I had the opportunity last weekend to show off the Detroit Institute of Arts to some first-time visitors to the city. We didn’t have much time, so I tried to steer them right to my favorite galleries (Contemporary and African-American). They were more interested, however, in the “Annual Detroit Public Schools Student Exhibition” that’s on view until this Sunday. A little reluctantly (I mean, kids are great and all, but what about the Sol LeWitt?), I led them to the Walter Gibbs Gallery inside the museum’s Wayne & Joan Webber Education Wing. Once inside, it didn’t take long for me to forget all about my hesitation. As it turns out, our guests had the right idea; this show is not to be missed.
It features dozens of individual and group works by K-12 students across Detroit’s public school system in a dazzling array of disciplines and media: painting, collage, sculpture, photography, jewelry, mosaic, architectural modeling, video, fashion design and more. There is as much variety in subject matter and style as there are individual artists. What unifies the best pieces (and there is truly an abundance of exceptional work) is an uncommon confidence and clarity of expression. There are great artists in the making here, and at least a few who are nearly there already.
We’re used to bad news when it comes to the public school system in this city. Hear “DPS,” think budget crises, low test scores, mismanagement, teacher layoffs, overcrowding and more. Of course, these pressing problems demand our attention, but it’s important to remember that the bad news is only ever part of the story. This show, in addition to being a true delight for the eyes, is a bold statement about the ability, intelligence and energy that young Detroiters put into the extraordinary art they make (and a testament to the skill and commitment of their teachers). I’ll let the eloquent images start speaking for themselves below. But first, let me just say these kids have earned their spot on the walls of one of the country’ finest art museums. If you haven’t already, take this opportunity to spend some time with their work. But hurry — it’s only up until Sunday, and there’s a lot to see.
The exhibition runs until Sunday, June 5 in the Walter Gibbs Gallery of the Detroit Institute of Arts, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313.833.7900; dia.org. Free with museum admission. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.