Detroit may have it’s detractions, but for those on the tourist circuit like myself, it’s attractions include a surprisingly delightful array of museums that cater to a wide range of ages.
The first I went to was the Detroit Institute of Art, a gorgeous art deco building that looks like it would be happy in either Washington D.C. or New York. It’s white stone facade and classical etchings fail to truly represent the even more beautiful interior. The museum was built in the heyday of American industry, when the rich believed in culture for the masses, and so every gallery in order to truly exhibit the various masters must be an artwork itself.
From the beautiful iron grates to the nooks to hold glassware and the Diego Rivera murals, this is a museum of museums. And the artwork is surprisingly impressive. In two hours, we were only able to complete the American painting section, the 19th century European art, and half of the contemporary art collection. We still had the ancient art from Africa and the Middle East, the Renaissance painters, the decorative art gallery, and the special exhibit. And what was there was truly representative of the best.
Next up was the Henry Ford Museum, which is a montage to American history. American history really should be defined as “American industry” as the collection boasts exhibits on early airplanes, automobiles and trains, American craftsmanship whether in mass industrialization or cottage industries, and occasional artifacts (again mostly vehicles) from American history.
Of course, this left the vehicle admirer in party extremely happy and while I thought the airplane exhibit (which included both original airplanes and working replicas) was by far the best, I was craving something a little more intellectual. The museum does a wonderful job integrating exhibits for both adults and children, but I often felt that it left me without the additional information I would have liked.
The exhibits on clocks had displays teaching you how to read time and the Dymaxion House had very little information about why it was invented and the logistics of implementation. For $15 per adult entry, it was a one time museum. Until they revamp their exhibits.
Last but not least was the Detroit Historical Museum, which left us hopeful that we would finally understand the whys of modern Detroit. Or at least understand it’s past better. Unfortunately the best exhibit was on a large model train set, in which one could press buttons to make various components run.
The oddest exhibit was on Detroit Weddings, which we later realized was a way for them to showcase the various wedding dresses they have. But it was strangely curated, with each item having a three paragraph description discussing what the wedding tradition would have been for that ethnic group in that time period. A regular fashion exhibit that included the dresses would have been better.
Overall, it was fine (we got in free thanks to some weird deal for Bank of America account holders) and a good place to go on a rainy day. A lot of the museum was again geared for kids and I kept thinking I would have loved the full size walkable replicas of Detroit streets from the past. But when every exhibit had very little visual images and even more written commentary that gave little or irrelevant detail, we were eagerly ready to return home and me pondering the various styles of curation.
BONUS: While at the Henry Ford Museum looking at an exhibit on the history of light bulbs, some guy who had to been in high school came up to me and asked, “What can you teach me about this?”