Minneapolis Institute of Art is one of my favorite places to visit in the Twin Cities with its world class collection of art. I have visited nearly all of the world class art museums in the western world, only to come home to the Mia with a renewed appreciation for its art, its curators, and its building.
Open January 28th – After being shut down since November 2020 by mandate of Minnesota governor, it will be open to the public again on January 28, 2021. Check their website artsmia.org for details on hours and guidelines. My Top Picks to not miss on your visit are included below. Enjoy!
Side note: if you are unable to visit in person for any reason, check out their wide selection of virtual tours!
The columns and pediments on the original building with its entrance face the beautiful downtown Minneapolis skyline. They remind me of the ancient architecture that enthralled me while I visited Greece and Italy. It is from these classical styles from which the primary architectural style of the Mia derives its name: Neo (new) Classic.
To encourage you to visit the Mia, and help you find a starting spot, I’ve included a few of my favorites with Cher’s Top Picks for a Mia Visit. The selections are based not only on my personal preferences, but favorites of the hundreds of art history and design students whom I have led on Mia tours over the decades.
Want someone to guide you? I offer Art Tours at the Mia created just for you! Once more of the pandemic restrictions are lifted, and everyone feels safer, I will again offer personalized tours of the Mia. These customized tours have been developed over the 30+ years I have led customized Mia tours for students and adults. More on these 90 minute tours on my post on Classes.
One of unique things about the Mia is that admission is still FREE! Almost unheard of in the world of museums! Special Mia exhibits do have a cost, but they are always well worth the price.
Parking is plentiful in the Mia ramp or two lots (for a fee) or on the street (free but time limits).
Like Michelangelo, I am passionate about the 3-dimensional quality of sculpture, so that is well represented with 50% of my selections: Greek/Roman, Asian, Italian and European. The four paintings are all western but very diverse in style and era: Late Medieval, Baroque, Post-Impressionist, and Modern.
I hope you will get excited about viewing these, along with the other Mia treasures, in person! All key information and photos are taken from www.artsmia.org.
Cher’s Top Picks for a Mia Visit
Master of Legend of Saint Lucy – Medieval Northern Europe
Master of Legend of Saint Lucy (1492-1501). It is time to take a family portrait. There are so many decisions to make. What should we all wear? How should we sit or stand? Which background should we select? Which biblical story should we include? . . . What? Biblical story in our family portrait? If you were a wealthy medieval family commissioning a painting for your private chapel, this would be a logical question.
Also called the “Lamentation with Saint John the Baptist and Saint Catherine of Alexandria” (whew!), this painting is exemplary of art seen in medieval churches and private chapels. In this triptych (hinged, three-panel works), the left panel has John the Baptist in his rough garment; a well-dressed St. Catherine of Alexandria is on the right panel. When the wings of the triptych are closed, the outside reveals the angel Gabriel announcing to Mary that she will bear the Christ-child. This black and white scene is impressive on its own merit. The title recognizes St. Lucy/Santa Lucia, a Christian martyr honored on 13 December; it is highly likely this triptych was opened for celebration on this day. (See my blog posts for more information on the Annunciation and Santa Lucia celebration.)
This artwork interests me on several levels. The triptych center panel presents people mourning the death of Jesus with the Flemish city of Bruges in the background. In the 21st century, we strive to make scenes as authentic as possible; i.e. the scene should be set in Jerusalem, not northern Europe! But, not only did the artist not know anything about Palestine, it was not an important factor as he painted his home town. I also enjoy the luxurious textiles for which Bruges was famous and is seen on the clothing of the donors (center panel) and St. Catherine (right panel). Notice the distinguished man who is cradling the head of Jesus. It is highly likely that this triptych was commissioned for his private chapel.
Where can I view it at the Mia? The “Master of the Legend of St. Lucy” Triptych, if on view, can typically be found on the 3rd floor of the Mia, near the top of the marble stairs in Gallery 357 among the other medieval art works.
The Doryphorus: Spear-Bearer – Ancient Greek/Roman
Doryphorus: “Spear-Bearer” (120-50 BC). Is he Greek? Or is he Roman?
As we begin our Mia tour, we saunter down the 2nd floor hallway and directly ahead, towering above us at 6 1/2′ tall (78″ x 19″ x 19″) is a man with a perfect body, chilling out in as relaxed a pose as a marble man can be! Residing appropriately in the main rotunda of the Mia, he is visible when entering from the main north entrance, the 2nd floor hallway, or looking from the 3rd floor balcony above. He is impressive from any vantage point.
He is Greek AND he is Roman!
This sculpture, originally sporting a spear in his left hand, would have been originally created in bronze in Greece. He was copied in marble by the Romans, who loved to copy all things Greek.
