachable, and clearly has a lot on his mind. This isn't the traditional European Jesus, he's darker and his hair is a little kinky and he looks like a man who knows his mission is costly and difficult. It's beautiful. The Supper at Emmaus is a masterpiece of light. You can really tell it's been cleaned for this exhibit. There's no film or grit anywhere on it. It's pristine looking. And, since it's after the Resurrection, Jesus has a much more peaceful expression as he's encircled by an unearthly light.

 The exhibit is there until February 12th. I'll say it again, it was worth it. Worth the measly cost, worth the line, worth the crowd (these are fellow people who appreciate an event like this, after all), heck it was even worth almost crashing into the bales of hay somebody dumped on I-94 on our way there.

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