Detroit Institute of Arts adds important works by five contemporary artists to permanent collection
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Detroit Institute of Arts adds important works by five contemporary artists to permanent collection
Pindell - Howardena Pindell, Windows, 2022, acrylic on canvas. Detroit Institute of Arts, Museum Purchase, Ernest and Rosemarie Kanzler Foundation Fund, 2023.69. Image Courtesy of Garth Greenan Gallery.

DETROIT, MI.- The Detroit Institute of Arts announced today the recent acquisitions of five major works by contemporary artists, reflecting the DIA’s ongoing commitment to collect and present the art of our time and to support the vision and practices of today’s groundbreaking artists.

Each of these five works—four of which were made in the last year—offer great insight and perspective on urgent issues of today, addressing politics and representation, landscape and memory, and colonialism and cultural identity. Together, they exemplify the DIA’s efforts to introduce into its galleries a broad range of global perspectives on issues immediately relevant to Detroit audiences and communities.

The new acquisitions are:

·Soy una Fuente (I Am a Fountain) (1990) by María Magdalena Campos-Pons

·Black counter gravity (Carte figurative et approximative des quantitiés de coton en laine importés en Europe en 1858 et 1861) (2022) by Firelei Báez

·The Imaginary Indian (Decorative Motifs) (2022) by Nicholas Galanin

·Windows (2022) by Howardena Pindell

·Black Spangled Banner (2022) by Nari Ward

“The DIA is proud to acquire these five dynamic contemporary works which draw upon different geographies, contexts, and artistic styles,” said DIA Director Salvador Salort-Pons. “Each of these works explores important aspects of today’s culture and society and provides our visitors with unique and vital perspectives on contemporary issues.”

Soy Una Fuente (I Am a Fountain) (1990) by María Magdalena Campos-Pons

María Magdalena Campos-Pons’s striking, large-scale mixed media installation Soy Una Fuente (I Am a Fountain) is one of the first works the artist made after arriving to the United States from Cuba in the early 1990s. Soy Una Fuente is among a group of early works in which Campos-Pons employed bilingual text, demonstrating her attempts to negotiate what it means to exist across many cultures. Campos-Pons was born of African, Cuban, and Chinese heritage on a sugar plantation in Matanzas, Cuba, and her multimedia practice is informed by Afro-Cuban history and religion; race, ethnicity, and gender; and memory and migration. Soy Una Fuente makes a powerful statement about the politics and poetics of the body. Representing new perspectives on the history of feminist art practice, Soy Una Fuente is one of the first works to enter the collection that reflects the bold artistic experimentation with feminist ideas and topics of the 1990s. The work comprises six sculptural reliefs painted with oil on panel that celebrate the body in all of its magic and monstrosity: breasts spew milk, an eye waters. A tongue salivates, and a vagina bleeds. A uterus births and bowels defecate. The work reflects the artist’s lifelong commitment to imbuing histories of art with a relationship to selfhood and spirituality.

Black counter gravity (Carte figurative et approximative des quantités de coton en laine importés en Europe en 1858 et 1861) (2022) by Firelei Báez

Firelei Báez is internationally recognized for fierce, fantastical paintings that blur the lines between realism and abstraction, as well as past, present, and future. The Dominican-born artist’s work ties together subject matter from a wide breadth of diasporic narratives, often painting directly onto historical material, such as found maps, manuals, and travelogues. Her paintings bring together figuration, symbolic imagery, and abstract gesture, merging history and fantasy to transform past imagery into powerful new narratives of agency and self-possession. In Black counter gravity (Carte figurative et approximative des quantités de coton en laine importés en Europe en 1858 et 1861), Báez reimagines the history of the transatlantic slave trade and Middle Passage. Báez creatively obscures the route of a trade map showing the movement of wool and cotton across the Atlantic Ocean in the years leading up to the Civil War. Expressively rendered over the surface of this document, a group of female figures join forces with a vast ocean, echoing the contours of the map as they reach across the Atlantic to hug the coast of Africa.

Black counter gravity is from a body of work inspired by 1990s Detroit-based electronic music duo Drexciya, which played an integral role in the development of techno music in Detroit. Black counter gravity is one of Báez’s only paintings to present multiple bodies, moving in unison, and mines Drexciya’s musical history to reimagine the past and form a new, collective future. For Báez, these female forms evoke the power of painting to propose new pathways of being and belonging in the world, “a melding,” as the artist describes this painting, “of both the depicted illusory body and the materiality of my own presence.” Alongside Nari Ward’s Black Spangled Banner (below), Báez’s painting is one of the first major contemporary works to come into the collection by an artist of the Caribbean diaspora. The painting significantly expands the geographic reach of the DIA’s collection, reflecting Detroit’s influence on artists from across the globe, and the ways international artists have looked to and been inspired by the artistic and musical history of the city.

