The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Apr 04, 2012

Art in your backyard

Posted by Valerie Nahmad

By Michelle Hauske,  Detroit Institute of Arts The Detroit Institute of Arts’ (DIA) Inside|Out program, now in its third year, brings 80 reproductions of masterpieces from the DIA's collection to the streets and parks of metro Detroit, pleasantly surprising residents of the participating communities. Where possible, the works are clustered within walking or biking distance of each other in a grand, open-air gallery. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is sponsoring the 2012 and 2013 Inside|Out installations. Michelle Hauske is the DIA’s Inside|Out coordinator. She has worked on the planning and implementation of the program for the past three years in more than 60 metro Detroit communities.

I have the unique opportunity to take a reproduction of a famous masterpiece from a world-class museum, install it in a public space, and stand back and watch. These reproductions are incredibly realistic—so convincing that the DIA once received a report of a stolen artwork turning up in a Livonia park last summer. When it was explained that the piece was actually a waterproof reproduction, and not the original work of art, the woman who reported the “crime” responded cheerfully, “What a wonderful program! I guess I should tell my husband to stop standing guard over it!”

Our goal is to make the reproductions look as close to the originals as possible. We use high-resolution digital photographs, which are color-matched and sized to the original works of art, and sophisticated printers that can render realistic details, like the weave of a tapestry or the thickness of van Gogh's paint strokes. We also try to match the frame styles as close as we can to the originals. Frames vary in style based on where and when they were produced, so it’s important to choose frames that accurately represent the time period and style of the original work of art.

Not only is it important for the reproductions to look good, but they have to be durable too.  The prints and frames would probably suffer damages if left up for an extended period of time, especially during harsh Michigan winters. But they hold up relatively well for the six-month installation season, as a result of the measures we take. We print on vinyl with a UV laminate to help prevent fading, and coat the frames with a polyurethane varnish.

People always ask how we choose where the reproductions will go, and that’s a pretty interesting process. In the early stages of planning, I meet with community representatives to look at potential sites. We look for unique architectural elements, brightly painted walls, popular outdoor spaces, and locations that are meaningful to the community. I try to find relationships between the work of art and where it will be viewed. For some locations, that’s easy, like The Fruit Vendor, which is installed at the Clarkston Union Bar and Kitchen, a good match for a restaurant. Others are in locations that complement the architecture, such as Study for Birds, at the Merrill Lynch building in Wyandotte. I love how the soft white and orange tones of the reproduction match the natural colors of the brick wall. And the vertical orientation of the painting perfectly suits the tall, slender face of the building it’s mounted it on.

I like to change the locations of the reproductions each season, giving them the opportunity to “live” in a different environment. These paintings seem to take on a life of their own when installed outside, and they actually start to reflect the unique character of the space they occupy. Although I use the same 80 reproductions for each season, I continue to find it challenging and exciting when planning a new round of installations. It’s refreshing to see the works in a completely new setting.

Once the reproductions are set and the locations are chosen, we’re ready to install. Each community receives 7–10 reproductions, and we put them all up on the same day.  Some are mounted on walls, and others are free-standing for places like dog parks and bike paths.

After months of planning, it’s really rewarding to not only see the reproductions successfully installed, but to watch people's reactions when seeing them. The enthusiasm of my crew, members of the community, and unknowing bystanders, and myself on installation day is wonderful! We arrive ready to install and are often greeted by eager residents who cannot wait to see their works go up. Visit the Inside|Out webpage to download maps of reproductions in participating communities and “like” the Inside|Out Facebook page to stay on top of upcoming programs and events.

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