Traveling exhibitions roll into the Detroit Institute of Arts 

On deck at the DIA

Following the Detroit Institute of Arts' massively successful Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Detroit (which drew nearly 180,000, a 15-year record), the museum is gearing up for a new season of programming that promises to be equally entertaining and educational — even if it doesn't have Rivera and Kahlo's art world star power.

For its next exhibition, the DIA will look not to the past but instead to the world of contemporary art, presenting 30 Americans, a survey of prominent African-American artists. Opening Oct. 18, the exhibition will showcase 55 paintings, sculptures, photographs, and installations by some of the most important black artists from the past several decades.

Highlights include works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Nick Cave, and Kehinde Wiley — whose heroic, anachronistic paintings of modern young black men in traditional high-art poses should ring a bell with fans of the hit TV show Empire (as well as with Metro Times readers, as we spoofed the artist earlier this year).

"30 Americans mainly has to do with identity — that's sort of the overarching concept of our presentation," curator Valerie Mercer says in a release, noting that this is the first time many of the works on view have been shown at the DIA as well as in Detroit.

"I do see in the show is the complexity of the black identity — how it's multi-layered. One could say there's not one way to be black," says Mercer.

Though the artists are diverse, expect plenty of stereotype-shattering artwork that affirms the role of black artists as major players in the world of Western art (hence the "Americans" — not "African-Americans" — in the title). In fact, to appeal to the broadest audience possible, the DIA is will offer several opportunities to view the show without buying tickets, with free admission on Sunday, Oct. 18; Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 7 and 8; Saturday and Sunday, December 5 and 6; Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 2 and 3; and Monday, Jan. 18, 2016, the show's final date.

To support the exhibition, the Detroit Film Theatre will present a series of afrofuturist films, curated by Detroiter Ingrid LaFleur. Many of the films use science fiction and fantasy conceits to confront topical issues — like Drexciya, a portrait of an abandoned public swimming pool located in Ghana now "used for locals for things other than swimming," or Deluge, a film that copes with the British Petroleum Gulf of Mexico oil spill as well as the 2010 mass drowning of six black teens in a Shreveport, Louisiana, sinkhole with an allegorical tale involving mermaids. Additionally, the DFT will also show The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, a documentary about the controversial movement. Check the DIA's website for the showtimes.

Also starting in October, the DIA will once again bring back its Día de los Muertos ("Day of the Dead") ofrendas. Traditionally a Mexican folk art tradition to honor the dead, ofrendas are altars that are typically adorned with calaveras (sugar skulls), flowers, photographs, or favorite food. However, the DIA encourages participating artists to get conceptual with their entries — past years have featured ofrendas for celebrities as well as the hundreds of women who have been mysteriously murdered for the past 20 years in Juarez, Mexico. The museum is currently seeking proposals for ofrendas, due by end of day Monday, Sept. 28. Selected artists will be notified by Friday, Oct. 2. See the DIA's website for more information.

Looking ahead into 2016, be sure to check out Dance: American Art, 1830 to 1960, which opens March 30. Organized by the DIA, the exhibition will hit the road and visit other museums across the country after it closes in Detroit on June 12. The exhibition features more than 90 objects that depict American dance, ranging from Native American art to the rise of professional dancers and female artists in the early 20th century and beyond.

The Detroit Institute of Arts is located at 5200 Woodward Ave.; Detroit 313-833-7900; See the museum's website for ticket information.

More by Lee DeVito

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