One Fine Show: ‘7 Mile + Livernois’ at the Detroit Institute of Arts

Tiff Massey’s new show at the DIA marks a fresh chapter in the expansion of the minimalist canon.

A woman wearing a long coat leans on the hood of an old car with her arms crossed; she's staring at the viewer
“7 Mile + Livernois,” a solo exhibition by Detroit artist Tiff Massey, opened at the DIA last month. Taizon Taylor

Welcome to One Fine Show, where Observer highlights a recently opened exhibition at a museum outside of New York City—a place we know and love that already receives plenty of attention.

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The late Peter Schjeldahl wrote that the works of Donald Judd are “almost routinely beautiful, but coldly and even imperiously so, as if their quality were none of your business.” This is another way of saying there’s a masculinity to their style, which comes with the attendant inflexibility and baggage. It would be harder to pathologize whiteness, as it’s more defined by absence—of ethnicity, of morality—but given the way that Judd sought to strip away so much from his work it might be fair to say there’s a certain whiteness about them as well. His sculptures cannot dance, anyway.

Inroads have been made in expanding the minimalist cannon, and Tiff Massey’s new show at the Detroit Institute of Arts, “7 Mile + Livernois,” is another chapter in that story. The show spans four galleries in the DIA’s contemporary wing, featuring new sculptures commissioned by the DIA alongside works from the collection by Judd and Louise Nevelson. The show’s title references the Detroit neighborhood where Massey grew up, evoking her biography and her art historical forebears, alongside all the other signifiers conjured by her work.

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Massey uses her training as a metalsmith to create architectural installations inspired by jewelry and other aesthetics in West African and Black American culture. This new show features a wall of abstracted baroque hairstyles, I’ve Got Bundles and I Got Flewed Out (Green) (2024), that emerge from Carl Andre-like tiles. These are all far more fantastic than you might find in a character creation screen of a video game, though not uncommon in certain neighborhoods of Detroit or Brooklyn. The effect of the piece is to say “Are these not also sculptural? Do people put any less work into these than artists do?” They’re not readymades because they’ve been crafted in a complicated way for aesthetic purposes, but putting them in a museum does make an audience wonder what other routinely beautiful encounters they may have been missing on the sidewalk.

A large art piece that looks like hair bands with beads
Tiff Massey, Baby Bling, 2023; Metal beads, woven rope, brass. Collection of the artist, courtesy DIA

Also impressive is Baby Bling (2023), a wall of hair ties that have been blown up to monumental scale. These are good in the context of Judd and Nevelson, but recall much more the work of Claes Oldenburg. This would put hair in the same place as food or office supplies, but why not? At this size, you can see yourself in the sheen of the red balls strung onto the elastic so that it doesn’t get lost. These works are not critical of what came before but asking if the big ideas tackled by these older styles might be applied to more subjective areas, which is appropriate for our more atomized times, and perhaps a commentary on those, too.

Sculptures that look like green hair
Tiff Massey, I’ve Got Bundles and I Got Flewed Out (Green) (2024); Canvas, Kanekelon, beads. Collection of the artist, courtesy DIA

At 42, Massey is the youngest artist to have an exhibition at the DIA, which has commissioned four new pieces for this show. “This exhibition is going to renew art and inspire,” director Salvador Salort-Pons said during the press preview. That’s a tall order, but it’s great to see a museum take ambitious swings.

Tiff Massey: 7 Mile + Livernois” is on view at the Detroit Institute of Arts through May 11th, 2025.

One Fine Show: ‘7 Mile + Livernois’ at the Detroit Institute of Arts