In Memoriam Susanne Feld Hilberry
Corine Vermeulen, Ida and Susanne, 2011. Courtesy of the artist and Susanne Hilberry Gallery.
Susanne Feld Hilberry, 1943 – 2015
She looked at everything and saw what was there. Whether it was an obscure building like the Einsteinium in Potsdam or a master painting by Caravaggio; a then unheralded abstraction by Yayoi Kusama or an unforgettable photograph of the Packard plant by Scott Hocking. She knew what made art great – truly great – because she felt the soul emanating from it. Her eye was outside and inside her. In exhibition after exhibition at her gallery, the Susanne Hilberry Gallery, over more than 40 years, she demonstrated the vast scope of her curatorial brilliance. She showed so many artists before they were acclaimed in the art world and so many others who were never given the national seal of approval. What mattered to her was the quality of the voice.
To know Susanne was to be with an eccentric, insecure, beautiful woman whose self-conflicts drove her. She was the sister or mentor or friend who was deeply connected to you – forever. Everything she did was carefully considered and done right, or she didn’t do it. She was a rebel from the normal. She never had time for the mediocre. She cared so much about making things better in the universe by filling it with visions that were uncompromising, deep, and gorgeous that this mission consumed her.
In 1995 she told me she believed Detroit needed a contemporary art museum and asked if I would work with her to create one. This was the inception of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Detroit. Because she was an art dealer and someone might construe her involvement as a conflict of interest, she gave the lead on the project to me. She was my main advisor, the sage I turned to over and over. When we couldn’t find the funds for the big garage door of the museum, she contributed them. She was always there, the critical voice in the background, and so proud of what we accomplished.
And she was thrilled to see the City she committed her life to come back. She loved driving down Woodward, through the changing streetscape and found satisfaction in being part of it. She would never have moved, even though her gallery was one of a few major galleries in the area. She was needed here and she made a difference: to so many artists who lived here, to appreciators of art and anyone who showed an interest in learning. All this was her great gift to this community and the outside. She stood strong in her commitments, through her life, without the incentive of great material rewards. Being in art, with artists, in her place, was what she wanted and needed, and what she got. Hers was a life well spent.