The museum has been busy over the holidays, with the DIA staff working hard to keep it as safe as possible adhering to our current Covid-19 protocols and ensuring a rewarding visitor experience. Two of the big attractions are the new shows we debuted in December: The New Black Vanguard: Photography between Art and Fashion and Shirley Woodson: Shield of Nile Reflections. Over the last few weeks, both shows have received extensive and very positive press coverage. A local newspaper described the former as “the exhibit Black Detroiters need,” demonstrating that we continue to present relevant exhibitions. A DIA staffer passionately asserted to me that the Shirley Woodson exhibition is the kind of show visitors want to see when they walk into a museum. It is encouraging to witness this excitement about the work the museum does for the community, and these positive vibrations were tangible throughout the galleries during the holiday week.
The day we opened the shows, I ran into Valerie Mercer, our head curator of the Center for African American Art, and artist Shirley Woodson. They were peacefully taking a break, chatting and sitting on one of the benches in the museum’s antiquities court. As Valerie recently said to the press, “She’s (Shirley Woodson) a Detroit gem. Very elegant, gentle, but very strong.” I first met her in my home a few years ago when we were planning the exhibition Detroit Collects: Selections of African American Art From Private Collections. Shirley Woodson was one of the lenders to the show, not with her own art, but with some of the works she had collected over the years. My wife and I and many of our guests felt honored that she came to our home that day. She is an authority in Detroit, as an artist and educator, with a deep understanding of the city’s history and culture, and her participation in the show was crucial for its success. And, as all of you know, it was a huge success -- the out-of-print exhibition catalogue has become a sought-after collector’s item.
It is a privilege to have Shirley Woodson back at the DIA. This time the art on the walls is her own. On the opening day, we walked together in the Rivera temporary galleries (Special Exhibitions Central), and while she inspected each of her paintings from a distance, I stepped back to observe. It was a silent, deliberated, and very focused exploration of each wall -- and I was looking for a signal of approval. After the thorough scanning, she remained quiet, and, I believe, pleased. Valerie later confirmed that “Shirley Woodson is delighted with the presentation.” That was uplifting. Before I said goodbye, I took a photo of the artist and curator together in front of one of the paintings. It was a nice image, which I showed them, mentioning that I would share it with a common friend in Detroit. Shirley Woodson replied, “Salvador, send it to Holland Cotter” --- the co-chief art critic of the New York Times. She was serious, and we will work on that.
In the meantime, our exhibition program will continue to be strong in 2022, with Van Gogh in America (October 2, 2022–January 22, 2023) and By Her Hand: Artemisia Gentileschi and Women Artists in Italy 1500–1800, among others. The latter, which opens February 6 (through May 29), will provide opportunities not only to explore the life and works of women artists who lived in Italy but also to draw parallels with the contemporary lens of the Shield of Nile Reflections by Shirley Woodson in Detroit. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the Woodson/Gentileschi experience. Stay well.