“30 Americans” opened its three-month, special exhibition run at the Detroit Institute of Arts last week with fanfare and a diverse set of attendees to its community celebration night. Some among the crowd were gathered to get the first glimpse of the show, which originated in 2008 as a survey of 30 African American artists within the Rubell Family Collection, a private museum located in the Knight city of Miami. Members of the Rubell family were on hand for a lecture during the week of opening festivities, as was contributing artist Hank Willis Thomas, who spoke about the interaction between art and society, and whose piece in the show, “Branded Head” (2003), draws a connection between the literal and figurative branding that is inflicted upon people within our culture.
There is much food for thought within “30 Americans,” and the DIA has extended every effort to surround this challenging subject matter with a great deal of context. The exhibit is broken into seven sections, grouped under keywords: Defying, Sampling, Freestyling, Confronting, Signifying, Transforming and Representing. This represents an attempt on the part of the museum’s Interpretive staff to characterize works that are, at times, full of indisputably loaded subject matter, in a way that makes them accessible to viewers of all backgrounds.