The Imaginary Indian (Decorative Motifs) (2022) by Nicholas Galanin

Nicholas Galanin is a Tlingit and Unangax multi-disciplinary artist whose work is grounded in his heritage and connected to the land, all the while engaging broadly with contemporary culture. Working at the intersection of conceptual and material practice, he applies his creative agency in diverse media, celebrating cultural continuity, subverting colonialism, and fighting cultural erasure. In the series of works titled The Imaginary Indian, Galanin explores themes of exploitation and value, as well as colonialism, globalization, cultural appropriation, and loss. The artist notes: “The Imaginary Indian series reflects the romanticization of pre-contact culture as a form of colonization, devaluation of contemporary Indigenous cultural production, and imitations of cultural forms without cultural connection, veiled by European colonial era imagery.” This newly acquired work, titled The Imaginary Indian (Decorative Motifs), features an Indonesian-made replica totem pole painted with a chinoiserie floral motif attached to a wall with the same patterned chinoiserie style wallpaper.

To create this work, Galanin purchased a carved replica of a totem pole made in Indonesia. Galanin uses this totem in The Imaginary Indian (Decorative Motifs) to illustrate how Indonesians have appropriated Native American culture by replicating totem poles because they deem them as valuable. He strategically utilizes the wallpaper to engage ideas about colonialism’s impact on Indigeneity and how the imitation of cultural forms can lead to the erasure of people and their art. In so doing, Galanin layers the global effects of European colonization and its impact on those they colonized. The matching paint and wallpaper blend the totem into the background wall, underscoring the forced assimilation of Native American people and their attempted erasure. Galanin’s work first entered in the collections of the Detroit Institute of Arts with Everything We’ve Ever Been, Everything We Are Right Now-South (2019).

Windows (2022) by Howardena Pindell

Windows—a painting by American artist Howardena Pindell—exemplifies the abstract visual language and repetition of circles for which she has become well known. Throughout Pindell’s five-decade career, she has practiced abstraction, and continually returns to geometric forms and color patterns, often with dots and a unique use of materials. Many of her works display a practice of literally and figuratively piecing together fragments of her past, addressing themes of racism, trauma, and memory. Throughout her oeuvre, the meditative and spiritual qualities of Pindell’s voice remain consistent and continue to expand the definition of what abstract painting could be. As a painter, printmaker, collagist, and performance artist, Pindell’s process-oriented works often express her personal and political stances on issues such as the underrepresentation of women of color in the art world, human rights, and spirituality.

Windows continues a throughline of her explorations of abstract art, showing how her practice with stenciled work has evolved from the 1970s through today. Considered a very personal piece, Windows merges the importance of history, process, and an expression of her collected life experiences. In 2000, the DIA purchased Autobiography: Air/CS560, an assemblage with multiple layers of text with activist undertones about civil rights. Windows, the newly acquired work, pairs perfectly with this earlier work, demonstrating different parts of her evolving artistic practice.

Black Spangled Banner (2022) by Nari Ward

Made in 2022, Black Spangled Banner by Nari Ward is one of several artworks inspired by the artist’s naturalization as a United States citizen in 2011. Ward’s installations and sculptures are composed of discarded material found and collected throughout Harlem and Manhattan. Ward re-contextualizes these found objects in thought-provoking juxtapositions that create complex, metaphorical meanings to confront social and political realities surrounding race, migration, democracy, and community. He intentionally leaves the meaning of his work open to allow his viewers to provide their own interpretations.

Black Spangled Banner evokes themes of racism, consumer culture, immigration, and poverty. With this artwork, Ward joins a long tradition of American artists who have grappled with the symbolic meaning of the American flag, such as Jasper Johns, Faith Ringgold, and David Hammons. Ward renders the flag almost invisible by completely studding it with 720 security tags of the kind used to prevent the theft of goods in stores. By drawing the audience’s gaze to this piece, Ward recreates the conditions of the gaze of surveillance that many Black and Brown people are forced to endure while shopping, driving, picnicking, walking, running, watching TV, arriving home, sleeping, swimming, and birding. These encounters are often personal and direct, but, by deploying the symbol of the nation in this work, Ward is quietly asking his audience to contemplate the ways these actions multiply on a local, state, and national level, and why the questions of belonging linger in America.

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