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Robert Stearns, who headed Walker Art Center's performing arts department from 1982 - 1988, died December 3 at his home in Palm Springs, Ca after a brief illness. He was 67.
While working at the Walker, Stearns was the executive producer of the Minneapolis workshop and concert performances of "The Gospel at Colonus," a contemporary reimagining of Sophocles' "Oedipus at Colonus," directed by Lee Breuer and composed by Bob Telson. Co-produced by the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the show was presented as part of the 1983 Next Wave Festival. It subsequently toured internationally from 1984 - 1988.
In 1984 he was executive producer for the Walker's staging of "the Knee Plays for the CIVIL warS: a tree is best measured when it is down," directed by Robert Wilson with music by David Byrne.
During his Walker tenure Stearns also oversaw performances and residencies by such Walker stalwarts as John Cage, Spalding Gray, Ntozake Shange, William Burroughs, Robert Bly, Fab Five Freddy, the Trisha Brown Dance Company and the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.
Stearns left the Walker in 1988 to become the first director of the Wexner Center for the Arts which was still under construction at Ohio State University in Columbus. Exhibitions organized under his leadership include a series surveying art in Europe and America beginning with the 1950s and '60s, followed by the 1970s and '80s, and wrapping up with "New Works for New Spaces: Into the Nineties."
In 1992 he established Stearns + Associates, a Columbus-based firm providing curatorial and arts programming to galleries, arts councils and festivals throughout the country. The firm produced the exhibition "Photography and Beyond in Japan: Space, Time and Memory," which opened at the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo in November 1994 and subsequently toured to the Museo Rufino Tamayo, Mexico City; Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver, BC and was presented in the United States at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Denver Art Museum and the Contemporary Art Museum in Honolulu.
Over the following decades, Stearns' exhibitions focused on Ohio artists, early-American painting, artists from Mexico City, and visions of the American heartland.
While based in Columbus, Stearns retained ties to Minnesota, serving from 2000 - 2006 as senior program director and curator for Arts Midwest, a Minneapolis-based non-profit that produces exhibitions and programs that travel throughout the Midwest.
"Robert was an extremely gifted curator," said David Fraher, president and CEO of Arts Midwest, in a statement. "He was quirky, erudite, curious, and extraordinarily thorough with his research. He was also so very bright and passionate about his work, the artists he worked with, and the projects he built."
Fraher credited Stearns with helping Arts Midwest expand and strengthen its ability to produce international programs and exhibitions.
Prior to arriving in Minnesota, Stearns worked in New York first as assistant director of the influential Paula Cooper Gallery (1970-72) and then at The Kitchen (1973-77), a pioneer in video and installation art. He was director of Cincinnati's Contemporary Arts Center from 1978-1982. He graduated from the University of California, San Diego in 1970.
A celebration of his life was held Dec.10 in Palm Springs.
Winton Guest House at Gainey Conference Center, Owatona. Photo by Mike Ekern, provided by University of St. Thomas.
When the Winton Guest house was moved from Orono to Owatonna in 2008, the sculptural building was cut into eight pieces, the largest of which weighed 80 tons. Then the sections were hoisted onto trucks and slowly moved to the Daniel C. Gainey Conference Center, a pastoral southern Minnesota site owned by the University of St. Thomas. There it was reassembled and used as a meeting site.
At the rededication of the building in 2011, the designer, internationally acclaimed Los Angeles architect Frank Gehry, praised the movers for having done "an incredible job" that was "93.6 percent right."
Now the 2,300 square foot house has to be moved once again. The University of St. Thomas sold the conference center in August to Meridian Behavioral Health which plans to use the 180 acre site as a residential treatment center for "people with addictive diseases and behavoral disorders."
The Winton Guest house was excluded from the 2014 sale with the proviso that St. Thomas must move it by the end of August 2016. Where it will go has not been decided. Options include moving it to the University's St. Paul campus or selling it to a deep-pocketed architecture buff willing move it somewhere else.
Gehry designed the unusual building in 1987 for Twin Cities arts patrons Mike and Penny Winton. Its distinctive shape -- including a pyramid-shaped living room sheathed in black-painted metal, a garage/kitchenette covered in plywood, a brick fireplace room, a limestone-clad bedroom -- won immediate acclaim and an honor award from the American Institute of Architects.
When the Wintons sold their 11 acre property overlooking Lake Minnetonka in 2002, buyer Kurt Woodhouse subdivided and sold off the site which included a main house designed by Philip Johnson. He donated the guest house to St. Thomas, stipulating that it be removed. The move took two years and reassembling the pieces another year.
Architect Frank Gehry with arts patron Penny Winton at rededication of the Guest House, August 31, 2011, in Owatonna. Photo provided by University of St. Thomas, Thomas Whisenand, photographer.
Give your holiday date a weekend of la dolce vita at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. The museum is extending the weekend hours of its popular show "Italian Style: Fashion Since 1945." The exhibit will remain open until 9 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 26 and Saturday, Dec. 27 and again the following weekend, Friday, Jan. 2 and Sat. Jan. 3. The show closes Sunday, Jan. 4.
For ticket information: artsmia.org
In the aftermath of W.W.II, with its cities in ruins and industries struggling, Italy turned to fashion and design to help revive its economy. Exhibitions of sleek, efficient and stylish modern Italian housewares toured the United States, offering Americans a glimpse of Eurostyle that helped bring good design to the masses. Fashion, too, was enlisted in the revitalization program with designers in Florence, Rome and Milan turning out glorious evening wear and chic sports ensembles that brought casual glamor to Middle America.
Organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, "Italian Style" features about 100 ensembles from the V&A collection. Spanning more than 70 years, it includes gowns worn on screen by film stars (Audrey Hepburn, et al) plus pieces from such prominent fashion houses as Valentino, Armani, Gucci, Fendi, Pucci, Prada, Missoni, Dolce and Gabbana and trend setters young and old. The show will travel to the Portland Art Museum in Portland, OR and the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville, following its Minneapolis presentation.
Star Tribune file photos of Mildred "Mickey" Friedman
Mildred "Mickey" Friedman, the influential Walker Art Center design curator who died in September at 85, was remembered this week in New York City for her samba, her style, her curiosity, and her quiet grace. About 100 A-list artists (Chuck Close, Claes Oldenburg, Christo, Judith Shea), architects (Hugh Hardy, Billie Tsien, Frank Gehry), museum directors (Sam Sachs, Frick emeritus; Adam Weinberg, Whitney; Olga Viso, Walker) and past and present Walker friends gathered at the Century Association on a rainy Monday evening.
Former Walker curator Dean Swanson recalled dancing the samba with her on a "glamorous dance floor in Rio" in 1963 when they were helping Friedman's husband Martin, then the Walker's director, prepare a show of American art that took grand prize at that year's Sao Paulo biennial. With a nod to the Friedmans' long marriage (she died on their 65th birthday), Tsien compared "smart, tough, rational" Mickey to the character Rosalind Russell played opposite mischievous, fast-talking Cary Grant (Martin) in the classic 1940 film "His Girl Friday."
Recalling the "quiet grace and gentle beauty of a loving friend," Gehry took a jib at a Manhattan institution when he credited her with always "searching for uncharted water, unlike MOMA." Lise Friedman, eldest of the couple's three daughters, observed that one of their mom's "most important lessons was always to make an extra place at the table when someone unexpectedly comes."
After Hardy led toasts to the Friedmans, the crowd munched hors d'oeuvres, including a high-style version of that old Midwestern standard, "pigs-in-a-blanket" (puff pastry, no cheese, Dijon mustard).
Myron Kunin, art collector and Regis Corp, founder
The African art collection of the late Minneapolis collector Myron Kunin sold for a record $41.6 million at Sotheby's in New York on Tuesday.
An extremely rare Senufo Female Statue (pictured at right) shattered the previous world record when it went for $12,037,000. Carved by an artist known as the Master of Sikasso, the Ivory Coast sculpture is one of only five Senufo figures of that type known.
Calling it the Kunin Senufo Female Statue, Sotheby's described it as a "quintessential masterpiece of African abstraction." It has been widely exhibited, published in numerous important books on the subject, and was included in the Museum of Modern Art's pivotal 1984 exhibition "Primitivism in Modern Art."
Three additional sculptures from Kunin's collection fetched record prices: a Ngbaka Statue of the Mythical Ancestor Setu which went for $4,085,000, a Fang-Betsi Reluquary Head, which sold for $3,637,000 and a Kongo-Yombe Maternity Group which fetched $3,525,000.
The Kunin sale brought in more than $10 million above the high estimate that Sotheby's had set before the sale. The auction house described the results as a "historic total" that was the highest ever for African art. The sale results totaled $41,617,500.
Of the 164 pieces in Kunin's African art collection, all but 40 sold Tuesday morning.
A Minneapolis-based businessman, Kunin (1928-2013) bought out a hair-care business founded by his father and parlayed it into a $2.7 billion enterprise, Regis Corporation, with more than 9,700 salons and stores owned or franchised in the United States, England and France.
Passionate, independent-minded and discerning about art, he amassed world-class collections in several fields, most notably American art from 1900 to 1950. His holdings in that area -- including pieces by Georgia O'Keeffe, Philip Guston, Morris Kantor, Marsden Hartley and Guy Pene Du Bois -- are considered by some to be even more important than the African collection.
More than 75 of Kunin's American paintings were shown at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in 2005 in a show called "Villa America." The museum owns very few American paintings from the first half of the 20th century and officials there obviously hoped that Kunin would give or bequeath some key works to the museum where he was a longtime trustee.
Gregarious but publicity shy, Kunin and his wife Anita generously supported many cultural institutions in the Twin Cities. Those gifts were and are typically given in the name of Regis Corporation including the lead gift for the Regis Center for Art at the University of Minnesota, the Regis Master series of exhibitions at the Northern Clay Center and the Regis Foundation for Breast Cancer Research.
Often Kunin bought art in areas that were overlooked, unfashionable or neglected by museums as well as other collectors. As a result he sometimes was ahead of the herd and able to acquire unusual works for comparatively modest prices. At the same time he was quite willing to pay top dollar for prime pieces and he knew very well what they were. Unlike many business moguls who dabble in art, he did not rely on the advice of hired curators but on his own highly educated eye and mind.
"People know I'm psychotic about art and they submit a lot of things to me, but I can't buy everything because it depends on the cash flow of the moment," he told the Star Tribune in a 2005 interview. "So I'm sometimes forced to sell some things to buy something else."
In 1992, for example, he made headlines when he sold a painting by the 19th century British eccentric Richard Dadd at just shy of $3 million, then an auction record for a Victorian-era picture. It was snapped up by English musical producer Andrew Lloyd Webber.
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