Endowment, visitors up at Minneapolis Institute of Arts as museum gears up for another 'banner year'

  • Article by: MARY ABBE
  • Updated: July 18, 2014 - 2:21 PM

Museum ended fiscal year with balanced budget and near-record attendance.

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Eugene Delacroix's painting "Fanatics of Tangier" (1837-38), is part of a show coming to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in 2015.

With $11 million in new cash, a $27 million balanced budget and near-record attendance, Minneapolis Institute of Arts Director Kaywin Feldman was upbeat at the museum’s annual meeting Thursday.

“I may appear biased, but I’d call it a banner year,” Feldman said.

The museum’s 645,000 visitors in 2014 were the second-largest tally in its history.

Highlights of the 2014 fiscal year that ended June 30 include a $6 million bequest to promote Asian art, history and culture, and $5 million for exhibitions and programs pegged to the museum’s 2015 centennial. The bequest came from the estate of Alfred Pillsbury Gale, whose father, Richard P. Gale, gave the museum a renowned collection of Japanese art. The centennial funding came from Best Buy, U.S. Bank and Friends of the Institute, plus about 25 individuals.

The museum’s departing board chair, Hubert Joly, is the CEO of Best Buy and a generous donor. Earlier this month Joly resigned the chairmanship, effective Thursday, saying he recently began a relationship with a staff member and wanted to avoid “any potential or perceived conflict of interest.”

The board elected longtime museum supporter Diane Lilly as chairman to complete the final year of Joly’s two-year term.

This year’s efforts position the museum for a 2015 centennial season of special shows and weekly “birthday surprises.” Planned exhibits include the museum’s first major fashion display, “Italian Style: Fashion Since 1945,” opening in October; treasures from the Habsburg empire, including armor and Old Master paintings starting in February; Leonardo da Vinci’s “Codex Leicester” opening in June; and “Eugene Delacroix and Modernity,” the first exhibit in 50 years to examine the French artist’s influence, debuting in October 2015.

Da Vinci’s famous “Codex Leicester” is a legendary manuscript of the Renaissance artist’s drawings and scientific observations. Dating from 1506-1513, it concerns the movement and control of water in currents, whirlpools and dams. Written backward in Italian, it can be read only through a mirror. It will be on loan from Bill Gates, who purchased the Codex for $30.8 million in 1994, a record price.

The Minneapolis museum plans a novel display unlike previous Da Vinci exhibits that showed the Codex with Renaissance drawings or scientific papers. Here it will be thematically linked to “curiosity and observation” including videos by Bill Viola and work by artist/ musician Mark Mothersbaugh, founder of the rock band Devo.

“Art is an expression of what it is to be human, and we want to explore all demonstrations of that,” Feldman said. “So having Leonardo and Mothersbaugh at the same time is showing two intensely creative people from different times demonstrating creativity in two very different ways.”

That 2014 attendance was below the 680,000 all time record set last year, but still substantially above what the museum expected given that it had only one special exhibition. That show of Matisse paintings from the Baltimore Museum of Art attracted 93,259 people during its 12-week run this spring. Last year’s tally was boosted by blockbuster exhibits of ancient Chinese tomb warriors, which pulled 150,000, and Rembrandt paintings, which attracted 107,000.

Membership, at 21,126, was down from a 2013’s 24,371.

The MIA’s endowment rose to $226 million, up from $200 million in 2013. The museum acquired some 1,200 works of art through gifts and purchase, including a multipart 1515 woodcut by Albrecht Dürer that is — at 11 feet tall by 9 feet wide — the largest such item in Renaissance art. The gifts include 605 photos bequeathed by the late St. Paul collector Harry Drake, a longtime museum benefactor.

Mary Abbe • 612-673-4431

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