From a distance, Mia’s neoclassical columns are looking very festive. All six have been wrapped from bottom to top with squares of orange, purple and blue.
Come closer and you see they’re life jackets.
The pillars are a work of installation art by Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei called “Safe Passage.” The life jackets were discarded on the beaches of Lesbos, a Greek island, by refugees making the perilous sea journey from Turkey to Greece. There are 2,400 life jackets on Mia’s pillars, for 2,400 people who paid too much for them, strapped them on and climbed into overcrowded boats.
Inside Mia, “Doryphoros,” the classical Greek perfect man, is absent from his usual perch in the Rotunda. The center of the marble plinth where he stands is a jagged hole. Suspended from the ceiling above is a giant metal drum. It’s beating slowly from within, a sound so leviathan-like it reverberates through the museum. The niches in the Rotunda walls are bare, and the frames that once held labels are empty.
Called “Let Us Pray for the Water Between Us,” this is a work of installation and conceptual art. Created by Cristóbal Martínez and Kade L. Twist, aka the arts collective Postcommodity, it comments on the need to protect and preserve our shared sources of water. The booming song honors the Dakota and other indigenous people. The drum and the otherwise empty Rotunda challenge the historical canon of Western art and Mia’s colonial foundations in one fell swoop.
Mia is the first U.S. museum to present “Safe Passage,” which has previously been seen in Germany, Japan and Chile. “Let Us Pray” was commissioned by Mia. Both are here because Gabriel Ritter, Mia’s contemporary art curator, wanted to bring an exhibition called “When Home Won’t Let You Stay: Art and Migration” to Mia, but he also wanted to broaden it and seat it within our community.
Ritter added a third installation, “Living Room,” a space created by Twin Cities-based art collective CarryOn Homes where people can meet, connect, reflect, hang out on handmade pillows and share their stories. He added interviews with people from our community, available as audio recordings on your phone.
Organized by the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston, “When Home Won’t Let You Stay,” which opens Sunday (Feb. 23) in the Target Gallery, is a harrowing response to today’s most urgent humanitarian crisis: the migration, immigration and forced displacement of millions of people because their homes are no longer safe, or no longer there. Its name comes from a poem by Somali-British poet Warsan Shire that begins, “No one leaves home unless/home is the mouth of a shark.”
The exhibition includes more than 40 works by 21 artists from across the globe. “Exodus II” is a pair of suitcases linked by human hair. “Temporary Storage: The Belongings of Juan Manuel Montes” is a large, roped-together bundle. In it are shirts and ties, a soccer ball, a tennis racket, a computer, a quilt. Montes was the first DACA recipient to be deported under Donald Trump’s administration. His image is reflected in a mirror buried within.
“La Mer Morte (The Dead Sea)” is many pieces of blue clothing on a floor, symbolizing bodies washed ashore. “The Crossing” is an 11-channel video installation with stories of LGBTQI+ refugees now living in the Netherlands. “Angel Exterminador/Exterminating Angel” is a gong-like instrument made from a section of the Mexico-United States barrier.
There are photographs of objects discarded by refugees, and thousands of refugees’ faces, and a child of a Bosnian asylum seeker who grows from girl to woman in front of the camera.
“When Home Won’t Let You Stay” must have been tough to live with and install. “It was,” Ritter said. “For me, this is a very personal show. My grandparents and my father were refugees to this country in 1949. They left from Germany. The family was eradicated by the Holocaust. So yeah, it’s really hard, and a very emotional story to tell.
“But I think this is what museums stand for, to have these difficult conversations and share this multiplicity of identities. We are a country of immigrants, but what does it mean to unpack these experiences? What does it mean to show not just the artistic side, but also the personal stories? That’s why it was so important to include what we’re calling the community voices.”
You can see “Safe Passage” and “Let Us Pray for the Water Between Us” for free. Both are outside the Target Gallery. “When Home Won’t Let You Stay” is ticketed ($20/16/free) but not timed. Mia will let you leave and reenter. If you want, you can take a break and look at something cheerful, then come back. Opens Feb. 23 (Sunday), closes May 24.
