How do you bring together 74 Vincent van Gogh works worth millions of dollars from museums, foundations and private collections all over the world for one massive exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Arts? Carefully. Very carefully.
By the time Metro Detroiters finally set foot inside the highly anticipated “Van Gogh in America” exhibit opening to the public Sunday, all 74 works will be in place for visitors to admire in all their beauty.
But to get them there, each museum or collection sent its own “courier” to personally escort the work to the DIA. Works were sent from roughly 60 locations all over the globe, including Paris’s famed Musée d’Orsay, Madrid’s Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza and Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum. The paintings and drawings also will leave with a courier.
The couriers “watch it (the painting) being installed and then they’ll come back to watch us de-install it,” said Jill Shaw, the Rebecca A. Boylan and Thomas W. Sidlik Curator of European Art, 1850-1970 at Detroit Institute of Arts, who is the exhibit’s curator. “They travel with them.”
“Van Gogh in America,” which explores how Van Gogh’s work was received in the United States and how the DIA became the first U.S. museum to purchase one of his paintings, “Self-Portrait” (1887), for its permanent collection in 1922. Other Midwestern museums followed suit, but it took roughly 20 more years before a New York museum purchased a Van Gogh work.
Several of the works featured in the exhibit also come from museums closer to home, such as “The Bedroom,” loaned from the Art Institute of Chicago. Some are from private collectors, such as “Harvest in Provence,” which Van Gogh painted in 1888, inspired by the landscape and colors of Arles, France. It’s on loan to the DIA from Heather James Fine Art in Palm Desert.
The largest number of works for the exhibit, approximately 20, came from Vincent van Gogh Foundation, which was established by Van Gogh’s nephew, Vincent Willem van Gogh. After his mother, Jo, died, Van Gogh established a foundation with his uncle’s work and also the Van Gogh Museum in the 1960s.
“The museum exhibits the works that are owned by the foundation,” said Shaw.
Seeing so much Van Gogh paintings in one spot, even the couriers were impressed, said Shaw. The exhibit, considered one of the largest exhibitions of Van Gogh’s work in the 21st century, was originally supposed to open in 2020 but was pushed back before COVID-19, allowing the DIA to add six more works that weren’t originally included.
Van Gogh’s story “is an incredible story,” said Shaw.
‘Van Gogh in America’
Opens Sunday at the Detroit Institute of Arts and runs through Jan. 22
Features 74 authentic Van Gogh works, including paintings and drawings, from all over the world.
Tickets are $14-$29 for adults; discounted prices for residents in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties.
Go to dia.org/events/exhibitions/van-gogh-america.