Michael-Kan-2Isn’t it strange that Michael Kan, a Chinese-American should have appeared in a Detroit publication photographed with one of the most famous and outstanding pieces of traditional African Art found in a major American museum? This great Kongo Nail Figure was acquired in 1976 when Michael first arrived in Detroit as the Deputy Director of the DIA. Later he was commissioned to start a new Department of African, Oceanic, and New World Cultures funded by an extraordinary and generous gift from the late Mrs. Eleanor Clay Ford. In 1976 this masterpiece was acquired for over a quarter of a million dollars—-the highest price ever paid for a monumental and iconic piece of African sculpture. Today a number of works of art from this style area of Africa have been sold for well over five million. As Joy Hakanson Colby, art critic of The Detroit News noted on August 13, 2001:”The Nail Figure was the first of many masterpieces the China-born curator acquired for Detroit. His retirement this year after quarter-century ends an era at the museum, where he founded the department of African, Oceanic and New World Cultures and reached deep into the community to get people involved in art. While Kan (rhymes with man) may have officially retired, the good news is that he’ll be at the DIA to days a week as curator emeritus and consultant. He serves on a committee to interview candidates for his former post and will later train his successor. In fact, the ebullient curator’s idea of retirement is hardly traditional. Instead of kicking back and going fishing, he will also be a consultant at The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, at the Art Gallery of Ontario, at the University of Pennsylvania and at France’s new Musee du Quai Branley, which is scheduled to open in Paris in 2002.”

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