Tonight (Friday, Feb. 21) through Sunday at Nautilus Music-Theater: “The Golden Ass.” We’ve written earlier about interesting developments in opera in the Twin Cities. One of the most provocative will be on display this weekend at Nautilus, the black-box theater across from the Saints stadium. The 113 Composers Collective will premiere “The Golden Ass,” its modern setting of the Cupid and Psyche myth, as an experimental opera, an ascendant genre that asks you to leave your preconceived notions about opera at the door. A blogger who’s been following the project writes “It may be surprising to see the room arrangement” and “The performers will not act in the ways they might in a traditional opera.” Composed by Tiffany Skidmore, libretto by Patrick Gallagher, directed by Joey Crane; the performers include Quince Ensemble, with Carrie Henneman Shaw as Psyche. 308 Prince St., #190. 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. FMI and tickets ($15/5; 18 and under free).
Friday and Sunday at the Cedar: The 2020 Cedar Commissions. Supported by the Jerome Foundation, now in its ninth year, the Cedar Commissions program gives emerging Minnesota composers time – and money – to make something new. Artists receive $3,500 and a $1,000 production stipend to create and premiere 30 minutes of new music. Friday will include Anat Spiegel’s “My Four Mothers,” Freaque’s “Fury” and Ilan Blanck’s “La Primera Vez Que Me Siento Seguro.” Saturday will feature Tensae Fayise’s “Ye Terrarou Tenfash,” Dua Saleh’s “Strings and Heart Beats” and Rebecca Nichloson’s “Multicolored Musings: Jewels of Love, Loss and Triumph.” Doors at 7 p.m., shows at 7:30. FMI and tickets ($10/$15 two-show pass).
Friday through Sunday at the Trylon: “Downtown 81.” Featuring Jean-Michel Basquiat on the brink of fame, this day-in-the-life film is a snapshot of early 1980s New York street art, music (John Lurie, Debbie Harry, Kid Creole and the Coconuts), fashion, the avant-garde and life on the margins. The Trylon will screen a new 35MM print. FMI including times and tickets ($8). Here’s the trailer.
Saturday at Bethel’s Benson Great Hall: The Sounds of Gospel. Produced by William Pierce, directed by Jevetta Steele, created for Black History Month, this musical anthology chronicles the history and richness of gospel music in song, dance, and drama, from African rhythms to slave work songs and today’s contemporary gospel. With Tonia Hughes Kendrick, Cornisha Garmon, Geoff Jones, J. Michelle Caldwell, Fred Steele Jr., Ashley Commodore, Jackson Hurst, Samia Butler and Jermaine Thomas. 3900 Bethel Drive in Arden Hills. 7 p.m. FMI and tickets ($12-27).
Saturday and Sunday at Northrop: Ballet West: “Jewels.” When Christine Tschida stepped down as artistic director of Northrop’s dance series on June 2019, she had already programmed the 2019-20 season. And what a splendid season it’s turning out to be. (We’re still buzzing from Mark Morris’ “Pepperland” in January.) This weekend’s “Jewels” is a must for fans of George Balanchine and ballet, or anyone who’s curious about Balanchine and ballet. The three sections are each set to music by a different composer: “Emeralds” (Fauré), “Rubies” (Stravinsky) and “Diamonds” (Tchaikovsky). At Northrop, the music will be performed live by an orchestra. “Jewels” was the first plotless three-act ballet; asked what “Rubies” was about, Balanchine once said, “It’s about 20 minutes.” 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. FMI and tickets ($30-87). The performance preview in the Best Buy Theater is always worth attending – we can’t emphasize that enough. 6:15 p.m. Saturday, 12:45 p.m. Sunday.
Sunday at Hamline’s Sundin Music Hall: The Chamber Music Society of Minnesota: Haydn’s “The Seven Last Words of Christ.” Using former U.S. Poet Laureate Mark Strand’s “The Seven Last Words” as text, Lou Bellamy will narrate Haydn’s profound reflection on Jesus’ final utterances from the cross. A transcendent work that begins with a musical introduction and ends with an earthquake, it will be performed by a string quartet led by violinist Ariana Kim. 4 p.m. FMI and tickets ($25/15).