Tiff Massey at the DIA: A Love Letter to Detroit

Updated Jun 27, 2024

From the Director
Tiff Massey: 7 Mile + Livernois

ABOVE: Tiff Massey, (American, born in Detroit, 1982). Whatupdoe, 2024. Stainless steel. Collection of the artist. 

“There are those who look at the early generations of this country from the turn of the century, the industrial era, as the great people of Detroit. Then, later on, in the post-World War II era, as those who reconfigured the city after the challenges that were experienced here. 

But there is yet another generation that has manifested itself after we baby boomers. They are often disparaged and decried; they are often treated with contempt. The young men and women that inhabited this city when it was at the pinnacle of its devastation — and yet they carried on by creating their music, their art, and, in the case of Tiff, creating an entire articulation of the grandeur, the sheer magnificence of Detroit itself.” 

These powerful words from Detroit cultural icon and DIA board member, Marsha Philpot, aka Marsha Music, were shared at the opening of Tiff Massey: 7 Mile + Livernois at the Detroit Institute of Arts, as reported by the Detroit Free Press. She spoke to the overwhelming joy and power that so many people — so many Black Detroiters, especially — felt upon seeing Detroit artist Tiff Massey’s exhibition. 

So many visitors to the exhibition share the same reflections: The artwork and the accompanying messages from the artist herself made them feel seen, validated, recognized, and celebrated. 

Featuring large-scale sculptural works, 7 Mile + Livernois includes 10 works by Massey, four of which were commissioned by the DIA. These new pieces engage in a fascinating dialogue with two works from the DIA's permanent collection: Donald Judd’s Stacks and Louise Nevelson’s Homage to the World both pieces you may have seen before in the DIA’s contemporary galleries. 

As I walk through the exhibition, I’m continually struck by the extraordinary nature of the art. Massey's larger-than-life pieces speak to the value and joy of adornment, as well as the unique culture of Detroit. These works are by and for the Detroit community yet speak to everyone   a fact that shines through every corner of the exhibition.  

7 Mile + Livernois refers to the neighborhood at the heart of Detroit’s Black business and fashion district. It’s also where Tiff Massey grew up, and the site of a new art and community space she is building. It’s her home. Tiff’s commitment to the community is a value we share at the DIA. Our work is to serve the community  

I first met Tiff over a decade ago, during a community dinner in Detroit. I was immediately impressed by her talent, and over the years, I’ve been thankful to witness her growth and success as a multimedia artist. This exhibition has offered me the opportunity to see the artist at work, showcasing her commitment to quality and excellence. 

Some may think that Tiff’s creations are part of the work of a conceptual artist, and this might be a possible analysis. When one walks in the DIA galleries surrounded by Tiff’s powerful creations, there is certainly a conceptual vision, however the experience is radically emotional. Detroit is a city known for innovation and pride; for ideas and emotions; and Tiff represents that at the highest possible level. As she explains in an interview with Detroit Metro Times, "I came to seduce and to make you question why these objects exist." 

Hosting 7 Mile + Livernois at the DIA is incredibly significant. Massey feels that being highlighted at the city’s primary art museum is a testament to the acknowledgment of local talent. She said in the interview with the Detroit Metro Times, "It’s always important to acknowledge what talent you actually have surrounding you and nine times out of 10, a lot of the institutions do not do this, and so I’m definitely appreciative of the platform and the opportunity to show what Detroiters can do."

There is no other place I would rather see this show debut than at the DIA. Please join us and experience this extraordinary fusion of art and community, here at your museum. It’s an exhibition that will leave you with a deeper appreciation of Detroit’s cultural heritage, and the transformative power of artistic expression. 

Tiff Massey: 7 Mile + Livernois is open through May 11, 2025, at the DIA. Visit dia.org/TiffMassey to learn more.