George Morrison show at the History Center: It’s a must

MinnPost photo by John Whiting
George Morrison’s “Cumulated Landscape,” 1976, wood, 48 x 120 x 3 in. Collection Minnesota Museum of American Art.

The Minnesota History Center may not be the first place you think of when you’re looking for a major exhibition by an important American artist. But from now until April 26, it belongs among your top three. Together with the MIA’s lavish 100th Birthday history lesson “The Habsburgs” and the Walker’s introspective 75 Years shows, “Modern Spirit: The Art of George Morrison” at the History Center is a must.

A key Native American modernist and a member of the Grand Portage Chippewa Band, Morrison was born in 1919 in an Indian fishing village near Lake Superior. He died in 2000 at Red Rock, his home on the Grand Portage Indian Reservation. He came of age as an artist in New York City in the 1940s, where his friends included Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline. Morrison studied at the Art Students League in New York, went to France on a Fulbright, and taught at the Rhode Island School of Design and the University of Minnesota. In 2004, his work appeared in a two-person show with Allan Houser that helped inaugurate the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

Leave any notions of what Native American art is, isn’t or should be at the door. You won’t see feathers or beads, war bonnets or ponies. You will see impressionism and expressionism, cubism, surrealism, abstraction, representation and color – lots of color. You’ll see paintings, drawings, prints, wood collages, metal sculptures and a monumental totem. You’ll start seeing horizons everywhere. The horizon of the Lake Superior landscape is an almost constant presence in Morrison’s work, grounded and reassuring.

Organized chronologically, “Modern Spirit” includes nearly 80 pieces from Morrison’s long career, from the 1940s into the 1990s. Some were borrowed from other museums, galleries and private collections, but most are from the Minnesota Museum of American Art, which has more Morrison art than any collection in the United States but no place of its own to properly show it. (They’re working on that. Currently MMAA has what it calls a “project space” in the Pioneer Endicott building, but will one day have serious exhibition space there.)

At an opening event last week, we spent a lot of time in front of “Plant Variations” (1959), a riot of bold colors, and “White Painting” (1965), a textured, dimensional layer of white over a riot of bold colors. And “Cumulated Landscape” (1976), a wood collage that looks a bit like farmland in late fall, when all is sere, viewed from high in the air. And “Untitled” (1976-78), a lithograph on black paper printed (we think) from bits of wood – a print of a wood collage. And “Chiringa Form (small #1)” (1987), quietly beautiful in purple heart and padauk wood.

“Modern Spirit” toured the Plains Art Museum in Fargo, the National Museum of the Amerian Indian in New York, the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art in Indianapolis, and the Heard Museum in Phoenix before coming here. A catalog, “Modern Spirit: The Art of George Morrison,” written by curator W. Jackson Rushing III and MMAA executive director Kristin Makholm, was published in 2013 by the University of Oklahoma Press and won a Minnesota Book Award. “The Art and Life of George Morrison: A ‘Beyond the Book’ Special,” a documentary based on the book, airs Sundays, Feb. 22 and March 1, on TPT MN. Exhibition-related events include tonight’s lecture, “George Morrison, A Life in Art” by his collaborative biographer, Margot Galt. 7 p.m. in the History Lounge, free. (The History Center offers free admission from 5-8 p.m. Tuesdays). FMI.

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Five reasons to attend Arts Advocacy Day this Thursday, Feb. 19: 1) Because our legislators will decide in the next few months how much arts funding will be available for the next two years. 2) Because our legislators need to hear directly from their constituents that the arts are important to our lives and our economy. 3) Because there’s strength in numbers. 4) Because it’s fun to hang out with like-minded people. 5) Because Arts Advocacy Days lead to increases in state arts funding. The Legacy Amendment, the largest arts and culture amendment in American history and the envy of all 49 other states, was passed on Arts Advocacy Day 2008.

So, how to get involved? Register here. (The official deadline was yesterday, but we’ve been told you can register today.) Show up early Thursday at the History Center. Check in and pick up a schedule of legislative meetings and a list of your teammates. Go to the 3M Auditorium to hear the message of the day and meet up with your team and team leader. Go to your legislative meetings in the state Capitol, state office building or transportation building. Meet your legislators, share the message of the day and tell them how important the arts are to Minnesota. Then go to the Ordway for a 3 p.m. press conference about “Creative Minnesota,” the new economic impact study of the arts in our state.

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Twin Cities theater legend Don Stolz has died after a lifetime at the Old Log Theater in Excelsior, the oldest continuously run theater in the country. Stolz was 97. He took over the rustic playhouse in 1941 and ran it – as producer, director, playwright, actor, ticket-seller, hand-shaker and giver of curtain speeches – until he and his family sold it in 2013. Stolz had been working there for more than 20 years when the Guthrie was still in short pants. He employed thousands of actors, and millions of people saw his plays, which were mostly crowd-pleasing comedies. When you went to the Old Log, you knew what you were getting, and that’s precisely why you went. David Hawley wrote about Stolz and the Old Log for MinnPost in 2008.

The picks

Tonight through Sunday at the Orpheum in Minneapolis: “Pippin.” This new production of an old favorite won four 2013 Tony awards including Best Musical Revival. The chorus is a troupe of circus performers. FMI and tickets ($39-$134). Ends Feb. 22.

Wednesday at the Amsterdam in St. Paul: Kevin Puts. The third season of the Composer Conversation Series spotlights the Pulitzer Prize winning composer of “Silent Night” and the composer of the new opera “The Manchurian Candidate,” which premieres at the Ordway in March. Classical MPR’s Emily Reese hosts. 7 p.m. Free, but reservations are required.

Wednesday at Kolman & Pryor Gallery in the Northrup King Building: Panel Discussion: “Color: What Is It Good For?” With Star Tribune art critic Mary Abbe and painters Jim Denomie, Betsy Ruth Byers and Jil Evans. The facilitator is Dr. Christina Schmid, assistant professor of art at the U. 7 p.m. Free. Before and after, you can view Byers’ current exhibition at the gallery, “Indeterminate Present.”

Wednesday at the U’s Coffman Union Theater: Lynn Nottage Reading and Discussion. Nottage won the Pulitzer Prize and an Obie for her play “Ruined.” Another Nottage play, “By the Way, Meet Vera Stark” is on stage now at the Penumbra. Nottage’s appearance here is the U’s annual Esther Freier Endowed Lecture in Literature, with a twist: It will be a reading from her new play, “Sweat,” with local actors, followed by a Q&A led by Penumbra’s Sarah Bellamy. Coffman Union, first floor. 7:30 p.m. Free.

The weekend

Friday at the Weinstein Gallery in Minneapolis: Opening reception for “Alec Soth: Songbook.” More than 20 new large format black-and-white photographs focus on community life in the United States and the longing for connection. 6-8:30 p.m. FMI. Free.

Friday through Sunday at the Lab Theater in Minneapolis: “Captured Currents (Bodies of Water).” A collaboration among jazz pianist Butch Thompson, choreographer Sarah LaRose-Holland, and nature photographer Craig Blacklock. The music and dance are inspired by Blacklock’s landscapes taken near bodies of water. FMI and tickets ($15-$30).

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