A Composition for Detroit is a portrait of contemporary America. Inspired by many trips to Detroit and its banks of broken factory windows, some overpainted, Sara VanDerBeek built structures that functioned as supports for leaning panes of glass and a wide range of photographic imagery. She then photographed her ephemeral installations before dismantling them. Overall, the photographic material includes close-ups of images such as a Walker Evans photograph of the ruins of a pre–Civil War plantation in Louisiana and a Charles Moore picture of a crouching woman, sprayed with water, during a 1963 civil rights protest. VanDerBeek also used documentary material, some dealing with riots in Detroit in 1967, as well as her own evocative photographs of abandoned buildings and broken blinds. According to the artist, the visual allusions to windows, stairs, and doorways open up the possibility of either staying where we are or taking off in new directions.