June 17, 2024


Super Art is Almost

New exhibition reflects on 90 years of pushing artistic boundaries at Cranbrook Academy of Art

It was a radical concept for its time in the early 1930s: create a graduate art school program without grades, classes, degrees or even teachers.

When the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills was created nearly 90 years ago, it shunned the idea of learning from traditional professors. Instead, artists would teach other artists.

Today, the academy, founded in 1932, still operates with that same sense of hands-on instruction (though degrees are now awarded). Now, a new exhibition at the Cranbrook Art Museum pays homage to the artists and works that that unusual approach helped create.

“With Eyes Opened: Cranbrook Academy of Art since 1932” at the Cranbrook Art Museum opens to the general public Sunday and runs through Sept. 19, featuring more than 275 pieces from 225 Cranbrook Academy of Art artists, faculty and alumni.

Andrew Blauvelt, director of the Cranbrook Art Museum, sits inside one of the gallery's of the With Eyes Opened exhibit, inside the Cranbrook Art Museum, in Bloomfield Hills, June 14, 2021.

It represents all of the academy’s programs of study, including architecture, ceramics, design, fiber, metals, photography and more. It’s the largest exhibition about the art academy in 40 years.

“This brings all of these contemporary artists to the forefront,” said Julie Fracker, the art academy’s director of communications.

The exhibition takes its name from a comment Cranbrook founder George Booth, a metalsmith before he got into publishing, made decades ago about creating a facility that was an “eye-opener.” Eliel Saarinen, the art academy’s first president, wanted to really interpret what that meant in terms of art. 

“With Eyes Opened” is organized into 11 themes, each with its own gallery, mixing mediums so paintings hang near sculptures and ceramics are near textiles. As an institution known for its influence on design and furniture, an entire wall in one gallery of the exhibition follows the evolution of the chair, including an Eames lounge chair and molded plywood chair.

The "Cranbrook and the Chair" gallery inside the "With Eyes Opened" exhibit at Cranbrook Art Museum, in Bloomfield Hills, June 14, 2021.

“We wanted to look at the history of the chair at Cranbrook,” said Andrew Blauvelt, the art museum’s director, pointing to a wall filled with dozens of design-forward chairs, including the iconic Eames lounge chair. “It’s a lot of what the school is known for.”

But the exhibition — which includes work by some of the biggest names in design, including Charles and Ray Eames, Florence Knoll and Harry Bertoia — goes even further. It also pays tribute to artists the public may not realize have Cranbrook ties, including female artists and artists of color.

An opening portion of the exhibition with a bold red wall features a floral carpet and ceramic table created by Gere Kavanaugh, a Cranbrook grad who worked as a stylist for General Motors and was part of a group of designers at the automaker dubbed the “Damsels of Design.”

A table made by artist Gere Kavanaugh is among the pieces at the "Architecture of the Interior" gallery inside the "With Eyes Opened" exhibit at Cranbrook Art Museum, in Bloomfield Hills, June 14, 2021.

“She did that after graduating from Cranbrook,” said Blauvelt. “These are not the things that people think about when they think about Cranbrook. They think of rational modernist furniture. This is much more whimsical.”

The exhibition comes just months after the art academy got a major boost for its diversity and inclusion efforts thanks to a $30 million gift from Dan and Jennifer Gilbert.