Revered and preeminent Detroit artist Charles McGee, 96, has died
Well-known Michigan artist Charles McGee has died at the age of 96.
McGee co-founded the Contemporary Art Institute in Detroit. His art career lasted 70 years and included exhibitions around the world. He was the first Kresge Eminent Artist in 2008, and in 2012 he received a Michiganian of the Year Award from the Detroit News.
“He will be greatly missed by the myriad of people whose lives he has touched, but he will live on through his art, which records blacks’ experience and advocates for unity and love for nature,” a statement from the Library said Street Collective Friday his death.
Rip Rapson, President and CEO of the Kresge Foundation, said in a statement that McGee’s impact on Detroit is “as big as its towering downtown murals.”
“He literally asks us to look up from the mundane, from the humdrum,” writes Rapson. “His art is kinetic. He celebrates constant movement in a manner appropriate for a legendary artist of a city that puts the nation on wheels and in motion. His art proudly displays its African American roots – and affirms life itself.”
Rapson said that as the first major Kresge artist, McGee “set the bar for excellence in his artistic forms”.
“He will be missed as we reap the rewards of his long, productive life far into the future,” he said.
Even those outside of the art world were likely touched by McGee’s wide range of talents, including paintings, sculptures, drawings, and carvings. The South Carolina-born World War II veteran had several large-format works of art installed in public spaces, including the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.
In a statement released on Friday, DIA describes McGee as “a local, regional and national treasure”.
“Charles McGee left a tremendous legacy for all Detroiters and for those who visit our city and see his work in our museums, in our parks, and even in our buildings,” said DIA director Salvador Salort-Pons in an email. “I can’t think of any other artist who has influenced the daily lives of people in our community so profoundly – from tens of thousands of students visiting Noah’s Ark: Genesis on excursions to DIA, to workers and visitors who experience a The city center became more beautiful through its murals and installations. ”
McGee has taught at the University of Michigan, the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center, and was a lecturer at Eastern Michigan University for nearly 20 years. He also received an honorary doctorate from the Detroit College for Creative Studies.
“McGee’s influence in advancing successive generations is legendary,” writes former Detroit News art journalist Michael Hodges in a 2012 McGee profile for his Michiganian of the Year award.
“Its greater impact extends well beyond individual students,” Hodges wrote, adding that McGee’s seminal exhibition “7 Black Artists” was “the first major all-black exhibition in a mainstream venue” after the 1967 riots / rebellions.
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