A 1970 Plymouth Barracuda owned by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is one of the iconic vehicles that are part of “Detroit Style” at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

A 1970 Plymouth Barracuda owned by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is one of the iconic vehicles that are part of “Detroit Style” at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Photo provided by the DIA


DIA’s ‘Detroit Style’ maps out the connection between art and automobiles

By: K. Michelle Moran | C&G Newspapers | Published December 8, 2020

  The 1959 Corvette Stingray Racer, part of the General Motors Heritage Collection, is on display at the Detroit Institute of Arts in a new exhibition.

The 1959 Corvette Stingray Racer, part of the General Motors Heritage Collection, is on display at the Detroit Institute of Arts in a new exhibition.

Photo provided by the DIA

 The 1956 design illustration, “Ford Nucleon Atomic Powered Vehicle, Rear Side View,” by Albert L. Mueller, is among the design drawings that have been incorporated into “Detroit Style: Car Design in the Motor City, 1950-2020” at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

The 1956 design illustration, “Ford Nucleon Atomic Powered Vehicle, Rear Side View,” by Albert L. Mueller, is among the design drawings that have been incorporated into “Detroit Style: Car Design in the Motor City, 1950-2020” at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Photo provided by the DIA

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DETROIT — Fine art isn’t always found inside a frame or on a pedestal. The Detroit Institute of Arts is recognizing the attention to design and form in the auto industry in a new exhibition, “Detroit Style: Car Design in the Motor City, 1950-2020,” on display now through June 27, 2021.

Visitors will be able to view 12 unique vehicles — four from each of the Big Three automakers — along with design drawings, archival photos and several modern and contemporary artworks that showcase the interaction between the automotive and art worlds. Organizers say this is the first time since 1983 that cars have been inside the DIA.

“I call it my love letter to Detroit,” said Ben Colman, curator of “Detroit Style.” “I wanted to celebrate an art form that has its roots in our local community.”

Colman said automotive designers and their innovative concepts have shaped “so much of what the modern world looks like.”

Iconic vehicles on display include the 1959 Corvette Stingray Racer, a one-of-a-kind concept vehicle that began as a proposal for a Corvette design and was completed in secret at General Motors’ Tech Center in what was dubbed “Studio X,” Colman said.

“It was so popular that it influenced a whole generation of Corvettes,” said Colman of the vehicle, whose sharp, sleek lines resemble a cross between a rocket and a racecar. “This car really captures an attitude and an energy that was so important in car studios in the 1950s.”

Other vehicles that speak to the intersection between art and the automobile include a 1958 GM Firebird III, a 2017 Ford GT supercar and a 1970 Plymouth Barracuda. The vehicles can be viewed alongside fine artworks including the 1984 Jean-Michel Basquiat painting, “Rusting Red Car in Kuau,” and Edward Joseph Ruscha’s “Standard Station, Amarillo, Texas” from 1963.

“The automotive industry and the city of Detroit are synonymous with one another, so it seems only fitting that the DIA be the museum to showcase the rich history of car design in the city,” DIA Director Salvador Salort-Pons said in a press release. “This exhibition will showcase the similarities between the art of car design and the creative process sculptors of the past used to create their masterpieces. Just like sculptors, they start with drawings and preliminary sketches, then produce clay models and, from there, ‘manufacture’ the final product.”

Although school tours are on hold now because of the pandemic, the DIA’s Education Department is creating online educational resources that parents and teachers will be able to use. In addition, the DIA’s YouTube page features interviews with prominent automotive designers such as Ralph Gilles, Ed Welburn and Emeline King, along with verbal descriptions of items in the exhibition so that those with vision loss can access “Detroit Style.”

Museum guests and people at home of all ages are invited to submit their own automotive drawings, some of which will be displayed as part of the exhibition.

“I’m proud that we can open a show that’s such a celebration of local art during such a challenging year,” Colman said.

Although admission to “Detroit Style” is free to residents of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties, because of the pandemic, the DIA is operating at limited visitor capacity, so timed advance reservations are required to view it. Masks are required, as well. Same-day reservations may be available. The DIA is located at 5200 Woodward Ave. in midtown. For reservations or more information, visit www.dia.org or call the box office at (313) 833-4005.

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