Letter from the Director, October 2022
When I started working at the Detroit Institute of Arts in February 2008, I quickly realized that the best things about this museum were both the talented DIA staff and its world-class collections. Few cities, not just in this country but around the world, can claim to have a museum like the DIA. Its history is extraordinary. A grand part of that history is what we are celebrating during the upcoming months with our new exhibition Van Gogh in America (October 2, 2022 – January 22, 2023).
In 1922, the DIA became the first civic museum in the U.S. to acquire a painting by Van Gogh. While today he is an icon in our culture, at the time, Van Gogh was not a prominent artist in this country. With this exhibition, we are celebrating the one hundredth anniversary of this visionary acquisition and the beginning of Van Gogh’s phenomenal fame in the U.S. In 2022, we felt it was important to remember the vision of those Detroiters of 1922 who both made this city famous and made Van Gogh famous in America.
Van Gogh in America tells the story of how Van Gogh’s image was shaped in the minds and hearts of Americans through collections, publications, and the film industry. You will find many compelling and untold stories in the show. However, in my opinion, the one that stands out the most is the story that unveils the crucial role that museums in our region played in acquiring Van Goghs in this country. Collecting and admiring Van Gogh was not a work of the East or West Coasts, it was something born in the Midwest, in Detroit, Kansas City, St. Louis, Toledo and Chicago.
It took six years and an entire city to put this exhibition together. The DIA staff has been outstanding, the community incredibly helpful, and the lenders and sponsors extraordinarily generous. This show is part of our Bonnie Ann Larson Modern European Artist Series, and Dr. Jill Shaw, Rebecca A. Boylan and Thomas W. Sidlik Curator of European Art, 1850–1970, has curated it to perfection. This is not just another Van Gogh show. This exhibition is both accessible and genuinely moving, and it significantly contributes to a deeper understanding of the artist. The beautifully illustrated exhibition catalogue is a crucial contribution to the field of art history, a remarkable example of scholarship and a very handsome publication.
Over the last few days, I spoke to many of our members who visited the show, and the feedback has been extremely positive. Thank you. When one walks through the exhibition galleries, we are embraced by the sheer beauty of Van Gogh’s art, spectacularly illuminated, installed in very elegantly designed galleries which are painted with colors that enhance the talent of the most famous self-taught artist. The experience is esthetically beautiful and inspiring, and as you navigate the space there is a rhythm to it, like music encompassing this historic moment.
In one of his letters to his brother, Theo Van Gogh, Vincent states, “It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done.” In this very loving spirit, the DIA team has worked to bring to all of you a once in a lifetime experience where Detroit holds a hand with Van Gogh as the artist debuted on the American stage. I am more than grateful to the DIA staff for making this exhibition possible.