Fortunately for us, the Roman marble has withstood the ravages of time more than Greek bronze. The Classical Greeks are especially known for their sculpture which put movement into the human form, as seen in the Doryphorus. In this life-like, contrapposto (counter-posture) pose, the weight is shifted from one leg to the other, the head turns slightly, and the stiff, Archaic smile is gone. The Roman copies added the tree stump to stabilize the heavy marble.
The most exciting thing about the Mia Doryphorus is that he is only one of four (per the Mia wall placard) that has survived to modern times–and the other three are in Italy! I think that makes him very, very special, and reason enough to visit the Mia! I have seen the ones at the Uffizi (Florence) and Vatican (Rome) Museums; I am still partial to the one at the Mia! Once travel restrictions lift, and I get a chance to travel again, I look forward to seeing the one in Naples; it is the most intact.
Where can I view it at the Mia? As noted, the “Doryphorous” is typically at home in center of the main rotunda of the 2nd floor at the Mia. When he is temporarily displaced by something highlighting a special exhibit, he moves to the Greek/Roman gallery just down the hall.
Lucretia – Dutch Baroque
Lucretia (1666), without question, owns the gallery room in which she hangs. As I approach her, her solemn and saddened gaze penetrates as if she is looking into my soul. Her story beckons me.
Rembrandt, master of light and dark, portrays the tragic story of Lucretia, known for her loyalty and virtue, just moments after she has taken her own life. The rapier is in her right hand; her left hand is ready to pull the curtain on her life. Raped by the son of a ruling tyrant, she has just revealed the crime to her husband (a Roman nobleman) and her father. In a time and place when a woman’s perceived virtue was more valuable than her life, she has chosen death to prevent dishonor to them. The story is unsettling; the painting is not.
Of his many emotional-filled portraits, this oil painting is one of Rembrandt’s finest works. It was included in a world-wide Rembrandt exhibition a few years ago, and definitely the highlight of the show. I stop to gaze at her portrait every time I visit the Mia. Her story is one I share with my students. It is exciting that this masterpiece is a part of the Mia permanent collection.
The canvas, without frame, is about 43″ x 36″ making Lucretia nearly life-size as we confront her solemn and saddened eyes that follow us around the room, a technique common to Rembrandt’s style. His mastery is seen in the exquisite details of this portrait that are difficult to see in photographs, more easily seen in person. My favorite detail is the tear welling up out of her left eye, ready to spill over and roll down her cheek. The tiny black beads of the cap covering her hair glint amidst the dark background. The gauzy, blood stained gown looks real and invites the viewer to touch; which of course, we cannot! (Don’t forget the “twelve inch” rule for how close one can get to a museum work of art!)
Where can I view it at the Mia? When at home at the Mia, “Lucretia” can typically be found in Gallery 311 with the other Northern European art works of the time.
Jade Mountain – Qing dynasty, China
Jade Mountain (1790). From the Qing dynasty of China, this breath-taking sculpture graces the central corridor of the 2nd floor of the Mia.
Even after many viewings, I cannot walk past it without stopping, pausing to slowly walk around it, grasping its splendor from all four sides.
I am intrigued by the scholars, gathering at the Orchid Pavilion, writing a poem after they have picked up a wine goblet from the small winding creek. I carefully follow its curvy paths, in and around the mountain, in my mind. I am once again pulled into its enchantment!
I am in awe of the intricacy and precision of the work done by the sculptor/engraver of this magnificent work of art. Jade is pure, natural rock, second only to diamond in hardness; only diamond is hard enough to carve jade. At 22 1/2″ x 38 3/8″ and weighing 640 pounds, this Mia Jade Mountain is the largest piece of solid historic jade out side of China.
Along with other works from China, Japan, India, Korea and South East Asia, the Mia has one of best collections of Asian art outside of China; thanks in part to the generous donations of the Dayton family, long time Twin Cities residents. For this reason alone, people come from all over the world to visit the Mia.
Where can I view it at the Mia? As noted, when at home, “Jade Mountain” holds its prominent place in the center of the 2nd floor main hallway.
Olive Trees – Dutch Post-Impressionist
Olive Trees was one of fifteen oil paintings completed in 1899 by Dutch artist, Vincent Van Gogh. During this time, he was hospitalized in the asylum of St-Paul, just outside of St-Remy in southern France.
Not a large painting (29 x 36 1/2″), it is packed with texture. I encourage the viewer to attempt to look at it from the side (12″ away, of course!) to fully enjoy and appreciate the build-up of paint, especially in the vibrant sun and its penetrating rays of light. One can almost feel the intense yellow heat that radiates onto the parched olive trees and dry, brown and orange autumn grasses.
Art and Travel become One. A visit to southern France created one of my more memorable experiences in appreciating great art and artists. A friend and I were on a mission to follow in the footsteps of Van Gogh and experience the places of inspiration for as many of his works as possible. Since it is here that he created some of his most profound works, St-Paul’s asylum was a gold-mine! Placards were placed around the grounds with copies of his paintings imprinted on them. Lifting our eyes, we could view the scene Van Gogh viewed while he was painting that piece: olive trees and the ever-present mountain in the background. Imagine my surprise when I found one that said “Olive Trees; Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis, Minnesota!” Wow! Every time I view this painting at the Mia I am transported back to that special place and time in southern France. Art and Travel come together once again.
