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Exhibitions and Events

'Willow Run' exhibition at U-M explores industrial history, family identity

By Dave Lawrence

The new Stamps Gallery is located first floor of the McKinley Towne Center at 201 S. Division St. in downtown Ann Arbor.

The University of Michigan Museum of Art presents “Ernestine Ruben at Willow Run: Mobilizing Memory,” an exhibition that will display the photographs of Ernestine Ruben at wartime industrial site Willow Run before its demolition.

After a 2013 visit to the once-famed Willow Run industrial complex in Washtenaw County, Mich., Ruben photographed the now-dormant mechanical ruins that were designed and built during World War II by her grandfather, renowned Detroit architect Albert Kahn.

“The long history of Willow Run as a model of American industrial production is rooted deeply in the history of this region and in the history of the United States,” said Jennifer Friess, assistant curator of photography at UMMA. “This exhibition provides viewers a unique opportunity to explore a part of Michigan’s industrial history that has now been demolished. Ruben’s photographs situate viewers at the heart of the interior space of Willow Run and frame unflinching views of the remnants of that productive history.”

Ernestine Ruben, Number 1, 2013, digital c-type print on paper. Courtesy of the artist

The exhibition presents Ruben’s photographs of Willow Run in UMMA’s Photography Gallery along with an original film—co-created by Ruben and video artist Seth Bernstein and featuring an original score by award-winning composer Stephen Hartke—in the Museum’s Forum.

“Ruben’s photographs invite us to revisit the many histories of the Willow Run site and ask visitors to participate in those stories,” Friess said.

Ruben will take part in two conversations on campus as a part of the University of Michigan’s Bicentennial:

  • 3p.m. Sunday, March 12, at UMMA: Ruben and Friess will lead a discussion of the exhibition and a screening of Ruben’s new short film, “Willow Run.”
  • 4:15-6:30 p.m. Wednesday March 15, at UMMA: For “Willow Run: Gender, Race, and Factory Work During and After World War II,” Ruben and Friess will discuss Ruben’s return to Willow Run. It will be followed by a screening of “Willow Run,” a short, 12-minute film by Ruben in collaboration with video artist Seth Bernstein, that builds upon the photographs and interprets them. The music for the film was written by composer Stephen Hartke. Bernstein and Hartke will also join the discussion. This program is part of a larger U-M History Department’s Symposium, “1943: Consequences of Mobilization” which uncovers the impact of World War II on the home front and investigates the unprecedented social change that characterized wartime America.

“Ernestine Ruben at Willow Run: Mobilizing Memory” will be on display from March 11–August 20, 2017. The U-M Museum of Art, located at 525 S. State St. in Ann Arbor, is free and open to the public 11 a.m-5 p.m Tues.–Sat., and 12 p.m–5 p.m on Sun.

Lead support for “Ernestine Ruben at Willow Run: Mobilizing Memory” is provided by the U-M Office of the Provost and the Herbert W. and Susan L. Johe Endowment.

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