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Major artworks call for a ‘Pilgrimage’ to the DIA this season

By: K. Michelle Moran | C&G Newspapers | Published December 19, 2017

 Claude Monet captured a wintry scene in “Snow in Argenteuil,” an 1875 oil painting that’s part of the collection at the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo. The painting is on view now at the Detroit Institute of Arts as part of “Monet: Framing Life.”

Claude Monet captured a wintry scene in “Snow in Argenteuil,” an 1875 oil painting that’s part of the collection at the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo. The painting is on view now at the Detroit Institute of Arts as part of “Monet: Framing Life.”

Photo provided by the Detroit Institute of Arts

DETROIT — Even if you’re not religious, you might want to go to “Church” this holiday season.

Through Jan. 15, the Detroit Institute of Arts is offering a single admission price to see two major special exhibitions: “Church: A Painter’s Pilgrimage” and “Monet: Framing Life.” The Monet exhibition will remain on view through March 4 at the DIA.

French impressionist Claude Monet and American landscape painter Frederic Church were two of the most important artists of their time, and both exhibits explore pivotal periods in their career.

DIA Director Salvador Salort-Pons said assembling these exhibitions was a challenge because the DIA needed to secure loans of many significant artworks.

“Bringing works of art of this caliber to the DIA is very difficult,” he said.

DIA Associate Curator of European Modern Art Jill Shaw said that one of the purposes of the Monet exhibition is to highlight a period of time when the painter was living in the suburbs of Paris and exploring “the most experimental work of his life.”

Shaw said that they also hope to “help our visitors better understand the sole Monet in our collection.”

Thanks to new research on that painting, that DIA work — formerly known as “Gladioli” — has been renamed “Rounded Flower Bed.”

The Monet exhibition also includes a couple of works by Monet’s friend and peer, Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

With less than a dozen works, the Monet exhibit is relatively small. DIA Interpretive Planner Megan DiRienzo said they’ve tried to create a unique, immersive environment for visitors.

“We really wanted visitors to see Monet in a new way,” she explained. “There are only 11 works in this exhibition, so we really wanted people to focus on the details … and really take a deep dive into these beautiful paintings.”

DiRienzo said visitors will also learn about Shaw’s discoveries while researching “Rounded Flower Bed.”

Like the Monet show, DIA American Art Curator Kenneth Myers said the Church show “began with an effort to better understand one of the most important pieces in our collection.” The DIA is home to Church’s “View of Baalbek,” an 1868 oil and pencil on board of the ancient city. Myers said this was one of the first works from the Hudson River School artists that was given to the DIA; it was a gift to the museum from Henry Joy.

Church was known for his large paintings of remote wild places in the Americas, the Caribbean and the North Atlantic. But this exhibition includes some of the most important paintings Church ever created — images of places he visited in the Middle East and the Mediterranean between 1867 and 1869.

Monet was “the creator of the Impressionist movement,” and Church was “the greatest American landscape painter of the 19th century,” Salort-Pons said. He said Church’s trip to the Holy Land to create artworks there “transformed his art at the end of his life.”

Some of the Church paintings are accurate reproductions of historic sites, but others combine motifs and scenes to create an image that Myers said Church felt was a better representation of the region. Church would sometimes combine geographical and archeological elements “to create a higher truth,” Myers said.

DIA Interpretive Planner Alicia Viera said they wanted visitors to “appreciate the different stages” for an artist traveling to create, so they included some of Church’s sketches, along with photos and maps. She said they also hope visitors “feel like they are visiting these places” with the artist.

Visitors will also see sketches and images of Olana, the New York state home designed by, and for, Church and his family. The lavish estate and its grounds are now a state historic site.

Although the works are very different in many ways — Church was a traditionalist, while Monet was, for his time, a groundbreaking painter — there are also some parallels.

“I think both exhibits complement each other very well,” Salort-Pons said.

Adding interest to the already compelling images are the interactive elements and design of the installation, which Salort-Pons said offers “many interesting insights into how these works were created.”

The DIA is located at 5200 Woodward Ave. Admission to “Monet: Framing Life” and “Church: A Painter’s Pilgrimage” costs $10 for adults and $5 for ages 6 to 17 for residents of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties. Admission for those outside of those counties costs $16 for adults, or $7 for ages 6 to 17. For hours or more information, visit or call (313) 833-7900.