Monthly Archives: February 2010

Robert Frank and his Detroit experiences on view in DIA photo exhibition opening March 3

Detroit River Rouge Plant, 1955, © Robert Frank

Detroit Experiences: Robert Frank Photographs, 1955 opens at the DIA this Wednesday, March 3. I thought readers might want a quick look at a few of the photographs in the exhibition (there are over 60 works – all from the DIA’s permanent collecction) which will be on view in the special exhibition galleries just off Rivera court where the Detroit Industry murals by Mexican artist Diego Rivera have been on view since 1932.

View of the DIA's Rivera court and Diego Rivera's Industry murals from 1932

View of the DIA's Rivera court and Diego Rivera's Industry murals from 1932

Both men found inspiration for their work at the Ford Motor Company River Rouge plant (known as “the Rouge” to locals) in Dearborn, Michigan.

Frank spent several days photographing at the Rouge in 1955. About a third of the exhibition includes Frank’s rare imagery from inside the huge complex. He also visited Belle Isle, the Gratiot Drive-In (found in Roseville, Michigan, and now demolished), as well as other familiar haunts around the city. Frank came to Detroit to photograph “how Americans live and work” – several of the Detroit images were reproduced in his book The Americans and appeared in later publications he created. The photographs were part of a larger group of nearly 27,000 images he took traveling across the U.S on a Guggenheim fellowship.

DIA visitors weigh in on the photographs of Walker Evans

Response station for the recent DIA photo exhibition

When the exhibition Photography – The First 100 Years closed on January 3, 2010, I had a chance to review feedback left behind from visitors who took the time to comment on the work of Walker Evans, who was the first photographer to be recognized  with a one-person exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1938. A response station was set up in the gallery and we asked visitors, “are you a fan or a critic” of the late photographer’s work? An overwhelming majority of visitors expressed their praise for Evans’ straight documentary approach to 1930’s American subjects.

View of Walker Evans' photographs in the DIA exhibition "Photography: The First 100 Years"

View of Walker Evans' photographs in the DIA exhibition "Photography: The First 100 Years"

Evans was represented by over a dozen photographs in the exhibition, which traced the development of photography by over 50 photographers from about 1840 to 1940. Impressionistic imagery by pictorialist photographers and iconic modernist photographs by Edward Weston, Charles Sheeler and Edward Steichen were on view to the public as well. Walker Evans cared neither for the “artsiness” of the pictorialists nor the slickness of modernism, particularly when applied to advertisting work as seen in work by Edward Steichen.

With nearly 1,000 response cards submitted, I read them all  – from eloquent to stoic and sparse – Evans clearly had a few critics, but mostly fans. Here are a few cards that represent a cross-section of the wide variety of responses we received.

Response stations are popular with our visitors and can be found throughout the museum. One particularly active station has been set up in the current Schwartz galleries for the exhibition “Government Support for the Arts: WPA Prints from the 1930s” – to view visitor responses, mostly hand drawn, check out our  “WPA Response” Flickr page.