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City council supports effort to bring DIA’s ‘Inside Out’ exhibit to St. Clair

DIA reproductions coming to St. Clair
A reproduction of German artist Karin Kneffel's untitled 2004 painting, owned by the DIA, appears on a graffiti splashed overpass in Detroit's Dequindre Cut, part of the DIA's Inside/Outside program.

Program installs reproductions of masterpieces in various neighbors

By Jim Bloch

Imagine strolling through Palmer Park in St. Clair and running into a panel of Diego Rivera’s “Industry” fresco just off the riverfront? Or bumping into the frightening self-portrait of German Expressionist painter Otto Dix, wearing the same haircut as Moe of the Three Stooges, grim-faced in a vivid brown corduroy jack, his huge hand holding a single dainty pink carnation, planted right next to the Garden Club’s elaborate planting at the north end of the park?

The St. Clair City Council voted unanimously at its regular meeting on Oct. 7 to endorse an effort by the St. Clair Art Association to bring seven to 12 reproductions of masterpieces in the Detroit Institute of Arts to various locations in the city, all within walking or biking distance from each other.

The DIA’s program is known as Inside/Out.

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A detail of Pieter Brueghel’s “The Wedding Dance” and its label in the Cut. St. Clair hopes to land one of next year’s Inside/Out displays.

The program is premised in part on the idea that art can shock or at least tweak people into thinking freshly about the world around them. Stumbling across masterpieces in unexpected locations can have a similar effect.

“We thought it would be kind of neat for the city,” said Steve Path, a member of the St. Clair Art Association board of directors. “It would bring some needed art to the community, especially with the St. Clair Inn opening.”

Path noted that the recent First Impressions: Tourism assessment of the city, conducted through the Michigan State Extension, suggested that more public art would boost St. Clair’s desirability as a  destination.

Over the past 10 years, the museum has partnered with about 100 communities to showcase hundreds of the paintings in its permanent collection through traveling reproductions.

This spring, the DIA installed artworks in Lake Orion, Clawson, on the campus of Wayne State University and in the North Corktown neighborhood of Detroit. In the summer, the museum had installations in Macomb Corners Park, Shelby Township, Warren, the Oakland Municipal Campus, Oakland Community College, Belle Isle and Detroit Riverwalk.

“I think it would be a positive thing,” said Path. “Something different.”

“The deadline to apply is next month,” Path said.

“Who chooses the locations for the artwork?” asked council member Mitch Kuffa.

“To the best of my knowledge, if St. Clair is approved, the DIA will come in and look the area over and make recommendations. But basically it’s kind of up to us.”

Steve Path of the St. Clair Art Association during his original discussion of the DIA’s Inside/Out program in front of the St. Clair City Council in 2018.

A quick perusal of the locations of 2019 program suggests a problem for St. Clair: All of the recipients of the Inside/Out artwork hail from the three counties — Wayne, Oakland and Macomb — that support the museum with a .2 millage levy.

St. Clair County does not contribute property tax money to the museum.

Late this summer, reproductions of famous paintings from the DIA popped up along the Dequindre Cut, the popular greenway that runs two miles from the northeast corner of Eastern Market to the Detroit River along a former Grand Trunk Railroad line.

Under the nameplate of the Detroit Institute of Arts, a painting of an upright eggshell could barely be discerned against a larger work of graffiti on a concrete bridge stanchion, a surprise discovery to say the least.

“At first glance, this image of a cracked egg appears so realistic one might think it’s a photograph,” read the label. “But notice how the shell is balanced on one end, still holding the yolk intact. Contemporary painter Karin Kneffel plays with our perceptions by depicting an everyday object in an impossible position… See the real painting and artworks by other artists who challenge the rules of reality … at your DIA.”

Five paintings, including Pieter Brueghel’s “The Wedding Dance,” adorned the Cut.

“Good luck, Steve,” said Mayor Bill Cedar.

Jim Bloch is an award-winning freelance writer based in St. Clair, Michigan. He writes about the environment, local politics, art, music, history and culture. Contact him at bloch.jim@gmail.com.

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