One of America’s finest art museums can be found on Woodward Avenue in Detroit, Michigan. Housed in a Beaux-Arts style white marble building, the collection within is even more spectacular than its fabulous exterior. With a massive arched façade and a copy of Rodin’s The Thinker out front, the main entrance reminds visitors that the Detroit Institute of Arts is an important cultural institution. Founded in 1885, the current building opened its doors in 1927. The structure has been referred to as a “temple of art” and I have to agree.
Visitors to the Detroit Institute of Arts can tour the world over 100 galleries that cover 658,000 square feet. You will find artifacts from France, England, Egypt, Iran, and China. The world’s major religions are represented by Islamic texts, Buddhist sculptures, Christian architecture, and Jewish menorahs. Cultures ranging from Native Americans to Ancient Greeks are highlighted. The exhibits show viewers not just paintings and photography, but furniture, objets d’arts, tapestries, drawings, prints, films, ceramics, sculpture, and architectural implements.
The Detroit Institute of Arts houses more than 60,000 works that portray human achievement from ancient times (25,000 BCE) to the present. The rooms themselves are often designed to reflect the art they hold—stained-glass windows cast a glow on medieval artifacts while stark white walls make a fitting backdrop for bright modern art.
High points of the collection are the massive murals by Diego Rivera called Detroit Industry. These fabulous frescoes bring to life important parts of Michigan, national, and world history. If you’re looking for cool things to do in Detroit, you definitely need to make a trip over to the Detroit Institute of Arts.
My Favorites of the DIA’s Collections
- Africa, Oceania, & Indigenous Americas
- The DIA’s African art collection ranks among the finest in the world. You can learn about various cultures from around the world through the artifacts in these collections. They also house important pieces from Oceania and indigenous American cultures.
- Some of my favorites: Egyptian mummies, tomb wall fragments, Egyptian manuscripts, African stone/wood tools, and terracotta figures from the Americas.
- American Art
- Furniture, paintings, sculptures, and decorative art from 1660-1950 provide insight into North, Central, and South America.
- Some of my favorites: bowls by Mary Chase Perry Stratton, paintings by Mary Cassatt, Watson and the Shark by John Singleton Copley (1782), early American furniture, works by Louis Comfort Tiffany, and various decorative arts.
- Arts of Asia and the Islamic World
- Artwork in these collections includes works of Asia, China, Korea, Japan, South/Southeast Asia, the ancient Middle East, and the Islamic World. The newly revamped Ancient Middle East gallery features top-notch artifacts from Assyria, Babylon, Mesopotamia, Persia, and the Arabian Kingdom. Its collection is among the top five of ancient Middle Eastern art in the United States.
- Some of my favorites include: artifacts from ancient Assyrian cities, Babylonian Mushhushshu-dragon (604-562 BCE), cuneiform tablets, coins from ancient civilizations, Islamic books, jewelry from various civilizations, weapons, and sculptures.
- European Art
- To my regular readers it probably comes as no surprise that the rooms housing European art are my favorites, especially the Inspired by Italy, Medieval & Renaissance, and Ancient Greek and Roman. Works span from ancient Greece to 1950; there is a nice collection of sculpture from many points in the past, numerous paintings from major European artists including those of the Italian Renaissance, Dutch Golden Age, Baroque Era, & Impressionist Age, arms & armor, decorative arts from various periods, ancient western antiquities, and even a medieval chapel.
- Some of my favorite paintings include: Eleanora of Toledo & Her Son by Agnolo Bronzino (1545-1550), Martha & Mary Magdalene by Caravaggio (1598), Judith & Her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi (1623-1625), View of the Roman Forum by Giovanni Panini (1735), Portrait of the Postman Roulin by Vincent Van Gogh (1888).
- Some of my favorite sculptures/artifacts include: Statue of the Young Nero Wearing a Toga (50), Tomb Effigy of a Recumbent Knight (1350-1375), Armor in the Gothic style by Lorenz Helmschmied (1485), Zephyr Dancing with Flora by Benzoni (1870), Rodin statues like Eve and The Thinker.
Other DIA Collections of Note
- Print Drawings & Photographs
- More than 500 years of work on paper containing approximately 35,000 prints, drawings, photographs, posters, and watercolors.
- General Motors Center for African-American Art
- This collection highlights artistic contributions made by African Americans of local and national renown.
- Contemporary Art
- The DIA holds over 3500 works of contemporary art including paintings, videos, sculptures, and other mediums.
- Performing Arts
- This collection boasts more than 10,000 items from all over the world that tell us about film and theater.
The museum is open every day except for Mondays and special occasions. Ticket, parking, and museum policies can be found here: https://www.dia.org/visit
There is always something going on at the Detroit Institute of Arts. This Detroit art museum is deeply connected to its community and chooses offerings that celebrate Motown’s diversity. There are many things to do in Detroit, as the city is definitely going through a Renaissance period, but you would be remiss not to stop at the DIA. Residents of several of the surrounding areas receive free admission, as do Michigan educators who register online. Students get special discounts. But even if you don’t qualify for a discount, these unique collections of artistic expression are definitely worth the price of admission.
When you’re finished, you may want to indulge is some local Detroit cuisine—I highly recommend a coney dog from American Coney Island or a Detroit-style pizza from Buddy’s. Detroit is also becoming a “foodie” scene with many acclaimed chefs opening restaurants in the area or you can get a taste of Detroit’s multi-cultural population by eating at any one of a number of diverse eateries.
Like what you just read? You can support me by following my blog and leaving comments–I love to hear from my readers. Happy travels! Amy
If you enjoy our pictures, please check out our photography shop on Etsy where you can purchase our prints. We don’t have all of our prints listed on our Etsy site, so don’t hesitate to contact us if you see a picture in a blog post that you would like to order.
Things to Do in Detroit: Belle Isle
Historical Walking Tour of Downtown Detroit