Travels with Charley:
Getting My Day at DIA
by Charles McKelvy
The third time was the charm. First, we four were going to go to Detroit Institute of Arts on July 24, and then I was going to go all by my lonesome on August 6, but those two missions were aborted.
Both in favor of a third, and successful, launch across the great State of Michigan on August 20, featuring the fabulous foursome of Natalie McKelvy, Arthur Anderson, Joe Rochetto and Yours Truly. We four are especially fond of art and opera, so we listened to opera as we motored our way east on I-94 to that great repository of art at 5200 Woodward Ave. in the magnificent Motor City. Actually, I think we discussed opera and politics, but you get the idea, and you should now get an idea of the wonders we beheld during our day at DIA in the time of COVID-19.
First, you should know that we had to get advance tickets on-line and read the protocols for visiting DIA during the pandemic.
But you already know that, right?
It’s the new normal. The new normal at DIA on August 20 was that a friendly official greeted us at the Farnsworth Street entrance and had us each stand in turn on the marked area so she could remotely take our temperatures. I know it didn’t hurt, but I wonder what they would have thought if they had taken a brain scan of me.
Our tickets were for 1 p.m., and DIA was due to close at 4 p.m. that day, so we each had specific galleries of interest.
And wouldn’t you know, we all converged on the Schwartz Galleries of Prints and Drawings for an extended exhibition titled: From Bruegel to Rembrandt: Dutch and Flemish Prints and Drawings from 1550 to 1700.
Folks, if you are looking for an excuse to visit DIA in the near future, the Schwartz Galleries is it. For what we beheld were such masterpieces as Rembrandt’s “Self-portrait in a Velvet Cap with Plume.” For the 1638 etching, Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn donned the clothes of a courtier from the previous century, complete with a jaunty feather in the old-fashioned velvet cap. Rembrandt’s direct gaze in this self-portrait conveys his confidence and success; we four agreed that this portrait was worth the price of admission, even though, due to circumstances, admission was free.
Our interests diverged after the Schwartz Galleries, but we agreed to meet at the museum store at 3:30 p.m. Normally, we would have met at the Italianate treasure that is Kresge Court, but DIA was not allowing us to hold court there, or in the cafeteria, during our visit.
Alas, the sacrifices that art-lovers must make in the time of a pandemic.
Arthur Anderson and I headed to the nearby De Salle Photography Gallery to enjoy another extended exhibit, Michigan’s Great Lakes: Photographs from Jeff Gayash.
We were not disappointed because Gayash specializes in long-exposure photography and fine-art, black-and-white print-making. His images thus bespoke an ethereal sense of the Great Lakes that surround our Great Lakes State of Michigan. Gayash noted that he was often alone on harsh days when he took his long exposures; one certainly had that sense seeing the magic he created. I was with him in spirit, because I most enjoy walking on our stretch of Lake Michigan when the wind is up and the crowds are gone.
The Great Lakes are works of natural art, and Jeff Gayash certainly brought that to life for Arthur and me.
And then we dashed off to join our wandering partners and to, of course, see the “Detroit Industry Murals” by Diego Rivera in Rivera Court. Because admission was limited, there were no crowds in Rivera Court, or anywhere else. So what a treat to sit back and truly enjoy a national art treasure that has been deservedly designated as a National Historic Landmark.
I found Natalie parked on a bench at one end of the sun-dappled court, and joined her for a moment of quiet reflection on Diego Rivera’s socialist expression from 1932-1933. There were those who wanted his daring murals painted over, but cooler heads prevailed: thus in the tumultuous year of 2020, we got to reflect on just how prophetic Rivera was.
And then, rested and refreshed, we bounded off to pass the remainder of our time at DIA with African-American, American, and European artists of yesteryear, particularly those amazing, Renaissance Italians. We picked a painting of Saint Anthony preaching to the fish as our “best of the day.” Then we dashed off to the museum store to get with Arthur and Joe and to purchase a parcel of post cards bearing images from the permanent collection. Then off we went on I-94, heading for the exact opposite side of the palm of lower Michigan.
Yes, we had to drive into the sun. It was hot and Joe’s air-conditioning was on the fritz, but we had minds full of art. After a stop, our bellies full of food, we counted it as a great day at DIA, the pandemic notwithstanding.
Oh, and did I mention that one of our party played a tune or two in the parking lot before our departure? Seems to me I might have mentioned that in a previous story, so let’s leave it at that and urge you and yours to make plans soon to spend a day at DIA. Do contact them before you go, at (313) 833-7900 or at http://www.dia.org.