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10 of the Best Exhibitions this Spring/Summer in Michigan

by Paul Joseph  |  Published April 7, 2021

Best known for the unbridled natural beauty of its Great Lakes, Michigan is also a hotbed of culture, and this spring/summer is hosting a richly diverse programme of exhibitions.

(Photo: University of Michigan Museum of Art)

Nestled in the Great Lakes and Upper Midwest regions of the United States, the state of Michigan is living testament to the magic wielded by mother nature. And yet dotted among its stunning lakes and landscapes are also several well-developed cities where the feats of mankind abound. Among them are museums where regular exhibitions explore a wide range of themes and issues. Here are 10 of the best taking place over the spring & summer months of 2021.


Part of a series in which acclaimed South African artist Mary Sibande explores her family’s history, Sophie/Elsie focuses in on the life of Sibande’s great-grandmother, with the exhibition’s title a reference to the Western moniker (Sophie) she was given because her Apartheid-era masters couldn’t be bothered to learn her African name. Highlights include a life-size fiberglass figure cast of Elsie, with her blue and white maid’s unform transformed into the dress of a Victorian queen, complete with billowing cape and dramatic train.

University of Michigan Museum of Art, 500 South State Street Ann Arbor / Through 25 July 2021

Seeds of Resistance

The protection of our planet’s biodiversity is one of the most pressing concerns facing human society today. This exhibition responds to these growing concerns by drawing attention to the long history of plant and human co-evolution and interdependence. Seeds are themselves archives, on both genetic and cultural levels — the seeds we foster illuminate the things that are important to us. Thus, the loss of biodiversity also means the loss of human cultural information. The artists in this exhibition plant their own seeds of resistance in the forms of ideas for alternative ways of existing that honour all living things.

Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University / Through 18 July 2021

(Photo: Eat Pomegranate Photography)

Turtle Travels

(Photo: Lakeshore Museum Center)

Get your kids an inside look at life in the slow lane. At this hands-on, interactive exhibit, you’ll see life from a turtles’ point of view. As you move around a life-sized board game, you’ll find out everything from the varied terrain they travel to what makes turtles such an essential species. Find out what it’s like for a turtle trying to cross a road or traverse changing habitats. Be a turtle tracker and see how real field biologists track animals in the wild. The lively setting has plenty to keep children busy as they play the game.

Lakeshore Museum Center, 430 West Clay Avenue, Muskegon /  21 May – 4 September 2021

The Art of Living Together

(Photo: Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts)

Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (UICA) will reopen on July 15, 2021, in its new
home, the historical Woodbridge N. Ferris building on the campus of Kendall College of
Art and Design of Ferris State University. Led by Michele Bosak, UICA’s Director of
Curatorial, a series of rotating shows will invite artists to respond to the building’s unique
spaces in ways that focus on the interconnectedness of space, identity, and human
experience. Seven opening exhibitions will activate spaces within and around the
building, including The Art of Living Together, Other World, and more. Visit uica.org for
more information.

Kendall College of Art and Design, Ferris State University 

Wild Connections

(Photo: Grand Rapids Public Museum)

This unique exhibition explores themes such as animal endangerment, the balance of ecosystems, and mankind’s relationship with nature through the medium of LEGO® bricks. Featuring beautiful works of art made from the iconic plastic blocks, the exhibition shows through its intricate displays that just as LEGO® pieces interconnect, everything in nature is interconnected in a delicate balance.

Grand Rapids Public Museum, 272 Pearl Street / Through 2 May 2021

Framing Moments: Photography from the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts

(Photo: Kalamazoo Institute of Arts)

Curated by internationally renowned author, historian, and photographer, Dr. Deborah Willis,  Framing Moments delves into what it means to make and collect photography as a means of preserving a moment in time. Culled from the Kalamazoo institute of Arts distinctive photography, the exhibition features works by such iconic artistic names as Dorothea Lange, Andy Warhol and Diego Rivera.

Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, 314 S Park Street / Through 15 May 2021

Detroit Style: Car Design in the Motor City, 1950–2020

(Photo: Detroit Institute of Arts Museum)

Highlighting the artistry and influence of Detroit car designers working between 1950 and the present day, this exhibition celebrates the city’s rich history in the field of automobile design. Organised by the Detroit Institute of Arts, it features together 12 unique coupes and sedans designed across that 70-year period to highlight significant achievements in style and technology. . Design sketches and photos invite viewers to imagine the creative processes that bring a vehicle from the drawing board to the road.

Detroit Institute of Arts Museum, 5200 Woodward Avenue / Through 27 June 2021

Louis Comfort Tiffany: Treasures from the Driehaus Collection

A celebration of beauty, this exhibition features more than 60 objects created by the late American decorative artist and designer Louis Comfort Tiffany. One of the nation’s most acclaimed artists, Tiffany worked across nearly every art form in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including glass, ceramic, metalwork, jewellery and painting, his technical brilliance enabling him to convey his awe of the natural world through a range of objects, from common household items to one-of-a-kind masterpieces. This exhibition focusing on his stained-glass windows, floral vases, lamps and accessories, highlighting works never before presented in a comprehensive exhibition.

Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, 20900 Oakwood Boulevard, Dearborn / Through 15 July 2021

Voting Matters

(Photo: Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History)

With issues surrounding black America a strong focus of today’s political, cultural and social conversation, this timely exhibition digs deep into our current understanding of what it means to have the “right to vote”. Through interactive multimedia displays, it illustrates the work of African Americans from pre-Reconstruction through to the present day in developing the basic principles and values surrounding suffrage in democratic societies around the world.

Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, 315 East Warren Avenue, Detroit / Through 9 May 2021

Mathias Alten: Beyond the Oil Paintings

Created to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of Mathias Alten, one of West Michigan’s most recognised artists, this exhibition displays some of Alten’s unique pieces of watercolours and sketches gleaned from the GVSU Art Gallery Collection. In addition to these rarely seen pieces, the exhibition also feature a timeline of the artist’s life, from his birth in Gusenburg, Germany in 1871 to his passing in Grand Rapid, Michigan in 1938.

The Holland Museum, 31 West 10th Street, Holland / Through 15 July 2021