Of the myriad treasures that might draw a sightseeing car lover to Detroit, one potential attraction is notably missing: a major public museum collection dedicated to the automobile. America’s Motor City offers many compelling reasons for a visit, but it really has nothing like the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, the LeMay in Tacoma, Wash., or the well-known car displays in Reno, Indianapolis or Philadelphia.
A measure of relief from that drought has arrived in the form of “Detroit Style: Car Design in the Motor City, 1950-2020,” an exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts that opened this month and runs through next June. A dozen autos, including production models and conceptual show cars, will be displayed alongside drawings and photographs from the design studios where the vehicles took shape. Paintings and sculptures intended to illuminate the relationship of art and car culture over the past 70 years will also be on display.
Despite the location of its stately Beaux-Arts home on Woodward Avenue, a major artery of all things automotive in Detroit, the D.I.A. is not a vault of local industry. The last major exhibition of cars within the museum’s walls was a design retrospective in the 1980s that spanned the era from 1925 to 1950.