DIA opens elegant new Asian galleries
The long-awaited Robert and Katherine Jacobs Asian Wing at the Detroit Institute of Arts will open Sunday, the one piece long missing from the museum's dramatic reinterpretation and reinstallation 11 years ago.
Art-lovers rejoice: It was worth the wait.
The DIA's Japanese gallery, opened almost exactly a year ago, is now joined by new Chinese, Korean, Indian and southeast Asian galleries, creating a highly satisfying series of rooms through which to wander and meditate.
There's also a gallery of Buddhist art drawn from all across the continent.
"This is really the final chapter of the 2007 reinstallation," said DIA Director Salvador Salort-Pons on Thursday, "which showed the world how a great collection can be made more accessible."
The new wing was financed through the generosity of the Jacobs, serious collectors in Birmingham with a keen interest in Asian and African art.
"Our home," said Katherine with a laugh, "is very eclectic."
Robert, who's CEO of Buddy's Pizza, added, "I buy from my heart, and this gift is from my heart. There are other places we could give — but our heart is here."
Among the ancient treasures on display, most of which have been in museum storage for years, are Chinese handscrolls including the 14th-century "Early Autumn" by Qian Xuan, with delicately rendered flying insects, including a dragonfly, hovering in the air above a marsh.
Fans of Chinese calligraphy will delight in the elegant, amusingly named "Copy of 'Zhang Xu's Record of Government Officials on a Stone Wall,' " an ink-on-silk work from 1609.
One of the striking elements in the gallery devoted to the arts of India and Southeast Asia is a small grouping of Jain wall sculptures. (Jainism was an ancient religion on the subcontinent that promoted a life of harmlessness and renunciation as the road to bliss.)
The sandstone "Jinas with Family and Goddess Ambika" is a striking, crowded composition dated to the 10th or 11th century, starring several of the religion's venerated Jinas — enlightened, liberated beings who've conquered all desires, each sitting in his own little shrine.
Works in the Korean room reflect that culture's emphasis on harmony, balance and unity, while the gallery dedicated to Asian Buddhist art is filled, not surprisingly, with enigmatic statues of the smiling Buddha.
It's an exceedingly peaceful space.
All too often, museum collections of Asian art over-emphasize work from centuries ago, as if these highly dynamic cultures had produced little in the interim.
The DIA's Asian Wing skirts that trap by featuring a number of contemporary pieces that illustrate the evolution of vibrant artistic traditions. Among the high points is a huge, reflective red bowl from 2011 by the Indian-born Anish Kapoor.
Mounted on a wall, the untitled work greets you as you round a corner like a giant exclamation point. Indeed, it almost takes your breath away.
In the same gallery is another large, modern work — a richly colored paper construction the DIA commissioned from the Indian-American Neha Vedpathak.
With her 2018 "Still I Rise," a deliberate reference to the Maya Angelou poem, the Detroit artist employed her own technique in which she plucks fibers of the homemade, Japanese paper with a pushpin — giving the work a remarkably textured, lacy appearance.
In the Korean gallery you'll find the gorgeous "Happy World — Scattered Crumbs" from 2014, a large gridwork composed of dozens of identically sized wooden blocks that artist Ik-Joong Kang used to illustrate the dizzying impact New York City had on him when he moved there from Korea three decades ago.
Some of the miniature blocks are painted and quite gorgeous, while others act as mounts for tiny souvenirs emblematic of the city — a matchbook yellow cab here, a tiny Statue of Liberty there.
It's a mesmerizing, absurdly cheerful composition full of surprises that will likely delight little kids.
As usual, the DIA has supplemented displays with thoughtful high-tech additions, the coolest of which is a digital screen that allows visitors to examine all 19 feet of Wang Wen's handscroll from 1562, "View from Keyin Pavilion on Baojie Mountain," with helpful pop-up windows that add depth and context.
The original work, only partly unscrolled, of course, is displayed in a glass case immediately to the right for easy comparison.
As has been the museum's habit in recent years with new exhibits, the galleries were designed with input from a range of Asians in the Detroit area, who acted as an advisory council.
"We were in constant dialog with the community and experts," said Salort-Pons. "We don't tell the community what they should see — we ask them what they want to see."
Robert and Katherine Jacobs Asian Wing
Detroit Institute of Arts
5200 Woodward, Detroit
9 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays; 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays.
$14 adults, $9 seniors, $8 college students with ID, $6 kids 6-17 (free for Wayne, Oakland and Macomb residents)
Arts of Asia
Free DIA events on Nov. 4
Conversation with artist Neha Vedpathak
1 p.m., Lecture Hall
Asia Sound Revolution
A Pan-Asian musical performance
3 p.m. Detroit Film Theatre Auditorium
Drop-in Workshop: Korean Paper Crafts
Noon-4 p.m., Learning Center