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Rethinking Displays: My Q&A with Salort-Pons, Detroit Institute’s New Director—Part II

Part I is here.

We interrupt our two-part interview with Salvador Salort-Pons, the Detroit Institute of Arts’ new director (effective Oct. 15) to bring a news bulletin regarding his predecessor, Graham Beal:

Michigan State University announced last week that Beal will remain in-state for this academic year, as MSU’s visiting Hannah Distinguished Professor, “the most prestigious faculty appointment at the university.”

In addition to teaching, Graham’s duties will include serving as senior adviser to the provost, assisting in the search for a new director of MSU’s Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum (not to be confused with The Broad in LA) and working with the faculty to “encourage collaboration” with that museum and to “enhance opportunities for programs and units across campus to engage with the museum.”

Graham Beal

Graham Beal

Now let’s get back to the edited version of my far-ranging conversation with Salvador Salort-Pons.

Salvador Salort-Pons, being congratulated on his appointment to become director of Detroit Institute of Arts

Salvador Salort-Pons, being congratulated last week upon his appointment to the directorship of the Detroit Institute of Arts

ROSENBAUM: What are your ideas about how art is presented in the museum?

SALORT-PONS: I think our installations are very successful, but some of them are better than others. I think our visitor-centered approach has been very well received by our community. But some installations in our European galleries need to be refreshed—for example, the modern and postmodern art.

ROSENBAUM: How do you think that those galleries need to be refreshed?

SALORT-PONS: I’m not in the job yet; I have things that I need to think through. We have a great team of curators and educators and we are a museum that involves our community in a thinking process as to how to install the art.

ROSENBAUM: Do you mean, “refreshing” in terms of what you own or in terms of how you display?

SALORT-PONS: I mean how we display it, what are the themes that we are going to treat in the galleries, what are we going to be talking about in these galleries. A technical issue would be, “Are we showing too many works of art?”

One of the things I would like to do in the future is bring more technology into the galleries. That is a priority for the museum. We will soon incorporate Beacon technology into the galleries; we want to create apps that would allow the visitor to have a different experience, not only when they come to the DIA, but also when they are in their homes.

ROSENBAUM: How will you be using the Beacon technology?

SALORT-PONS: One of the things is that you can track what the visitors are doing—how long they spend in one gallery, how long they spend in front of a painting, what are the works of art that they are downloading information from. We are going to use Beacon technology in the newly installed Ancient Middle East galleries. We are going to open them very soon [Oct. 2], but the technology will not be ready until next year.

ROSENBAUM: What projects were you working on before you were chosen for the directorship?

SALORT-PONS: I’ve been very much involved in a project that we call, “Collections Access.” My goal is to bring all of our collections onto our website. We are photographing all of our collection and we are updating all our records. Eventually, we would like to have online not only images of the works of art, but also conservation images. We started this project a year ago.

ROSENBAUM: You lost the Taubman collection recently. Is that the one that got away, or is there still a possibility of getting some of [the late A. Alfred] Taubman‘s works?

SALORT-PONS: We were very grateful to Mr. Taubman for having the paintings on loan here. Now it’s the private business of the family. They are creating a foundation and I feel very optimistic that we are going to continue working with them.

ROSENBAUM: Have you been doing any exhibition planning?

SALORT-PONS: I haven’t done any large exhibitions recently. But I’ve been working on a series that we call, Guest of Honor: For the last four or five years, we’ve been having one-painting exhibitions in the galleries. It helps us show what a great collection we have and also the wonderful works that we can bring to Detroit to show our community.

Previously, I was in-house curator for Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus; I organized an exhibition called Fakes, Forgeries and Mysteries. We happen to have very good forgeries at the museum, so I thought it would be a good thing!

ROSENBAUM: What do you think your biggest learning curve is going to be?

SALORT-PONS: Working with the counties. I’m really looking forward to it! Obviously, the museum has to work closely with our partners there—the Art Authorities. Each county [Wayne, Oakland and Macomb] has an Art Authority that relates to the museum. They are really investors in the things that we do here. I really would like to bring them into the thinking process of the museum so they see that we are doing great things for the communities. The proof of the value that our community sees in our museum was demonstrated when they voted for the millage.

ROSENBAUM: How are you going to forge ties with the community?

SALORT-PONS: I want to be personally more involved, as the director, in going into the communities. We would also like the new [to-be-appointed] curator of contemporary art to be involved with the community and to really understand what are the current issues of interest and how can we present those issues in the museum through exhibitions and programs.

ROSENBAUM: You have a business degree [an MBA from the Cox School of Business, SMU, in addition to a doctorate in art history from the University of Bologna]. Did you get that with the idea that you would eventually go into museum administration?

SALORT-PONS: Yes. I realized that I wanted to learn about business when I came to America and started to work in American museums. Museums are funded differently in Europe than they are in the United States, and museums in America are businesses. So I thought that having a business background was going to help me in the work I would be doing—looking at budgets and at how marketing works, or interacting with donors. Those are examples of how having a business degree has helped me all the way through.

ROSENBAUM: Is there anything else that you think is important to say about what’s going to characterize your tenure? What do you hope will be your signature accomplishments?

SALORT-PONS: I would like to achieve the permanent financial stability for this museum. [He discussed what that would mean in Part I.] That would be my number one priority. I am a great believer in Graham Beal’s vision for the museum and our visitor-centered approach. I want to build on that.

And I would like for our museum to appeal to a broader, diverse audience. I want to see the diversity of society reflected in this museum internally and in the collection as well. Accessibility is very important—giving opportunities to all communities to come here and feel that this is place for them, that they can see themselves here.

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