This week’s museums were all about art for the first time. I was back home in Minnesota so I was able to hit up the 2 big art museums in Minneapolis; The Walker Art Center and Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
The Walker has always been, and continues to be, one of my favorite places. Growing up in St. Cloud doesn’t afford you a lot of cultural experiences and the Walker was a beacon of weird, new ideas within striking distance of my home. The building is situated near downtown Minneapolis and consists of 2 wings; the original Modernist brick building and a 2005 addition designed by Herzog & de Meuron. It’s also flanked by a large sculpture garden. It’s impossible to miss the angular structure jutting out from it’s rather flat surroundings and it makes me wonder if the bold expression of the newer wing will stand up to time.
Regardless of if the architecture ages well, the building is a good showcase for what the Walker is trying to do. It’s highly visible, contemporary and actually quite welcoming. There are a number of lounge areas throughout the building that encourage people to congregate and relax. There are also interactive kiosks that give you details about the collection, the building and the goal of The Walker.
The interior is a wandering puzzle of galleries, each with their own dimensions and theme. While the old wing is more traditionally white and boxy, the new wing has dramatic angles and multimedia spaces of various colors. I was delighted to see an entire gallery made up as an homage to the Wunderkammer with an assortment of almost-ironic articles that seemed to recognize the Museum of Jurassic Technology. As they entered this room, I overheard a young boy say “this is a real art museum” and a middle aged man decided “this is the best room.”
The collection is a mix of touring and permanent work. In light of our reading about the Pulitzer collection this week, it occurred to me that this can be a difficult curatorial balance to pull off. It feels almost antithetical to the museum to have a permanent collection and even odder that they have to rearrange and re-contextualize a finite amount of art to keep the gallery spaces feeling fresh. I’m sure there are great benefits to having a collection (like being able to draw upon it whenever you want to), but maybe they should auction off anything older than 20 years.
This feels like the perfect venue for computer generated and assisted art, not unlike work being made at ITP, but there was actually very little of that. I kept expecting to see an interactive gallery and more constructivist presentations being experimented with, but over-all this museum is pretty white-walls and hands off.
The website goes beyond the standard brochure-ware you normally see and attempts to be a general art news source. That seems like an interesting role to play, but it also adds a lot of noise to their home page for the casual visitor. Luckily the hours and events are conveniently placed in the upper left corner, so there isn’t much hunting one has to do for those.
The MIA was quite a different experience from the Walker, and perhaps they both benefit from that. It’s a much more traditional museum that feels like an Institution, complete with a giant neo-classical building. I’ve never visited the MIA before and I was surprised by the scale and tone considering it’s in Minneapolis.
When you enter the building, you walk into a 3 story rotunda with a Greek marble statue in the middle. On either side there are wings that are as wide as Parisian boulevards that have galleries appending them all the way down. These galleries feature mainly ancient art and artifacts with maps and cultural explanations—not what I was expecting in an art gallery. With that in mind, I was even more surprised to see that the end of the hallway turned into another large rotunda that led to a contemporary art collection. The juxtaposition was quite unusual.
The presentation was all very formally arranged on the walls and in free-standing cases. However, the museum itself felt up-to-speed. There were audio guides and some of the placards had QR codes on them. There was even a large screen that visualized tweets related to the show that it was a part of (regarding globalization). I thought that was an interesting bit of naval gazing.
Like the museum, the website feels large, dry and not wanting for verbosity. It overwhelms you with options until you finally just settle into one section and pretend the rest doesn’t exist. You can only take so much in.
Overall, I didn’t think the MIA was quite as interesting or dynamic as the Walker, but it was a good example of a museum in the systematic tradition. Maybe I’ve become accustomed to a different kind of experience, but I kept looking for something to catch my eye. Considering it’s vast scale, that happened too little for me to want to return the next time I’m in MN.