DETROIT — The Detroit Institute of Arts has opened their new exhibit “Play Ball: Baseball at the DIA” just in time for the start of the 2018 season. This new exhibit marks the first time the DIA has ever celebrated the sport of baseball. It explores the interplay of the sport, along with collecting and its visual culture.
“It’s a way to capture a new audience at the DIA,” said DIA Director Salvador Salort-Pons. “A way for us to send a different message to the community and to say this museum has one of the best card collections of in the country and something for everyone.”
This exhibition commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Detroit Tigers’ 1968 World Series victory. It includes memorabilia such as autographed Topps baseball cards, baseballs and bats. There’s also a display dedicated to Al Kaline with his autographed trading card, baseball and bat.
“I view myself as a huge Detroit Tigers baseball fan and collector of sports memorabilia,” said Powell Miller, founder of the Miller Law Firm. “Years ago, I saw that The Met [museum] had a permanent display of baseball cards. One of the things I said to Salvador when he came to visit the office was ‘I believe that my collection is better than The Met’s.’ So let’s have the DIA beat The Met just like the Detroit Tigers can beat the New York Yankees.”
Visitors will also experience the extraordinary opportunity to view more than 500 baseball cards known as the “T206 White Border Set.” The baseball cards are smaller than today’s cards because they were distributed in cigarette packs by the American Tobacco Company from 1909-11.
Miller’s collection of these vintage cards is noted for its rarity and superlative condition, and includes a Joe Doyle “error card” as well as the coveted and rare Honus Wagner card. Wagner played for the Pittsburgh Pirates and only 73 of his cards are still surviving. One theory as to why there are so few of his cards is because Wagner did not want to endorse smoking.
“The first gallery includes one of our most famous paintings in the DIA’s collection is Robert Moskowitz’s Hard Ball III,” said Nancy Barr, DIA’s curator of photography. “Moskowitz is a New York-based artist known for his large scale works like the great American pasttime of baseball. We have a few hand-decorated baseballs by umpire George Sosnak. He was a huge Tigers fan. These particular baseballs are dedicated to the 1968 team. On one of them, he actually drew on the ball little portraits of Al Kaline, Mickey Lolich and Denny McLain.”
Another highlight of the Play Ball exhibit is a special urban landscape by Guatemalan artist Dario Escobar. It is made up of 150 Louisville Slugger baseball bats to form the skyline of downtown Detroit. It is fitting that the GM Renaissance Center is pictured in the center because Chevrolet is the main sponsor of the exhibit.
“We brought in from Powell’s office the 325-foot fence marker that Al Kaline defended for so many years,” Barr added. “In addition, we have a Mickey Lolich uniform. It’s wonderful to have that. Thank you for coordinating that with his family.”
Play Ball: Baseball at the DIA was organized by the Detroit Institute of Arts. Baseball cards and memorabilia are from the collection of E. Powell Miller. It will remain on display through September 16, 2018. Access to the special exhibit is free with general admission. As a reminder, general museum admission is FREE for residents of Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties.
The DIA is located at 5200 Woodward Avenue Detroit, MI. For tickets and more information, visit https://www.dia.org/ or call (313) 833-7900. Closed on Mondays.