Art: Les enfants perdus

  • Article by: Mary Abbe
  • Star Tribune
  • October 5, 2007 - 3:26 PM

Former Minneapolis art dealer Gordon Locksley has open-ed his legendary storerooms once again to help his former hometown.

His favorite museum, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, is deeply deficient in his specialty, contemporary art. So Locksley, who now lives in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and George Shea, his former business partner, now of Palm Springs, Calif., lent the museum 10 important Pop and Minimalist paintings and sculptures this year.

When two of those pieces -- a painting by Roy Lichtenstein and a cash-register sculpture by Claes Oldenburg -- were sent to London for another show, Locksley replaced them with several new pieces: a major installation by French artist Christian Boltanski, a steel-and-glass cabinet sculpture by Damien Hirst, a somber battleship painting by Dirk Skreber and a 6- by 9-foot photo by German artist Thomas Demand that re-creates the scene of an assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler.

Added to the other Locksley/Shea art now on view, the recent loans go a long way toward filling the museum's new galleries for late 20th-century art. One of the sculptures, a huge and charming fiberglass dog by Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara, offers visitors a happy-puppy welcome in the rotunda of the museum's new wing.

The Boltanski installation strikes a more somber and poignant note upstairs. Largely self-taught, the French artist is known internationally for installations alluding to childhood traumas or ruminating on memories and loss. Born in Paris in 1944, Boltanski was haunted in childhood by the deprivations and horrors of World War II. His Corsican mother and Ukrainian Jewish father survived, but Boltanski was scarred by the war, saying that even as an adult, he carries a dead child inside himself.

Occupying a whole gallery on the museum's third floor, Boltanski's "Monuments (Installation Salle Petriere)" is a light-and-photo creation that debuted in Paris in 1986. It then traveled extensively for several years to museums in Chicago; Los Angeles; New York; Toronto; London; Eindhoven, the Netherlands, and Nagoya and Mito, Japan. It has been in storage since 1991 because it is too large for home display.

A haunting and magical work, "Monuments" consists of 19 square panels resembling thin aluminum-edged glass bricks in pale blue, green, gold and silver. Each is crowned by a small, closeup photo of a child's face, illuminated by three, low-wattage lightbulbs connected by long loops of electrical wiring. Although the piece is more than 20 years old, the attachment of electrical wiring to vulnerable figures seems eerily prescient of the torture photos that surfaced during the scandal surrounding the U.S. military's treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

Boltanski's images are of children he photographed in Dijon, France, many years ago and are meant to evoke lost youth, which he sees as a kind of death, Locksley said. "But they also refer to the Holocaust, of course," he added.

"It is a staggeringly powerful piece, I think, and it was an act of great courage for [Institute curator] Patrick Noon and [director] Bill Griswold to give over a complete gallery to it," Locksley said. "It's a monumental piece, beautiful and touching, that will take your breath away."

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