Detroit Style at the DIA

December 21, 2020

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By Brian Baker, Principal Historian

A few of us remember the original exhibition in 1984 at the Detroit Institute of Arts called Detroit Style. It was a grand affair that honored the first half century of the art of automobile design. This sequel is worthy of the first. It is filled with the design talent that populates the Automotive Hall of Fame. 

As the exhibit begins, 1986 Automotive Hall of Fame Inductee Harley Earl styling leadership is ending, and 1995 Inductee Virgil Exner is creating the finned “forward look” at Chrysler. The swinging 60s features 1993 Inductee Bill Mitchell’s groundbreaking 1958 Stingray Racer. The next gallery highlights the iconic mid 60s Mustang and 1970 Hemi Cuda. The 80s includes the aerodynamic invasion of 1992 Inductee Jack Telnack’s Probe IV and 2012 Inductee Tom Gale’s Portofino and Chrysler Atlantic concepts. Ford rounds out the exhibition with two Ford GTs from 2004 and 2019.

This exhibit is far more than just the cars. There is a far greater emphasis on the women and men representing the top of Detroit’s biggest design studios. Surrounding all the above-mentioned cars is the fabulous and seldom seen art that created the style of each era. Dozens of the best designers’ art adds a fullness to this special exhibition. 

A special video presentation featuring 2017 Automotive Hall of Fame Inductee Ed Welburn from GM, 2003 Honoree Ralph Gilles from Chrysler and Craig Metros from Ford, offered an excellent discussion from the designer’s perspective on the creation process. Emeline King also appears in this video – she was a design classmate of mine at the College for Creative Studies and an excellent designer at Ford. She adds an important voice to an examination of the design process.  

The Detroit Institute of Arts is to be commended for curating a well-presented exhibit that really delivers on the uniquely Detroit industrial art that helped make the Motor City. I hope you take time to visit this special event now through June 27, 2021. The simple reservation process online is worth the dramatic presentation of the masterworks of many of the best automotive minds in history. 

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