Thursday, April 09, 2009

Detroit Institute of Arts II

The other great exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts was a real surprise - a collection of chess boards from across the centuries and the regions of the earth. As Nicole pointed out, most often at art museums you see objects organized by era, region, and type: Victorian plates here, Dutch masters there, etc. Rarely does an exhibition feature a single object as interpreted by many different movements, as these extraordinary chess sets did. It struck me that it would be a great way to teach art history to introduce a new current or school by showing how it interpreted a chess set: whether Islamic non-figurative art or surrealism through Dali's finger-board. I'm showing at right one of the pawns from an 18th century Italian all-insect set. I highly recommended you look at the pictures here and here (the latter in pdf form). The capitalists vs. communists set from Leningrad in 1925 is extraordinary, though nothing if not unsubtle.

Detroit Institute of Arts

We've spent a few days in Ann Arbor, hosted by some generous friends, but we struck out one day for Detroit and its Institute of Arts. It's fascinating because the whole Institute would probably not have existed had Detroit not once been the fourth largest city in the U.S. 50-60 years ago. I thought it was a great museum -- large enough to hold many things of interest, but not so large that it couldn't be taken in within a single day. A couple of parts were worth the price of admission by themselves. The museum's most famous work are the Detroit Industry Murals, painted by Diego Rivera in 1932 and 1933. For a Communist (and Trotskyist, etc.), Rivera was orthodox enough to remember that it was the industrial proletariat that will bring about the socialist revolution, and so he celebrated the creation of industry and even of industrialists. There are, in his madman's mind, also currents of horror at the workings of technology, which he strongly associated with the United States (as against Mexico, which he associated with the workings of nature).

See also his occasional wife Frida Kahlo's not-unambiguous interpretation of the divide between "natural" Mexico and "industrial" America:

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Spring Break!

In Michigan this year, where everyone is enjoying the balmy temperatures.