When Detroit declared bankruptcy, the Detroit Institute of the Arts was offered up as the sacrificial lamb to pay off the city's $18 billion dollars owed. Recently, Christie's has been asked to appraise the collection in a move that feels like laying claim to your grandmother's belongings before she is even dead, enraging many in the art community. Even Peter Schjeldah seems to have written his funeral speech.
Today, arts writers have taken a stand to save DIA with Day for Detroit, an online movement where art blogs are posting about pieces in the museum's collection. This viral and visual movement has exposed the world to the value of what is actually in the museum, what actually needs to be protected.
Here at Complex, our pick is Lorna Simpson's 1998 work Bathroom. Simpson rose to fame in the fabled downtown New York art scene in the '80s and '90s with a body of work that tangles with conceptions of race, gender, and identity. A black artist herself, Simpson's photo-based art asks questions about what it means to be black (and more specifically a black woman) in contemporary America. Currently, her works on paper are on view at the Aspen Art Museum.
While many of Simpson's works feature people, Bathroom marks her move away from the human form in the "Public Sex" series, a period that in 2007 Holland Cotter of the New York Times wrote was characterized "by moody shots of urban parks and buildings paired with blocks of printed dialogue that read like scripts for illicit encounters." Bathroom is a photograph printed on felt, a material that makes you want to brush your fingers against her scratchy canvas. Although the bathroom here is empty, the glaring mirrors bring up themes of identity: are they there to reveal or to help us hide? Also, because Simpson's work is so involved with race politics, it's hard to ignore that bathrooms were once segregated battlegrounds. For a city like Detroit, which still has a long way to go in racial integration, Simpson's work seems to be just where it should beâ€”on the walls of DIA.