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 Isabel Toledo’s “Migration” outfits and, in the background, “Assembly: Conjuring Spirits,” which feature Diego Rivera’s “Detroit Industry” murals forming patterns on the fabric, are among the works on display as part of the Detroit Institute  of Arts exhibition,  “Ruben and Isabel Toledo: Labor of Love.”

Isabel Toledo’s “Migration” outfits and, in the background, “Assembly: Conjuring Spirits,” which feature Diego Rivera’s “Detroit Industry” murals forming patterns on the fabric, are among the works on display as part of the Detroit Institute of Arts exhibition, “Ruben and Isabel Toledo: Labor of Love.”

Photo by K. Michelle Moran

Exhibition by artists and designers Ruben and Isabel Toledo is fashionably great

By: K. Michelle Moran | C&G Newspapers | Published February 20, 2019

DETROIT — Works in the Detroit Institute of Arts’ permanent collection served as the inspiration for several exciting new pieces by husband and wife artists Ruben and Isabel Toledo.

“Ruben and Isabel Toledo: Labor of Love,” on view through July 7, includes a large installation created in response to the DIA’s cartoon drawings by Diego Rivera, which were made as he prepared for his “Detroit Industry” murals. Visitors will be able to view Rivera’s cartoons — which are rarely displayed because of their fragility — alongside new work by the Toledos.

Besides the special exhibition, works by the Toledos that were influenced by other pieces from the DIA’s collection can be found alongside those pieces, such as a linen sculpture created by both Toledos that references the way ancient Egyptians prepared their dead for the afterlife; the new Toledo work, “Human Remains,” can be found in the Egyptian Galleries near a mummy. In addition, the Toledos teamed with the DIA and the nonprofit Alternatives for Girls’ Sew Great Detroit program to create limited edition tote bags as a fundraiser and awareness-raiser for Sew Great Detroit, which offers sewing and employment training to at-risk women, who are paid for their work.

The Toledos have been the subject of art exhibitions before, but this is the first time they’ve created new work inspired by a museum collection.

“This show brings together fashion and art,” DIA Director Salvador Salort-Pons said. “It’s the first time we’ve done something like that.”

He said the Toledos create art that is meaningful, accessible and full of joy.

DIA Interpretive Specialist Alicia Viera said the show and the artworks throughout the museum highlight creative synergy and a connection between the past and the present. The exhibition is about collaboration, art, fashion “and love, ultimately,” she said.

Visitors will be able to “see art and fashion in new and unexpected ways,” Viera said.

The Toledos, who were both born in Cuba but moved to the United States as kids, met in high school in New Jersey. Ruben Toledo is a sculptor, painter and illustrator whose work often demonstrates humor and a fashion influence. Isabel Toledo is a fashion designer whose clothing is frequently sculptural and draws on diverse influences, including history and world cultures.

Both artists draw from each other’s work and have collaborated on a number of projects, including costumes and scenography for the 2014 Broadway musical, “After Midnight,” and a 2017 reimagining of “George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker” for the Miami City Ballet and Music Center in Los Angeles. Isabel Toledo is a former designer for Anne Klein who created the lemongrass lace ensemble that Michelle Obama wore to President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009. Her husband’s illustrations have appeared in “Vogue” and the “New Yorker,” among many others.

Laurie Ann Farrell — the DIA’s curator of contemporary art and head of the James Pearson Duffy Department of Modern & Contemporary Art — was the reason the museum was able to secure the exhibition with the Toledos, Salort-Pons said.

“The nature of their practice was very collaborative and open,” Farrell said.

She said the Toledos were invited to go through the DIA’s collection to find works that inspired them. Besides the Rivera murals — which Farrell said “were really the driving force behind this exhibition” — the artists also created works inspired by works spanning the centuries.

“It was about weaving together all of the cultures that are in this museum,” Isabel Toledo said. “I hope my joy in the labor came through in the work. I felt very much enriched in the galleries to express myself.”

The artists hope their work speaks to all people.

“For us, it’s all about cross-pollinating, cross-referencing,” Ruben Toledo said. “We learned that art has no borders. … To express yourself is what’s important. It’s about creativity and connecting to people.”

The exhibition’s information panels, labels and other printed materials are bilingual, written in English and Spanish, furthering accessibility.

“We use sort of a question-and-answer format for the labels … so visitors can see the art in a new light,” Viera said.

For the Toledos and the DIA, this collaboration is also a way to spark the imaginations of the next generation of artists and designers. Every year, the DIA hosts about 70,000 schoolchildren, Salort-Pons said.

“I think this exhibition is going to be an extraordinary platform,” he said. “It’s going to inspire. It’s going to make them wonder.”

Admission to “Labor of Love” is included with regular DIA admission, which means it’s free for residents of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties. The DIA is located at 5200 Woodward Ave. in midtown.

For more information, call (313) 833-7900 or visit