For their three-part exhibition, Ruben and Isabel Toledo: Labor of Love, which opened on Dec. 16 at the Detroit Institute of Art, husband-and-wife duo Isabel and Ruben Toledo found inspiration within the walls of the museum. By studying the DIA’s most prominent works by Diego Rivera, Francisco Goya, Donald Judd, Motherwell, and others from Central Africa and ancient Egypt, the Toledos have fostered an artistic vision that is organic to the site. Expressed through a variety of new and old paintings, drawings, sculptures, and installations, Isabel, an esteemed fashion designer, and Ruben, an established artist, have created a line of work that brings new life to the 130 galleries that make up the 658,000-square-foot museum — a task not easily accomplished. “The cumulative experience will introduce visitors to the power and poetry of the Toledos’ collaborative process while simultaneously offering new insights into works that span cultures and time,” says Laurie Ann Farrell, the DIA’s curator and department head for the James Pearson Duffy Department of Modern and Contemporary Art.
Visitors of the exposition will have the opportunity to see original works by the Toledos paired with their new renderings, which will be spread through 10 of the DIA’s galleries, from the Egyptian to the contemporary collections of work. A printed guide, offered in Spanish and English, will immerse attendees into the Toledo’s creative world, and give insight into a number of their works, including their Human Remains — a linen sculpture that investigates the mummifying process of the Egyptians and how the textile itself molds itself to the wearer. Ruben’s Color Code takes form in four paintings and mimics the female subjects captured, known as the Four Races, in Diego Rivera’s 1933 Detroit Industry Murals. Isabel’s First Lady Silhouette showcases the delicate fabric she used to fashion Michelle Obama’s lace, lemongrass dress that she wore to President Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration ceremony, along with a breastplate inspired by 18th and 19th century fashion. Bringing the the theme of fashion full-circle, the DIA and the Toledos have also partnered with social enterprise program Sew Great Detroit, a branch of Detroit-based nonprofit Alternative for Girls, to create an exclusive line of tote bags that reflect the exhibition, available for purchase at the DIA.
Isabel and Ruben, both Cuban-born, are high-school sweethearts and married in 1984 before embarking on a career path that focused on fashion design, fine art, and illustration. Both serving as muses to one another, the two riff of each other’s creative perspective; Isabel having an industrial mindset while Ruben being more of a surrealist. As a team, they’ve earned praised for their collaborative, artistic take — in 2014, their original costuming for the Broadway musical After Midnight earned Isabel Toledo a Tony nomination. Ruben has obtained equal success, with his illustrations appearing in Vogue, The New York Times, Harper’s Bazaar, used for retailers like Louis Vuitton and Nordstrom, and have been shown at prestigious institutions including the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Arts in New York. Ruben and Isabel Toledo: Labor of Love will be on display at the DIA until July 7, 2019.
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