This year saw another two important turning points for the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA). Graham Beal, who had been director since 1999 and received a major salary increase in 2012, as the very future of the DIA was in jeopardy, decided in 2014 to step down, effective June 30, 2015. A few weeks prior to that, Alfred Taubman, a major backer of the DIA, died. Taubman had more than 500 pieces of art on loan to the DIA, all of which were pulled from the museum and sent to Sotheby’s to be auctioned off.
Beal admitted to the Detroit Free Press that he “never had any substantive discussion with Al [Taubman] about his legacy.” So no discussion about maybe a monetary gift, or maybe converting the artwork loans to artwork gifts. When Beal stepped down, he received a severance package of $285,000, and the $155,000 balance on his Palmer Woods home mortgage was forgiven, WXYZ reported.
A secretive search for the next director of the DIA went on over the summer, suddenly concluding with the elevation of Salvador Salort-Pons, former director of the DIA’s European Art Department, to the position. It is too early to tell if Salort-Pons will show moral leadership.
Meanwhile, Detroit’s art galleries for the most part did well. Wasserman Projects moved from Birmingham to Detroit, close to Eastern Market, and David Klein Gallery opened a location in downtown Detroit (but will continue activities in Birmingham).
Library Street Collective hit a record for foot traffic by exhibiting Shepard Fairey, the millionaire artist whose work “questions the authority of the wealthy,” according to the Motor City Muckraker. Fairey had been contracted to do a legitimate mural on a large downtown building, but was later arrested on the accusation of posting his images at locations around the city other than the one he was contracted for.
Three art galleries closed in 2015 with hopes of re-opening in 2016. The first of these was 555 Gallery and Studios, which closed its southwest Detroit location and sold the “Packard Banksy” mural at auction (the mural is believed to have been done by an eccentric British artist at the Packard Plant without the plant owner’s permission). The auction proceeds will be a big help towards re-opening 555 at its new east side location, but there are widely varying estimates as to whether 555 can re-open in 2016.
Live Coal Gallery closed because of a fundraising shortfall for the renovations needed to turn the quaint old house the gallery is located in into a building compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Gallery owner Yvette Rock is optimistic about opening at some point in 2016.
As for Start Gallery, rapidly rising downtown rent forced the gallery out of the Merchants Building, with the last show this year at that location having closed a couple of weeks ago. The 3-month delay before re-opening somewhere in Midtown seems to be just to avoid the worst of the winter. Many see the gallery being forced out of downtown as a good thing, since parking is far less problematic elsewhere in the city.
A story that has been overlooked is that of Freddy Diaz becoming the third Latino artist to go through the Red Bull House of Art program. What really helped Diaz be seriously considered for the program, which provides artists with free art supplies and takes no commission on their sales, was being chosen to exhibit along with Mexican artists of international renown at Inner State Gallery back in May. That and rumors of a sealed juvenile record for graffiti vandalism, which Red Bull made sure to emphasize on Diaz’s artist profile.
The progress of Latino artists in 2015 is questionable, however. It remains rare for a Latino artist to be included in an exhibit just because he or she is good, and not because the exhibit aims for social relevance and thus requires a diverse roster of artists, or because the exhibit is specifically limited to Latino artists. Some of the foregoing could also be said of black artists.