Where can I view it at the Mia? “Olive Trees” and other Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works are located in the Mia in Gallery 355 and adjoining rooms.
Ganymede & the Eagle – Neo-classic, Denmark
Ganymede and the Eagle (1817-29), by Bertel Thorvaldsen, Denmark.
In Greek mythology, Ganymede, as a young prince of Troy, was abducted by Zeus and carried off to Mount Olympus. There he became the cup-bearer to the gods, becoming immortal.
Of the many artistic renditions of this story, this remains my favorite. Each time I visit the Mia I always stop to admire it. Not only is it a calm scene, but it is an exquisite carving in marble.
I admire the skill and patience it takes to carve marble; this one is exceptional and worthy of close observation. The textural details are truly magnificent: the boy’s satin smooth skin and curly hair, the realistic feathers of the eagle’s wings and sharpness of his beak and talons. I never tire of looking at the phenomenal positive/negative spaces in the composition of the sculpture. Overall, it is a work of sculptural eloquence!
Where can I view it at the Mia? “Ganymede and the Eagle” typically grace the center of Gallery 378 in their home at the Mia.
Frank – American Modern
Frank (1969) by Chuck Close has always been a top favorite of my students–and mine! On first glance it is likely to be identified as a photograph, a VERY LARGE photograph at 9 feet high (108″ x 84″ x 3″). I love it best when it is positioned at the end of a very long passageway which adds to the anticipation of seeing it close up the nearer it becomes. The ultimate discovery of it being a painting can be rather startling, and being up close to the colossal human head can be disconcerting–but exciting! The artist is quoted as saying “The large scale forces the viewer to read the surface of the painting differently. . . look at it piece by piece” (artsmia.org). The viewer perceives the real–facial pores and hairs–or the abstract patterns of black, white and gray–or both.
Close starts with an enlarged photographic print which he overlays with a grid. Each grid is then systematically transposed directly onto the canvas, refined into the finished image of a monumental portrait. The result is mesmerizing!
My favorite recollection of “Frank” comes from a class I taught to a group of elementary students. In the classroom, we studied and discussed a poster-size reproduction of the portrait. It was followed up by a field trip to the Mia to experience the real thing. As we rounded a corner and “Frank” came into view, Michael, one of my more exuberant students, gleefully shouted in his loudest voice: “FRANK!!!!” It was as if he had been reunited with a long-lost buddy! My heart leapt for joy as I knew my dream for the recognition and appreciation of art by my students had been abundantly fulfilled! To this day, whenever I see “Frank” at the Mia, I hear Michael’s voice announcing the discovery!
Where can I view it at the Mia? “Frank” seems to have an independent streak in where and when he can be found at the Mia. I have visited him in various spots on the 3rd floor with the modern art, in the 1st floor lobby as well as the balcony area of the new wing, and other places. At the time of this writing, he was listed on the Mia website as sadly “not on view.” (I call it MIA–Missing In Action–at the Mia.) Before making a trip to any museum, I highly recommend checking out their website for specific room locations and availability of all art.
Veiled Lady – Italian Sculpture
Veiled Lady (1860). “Ohhh. . . ” “Ahhh. . . ” The voices of my students still echo in my mind when I view this exquisite sculpture! I smile as my mind recalls their physical motions as they move from side to side, attempting to look through her veil from the left, and then the right. One literally feels as if one is looking through stone. Raffaelo Monti, the sculptor, has created an illusion to make us feel as if we can. It is also one of those times when the “Do Not Touch” policy is difficult to obey.
The secret of the illusion is achieved through Monti’s use of tricks of light and polish on the white marble. “On his Veiled Lady, the top of head and shoulders are polished smooth, to reflect light. . . where the veil falls across the face, the marble is less polished. It reflects less light, suggesting the texture of fabric” (artsmia.org). Amazing.
For fans of Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice, this may look familiar. In 1999, “Veiled Vestal Virgin,” sculpted by Monti in 1846, arrived at the Sculpture Gallery of Chatsworth, England, where it appeared in the 2005 film Pride and Prejudice, starring Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen. Recognizing a piece of art in a film, an advertisement, or vice versa, is the cultural literacy I love to see develop in my students! It provides such added dimension to one’s life! It makes art come alive!
Popular in Italy during the 1700s, sculptures such as this of veiled figures were a way for sculptors to display their technical mastery over marble. Italian artists such as Monti and others, revived this tradition in the middle to late 1800s.
Where can I view it at the Mia? The “Veiled Lady” typically resides at the Mia in Gallery 357 with other art of the period.