museum detroit

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On this day in history, June 6, 1683 – The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England, opens as the world’s first university museum. 

The Alfred Jewel is a piece of Anglo-Saxon goldsmithing work made of enamel and quartz enclosed in gold. It was discovered in 1693, and is now one of the most popular exhibits at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. It has been dated to the late 9th century, in the reign of Alfred the Great and is inscribed “aelfred mec heht gewyrcan”, meaning ‘Alfred ordered me made’. The jewel was once attached to a rod, probably of wood, at its base. After decades of scholarly discussion, it is now “generally accepted” that the jewel’s function was to be the handle for a pointer stick for following words when reading a book. It is an exceptional and unusual example of Anglo-Saxon jewellery. (Wikipedia)

From our stacks: Frontispiece illustrations “The Jewel in four aspects with separate figure of enamel” from The Alfred Jewel: An Historical Essay By John Earle, M.A., LL.D. With Illustrations and Map. Oxford At the Clarendon Press, 1901.

The 2017 Whitney Biennial, the seventy-eighth installment of the longest-running survey of American art, arrives at a time rife with racial tensions, economic inequities, and polarizing politics. In the second film in a three-part series, artists raise questions about the nature of art and identity, emphasize the need for care and attention, and propose new ways to see the world. Watch more on whitney.org

Maya Stovall employs a mix of anthropological observation and urban intervention to create what she considers performance and ethnography. Stovall’s current research focuses on Detroit, where she grew up. The subjects in her video for the 2017 Biennial are her neighbors in the McDougall-Hunt area on the city’s east side. In Liquor Store Theatre, she dances on the sidewalks and streets outside neighborhood liquor stores, combining elements of ballet and contemporary movement. After each performance, she invites her audience—largely these establishments’ patrons and other passersby—to share their recollections of and predictions for Detroit, which she records on video. The artist focused on liquor stores in particular because they serve as hubs of both commerce and community, with individuals selling clothing, electronic goods, and other everyday items in their immediate vicinity. They are, in Stovall’s words, “a backstage view of ongoing life in a neighborhood, in spite of narratives of abandonment.”

[Maya Stovall (b. 1982), still from Liquor Store Theatre vol. 1, no. 1, 2014. Digital video, color, sound; 4 min. Courtesy the artist, Eric Johnston, and Todd Stovall. Photograph by Eric Johnston]

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So- I live in metro Detroit, Michigan, which is home to The Henry Ford Museum (a fairly well known history museum showcasing industry, innovation, and culture), and yesterday the museum opened its newest permanent exhibit Mathematica. Today I had the pleasure of spending about an hour and a half in the exhibit (my boyfriend pretended not to be bored out of his mind while he patiently waited for me to be ready to see the rest of the museum- he’s a history guy, not a math guy). The exhibit was wonderful and very intriguing. If you’re ever in the Detroit area I highly suggest the museum and this exhibit (which is free with admission to the museum).

Tuned-In Tuesday: What’s Happening Near YOU

Today, November 1, marks the beginning of Día de Muertos, or Day of the Dead: a Mexican tradition of celebration to honor and commemorate deceased loved ones. The cultural traditions and style of Día de Muertos, often referred to as its Anglicized version of Día de los Muertos, has in recent decades become increasingly prevalent and celebrated in the U.S. as well. The Detroit Institute of Arts’s current temporary exhibit, Ofrendas: Celebrating el Día de Muertos, displays traditional Mexican traditions to the public during the holiday. By titling the exhibit using the traditional Spanish name, as well as displaying exhibit information in both English and Spanish, Ofrendas relates the holiday’s traditions back to their origins and maximizes inclusivity of the Mexican and Mexican-American community.

The DIA’s exhibit, Ofrendas, displays fourteen ofrendas (offerings) created by local artists and community members, chosen by DIA staff and local community members of Mexican heritage. The DIA is also encouraging further community engagement by allowing the public to contribute through social media by submitting pictures of deceased loved ones, which are projected in the exhibit space. Many of the ofrendas consist of traditional altar displays, though local artists have explored other mediums as well. While ofrendas were originally displayed in the home, the displaying of the DIA’s ofrendas within an exhibition space places them within a grey area, hovering between the definitions of cultural tradition and visual art. The community artists, as well as exhibit visitors, are given agency within the space; it becomes a place for people within and outside of the culture to experience and honor the practices of Día de Muertos in celebrating passed loved ones.

photo courtesy of MetroParent / daily

Día de Muertos has become multicultural in recent generations as it is increasingly celebrated in the U.S. by Americans of Mexican heritage. Due to the holiday’s increasing prevalence, aspects of the culture have been often associated and appropriated within Halloween traditions due to their overlapping dates; the celebrations do not consist exclusively of the altars bearing food, sugar skulls, candles, and marigolds anymore. As the traditions of Día de Muertos have increasingly spread outside of Mexican culture, the Mexican folk art-style of Día de Muertos has become an artistic genre in itself, found in the art world unattached to cultural or religious background. The decorated skull (calaveras) associated with Día de Muertos has become a mainstream image in Western pop culture; people don the intricate and colorful image in the form of makeup, clothing, and tattoos. Originating as sugar art intended for religious and cultural traditions, it is now found in the form of painting, sculpture, and graphics. While in many instances, the utilization of the artistic influences of Día de Muertos is exclusively appropriation, aspects of the cultural style are also utilized in secular Mexican art.

Portion of Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central, Museo Mural Diego Rivera, Mexico City

The mural, Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central, was created by Diego Rivera, who also painted the DIA’s notable Detroit Industry frescoes. The central, skeletal figure is a representation of “La Calavera Catrina”, who is commonly associated with Día de Muertos imagery. The employment and representation of Día de Muertos iconography by Mexican artists outside of the holiday expands it from religious, folk art origins, coming to inhabit the world of “fine art” and secular culture as well. The setting of the DIA as an art museum highlights the question of whether the ofrendas represent art or represent culture; they hearken back to the origins of the tradition, yet they can also, especially the ones that utilize non-traditional mediums, be characterized as contemporary art. This interfacing allows for the ofrendas displayed in the DIA to merge the two spheres of art and culture in commonality, acting as both a part of the two-day Día de Muertos holiday celebration as well as year-round Día de Muertos cultural imagery.