“Jinas with Family and Goddess Ambika” was created in India circa 950–1050.

“Jinas with Family and Goddess Ambika” was created in India circa 950–1050.

Photo provided by the Detroit Institute of Arts

DIA’s new Asian Wing immerses visitors in history and culture

By: K. Michelle Moran | C&G Newspapers | Published January 8, 2019

DETROIT — Artworks with religious and cultural significance are displayed thoughtfully in the Detroit Institute of Arts’ reinstalled Robert and Katherine Jacobs Asian Wing.

From centuries-old pieces to contemporary ones, the wing includes work from China, Korea, India and Southeast Asia, and joins the recently reopened Japanese gallery. There’s also a gallery devoted to Buddhist art from various parts of Asia.

DIA Director Salvador Salort-Pons said the wing was “co-created … with (input from) different communities in the tri-county area to really create an installation and display that was going to resonate.”

“It’s very important when people come to the museum that they feel reflected by the collection,” Salort-Pons said.

In keeping with the museum’s model to make the artwork more accessible, visitors will learn about the context and uses, where applicable, of works on view. Some pieces have interactive elements.

“One of the things that this installation does is bring new technology to the enjoyment of the arts,” Salort-Pons said. “We believe technology is not a substitute for experience of the arts, but a bridge … You can learn and explore our amazing works of art in different ways.”

Among the many highlights are a bronze sculpture of the Hindu goddess Parvati created in southern India in the 13th century, and “The First Prose Poem on the Red Cliff,” a 1558 work by Chinese artist Wen Zhengming that features painting and calligraphy.

“You’ll see treasured works that haven’t been on view for years,” said Katherine Kasdorf, DIA assistant curator of Arts of Asia and the Islamic World. “You’ll also see a number of new acquisitions.”

Historical works anchor the collection and remain relevant today, but visitors will find these older pieces alongside artwork of more recent vintage.

“Many of the modern and contemporary works were made by artists whose work and lives spanned continents,” Kasdorf said.

The wing includes a commissioned work by Neha Vedpathak, who was born in India and moved to the United States in 2007. Titled “Still I Rise” — inspired by the Maya Angelou poem of the same name — the large-scale paper work features many sheets of plucked paper sewn together and painted in vibrant reds and yellows.

Buddhist art from various regions in Asia is represented as well.

The wing was named after two DIA donors, Robert and Katherine Jacobs, of Birmingham. Robert Jacobs, a longtime DIA supporter and the CEO of Buddy’s Pizza, said he grew up in Detroit, where the DIA played an important role in his childhood; he recalled his mother bringing him there when he was a boy. Later, when he was a student at Wayne State University’s law school, he said he would visit the galleries once a week “to be uplifted … and to get away from the tension of going to law school.”

He said the DIA’s focus on education was also a reason that he and his wife wanted to support the museum. Salort-Pons said more than 73,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade visited the museum in 2018, a new record for the DIA. Robert Jacobs said engagement with the arts improves the critical and creative thinking of students.

In addition, the Jacobses have a great appreciation for and respect of Asian culture, and even met each other through a mutual yoga teacher.

“For both of us, the Asian culture is very important,” Robert Jacobs said. “We both do yoga and meditate. For us, (the gift) was a natural fit.”

Katherine Jacobs said she and her husband appreciate the fact that the DIA is something of a “communal town square plaza, where everyone is engaged.”

“I want to support an institution that is striving to grow and change and reach out to people who might not have been white law students (like my husband),” she said.

Ali Jean, a DIA interpretive planner, said the museum hopes to immerse visitors in Asian culture and enable them to see themselves in the culture. For example, in an area where Indian court paintings are displayed, visitors can select from among several Indian musical numbers; the musical selection will influence how visitors see the paintings.

As part of the museum’s efforts to interact with its audiences, visitors are invited to leave their responses to the galleries, along with personal stories and reflections, which will be featured with reactions from community members who offered their input on the Asian Wing.

The DIA is located at 5200 Woodward Avenue in midtown. Admission is free for residents of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties. For more information, call (313) 833-7900 or visit www.dia.org.