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The MIA receives a major infusion of Japanese art; collection now one of nation’s largest

The gift increases the MIA’s Japanese art holdings to 7,000 objects. An exhibition of more than 170 items from the gift will be on view starting September 26.

700 new pieces of Japanese art are coming to the MIA.
Courtesy of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Less than two years after announcing one of the largest gifts in its 100-year history, $25 million in Japanese art from California collectors Libby and Bill Clark, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts has more happy news to share: a major bequest from the storied Mary Griggs Burke Collection, the most important collection of Japanese art outside Japan.

More than 1,000 objects are being divided among the MIA and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where Burke served as a donor, advisor and trustee for many years. The lion’s share – 700 pieces – will come to the MIA, and 300 will go to the Met. Each museum also receives a cash endowment of $12.5 million.

The new gift boosts the MIA’s Japanese art holdings to 7,000 objects, making it one of the nation’s most significant collections. The MIA’s Andreas Marks will be named the Mary Griggs Burke Curator of Japanese and Korean Art, and the museum will host an annual Mary Griggs Burke Lecture. An exhibition of more than 170 items from the gift will be on view starting September 26.

“The Minneapolis Institute of Arts is one of the nation’s principal repositories of Japanese art,” the MIA’s director and president Kaywin Feldman said in a statement. “This bequest of nearly 700 objects, from prehistoric to contemporary times, adds exciting depth to our encyclopedic collections.” Deputy director and chief curator Matthew Welch told the New York Times, “This is a transformative gift. Curators throw that word around, but this is staggering.”

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Mary Griggs Burke was born Mary Livingston Griggs in St. Paul in 1916 and grew up in an art-filled mansion on Summit Avenue. Her mother was a grandniece of Minnesota’s first governor, Gen. Henry Hastings Sibley, and a collector of art and antiques. Her grandfathers made fortunes in lumber, railroads and utilities. After graduating from Summit School, Mary earned a bachelor’s degree from Sarah Lawrence and a master’s from Columbia University; she also studied at the Institute of Fine Arts in New York City. She first traveled to Japan in 1954 and returned more than 30 times. Although she lived most of her adult life in New York City near the Metropolitan Museum, she maintained a lifelong association with her hometown and its cultural institutions.

With her husband, Jackson Burke, she started collecting Asian art in the early 1960s, beginning with ukiyo-e paintings and expanding to include all major schools of painting as well as calligraphy, sculpture, lacquerware, textiles and ceramics. After her husband died in 1975, Burke kept collecting for another three decades. In 1985, the Tokyo Museum hosted an exhibition of treasures from her collection; it was the first time a Western collection of Japanese art had been shown in Japan. Following Burke’s death in December 2012 at age 96, Welch told the Pioneer Press, “She collected very well.”

Courtesy of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Both the MIA and the Met knew the gifts were coming; they learned in 2006 that Burke would leave a significant portion of her collection to the two museums. The MIA in turn named all 15 of its Japanese art rooms the Mary Griggs Burke Galleries of Japanese Art.

Highlights of Burke’s gift to the MIA include ink paintings from Japan’s Muromachi period (1392-1573) showing the bodhisattva Monju by the artist Kichizan Mincho (1352-1431); a 16th-century water jar known as “Burst Bag” from the kilns in Iga for use in the tea ceremony; and a pair of folding screens of hollyhocks and plum trees by the artist Ogata Kenzan (1663-1743).

At the Met, John T. Carpenter was named the Mary Griggs Burke Curator of Japanese Art. “Celebrating the Arts of Japan: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection,” showcasing 150 masterpieces, will be on view there from Oct. 20, 2015 through July 31, 2016.