Tuesday, July 18, 2006
My Article on Minneapolis in Today's WSJ---Part I
With unflashy simplicity, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts has bucked the attention-seeking trend in museum expansions: Its new 113,000-square-foot wing for 20th- and 21st-century art, designed by Post-Modernist Michael Graves, boasts neither eye-popping "destination architecture" nor interior "Wow" space, and wasn't motivated by a desire to supply sumptuous accommodations for megashows circulated by world-famous institutions. What's more, the Midwestern museum's new director and president, William Griswold, seems far more intent on organizing what he calls dossier" exhibitions focused on individual works from the permanent collection.
The new structure joins the museum's original McKim, Mead & White building and its last expansion, designed in the mid-1970s by Kenzo Tange. "It's very much a building about the art," explained Mr. Griswold, who came here in October after having informed the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, where he was acting director, that he did not want to be named permanent director.
The MIA's expansion and renovation increase the gallery space for its permanent collection and temporary exhibitions by some 40%. Nearly 1,000 works have emerged from storage-among them, a 1969 wall-sized painting from Frank Stella's "Protractor Series" that was too large for the old galleries. Prominently displayed in the new wing is the museum's sexiest new acquisition---its first car, a sleek, silver-painted 1948 Czechoslovakian Tatra T87, designed in 1936.
For the first time, the museum will have galleries for the permanent display of textiles, 20th- and 21st-century prints and drawings, contemporary crafts, silver, American regionalism, folk art, Chinese export porcelain, Ukiyo-e paintings and postwar color photography. On a recent press tour of the expanded premises, Mr. Griswold paused in the color-photography gallery, candidly describing the museum's collection in that area as weak. "I wanted this gallery to propel us to collect,"
The collection's most glaring weakness is in the area of American paintings from the 19th to early 20th century-a gap largely blamed on one of the most infamous art-selling sprees in American museum history: From 1955 to 1958, a former director, Richard Davis, unloaded some 4,500 objects, including at least 350 paintings (among them, important works of the Hudson River School). He believed the museum should stop trying to be encyclopedic and, instead, focus on certain areas that he deemed important. Works he bought with the sale proceeds included a Seurat and a van Dyck.
The MIA's current holdings are strong, however, in decorative arts (including 16 period rooms), Old Master paintings (including highly important works by El Greco, Rembrandt, Poussin and Goya), and Chinese and Japanese art. The number of Japanese galleries has just grown from nine to 15, all newly named for collector Mary Griggs Burke, in appreciation of the recent announcement by the 90-year-old St. Paul native that she will bequeath "a significant portion" of her personal and her foundation's collections to the museum. (Another portion is destined for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.) The MIA recently received a six-month loan of 55 Burke works-from the 12th century to contemporary-to celebrate its expansion.
The museum's Chinese art collection, one of the finest in the country, owes much to a two-person, gallery-filling juggernaut-Bruce Dayton, longtime MIA trustee and former president and chairman of Dayton Hudson Corp. (the original parent of Target Corp.), and his wife, Ruth, a devotee of Chinese culture and philosophy. Some 2,600 objects in every curatorial area came to the MIA thanks to Dayton benefactions. At a recent VIP cocktail reception, Robert Jacobsen, senior curator of Asian art, introduced the Daytons to their latest sight-unseen purchase for the Chinese galleries-a rare, unusually large ding (cauldron) from sixth century B.C., labeled as "a masterpiece of late Chou bronze casting." Other recent high-profile purchases have included a $5 million landscape by Claude Lorrain.
But gaps remain, and to fill them the museum is raising $50 million for its acquisitions endowment, in addition to the $50 million for its renovation and expansion. Some $91.2 million in gifts and pledges has been raised to date, all of it from individuals, foundations and corporate donors, not government allocations. Target, headquartered in Minneapolis, contributed more than $10 million for the expansion, for which it received naming rights to the museum's Target Wing.
[If you just can't stand the suspense of waiting for Part II, invest in a copy of the WSJ!]