Above: Artist Aliza Nisenbaum 

Aliza Nisenbaum was giddy when I reached her by phone early this morning. What artist wouldn't be if they'd just gotten word that a major art institute acquired their work?

The Minneapolis Institute of Art announced late last week that it had purchased all three of the paintings that Nisenbaum made in collaboration with local Somali, Latino elder, and art institute security guard communities while in-residence at the museum last spring. These works are currently on view in her exhibition “A Place We Share,” which runs through April 15, 2018.

“I feel like it completes the work in a way, to have them enter the institution formally and find a home there,” said Nisenbaum by phone from New York. “My work was done, [and now] the communities [get to] come back and see the paintings [of them] in the museum.”

The artwork was purchased with funds from the Mary Ingebrand-Pohlad Endowment for 20th Century Paintings. Gabriel Ritter, Curator and Head of Contemporary Art, oversaw the acquisition of the paintings into Mia's permanent collection. He spotted her work back in 2015 at the Liste Art Fair in Basel, Switzerland, where it was on view with her gallery, Mary Mary, which is based in Glasglow.

"There was something about the work that really caught my eye – her handling of paint," said Ritter.

After returning to the U.S., Ritter did a studio visit with Nisenbaum in New York, where he learned more about how her work with Tania Bruguera's immigrant project in Queens. The timing seemed perfect, considering Ritter's then-new position at Mia. 

"I had just started at the museum but I was alrady reading in-depth the strategic plan for deepening relationships and connecting with the community immediately surrounding the museum, and that’s how this ended up coming together," he said.

Nisenbaum, who was born in Mexico City and is based in New York, created these three oil on canvas works in a portraiture-style, which is usually reserved for the wealthy. Her work is a literal intervention into art history, presenting subjects that may not otherwise be seen -- though she does not see that as part of her job, but rather a byproduct of the work itself. Naturally, she’s very excited to hear the community’s reaction to the acquisition news.  

Aside from the Whitney Museum of American Art, this is the only other major art institution to have purchased Nisenbaum’s work – a major milestone for an artist.

“You really remember the first museum that buys your work forever,” she said. “Mia is also the first museum that gave me a solo show. They were behind me, to make my work successful, to be able to go deep with the communities, since day 1.”

Aliza Nisenbaum, Nimo, Sumiya, and Bisharo harvesting flowers and vegetables at Hope Community Garden, 2017, Oil on canvas,  88" × 68" (223.52 × 172.72 cm)

Aliza Nisenbaum, Morning Security Briefing at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, basement door open onto the Guard Lounge Pet Wall, 2017, Oil on canvas, 95" x 75" (241 x 191 cm) 

Aliza Nisenbaum, Wise Elders Portraiture Class at Centro Tyrone Guzman with En Familia hay Fuerza, mural on the history of immigrant farm labor to the United States, 2017, Oil on canvas, 95" x 75" (241 x 191 cm)

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