Susanne Hilberry, major Detroit art figure, dies at 72

The Detroit News

Susanne Hilberry, a prominent figure in the Metro Detroit art scene who showcased many artists in her renowned gallery and nurtured their talent, died Thursday at age 72.

The Birmingham resident was behind the Susanne Hilberry Gallery in Ferndale, which is widely regarded as one of the premier contemporary art galleries in the Midwest.

“Her gallery was always a great place to meet other artists and collectors and people who were involved in the art world,” said Jeffrey Abt, a professor of art at Wayne State University who knew her since the 1980s.

Once housed in Birmingham, Hilberry’s gallery relocated to a “serene, clean space” in Ferndale with features that exemplified her expertise in architecture, Abt said. “It really reflected her sensibilities down to the last detail.”

Over the years, she showcased some of Detroit’s most high-profile artists as well as national names. Among those whose exhibits were displayed at her gallery on Livernois north of 8 Mile was sculptor/photographer Scott Hocking and photographer Leni Sinclair, who profiled Detroit rock royalty such as the MC5 and Stooges.

“She always tried to show interesting art,” Abt said, adding Hilberry also enjoyed highlighting emerging artists “she felt were unique and interesting and showed promise for the future. She was interested in nurturing new talent — some of which was local. … I think she felt that Detroit artists had something to say. She tried to encourage that exposure for artists locally.”

Abt said Hilberry was instrumental in helping to form the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, where she became a steering committee member.

She launched her career as an assistant to Sam Wagstaff at the Detroit Institute of Arts when he was curator of contemporary art in the late 1970s.

On the local scene, Hilberry “cut quite a figure,” Abt said. “She had a taste for the latest in clothing styles and high fashion. ... You would never have any trouble finding Susanne in a crowd of people because she wore such interesting clothes and did it so well.”

A funeral service is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Sunday at Ira Kaufman Chapel, 18325 W. Nine Mile, Southfield. Interment will be at Adat Shalom Memorial Park.

Survivors include her children, Kathryn Kandarian and Susan Kandarian; two brothers, Daniel Feld and Jonathan Feld; a niece, Sara Elizabeth Feld; and nephews Laurence Freedman and David C. Feld. She was predeceased by her husband, Richard Kandarian.

Memorials may be made to The Susanne F. Hilberry Endowment for the Arts, c/o Bruce Kahn, Trustee Seyburn Kahn, 2000 Town Center Suite 1500, Southfield, MI 48075.