Loose Lips

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Saturday night at the Detroit Institute of the Arts saw a parade of quintessential movers and shakers meander their way through an exclusive sneak preview of the upcoming blockbuster Van Gogh exhibit, "Face to Face."

The soiree was hosted by the DaimlerChrysler Corporation Fund, a principal underwriter of the show, and guests were obliged to cool their heels in the presence of Diego Rivera’s courtyard murals while munching on catered delicacies such as grilled swordfish with a Jamaican chutney, beef tenderloin and an array of delicious pastas and grilled vegetables.

Many were no doubt grateful for the plentiful food and libations, as the sneak preview was carefully regimented so only a few partygoers were allowed to view the exhibit at one time. Arriving at 8 p.m. and finding myself in the 9:30 viewing group, I settled in for the long haul and sought out a spark of excitement among the rather monotonous and monochromatic crowd of corporate functionaries, local luminaries and city leaders.

I did spy legendary local literary presence Elmore Leonard and his wife Christine, who was having her portrait sketched by one of the many straw-hatted artists on hand for such diversions. Also in the mix were Hizzoner Mayor Archer and his wife, the Honorable Trudy DunCombe Archer, who were hovering at a cocktail table near the entrance to the exhibit. The Mayor didn’t miss a beat in springing over to intercept Leonard, who appeared to be heading to the food, with a glad-handing salutation of "Dutch!"

While one would expect security at such a high-profile show to be rather overbearing, the only conspicuous examples were provided by Archer’s ever-watchful security detail, with their standard-issue earpieces and ramrod postures clearly identifying them as "on duty." (Although I did spy one of the guys shoveling some swordfish into his mouth). Archer was busy accepting accolades about what a coup this show was for our fair city and the DIA – yet another rung in our seemingly endless ladder to "world-class" status.

Another individual busy accepting accolades was DIA director Graham W.J. Beal, clearly basking in the welcome spotlight of favorable publicity after the rather unwelcome firestorm that greeted his arrival at the institution (the controversial, overhyped and ultimately squelched Jef Bourgeau "Art Until Now" exhibit, currently under attack by the Pontiac morality police).

Accompanying Beal was wife Dr. Nancy Andrews, an environmental scientist, who flew in from Los Angeles for the big event, and is currently looking for gainful employment in the Detroit environs.

Others mincing and mingling about included Motor City Casino-man Jack Barthwell, possibly looking for another bit of artistic inspiration to bastardize into a slot machine.

As for the exhibit itself, I’ll be careful not to infringe on the territory of MT art critics. Suffice to say, the exhibit takes the singular theme of Van Gogh and his portraits beginning with the early black-and-white sketches and concluding with the flourishing vibrant colors of his final years.

The DIA apparently hung the paintings slightly higher than normal, no doubt to accommodate better sight lines when the unwashed masses begin to pour in.

Unlike some blockbuster exhibits I’ve attended, the show is not overwhelming or particularly long, and in fact conveys an almost intimate aura. Don’t miss "The Zouave," courtesy of the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. This portrait of a fez-wearing French-Algerian infantryman will surely set off a renewed fashion trend in recreational fez-wearing across metro Detroit.


On the other end of the blockbuster art exhibit spectrum, the "actual size" exhibit at detroit contemporary is humming along. Reminiscent of the late lamented "box auctions" at the old Willis Gallery, the exhibit features pieces by more than 250 different artists, with the only requirement that they be subject to a size restriction of 8.5 inches-by-11 inches.

I happened to stop by the gallery on Saturday afternoon, while owner Aaron Timlin was in the process of canceling his evening’s dinner plans. Apparently the Saturday edition of one of our daily papers contained a favorable review of the show, and then went on to say that there would be a gallery crawl that very night. Unfortunately, the opening was the previous Saturday, and detroit contemporary is usually open in the day on Saturdays, not at night. Ah, the power of the favorable press review.


In other news, it’s interesting to note that the MGM Grand Casino, in its first year on the list, landed the top prize as the state’s highest seller of liquor by the glass, displacing such perennial contenders as the 14 bars at Metro Airport, the Joe Louis Arena, and Floods.


Speaking of casinos, it appears that the downtown Detroit parking crunch is going to get even worse. Answering the age-old question of why the Greektown Casino folks didn’t build a parking structure like all the other casinos did, notice has been given that, effective as early as April 1, the 460 monthly-permit holders at the Monroe Parking Structure in Greektown are getting the boot, as the garage is going to be dedicated for casino and Atheneum Hotel parking. Stay on the lookout for hundreds of displaced GM employees wandering downtown streets trying to find where they parked their cars.

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