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Hummingbirds and Orchids Martin Johnson Heade
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Hummingbirds and Orchids (47.36) — Martin Johnson Heade

An Evolution

More than a century after its founding
in 1885, the DIA is celebrating its
third dramatic transformation.

 

The original museum, called The Detroit Museum of Art, was located on Jefferson Avenue in Detroit. Due to a rapidly expanding collection, the museum moved to a much larger site on Woodward Avenue in 1927. The new beaux arts-style building, designed by Paul Cret, was immediately referred to as the "temple of art"; in fact, the 1929 Encyclopedia Britannica included the new DIA's floor plan as an illustration of an ideal museum arrangement.

William Valentiner, the museum's director at the time, did not believe that art should be segregated by medium, with separate galleries for sculptures and paintings, as was then customary for museums. He installed the art by country of origin, with different media included in the same galleries. Valentiner wanted to give the visitor a sense of the art's historical background and cultural context, and worked with Cret to ensure the design would allow for these innovative gallery installations.

The 1960s and 70s

After World War II, the collection had grown so much that two wings were added. The South wing, named after Edsel and Eleanor Ford for their generous support, opened in 1966. It housed the African, Modern, Pre-Columbian, and parts of the European collections, as well as special exhibition galleries and an expanded museum shop. The North Wing, dedicated in 1971, was named after former Detroit mayor Jerome P. Cavanagh, as he was instrumental in securing public money for the expansion. The North wing included the Asian, Islamic, and 20th-century collections as well as staff offices and the Research Library.

Great Art, New Start: A Transformation

The recent renovation project began in 2001. Opened in 2007, the building has extensive infrastructure upgrades, increased gallery space, expanded visitor amenities, an improved traffic pattern throughout the museum, and a new façade on the North and South wings.

Director Graham W. J. Beal saw the building project as an ideal opportunity to expand the museum in yet another way–in its philosophy. Just as Valentiner broke with the traditions of his time, Beal also established a bold new vision for the DIA. Inspired by the prestigious collection and a conviction that the DIA is an unparalleled cultural and educational resource for the community, Beal directed the staff to reinstall the collection in a way that provides new ways of looking at and relating to the art. The reinstalled galleries feature new tools to help visitors better understand the art, its cultural context and its relevance to their lives. This approach has also informed the planning of educational programs, and the layout and amenities available in the improved facility.