United States

10 Exhibitions to Visit in Michigan this Winter

by Paul Joseph  |  Published December 15, 2022

Situated in America’s Great Lakes region, the towns and cities of Michigan are teeming with great museums – many of which are hosting special exhibitions this winter.

Shigaraki ware storage jar, late 16th–early 17th century, stoneware with natural ash glaze. University of Michigan Museum of Art, Museum purchase made possible by the Margaret Watson Parker Art Collection Fund, 1986/1.161 (Photo: Jeri Hollister and Patrick Young, Michigan Imaging)

Michigan is one of those lucky states that experiences all four seasons – and when winter comes, it tends to arrive with a bang.  A blend of bustling cities and quaint towns, the long, cold, and often snowy winters are ideal for exploring blanketed trails, warming up with a drink in a heated igloo, or ducking into a fascinating museum. Speaking of which, here are 12 of the best exhibitions taking place across Michigan this winter.

Clay as Soft Power: Shigaraki Ware in Postwar America and Japan

Known for its earthy tones, rough clay surfaces, and natural ash glazes, Shigaraki ware ceramics originated from one of six ancient kilns of Japan, and has a rich history from the 13th century to today. This exhibition explores three distinct periods of that history, examining how Shigaraki transformed the American public’s image of Japan, helping the country shift its identity from World War II enemy to Cold War ally to global cultural change maker. In doing so, it tells a story of global intrigue, covert international relations, and the evolution of this uniquely Japanese art form.

University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor / Through 7 May 2023

Van Gogh in America

(Van Gogh Self-Portrait, 1887 (Photo: Vincent Van Gogh / Courtesy Detroit Institute of Arts)

Exactly 100 years ago,  the Detroit Institute of Art became the first public museum in the United States to purchase a painting by legendary Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh, his Self-Portrait (1887). To mark this milestone, the museum is hosting an exhibition featuring a total of 74 authentic Van Gogh works from around the world, inviting visitors to discover the fascinating story of America’s introduction to one of the world’s most iconic historic cultural figures. An illustrated catalogue with essays by the exhibition curator and Van Gogh scholars will accompany the exhibition.

Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit / Through 22 January 2023

Cultivate & Grow: An AANM Artists + Residents Retrospective

(Photo: Courtesy of Dahlia Elsayed and Andrew Haik Demirjian)

This retrospective exhibition features work from the Arab American National Museum’s artists-in-residence from 2020 to 2022. Resident artists have made Dearborn their home and become part of the fabric of the most concentrated Arab community in the U.S., seeking dialogue and collaboration. Since then, the museum has proudly fostered artistic growth, cultivated relationships between artists and across mediums, and facilitated community engagement. In addition to various artworks displayed, the exhibition also includes an installation by Dahlia Elsayed and Andrew Haik Demirjian called Souvenirs of the Future.

Arab American National Museum / Through winter 2022-23

Heroes & Villains: The Art of the Disney Costume

Fairy Godmother Cinderalla, 2015 (Photo: Walt Disney Archives)

Across nearly every medium Disney has touched, since the earliest days of animation, through innovations in live-action filmmaking, and even gaming – one creative aspect has been seldom-recognised, but ever-present: that of costume design. This exhibition explores nearly six decades of Disney films, shining a light on the level of craftsmanship and artistry required to produce every costume presented across stage and screen. Featuring more than 70 original pieces, including ball gowns, sorcerers’ capes, tiaras, and of course glass slippers, it demonstrates the vision, process, and craft used to create the costumes worn by some of the biggest names in entertainment

Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, Dearborn / Through 1 January 2023

A HeLa Story: Mother of Modern Medicine

It’s a little known fact that we can thank a woman with familial ties to the southern Michigan city of Kalamazoo for many of the medical breakthroughs of modern times, including the COVID vaccine. This exhibition chronicles the local connections and fascinating accomplishments of Henrietta Lacks, whose cells were involuntarily taken more than 70 years ago and are still used around the globe in experiments to develop cures and therapies. Her story is told through the lens of her great nephew, Kalamazoo resident Jermaine Jackson, who has amassed an intriguing collection of items about his late aunt in his quest to ensure she has a place in history.

Kalamazoo Valley Museum, Kalamazoo / Through 27 February 2023

Zaha Hadid Design: Untold

Zaha Hadid Design: Untold installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2022. (Photo: Dustin Forest)

The late architect and designer Zaha Hadid was known for her dazzling forms that defy expectations, and for her dynamic approach to design—one that matched her vivacious personality. In 2008, Hadid was announced as the winner of an international competition to design a new art museum on the campus of Michigan State University. This retrospective exhibition explores Hadid’s pioneering vision, and showcases the incredible range of her work and relentless pursuit of perfection. From furniture to dinnerware, fashion, jewellery, lighting, and even a prototype for an electric car, the exhibition dives into Hadid’s philosophy and approach to redefining the built environment.

Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, East Lansing / Through 12 February 2023

Rube Goldberg: The World of Hilarious Invention!

(Photo: Impression 5 Science Center)

The late American cartoonist, sculptor, engineer, and inventor Rube Goldberg was best known for his popular cartoons depicting complicated gadgets performing simple tasks in convoluted way. This exhibition contains a collection of new 3D, life-size machines and hands-on, interactive components that connect Rube’s iconic cartoon contraptions to the way things work in the physical world. Inspired by Rube’s original illustrations, visitors can activate and create crazy chain-reaction contraptions that use everyday objects to complete simple tasks in the most overcomplicated, inefficient and hilarious ways possible.

Impression 5 Science Center, Lansing / Through 8 January 2023

44: Portraits of a President

Created to recognise and celebrate the historical significance of the first African American President of the United States, Barack Obama, this dynamic and inspiring exhibition includes 44 artists’ sculptural interpretations of America’s 44th President in life-size, three-dimensional form. In essence, each sculpture is intended as a blank canvas upon which artists imaginatively celebrate the man, his presidency, and the nation’s history, serving as a platform to revisit his political ideology, his hopes for America, and the meaning and metaphor of the man, his achievements, and his legacy.

Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, Detroit / Through 31 December 2023

Unmasking Masculinity for the 21st Century

Andy Warhol, General Custer, 1986, screenprint (Photo: Art Auction Fund purchase)

This exhibition aims to survey the construction of masculinity among diverse communities and individuals, as well as how artists have responded to, reframed, or reclaimed the concept of masculinity throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. Through a range of artworks, it explores the construction of masculinity beyond biological traits to examine the ways in which it intersects with various social factors such as gender, race, sexuality, and socioeconomic status, investigating how all of these factors continue to influence understandings of masculine identities today.

Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, Kalamazoo / Through 29 December 2023

Enchanted: A History of Fantasy Illustration

For hundreds of years, artists have been inspired by the imaginative potential of fantasy. Unlike science fiction, fantasy presents an impossible reality – a universe where dragons breathe fire, angels battle demons, and magicians weave spells. With examples of archetypes from the last few millennia, this exhibition offers a thoughtful appraisal of how artists from long ago to the present have brought to life mythology and fairy tales, as well as modern epics like Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones. It includes themes such as children’s tales, gods and monsters, knights in shining armour, and more.

Flint Institute of Arts, Flint / Through 8 January 2023