East Lansing, Grand Rapids art exhibits exquisite taste

Susan R. Pollack
Special to The Detroit News

School may be out for summer, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to shut down your brain.

From self-portraits in Legos by a Chinese dissident to an elephant in the room, new art exhibits in East Lansing and Grand Rapids offer thought-provoking outings for all ages. The subjects are so engaging children won’t even know they’re learning.

Located an hour apart, the exhibits are just the ticket for day-trips from Metro Detroit or an overnight getaway combining both destinations.

Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum

East Lansing

It’s hard to ignore the elephant in the room at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University.

A life-size sculpture of an elephant hangs from the ceiling at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum.

Dangling by its trunk from the ceiling, almost like a Cirque du Soleil acrobat, the 800-pound elephant sculpture is among the star attractions at “The Transported Man,” a quirky new exhibit that runs through Oct. 22 at the contemporary art museum.

Daniel Firman’s realistic-looking pachyderm, made of polyester resin, fiberglass and steel, raises more questions than it answers.

But, like the show’s more than 40 other works by emerging and renowned artists, it revolves around belief and the suspension of belief. And it’s in keeping with the exhibit motif, magic. In fact, “The Transported Man” takes its title from a magic trick depicted in Christopher Priest’s novel, “The Prestige,” which also inspired a movie of the same name.

“The idea of levity is important to this exhibit,” explains Steven Bridges, the museum’s assistant curator, who says many of the works surprise and “stretch the minds” of viewers.

A floating table, exploding bottles, a vending machine, disembodied hands, live crickets and fireflies and a wall of colored mirrors that call out for selfies are among the objects on display. Near the entrance, a hallway is covered floor-to-ceiling with giant spaghetti-patterned vinyl, overlaid with surreal images from the design magazine “Toilet Paper.”

Covered in spaghetti- patterned vinyl, a hallway near the museum entrance is decorated with surreal images from “Toilet Paper” magazine at the Broad Museum.

A 1904 silent film, recovered recently after being lost for more than 100 years, is an exhibit highlight. Starring the pioneering French filmmaker Georges Melies, “Match de Prestidigitation” (or “A Wager Between Two Magicians”) turned up at the National Film Archive in Prague last year, mislabeled and glued to other films,

Through Aug. 20, museumgoers also may experience an installation that explores the Flint water crisis through the eyes of Flint and Lansing high school students.

Constructed of 1,460 feet of copper piping by Chicago artist/educator Jan Tichy, “Beyond Streaming: A Sound Mural for Flint” invites visitors to place their ears against 30 faucets to hear a flow of poignant teenage reflections such as, “Lead poisoning can stunt my growth and mess with my mind.” Hear others at beyondstreaming.org.

Frederik​Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park

Grand Rapids

The internationally-renowned conceptual artist and dissident Ai Weiwei (pronounced I way-way) has mounted his first exhibit at a botanic garden or sculpture park following critically-acclaimed shows in London, Paris, New York and beyond.

Through Aug. 20, “Ai Weiwei at Meijer Gardens: Natural State,” showcases 30 works ranging from river crabs crafted from delicate porcelain to a trio of self-portraits done in Lego bricks.

Ai Weiwei’s “Han Dynasty Vases with Auto Paint” includes a series of artist self-portraits in Legos.

The artist, who developed a huge following on social media, was jailed in his native China for championing free speech and global human rights. In the Grand Rapids exhibit, wallpaper emblazoned with vividly-colored flowers recalls his three-year house arrest when he famously placed a fresh bouquet in a bicycle basket outside his studio each morning.

“Han Dynasty Vases with Auto Paint” is a collection of ancient Chinese vases transformed to modern times with metallic paints straight from the palettes of Mercedes and BMW. The artist used Legos to recreate his most iconic work, a three-photo series from 1995 in which he dropped and shattered a 2,000-year-old Chinese urn.

Ai Weiwei’s three-year arrest in China is recalled in wallpaper and a porcelain bouquet.

Ai’s artworks, including traditional kites symbolizing freedom and his colossal sculpture, “Iron Tree,” are displayed indoors and out at the venue.

Susan R. Pollack is a Metro Detroit freelance writer.

If you go to

East Lansing

Broad Art Museum

Michigan State University

Noon-7 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays (closed Mondays)

Free admission

(517) 884-4800


Where to stay: Within walking distance of the Broad, try East Lansing Marriott (marriott.com/lanea) or Wild Goose Inn Bed & Breakfast (wildgooseinn.com). Elsewhere on campus, try Kellogg Hotel & Conference Center (kelloggcenter.com).

Where to eat: Dublin Square is an upscale Irish pub in an old post office near the museum; (dublinsquare.net). For fine dining, try The State Room Restaurant & Lounge in the Kellogg Hotel; stateroomrestaurant.com.


“Iron Tree,” by Ai Weiwei, was “planted” in 2015 at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids.

If you go to

Grand Rapids

Frederick Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park

9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily except Sunday when it opens at 11 a.m.; Tuesday when it stays open until 9 p.m.

$14.50, adults; $11, students/seniors 65 and older; $7, ages 5-13; $4, ages 3-4; free, 2 and younger.

(888) 957-1580


Where to stay: Many popular chain hotels and motels are nearby. Downtown favorites include Amway Grand Plaza Hotel (amwaygrand.com) and JW Marriott Hotel Grand Rapids (ilovethejw.com).

Dining: Inside the park, try Taste of the Gardens Café. Other popular spots include The Knickerbocker (newhollandbrew.com/theknickerbocker) and Harmony Brewing Company (harmonybeer.com). For fine dining, try Reserve Wine & Food (reservegr.com)