Cranbrook Art explores its own past with new book, exhibition

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published June 22, 2021

 In 1966, artist Artis Lane depicted actress Diahnn Carroll in an oil portrait. Though she didn’t graduate from the Cranbrook Art Academy, Lane studied at the school and went on to become a noted portrait artist, creating pieces that are still hung in prestigious spaces, like the U.S. Capitol building.

In 1966, artist Artis Lane depicted actress Diahnn Carroll in an oil portrait. Though she didn’t graduate from the Cranbrook Art Academy, Lane studied at the school and went on to become a noted portrait artist, creating pieces that are still hung in prestigious spaces, like the U.S. Capitol building.

Photo provided by Julie Fracker, Cranbrook Art Museum

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BLOOMFIELD HILLS — Most people know about the prestigious museums that have existed for generations on the campus of the Cranbrook Educational Community.

But not all can comprehend the vast influence those institutions have had on culture around the globe.

That’s particularly true of the Cranbrook Art Museum and the Cranbrook Academy of Art. To remedy that, Museum Director Andrew Blauvelt has been digging around the institution’s archives for the past four years and followed up on the careers of the school’s most notable alumni. The result is an expansive book and complementary exhibition of Cranbrook Academy of Art’s 90-year history.

“With Eyes Opened: Cranbrook Academy of Art Since 1932” is the first book and the largest exhibition to chronicle the evolution of the academy, which founders envisioned to be a “radical experiment in the education of artists.” On view June 20-Sept.19, the exhibition will occupy the entire museum.

“It’s a huge show; it’s the entire museum. This is a once-in-a-generation thing,” said Blauvelt, who curated the show. “It was a bigger project to research the history of the art academy, and what we unearthed is that it’s always had a quiet but impactful presence. We want visitors to know there’s an amazing art school right in your backyard that has produced all of these interesting people who have gone on to influence architecture, design and craft all around the world.”

Blauvelt said the Cranbrook Art Academy is widely known as the birthplace of midcentury modernism in the United States, with famed students and faculty members like Charles and Ray Eames, Eliel and Loja Saarinen and their son Eero, Ralph Rapson, Florence Knoll, and many more.

“Cranbrook is one of the only utopian art schools in the U.S. It’s always been an international destination, kind of like a Fulbright, and those students went back and influenced the direction of art in their own county,” Blauvelt said.

The “With Eyes Opened” exhibition features more than 275 works by more than 220 artists representing the academy’s various programs of study — architecture, ceramics, design, fiber, metals, painting, photography, printmaking and sculpture. To keep with the academy’s interdisciplinary spirit, all of the museum’s galleries combine works from different disciplines and mix historic and contemporary pieces to create a dialogue of different artistic visions and voices across the arc of the school’s history.

“Essentially, this is the first exhibition in 40 years to tell the story about the influence Cranbrook Academy of Art has had on the fields of art, architecture and design,” said Julie Fracker, the director of communications for the Cranbrook Academy of Art. “There are many stories told about how the midcentury modern movement originated here, but this exhibition looks to tell the story about the hundreds of graduates who came after that era. Of course, this era is still included — but this show looks to bring to light a lot of the underrepresented groups that have not traditionally been a part of the story, particularly women and artists of color.”

Earlier this month, Cranbrook Academy of Art announced $30 million from Jennifer and Dan Gilbert to accelerate the school’s efforts to promote diversity, equity and inclusion, and to drive long-term fiscal sustainability. As part of that gift, Cranbrook Art Museum will receive funding to continue public engagement projects by diverse artists — including artists who identify as women, LGBTQIA+ and people of color — in both the Detroit area and on Cranbrook’s campus.

“This approach began at Cranbrook Art Museum nearly six years ago when I arrived and joined a staff equally committed to telling new and different stories and engaging with more diverse artists and communities around southeast Michigan and especially Detroit,” Blauvelt added in a prepared statement. “This project, however, is not the culmination of such work, but is rather just a beginning.”

For more information on “With Eyes Opened: Cranbrook Academy of Art Since 1932,” visit cranbrookartmuseum.org.

Cranbrook Art Museum is located at 39221 Woodward Ave. in Bloomfield Hills.

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