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Dance! American Art 1830-1960

March 20 - June 12, 2016


The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) presents the multimedia exhibition "Dance! American Art 1830-1960" from March 20 to June 12, 2016. The exhibition is organized by the DIA and presents more than 90 paintings, sculptures, photographs and costumes brought together for the first time to celebrate and explain the important place of dance in American culture. Works are from the DIA and other leading American and international museums as well as from private collections. (right: John Singer Sargent, La Carmencita, 1890, oil on canvas. Paris, musée d'Orsay. RF7 46)

The artworks explore dance through diverse segments of American culture, including sacred dances of indigenous North Americans; the history of African American dance forms; paintings from the turn of the 20th century featuring international female dance superstars; works by Harlem Renaissance artists who challenged negative stereotypes and sought to create and sustain a vibrant cultural identity; and modern objects that demonstrate a fluid dialogue between visual artists, dancers and choreographers.

"This is the first major exhibition to explore visual art related to American dance. Dance has such a rich history and has touched all segments of American society," said Salvador Salort-Pons, DIA director. "This exhibition is not only about the representation of the art of dance, it explores how artists were inspired by how Americans move, how they interacted with each other and experienced the rhythm of music."

Among the works featured are "The Jolly Flatboatmen" by George Caleb Bingham, John Singer Sargent's "La Carmencita," Winslow Homer's "Summer Night," Andy Warhol's "Silver Clouds," Mary Cassatt's "Bacchante" and nine watercolors by Diego Rivera. Other artists in the show include William Merritt Chase, Florine Stettheimer, Thomas Hart Benton and Faith Ringgold.

American artists were captivated by the personalities, expressiveness and ideas represented by dance performance. The exhibition explores these ideas through several themes: dances that trace back to Indigenous Americans, Africans and Europeans; dance morphing, enduring and continuing through generations; artists who represented dance to point to societal changes; people dancing together in social settings like nightclubs and parties; dances during distinct eras, such as the Lindy Hop, Jitterbug, Swing and Charleston; dancers as celebrities; and collaborations between artists and dancers.

Seven videos highlight dance performances that include historic footage and contemporary dancers discussing and demonstrating American ballet, tap and Detroit's dance legacies. These include Haleem Rasul and members of Hardcore Detroit; Michigan native Amber Neumann, currently with the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago; Russ Tallchief, Osage Nation, director of Student Engagement, Inclusion and Multicultural Programs, Oklahoma City University; Francesca Harper, performer and artistic director, The Francesca Harper Project; and Thomas F. DeFrantz, chair of African and African American Studies and professor of Dance, Duke University, who served as creative director for the videos. (left: Joseph Henry Sharp, The Harvest Dance, 1893-1894, oil on canvas. Cincinnati Art Museum, Museum0

The exhibition has been organized by the Detroit Institute of Arts. Support has been provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support has been provided by the Marjorie and Maxwell Jospey Foundation and an ADAA Foundation Curatorial Award and the Association of Art Museum Curators.

"In addition to the outstanding works of art, it was important for me to have the voice and expertise of dancers within the exhibition itself," said Jane Dini, associate curator of American Painting and Sculpture, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and curator of the exhibition. "They help illustrate how dance as an artistic form had an enormous impact on the fine arts, especially painting and sculpture."


Selected exhibition-related events

The DIA offers a multitude of activities related to "Dance!" Live performances, movies, dance demonstrations and conversations and a fun program for all ages, "Dancing in the DIA," which takes place in the museum's Great Hall. It is a creative movement class guided by Detroit's ARTLAB J. No experience is necessary, but a spirit of fun is encouraged.

The local community has also gotten on the "Dance!" bandwagon, with a dozen community and professional dance organizations and cultural institutions offering a range of programs.

Sunday, May 8 -- Canvas to Dance: Lisa Lamarre and Dancers: 2:15 p.m.
Lisa LaMarre, director of LaMarre and Dancers, is a choreographer and dancer who focuses on site-specific collaborations, including those involving film and live improvisation. She has performed at ArtPrize 7, the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, Detroit Music Hall and the Sidewalk Performing Arts Festival. This performance is inspired by works in the exhibition "Dance! American Art 1830-1960."
Thursday, May 19 -- Lecture: "Crossovers: American Dance and Its European Antecedents": 6 p.m.
American dance forms developed from cultures around the globe and, in the same way, American art depicting these scenes was indebted to European sources. Explore these artistic exchanges, including between French Impressionism the development of American modernism with "Dance!" exhibition curator Jane Dini. Tickets: $60, includes lecture, reception, and curator-led tour of "Dance! American Art 1830­1960." Sponsored by the Visiting Committee for European Sculpture and Decorative Arts
Friday, May 27 -- Friday Night Live: Austin Selden and Sarah Konnor: 7 & 8:30 p.m.
Part satire, part comic strip, part emotional roller coaster, Austin Selden and Sarah Konnor's performance takes on the Diego Rivera "Detroit Industry" murals as an environment for their contribution to the "Dance! American Art 1830­1960" exhibition.

For a full list of museum programs please click here and for community programs please click here.


(above: Willliam Holbrook Beard, The Bear Dance, ca. 1870, oil on linen. Courtesy of The New-York Historical Society, Gift of Enoch G. Megrue, 1942.108)



A catalogue published by the DIA is the first major investigation of the visual arts related to American dance, offering an interdisciplinary overview of dance-inspired works from 1830 to 1960. The book is edited by Dini, associate curator of American art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and former assistant curator of American art at the Detroit Institute of Arts. It features 14 essays by renowned art and dance historians, among them Dini, Thomas F. DeFrantz, Lynn Garafola, Dakin Hart, Constance Valis Hill, Valerie J. Mercer, Jacqueline Shea Murphy, Kenneth Myers and Sharyn R. Udall. Support for the catalogue has been provided by the Ida and Conrad Smith Fund.


(above: Aaron Douglas, Dance, ca. 1930, gouache on illustration board. Private Collection)



"Dance: American Art, 1830-1960" will travel to the Denver Art Museum, July 10-October 2, 2016 and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, Oct. 22, 2016-Jan. 16, 2017.


Additional images

To view additional images of artworks in the exhibition please click here.


Resource Library editor's note

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For further biographical information on artists mentioned in this article please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

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