DETROIT — In celebration of Detroit’s history as the hub of American automotive design, the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) is enjoying success with its special exhibition titled Detroit Style: Car Design in the Motor City, 1950–2020. Since opening on November 15, 2020, the popular show has been extended multiple times. Its current end date is June 5.
The exhibition highlights the artistry and influence of Detroit car designers working between 1950 and the present day. The exhibition features 12 coupes and sedans inside the permanent collection galleries that represent significant achievements in style and technology. The exhibition includes unique examples of celebrated, experimental show cars created for display as well as iconic production models sold to the mass market. Design drawings, many of them rarely seen by the public, and archival photographs will help visitors experience the creative and innovative processes that bring a vehicle from the drawing board to the road.
The exhibition is an opportunity for visitors to learn how designers create the beautiful forms of the cars that captivate our imaginations. The cars and drawings on display are striking examples of their inventive skill. They also document the changing landscape of American culture from 1950–2020, using new technologies to appeal to the fantasies and ambitions of their day.
“The automotive industry and the city of Detroit are synonymous with one another, so it seems only fitting that the DIA be the museum to showcase the rich history of car design in the city,” said DIA Director Salvador Salort-Pons. “This exhibition showcases the similarities between the art of car design and the creative process sculptors of the past used to create their masterpieces. Just like sculptors, they start with drawings and preliminary sketches, then produce clay models and from there, “manufacture” the final product.”
Detroit Style marks the first time cars have been inside the museum since 1983. Some of the highlights include a 1958 General Motors Firebird III, an experiment in futuristic space age design with towering fins and an early version of autonomous driving technology. The 1970 Plymouth Barracuda is a legendary Detroit pony car that captured the world’s imagination and still defines the attitude and prowess of American cars. The 2017 Ford GT supercar shows how designers reinterpret the past with new materials and technology to shape visions of the future.
Other exhibition highlights include the emotionally resonant 1984 painting Rusting Red Car in Kuau by Jean-Michel Basquiat (American, 1960–1988) which explores the personal resonances of cars that mark both success and difficult journeys. Standard Station, Amarillo, Texas, created in 1963 by Edward Joseph Ruscha (American, b. 1937-) is an icon of Pop Art, capturing an American landscape of spaces and symbols shaped by and for the car.
“This exhibit is a love letter to Detroit, and a celebration of an artform pioneered in our own backyard, said Ben Colman, curator of the Detroit Style exhibition. “It is a privilege to share some of the stories of the Detroit designers who transformed the modern world with their work.”
Visit the website of the Detroit Institute of Arts and see its dedicated page for Detroit Style: Car Design in the Motor City, 1950–2020.