DIA to Open Major Automotive Design Exhibit with 12 Iconic Cars

“Detroit Style: Car Design in the Motor City, 1950-2020” will bring 12 cars to the galleries of the Detroit Institute of Arts from Nov. 15 through June 27, 2021.
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Corvette Stingray
“Detroit Style: Car Design in the Motor City, 1950-2020” will run from Nov. 15-June 27 at the DIA and feature 12 cars. Pictured is a Corvette Stingray. // Photo courtesy of the Detroit Institute of Arts

“Detroit Style: Car Design in the Motor City, 1950-2020” will bring 12 cars to the galleries of the Detroit Institute of Arts from Nov. 15 through June 27, 2021.

The exhibit highlights the artistry and influence of Detroit car designers working from 1950 to the present day. It will feature coupes and sedans inside the permanent collection galleries that feature significant achievements in style and technology.

The museum originally announced the show in February and planned to open in June. It has been postponed to the recently announced dates due to COVID-19.

Experimental show cars and iconic production models will have a place in the exhibit, along with design drawings, many rarely seen by the public, and archival photographs. Visitors will be guided through the creative process that brings a vehicle from the drawing board to the road.

The cars and related materials also document changing American culture from 1950 to present day as technologies and car appearances changed to appeal to the public.

Each of the Big Three automakers will be represented via four cars and will share the galleries with modern and contemporary paintings and a sculpture that will highlight the conversation between the American art world and car culture.

“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,” says Salvador Salort-Pons, director of the DIA. “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.”

Detroit Style marks the first time cars have been in the museum since 1983. Some of the highlights include a 1958 General Motors Firebird III, an experiment in futuristic space age design with towering fins and an early version of autonomous driving technology. The 1970 Plymouth Barracuda, a Detroit pony car, will also be on display. So will 2017 Ford GT supercars.

Other exhibition highlights include the painting “Rusting Red Car in Kuau” (1984) by Jean-Michel Basquiat, which explores the personal resonance of cars hat mark success and difficult journeys; and “Standard Station, Amarillo, Texas” (1963) by Edward Joseph Ruscha (b. 1937), an icon of Pop Art, capturing an American landscape of spaces and symbols shaped by and for the car.

“This exhibit is a love letter to Detroit and a celebration of an artform pioneered in our own backyard,” says Ben Colman, curator of the exhibition. “It is a privilege to share some of the stories of the Detroit designers who transformed the modern world with their work.”

Due to COVID-19, school field trips to the museum are on hold until further notice. However, the museum’s education department is working to create free online educational resources and an educator workshop surrounding the exhibition.

The exhibition also includes a playlist of verbal descriptions, available on the museum’s YouTube page, to help visitors with vision loss access the written parts of the exhibition.

Visitors and people at home will be invited to create their own car drawings to submit. A selection of submitted drawings will be featured in the exhibition through its run. Once the exhibit opens, a worksheet designed to help inspire ideas will be available on the DIA’s website. Drawings can be submitted via social media platforms using #CarsDIA.

A playlist will also be available on the DIA’s YouTube page and website featuring video interviews with designers in the automotive industry.

Admission to the show will be free with general museum admission, which is free for residents of Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, visitors are required to reserve a timed museum admission ticket before arrival. Masks are required to enter the museum, and admission to the exhibition will be limited to allow for proper social distancing inside the exhibition space.

The show is organized by the DIA. Major funding is provided by the Ford Motor Co. Fund, General Motors Co., and Mrs. Jennifer Adderley in memory of her husband, Mr. Terence E. Adderley. Additional funding is provided by the Marvin and Betty Danto Family Foundation, FCA US, the Suburban Collection, Jennifer and David Fischer and Darcy and David Fischer Jr., and Consolidated Rail Corp. on behalf of William Milliken.

Additional support is provided by Barbara and William U. Parfet, TCF National Bank, the Fisher and Co. Family, and the Friends of African and African American Art.  Major funding for the exhibition catalogue is provided by the Margaret Dunning Foundation.

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