Women that inspire at the DIA

I have always admired a 1932 photograph that captures Frida Kahlo at the DIA painting her famous Self-portrait on the Borderline between Mexico and the United States, 1932. In the photo, standing behind her, there is the large figure of her husband, Diego, watching her creative work. The image offers, in my view, symbolic contrasts. He is physically bulky and rough while she is refined and elegant. Frida is painting with thin brushes on a small copper plate, while in the photograph’s background Diego’s Detroit Industry Murals appear monumental and forceful. We don’t know what was going on in their the minds in the photo, but one can easily guess that ideas of immigration, race, workers’ rights, and gender equality, among others, were fueling their brushes, which produced their magnificent creations. Proof of their visionary character is that their works continue to be relevant today. And while Diego was a powerful artistic force of his time, Frida’s stature as an artist and person has greatly surpassed that of her husband. She has become an icon of our times.  

It is inspiring to link the origins of Frida’s artistic mastery to our museum. Kahlo and the DIA will always be historically connected for our great benefit. At the other end of history, that of today’s, we are celebrating another extraordinary woman, Margaret Herz Demant. She was also elegant and refined and like Frida possessed an extraordinary intelligence and passion for the arts.  During her life she quietly collected works by African, European and American artists. She had an eye for quality and acquired with a generous strategic intent, which was to complement and strengthen the DIA collection.  While she was collecting, she was thinking of giving back to our community. Our current exhibition, Extraordinary Gift, Extraordinary Eye: The Legacy of Margaret Herz Demant, commemorates the life of Margaret, her bequest, her love for Detroit and the DIA, her exemplary philanthropic life and her superior taste for the arts. As a matter of fact, one of her gifts to the DIA, Women Holding Bowl with Child (Democratic Republic of Congo, Lumba (Upemba) culture, ca. 1700), was selected as one the best acquisitions of the year by the influential British journal, Apollo Magazine. I am delighted that the exhibition is installed next to Rivera Court where Frida painted in 1932.

Since I started my directorship I have witnessed how Margaret, Elizabeth Verdow, Madge Berman, and Roseanne Comstock among other volunteers have made a difference in the
Diego Rivera and Friday Kahlo in Rivera Court
arts for Detroit. Unfortunately, the DIA does not own a painting by Frida, but we are focusing on increasing the representation of women artists in our programs, exhibitions and collections. Isabel Toledo’s beautiful outfits are currently spread out in our galleries, in dialogue with our permanent collection. Some recent additions to our holdings include pieces by Luisa Roldan (1652 – 1706), Anne Allen (1748 – 1808), Elizabeth Catlett (1915 – 2012) and living artists Deborah Butterfield, Stefanie Jackson, and Beverly Fishman, among others. In the spirit of Margaret’s tenacious work ethic, I am reminded that we still have much to improve in this area of our operation. We will continue committing the time and resources, and in the meantime, I am happy to announce that a Frida will be back in our galleries soon.  Stay tuned!
Categories:  From The Director