Minneapolis Institute of Arts opens new wing

Move over, old masters. With a new wing for 20th-century art and more space dedicated to the work of non-Westerners, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts has plenty to show off as it reopens to the public.

Works by Jim Dine, left, and Mel Kendrick flank a piece by Minnesotan Alexa Horochowski in the domed atrium of the new Target wing of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Photo: Jim Gehrz, Star Tribune

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As the expanded and renovated Minneapolis Institute of Arts reopens to the public Sunday with 40 percent more display space, it may be called one of the nation's top encyclopedic fine-art museums. More casually, that means it's now a definite two-tripper -- at least.

"People will realize that, unlike a midsize museum, you can't absorb all of this one in a single visit," said Matthew Welch, curator of Japanese and Korean art. "There's just too much art to see at one time."

Like the great art museums of Washington, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Chicago, the MIA has been encyclopedic -- museum parlance for soup to nuts -- for quite a while; it's just that much of its collection was tucked away because of lack of display space. Like hundreds of Miss Havishams finally having their weddings, paintings, prints, textiles and sculpture languishing in storage may now see the light of day.

"Almost all of the really great work can now be on view," said William Griswold, who has been the MIA's director and president for nearly seven months.

Before the expansion, just 4 percent of the MIA's nearly 100,000 objects could be on view at the same time; now that figure is 5 percent. Such an increase may seem puny, but because of the size of the museum's holdings, that translates to 1,000 more artworks on display at any given time.

Make room for modern

The new Target wing designed by Michael Graves is devoted to 20th-century art. There also are many more galleries for non-Western art, including six new Japanese galleries and one for art from the Pacific Islands.

A new focus on strengthening collections of contemporary photography, paintings and prints indicates that the MIA is dusting off its image as the venerable but relatively creaky forebear to Walker Art Center, that shiny, oblique-angled tower of contemporary art recently spiffed up about a mile to the west. While you might expect a 2002 work by British bad-boy painter Damien Hirst ("Minerals") to be more of a fit for the Walker, the MIA has one on loan prominently ensconced in the new wing.

Will the expansion elevate the MIA's status on the national spectrum? That depends on what you thought of it before.

Peter Marzio, director of the Museum of Arts in Houston for the past 23 years, has not yet seen the changes, but knows the MIA's collections well. He calls it "easily one of the top 10 or 12 museums in the United States in its collection's quality and range."

Marzio also praised the MIA's commitment to public education. "Usually when you have a collection this broad and deep, you're not as education-conscious; you don't have enough money to both buy art and teach about it. But the MIA is the only one spending heavily in both areas. Its only flaw is that it's not as well-known as it should be outside of museum circles. It's like they've almost taken pride in understatement, which is a matter of trustee and management style."

More than 90 percent of the museum's capital-campaign goal of $100 million has been raised, with half the fund earmarked for the expansion -- $37 million for the new wing and $13 million for renovation of existing space -- and half for future art acquisitions. Target Corp., for which the new wing is named, was the biggest donor, with a lead gift of more than $10 million. (The Star Tribune Foundation is among the donors. It gave $1 million toward the atrium.)

Reopening buzz has bolstered the MIA's membership roster. So far this year, 5,100 new members have joined, for a total of 24,000 member households.

There will be no change in hours, and the museum continues to offer free admission except for special exhibits (the touring "The Surreal Calder" exhibit is free today, $8 for adults thereafter). The MIA's elimination of admission fees 15 years ago under the aegis of former director Evan Maurer has been credited with increasing visitor numbers; a few other museums have followed suit, most recently in Baltimore.

Acquisition ahead

Patrons may be leaving their wallets in their pockets, but the museum is not. Griswold said that he has aggressive shopping plans. He lists four areas of emphasis: postwar art, particularly contemporary photography; American painting from 1800 to 1945; great Old Master painting and sculpture (including Alexander Roslin's "Comtesse d'Egmont Pignatelli in Spanish Costume," bought last week for more than $3 million), and South Asian art.

Other highlights of the new MIA:

• Six new Japanese galleries add to the museum's already outstanding Asian art holdings, and make its 15-gallery Japanese collection one of the nation's largest, with many more exquisitely detailed ukiyo-e ("pictures of the floating world") painted screens on view.

  • What: Grand reopening of the expanded museum.

    When: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday.

    Events: 9-11 a.m.: Pancake breakfast, featuring director William Griswold flipping flapjacks with local luminaries ($5 all you can eat). 11 a.m.: Ribbon cutting for new wing. 3 p.m.: Official remarks by Griswold and former director Evan Maurer. Through 5 p.m.: Five stages in Washburn Fair Oaks park with live music, flamenco dance, aerial and Kabuki performances, art workshops, gallery tours and food vendors from nearby Eat Street.

    Where: Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2400 3rd Av. S., Mpls.

    Tickets: General admission is free. ""The Surreal Calder"" special exhibit also is free today ($8 after that; ends Sept. 10). 612-870-6323.

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