Twin Cities Museums

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From Saturday until Wednesday, I was in the Twin Cities at the Association of Midwest Museum annual conference held in St. Paul, MN.  I met a lot of people, got several new ideas from other institutions and had a wonderful time exploring the various museums around the area.  Some highlights:

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I spent most of Saturday afternoon at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.  They have an encyclopedic collection with considerable strength in American and European painting; decorative arts; and the arts of Asia.  They also have period room and the hallway from one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs, the Little House.  The clock above is the first Swatch ever made, designed for Louis XIV of France.  Of course, once it was strapped to the king’s wrist, it still took two other people to carry around as he walked.  I’m kidding of course, but this beautiful relic is an amazing example of work done for the court of the Sun King and even kept the time for several other countries at once.

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I’m always impressed to see a painting by Severin Roesen, but the example at the MIA is one of the largest known by the artist, which made it especially exciting.  Roesen shows incredibly detail in his still lifes and even hid his signature in the tendrils of a grape leaf.  I love looking for this hidden signature when I come across his paintings at a museum.

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I wish we had a painting by Walk Kuhn in the Swope’s collection.  His work is fascinating to me because of his obsession with the circus theme.  While he is a very talented painter, his work doesn’t fit neatly into any category, so it is often overlooked.  Many people assume Kuhn recruited people from the circus as his subject.  In reality, he designed and created the costumes himself and then had friends and family members pose in them.  Sandy is especially interesting because of the contrast between the lively costume and the stern stance of the tough clown.

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I mentioned decorative arts and would love to have a full set of this china, from Sevres.  Originally a 300+ set, it is now spread among several museums around the world.

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One of my favorite objects ever designed, this chess set was produced by the Bauhaus in Germany, an architecture school that was active from 1919-1933.   Can you tell what makes the set so special?

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I also visited the Walker Art Center (no pictures allowed) filled with wonderful conceptual and contemporary art. There is also a sculpture garden located adjacent to the Museum, where the iconic sculpture by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen is located.  Pretty fabulous, I must say.  But so were a myriad of other things in the garden.

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On the first night of the conference, I visited the Science Museum of Minnesota and had a tour of the fabrication workshops.  They design exhibitions and interactives not just for themselves, but also for other museums around the country.  From the top floor, there are great views of the Mississippi and the river boats on the opposite shore.  They also had an exhibition on the Titanic.  I won’t tell you how it ends.

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The next evening, we had a multiple-stop tour which included the Goldstein Museum of Design and the University of Minnesota.  The primary exhibitions featured fashions inspired by art, with an array of handbags, shoes and gowns.

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In the study room, they pulled several other treasures from the vaults so we could see the scope of their holdings.   One visitor (a museum professional?), stroked a vintage, red Yves Saint Laurent dress from the 1970s like she was at the sale rack at Macy’s.  Of course, she got in trouble and was very embarrassed.   I asked permission before I snapped this photo of the treasures laid out on the table.  I wish it were better and you could see the amazing African textile that is featured at the center.  It is hand drawn and colored.  Wonderfully unique.

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After, we went to the Bell Museum of Natural History.  It’s located in it’s historic building and is almost like walking into a time capsule of natural history museums.  It’s filled with all manner of dioramas depicted mammals, birds and other creatures from around the world.  I personally found it very disturbing, but the casework and decor were an amazing example of deco style.  I didn’t linger, so only have this single image.

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We ended the evening at the Weisman Museum of Art, with its dramatic Frank Gehry design.  Of course,  it was dark so I couldn’t get a good photo.  Lots of treasures inside, including a few of the paintings by Marsden Hartley that are a part of their immense collection.

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The last evening event was at the Minnesota History Center, with it’s huge building and dramatic views of the capital building.

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There was a lot to see, including this fantastic little boat (above) and Prince’s concert outfit from Purple Rain, both part of an exhibition on Minnesota.  Both awesome.

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Great trip, great museums, but glad to be back at the Swope.

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