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Minneapolis Institute of Arts concludes an 'up' year

  • Article by: Mary Abbe
  • Star Tribune
  • July 18, 2013 - 4:30 PM

With attendance at a record high, the budget balanced, and its endowment flush, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts had multiple reasons to celebrate at its annual meeting Thursday afternoon.

“Every number we count was up,” the museum’s director, Kaywin Feldman, said by phone before the public meeting.

Attendance in the fiscal year ended June 30 hit an all-time high of 679,753, up 48 percent from the previous year.

Feldman attributed the record to a combination of dynamic exhibitions and popular lectures, family days and innovative events ranging from “Bike Night,” when bike riders can pedal through the museum’s doors into a courtyard, to a Tudor-themed fest with craft beers. Exhibition highlights included a show of ancient Chinese terra-cotta warrior sculptures, which attracted 150,000 visitors, and another of Rembrandt paintings that drew 107,000 people.

The previous attendance record was set a decade ago when 599,000 people jammed the museum for exhibits of Egyptian art, Picasso prints and 19th century American landscape paintings.

The museum’s recent push into contemporary art has been less successful with the public. Its splashy “More Real: Art in the Age of Truthiness” show this spring pulled only about 23,000 people, but drew international press attention and served to “boost our reputation,” Feldman said. She views the museum’s commitment to contemporary art “as an investment in building awareness and attracting a different audience for the future.”

The successful exhibitions helped drive up membership to 24,371, its highest tally since 2008. The museum’s endowment, which tumbled in the financial crisis like endowments everywhere, has recovered to $200 million, also an all-time high. The institution also balanced its $28 million operating budget in the fiscal year ended June 30.

In other news, Feldman touted a recent gift to the museum of 1,700 Japanese paintings, sculpture and other objects, valued at $25 million, from California businessman Bill Clark and his Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture. In conjunction with that gift, the museum added to its staff Andreas Marks, new chair of the department of Japanese and Korean art, and Risha Lee, assistant curator of South and Southeast Asian art.

Feldman also announced the appointment of Los Angeles scholar Nicolle LaBouff as assistant curator of textiles starting in October.

Looking ahead, she previewed the coming year’s exhibition schedule. Highlights include:

• “The Audacious Eye,” a selection of 125 Japanese works from the Clark gift that will open in October.

• A dramatic reinstallation of the museum’s African art collection debuting in November.

• Matisse paintings from the Baltimore Museum of Art, which will launch in February with an accompanying exhibit of the French artist’s paintings, sculpture and works on paper from Minnesota collections.

On the museum’s board, John Himle, chair for the past two years, will be succeeded in the post by Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly, who is currently treasurer.

Mary Abbe • 612-673-4431

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