Hello, James Jerome Hill’s “The Striped Skirt.” And Paul Manship’s “Group of Bears.” And Louise Nevelson’s “Untitled (Abstraction).” And Thomas Hart Benton’s “Shocking Corn.”
Welcome back. Where’ve you been?
In storage, on tour and mostly unseen for years – along with thousands of other works – as the Minnesota Museum of American Art moved around, experienced homelessness, faced its almost certain demise and rallied in a way all similarly threatened arts institutions should study very closely.
It’s a remarkable story that begins with the organization’s founding in 1894 as the St. Paul School of Arts, continues through seven name changes and a dozen more locations, and has a happy ending that’s also a beginning.
On Sunday, Dec. 2, the M (for short) will open the doors to its first permanent home, a large part of the first floor of the 130-year-old Pioneer Endicott complex in downtown St. Paul. After a year of adaptive reuse construction, the M’s more than 16,000 square feet of public space include some 6,000 square feet of gallery space. That’s where you’ll find the old favorites named above and 40 more works chosen for the opening exhibition, “100 Years and Counting: Selections from the Permanent Collection.”
There’s an inviting new lobby, an interior courtyard with 24-foot ceilings and a sky bridge, and a Center for Creativity with expansive arts education and community space.
And this is just Phase One. Phase Two will begin in 2019, adding another 12,000 square feet of public space, mostly galleries. Factor in another 6,000 square feet of office and prep space, and sometime in 2020 the M will occupy just over 34,000 square feet of the Pioneer Endicott.
The near-completion of the $23 million project is a far cry from where the M was in June 2009, when Kristin Makholm was hired as its director. She was the sole employee of a museum whose only address was a PO box. All it had was an art collection and eight board members who thought the collection mattered. Makholm raised awareness by touring important pieces around the state. She signed a two-year lease for a small storefront gallery space in the Pioneer Endicott. She found support.
And now St. Paul has an art museum.
“The biggest thing is, we’re back,” said Christopher Atkins, curator of exhibitions and public programs, at a preview earlier this week. “Not back in a quick sense, but as an organization with this hundred years or more of history as a cultural institution in St. Paul. We’re back with a real museum, real spaces, and a real place to feature art.”
The building itself is a museum of its own history, a fact acknowledged by labels and a timeline on the walls. Part of the M’s space was once an exterior alleyway between the Pioneer Building and the Endicott Building. Dings in the walls show where trucks scraped by. The floors are a pastiche of tiles, terrazzo and concrete. Brick arches soar, uncovered during construction.
The art in “100 Years and Counting” is arranged in part to show relationships and connections. Shapes and colors of different pieces play off and complement each other. A work of fiber art by Nancy MacKenzie hangs near a ceramic bowl by her husband, potter Warren MacKenzie. Frank Bigbear’s multi-panel collage “AIM and Art” features photographs cut from a book by Dick Bancroft, the photographer of the American Indian Movement. The work by George Morrison on a nearby wall was once owned by Bancroft.
“It’s a collection show that focuses on our ‘greatest hits,’ if you will,” Atkins said. “Some of these pieces haven’t seen the light of day for a long time. They’re coming out into a whole new century.”
The oldest work on display is probably Robert Arneson’s “Three-Spouted Vase,” which the museum acquired in 1959. The newest is Sheila Pepe’s large site-specific fiber art installation “Softly … Before the Supreme Court” in the M’s airy sculpture court.
Sunday’s opening day, free and open to the public, includes a ribbon-cutting ceremony, hands-on activities for all ages, live music and dance performances in the galleries. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. FMI. Future events include tours led by the M’s curators, artist talks, artist takeovers and a whole clutch of classes: painting, weaving, embroidery, drawing.
Opens tonight (Friday, Nov. 30) at the Park Square: “Marie and Rosetta.” Frank Theatre’s Wendy Knox will direct the regional premiere of a play-with-music by George Brant that was born at the Playwrights’ Center. Jamecia Bennett is Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Rajane Katurah Brown her young protégé, Marie Knight, and Gary Hines (Sounds of Blackness) is musical director in an evening that includes spirituals (“When You Were There When They Crucified My Lord?”) and nonreligious songs (“I Want a Tall Skinny Papa”). Bennett and Brown were last on stage together in CTC’s “The Wiz.” On the Park Square’s proscenium stage (“Triple Espresso” is on the Boss.) 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($25-60). Closes Dec. 30.
Saturday at the Walker: Ragamala’s Fourth Annual Ode to Navarathri festival. This event bounced around a bit before landing at the Walker in 2017. Ragamala, the locally based and internationally known Bharatanatyam dance company, puts on a warm and welcoming party based on a South Indian tradition beloved by company founder Ranee Ramaswamy: a celebration of art and life. The day includes community performances, workshops in yoga, Bharatanatyam, and Kolam rice flour designs, and a documentary film about Navarathri shindigs in the Twin Cities. 10 a.m.-10 p.m. FMI. Part of the Walker’s Free First Saturday.
Saturday at the Parkway: Nate Wood’s fOUR with JT Bates Solo. Bates, who just announced the end of his 20-year-old JT’s Jazz Implosion series, will open with a set of new drums + electronics music conceived for this event. Wood, a one-man band of musical multitasking, will also perform solo, layering drums, synths, electric bass and voice live with no overdubs, click track or pre-recorded backing tracks. FMI and tickets ($15/18).
Saturday and Sunday at the American Swedish Institute: Julmarknad: Christmas Market and Festival. The ASI is beautiful year-round, but it truly sparkles during the holidays. This annual celebration has it all: live music and folk dancing, storytelling, Norwegian cattle calling, a meet and greet with Santa, and a thoughtfully curated market – not too big, not too small – featuring handmade items for sale by more than 40 local and regional artists. Bring the kids and make some crafts; visit the FIKA bake sale for cardamom bread. Julmarknad is included in museum admission, so while you’re there, be sure to see the “Handmade Holidays” exhibition – five lavishly appointed holiday rooms showcasing traditions, decorations and handmades from Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and this year’s Czech American guests. The whole place is made for wide-eyed wandering. FMI.
Tuesday at Northrop: Nathan Laube in Concert: First solo recital on Northrop’s restored pipe organ. When HGA Architects and Engineers transformed the historic Northrop Auditorium from a big barn to a beautiful arts venue, they left room for the 90-year-old Aeolian-Skinner Opus 892, one of the great concert-hall pipe organs in the U.S., without knowing if it would ever be reinstalled. The organ was in bad shape, in pieces and in storage. Several years and $3.2 million later, it’s back and roaring. In October, the organ was featured in a pair of celebration concerts with the Minnesota Orchestra. On Tuesday you can hear it on its own, in a concert co-sponsored by Northrop and Foley-Baker Inc., the Connecticut company that brought it back to life. Internationally renowned concert organist Laube will put it through its paces with music by Liszt, Wagner and Reubke, and a world premiere by Henry Martin commissioned by Classical MPR’s “Pipedreams.” 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($21-10).