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The Best Contemporary Art Galleries in Detroit

by MaryQuinley January - last edited January

The Detroit art scene runs the gamut from the treasured world-class Detroit Institute of Arts to the recycled trash of the Heidelberg Project and the hip eclectic Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. A vibrant, made-only-in-Michigan Detroit Artists Market complements the ever-changing artistic landscape of galleries in Detroit.


Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA)


Detroit Art Galleries | Detroit Institute of Art

Detroit Industry by Diego Rivera © Detroit Institute of Arts

In 1933, Mexican muralist Diego Rivera finished painting four walls of frescoes at the DIA. “Pornographic and un-American!” cried naysayers.  The once-upon-a-time controversial Detroit Industry depicts the city’s role as an industrial powerhouse. Today, this masterpiece, and Self-Portrait, the first piece of Vincent van Gogh’s art to appear in a USA museum, are favourites with museumgoers.


Heidelberg Project, Detroit


Detroit Art Galleries | Heidelberg Project

Party Animal House © Heidelberg Project

Is it junk or art? A hodgepodge of discarded items – okay, mostly junk – adorns houses, yards and sidewalks in a two-block outdoor art centre. You’ll see shoes, dolls, tires and appliances. Oval Office is a neatly arranged formation of more than 30 vacuum cleaners. Tyree Guyton, artist and founder of Heidelberg Project, explains: “…much like these vacuum cleaners, they (government officials) don’t work!” A dozen or so clocks and hundreds of record albums decorate House of Soul. Look for ratty action figures and shabby teddy bears clinging to unfit-to-live-in Party Animal House. When recycled rubbish took centre stage in the neighbourhood, crime and drug deals declined. Art wins.


Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD)


Detroit Art Galleries | Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit

Home Sweet Home by Jason Ferguson © Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit

Peek outside behind the building to see the MOCAD's only permanent exhibit, Mobile Homestead. The bring-the-suburbs-back-to-the-city sculpture was built to resemble an American Midwest home. It signifies a reversal of the 1960s “white flight” in The D when masses of residents fled to the suburbs. Inside the museum, exhibitions often change. The animated abandoned autos in Vision in a Cornfield are a popular exhibit, while (in) Habitation combines silly and serious. Altered home elements, like tables and chairs, encourage the viewer to consider ‘what does home really mean?”


Detroit Artists Market (DAM)


Detroit Art Galleries | Detroit Artists Market

Glasshead by KT Andresky © Detroit Artists Market

This neat, uncluttered art shop – overflowing with original works by Metro Detroiters – sizzles with activity. There’s music, food, drinks and every imaginable art form – paintings, sculpture, glass, ceramic, photography and jewellery, to name a few. Check out KT Andresky’s GlassHead, 78 layers of a special artist's paint on beveled, low-iron glass; or, metal casts by sculptor Scott Berels. The 80-plus-years-young Detroit Artists Market, smack in the heart of The D’s vibrant arts and entertainment community, plays host to meet-the-artist evenings, exhibitions and shows.


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Have you visited any of these Detroit art galleries? What were your favourite exhibits? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


Written by Mary Quinley 

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About the author: MaryQuinley

Mary Quinley

Mary Quinley is an award-winning journalist who writes for magazines, newspapers and online publications. She is the author of the book 52 Ohio Weekends: Great Getaways and Adventures for Every Season. Mary resides in Metro Detroit most seasons. In the winter, she heads to southwest Florida to enjoy beach towns, back roads and happy hours. Family and friends are priorities 24/7.