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Full fall lineup at area art museums

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer

Like virtually everything in Detroit’s art scene these days, local museums seem to have more going on this fall than ever before. Lucky for the museum-goer, it’s a fascinatingly mixed bag.

Identity, both African-American and Latin, comes under the microscope at the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit.

Ebony magazine’s groundbreaking fashion fair gets its due at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, and the University of Michigan Museum of Art considers Tyree Guyton’s place in the universe at length.

Considered at considerable length as well is the Empire State Building at the Cranbrook Art Museum, which will host an unusual audio exhibition on rocker Lou Reed’s epic album, “Metal Machine Music.”

And in case you missed the DIA show of the same name 12 years ago, the Toledo Museum of Art is bringing back a smaller version of “Degas and the Dance.”

Start your tour of the fall lineup with the south-of-the-border show at MOCAD. The “United States of Latin America” runs through Jan. 3, and features more than 30 emerging artists from Mexico to Argentina.

Inevitably perhaps, given sensitivities to American influence, “the show takes a very political look at the United States,” as MOCAD Executive Director Elysia Borowy-Reeder puts it.

Case in point? Minerva Cuevas’ deeply amusing “America,” in which Disney’s Uncle Scrooge does the freestyle in a sea of coins under the brooding eyes of Latin icons.

Other artists in the exhibition leave the North American colossus out entirely, concentrating variously on gang violence in Mexico, housing in Havana and — most intriguingly — sketches of historical monuments we’ll see in the future.

Also dealing with identity and its complexities — whether racial, sexual, religious or class-based — is “30 Americans,” opens Oct. 18 at the DIA.

This exhibition of contemporary African-American artists boasts huge names, among them Robert Colescott, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Carrie Mae Weems and Nick Cave, subject of a recent exhibition at the Cranbrook.

“The work has a great deal of punch to it,” says Valerie Mercer, DIA curator and department head of the General Motors Center for African American Art. “It’s provocative, rich and beautifully executed.”

An excellent example is Mickalene Thomas’ diptych, “Baby I Am Ready Now,” with its fiercely clashing patterns surrounding its sultry female subject.

More refined than sultry are the mannequins and exhibits at the Wright Museum, featuring the hottest styles from decades past in “Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair,” up through Jan. 3.

The charity fashion fair — first organized in 1958 by Eunice Walker Johnson, whose husband owned the conglomerate that publishes Ebony magazine — broke barriers about who was buying and wearing high couture, and helped promote African-American models to European designers who, oddly, had been reluctant to use them.

“When Eunice went to Europe,” says Patrina Chatman, Wright curator of collections and exhibitions, “her intent was to knock down those doors. She took two big fists of money with her, and Yves St. Laurent, Bill Blass — you name it — they all started falling.”

Pretty soon, the fair was showcasing works by rising black designers as well as luminaries like Christian Dior, Pierre Cardin and Bob Mackie. Some 40 dazzling ensembles are on display, a tour through the last century’s fashion high points.

In Ann Arbor, the University of Michigan Museum of Art celebrates one of the nation’s most remarkable site-specific installations, Detroit’s Heidelberg Project, with “The Art of Tyree Guyton: A Thirty-Year Journey.”

One of the most intriguing features of this exhibition, which runs through Jan. 3, is the Heidelberg TV in the gallery. Anyone who pays attention knows that Heidelberg has suffered a crushing series of arson attacks over the past two years that have erased most of the houses Guyton transformed.

But the indefatigable artist is now building a new house on Heidelberg, and you can watch the progress live on the monitor.

Ready for something completely different? Grab your hard-rock pals and check out “Lou Reed, Metal Machine Trio: The Creation of the Universe,” opening Nov. 21 at Cranbrook — an “ambisonic” 3-D recreation of Reed’s seminal double album.

“The Lou piece is very loud,” says Christopher Scoates, director of the Cranbrook Academy of Art and Art Museum, who’s made the art of sound his specialty. “It moves you physically — it’s sculptural in that way.”

If walls of sound end up exhausting you, amble over to “Andy Warhol’s Empire,” also at the museum, and contemplate the eight hours and 24 minutes of slow-motion footage the artist shot of the Empire State Building in 1964. Just don’t doze off.

And finally, for those who haven’t visited the Toledo Museum of Art recently, an elegant institution well worth a visit, “Degas and the Dance” will provide a good reason.

Opening Oct. 15, the show isn’t as huge as the 2002 DIA exhibition of the same name. But with pieces from the museum’s collection, plus loans from the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, “Degas” promises to be a serenely uplifting experience.