With the Minneapolis Institute of Art celebrating the centennial of its founding and Walker Art Center the 75th anniversary of its commitment to contemporary art, 2015 was a big year for institutional hoopla. Those two organizations dominated the Twin Cities visual art scene all year with events large and small, extravagantly expensive and international in scope, or Minnesota-made and simply fun. Among the memorable moments:
Kunin Collection: A yearlong loan of about 400 American Modernist paintings from the $300 million collection of the late Myron Kunin, a longtime trustee, temporarily transformed the institute’s 20th-century galleries with masterpieces by Marsden Hartley, Andrew Wyeth and other talents. The question now is whether Kunin’s family will extend the loan or even give the pictures to the museum, a magnanimous gesture that would upgrade the American galleries into a pilgrimage site. The family gave seven pictures this year, a grand start.
Surprises: The institute staged surprises throughout the year, ranging from a sweet display of arty birthday cakes to a crop art interpretation of Van Gogh’s “Olive Trees” in an Eagan field to singular loans of stellar paintings by Vermeer, Raphael and Van Gogh. The best of the populist gestures were reproductions of the museum’s masterpiece paintings displayed in unlikely spots — over the gas pumps at Bobby and Steve’s Auto World in downtown Minneapolis, for example, and in the window of Kramarczuk’s in Northeast.
Shows: The institute began its celebration with a 500-year extravaganza of glittering royal treasures from Austria’s Habsburg dynasty and is ending it with “Delacroix’s Influence: The Rise of Modern Art From Cezanne to Van Gogh,” a luxurious yet scholarly treat on view through Jan. 10.
Expansion: Walker Art Center’s big news was the start of an anniversary construction project that will include a new entrance pavilion, opening on Vineland Place in 2016, and a renovation of the Sculpture Garden to be finished in 2017.
More shows: Walker also revisited the 1960s with two expansive shows: “International Pop,” which rewrote Pop art as a worldwide movement, and “Hippie Modernism,” which smartly reprises the era’s design innovations (through Feb. 28). The Walker’s retrospective of abstract paintings by New York-based Jack Whitten, on view through Jan. 24, is also a revelation of an immensely innovative talent whose work has been too long overshadowed by flashier figures.
Noteworthy elsewhere: Thanks to the diligent efforts of curator Cheryl Wilgren Clyne, the Soap Factory’s fourth Midwest Biennial was one of its best ever, a refreshing mélange of unusual work by 17 artists in media as diverse as porcelain, straw, wax, 3-D photography and laser-cut plywood. And Weinstein Gallery rounded out the year with “Regarding Elliott,” an affectionate retrospective sampling 70 years of photos by the indomitable Elliott Erwitt, through Jan. 9.