The long, surprising history of language in art

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Detail of Incantation for Six Voices by Scott Helmes; publisher: Hermetic Press, Minneapolis, 2001. Collection of the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

By Stephanie Mann

I have always been fascinated by language, how we use it not only to communicate but also to express ourselves, to illustrate complex ideas. More than just a function of society, language is an art form all its own, in literature, film, theater, and music. Indeed, it even has a surprisingly rich history in visual storytelling, as seen in the work of artists across the world. In Chinese literati culture, painting and verse went hand in hand. In Islamic culture, calligraphy of the Qur’an is an art in and of itself.

Here are some examples of literature in art at Mia, including a work by Harriet Bart, who is featured in the exhibition “Harriet Bart: Artist Books + Works on Paper,” on view virtually and in-person at Mia through January 17. …


Journalist and undocumented immigrant Jose Antonio Vargas on the power of storytelling

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Jose Antonio Vargas

By Stephanie Mann

Jose Antonio Vargas is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and leading voice for the human rights of immigrants. He’s also an undocumented immigrant himself, which he revealed in 2011 in a groundbreaking essay for the New York Times Magazine. That same year, he founded Define American, a nonprofit that counters injustice and anti-immigration rhetoric by consulting on film and television projects and producing its own.

Mia recently hosted Vargas for a virtual talk, where he expanded on his story and asked us to consider the complexities of immigration — including the motivation for moving on in the first place. In his opening, he remarked that he isn’t often asked to speak at art museums, but he believes that “more than ever, we need storytelling, we need art, to transcend politics and policies and insist on our shared humanity.” …


How ego and emulation created the world’s most famous artist

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Back to back portraits of an old man wearing a fur cap: at right is Jan Lievens’ original (collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art), at left is Rembrandt’s copy (collection of the Minneapolis Institute of Art).

By Tim Gihring

In the 1620s, Rembrandt van Rijn and Jan Lievens were both in Leiden, the small town in the southern Netherlands where they had grown up. They were both teenagers, Rembrandt just 15 months older than Lievens. They had apprenticed with the same master painter. They shared models and possibly a studio. They even modeled for each other. They were friends and rivals — frenemies.

And for a long time, they copied each other. Lievens was inspired by Rembrandt, for example, to etch a series of imagined portraits of men in fanciful dress. Rembrandt, in turn, copied all four of them. When Lievens experimented with scratching paint, using the butt end of his brush, Rembrandt copied that, too. Back and forth, they imitated each other’s work — Samson and Delilah, Christ on the Cross, The Raising of Lazarus — with Rembrandt apparently backdating some paintings to suggest he was the leader, not the follower. …


Artists have historically helped us confront crises — can they do it now?

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First Aid Kit #3, Joshua Huyser, 2019. Watercolor. Collection of the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Gift of funds from the Paul and Sheila Steiner Charitable Trust. © Joshua Huyser

By Gretchen Halverson

In the early 1900s, the sociologist Lewis Hine taught himself photography and began documenting the thousands of immigrants arriving every day in New York Harbor. Eventually, he turned his camera on the conditions of child workers, sometimes posing as a fire inspector or Bible salesman to get into factories. (This work is now featured in Mia’s Just Kids exhibition.) Over the next hundred years, other photographers would follow his lead in capturing the social impact of major turning points in history, from Dorothea Lange during the Great Depression to Margaret Bourke-White during World War II to Danny Lyon during the Civil Rights Movement. …


Art for traveling without leaving home

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Rockaway Beach, N.Y., circa 1948. After Harry Glassgold; Publisher: Regional Art Editions, Detroit.

By Tim Gihring

If you’re staying close to home this summer, you’re not alone — and you’re not without options. Call it a vicarious vacation or an armchair adventure, or maybe this is how you prefer to travel, without the hassle of the real thing. From the collection at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, here are 10 places to escape to in your mind.

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The Jetty, Sennen Cove by John Edgar Platt, 1921–22.

The thatched-roof cottage is now a vacation rental and the black roundhouse is full of souvenirs. According to TripAdvisor, the top three things to do here on the southwestern tip of England are surfing, hiking, and more surfing. But in the 1920s, when this woodcut print was made, the cove was full of fishing boats, pulled ashore by a winch in the roundhouse. …


How Kehinde Wiley honored the forgotten “father of aviation”

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Kehinde Wiley based his painting Father of Aviation II on a statue honoring Alberto Santos-Dumont.

By Tim Gihring

In 2009, the painter Kehinde Wiley flies to Brazil. He’s there to make some portraits, in his signature style: painting brown-bodied men in the heroic manner of old European portraits — like Napoleon on his horse. He’s the artist selected by former President Obama for his official portrait.

So he goes looking for some models. He’s looking in the favelas, the poor neighborhoods in the hills around Rio. And he finds a couple young men who agree to pose.

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The monument to Alberto Santos-Dumont at the Rio de Janeiro airport in Brazil.

Now, Wiley had seen a heroic statue in Rio, of a naked man with wings. He looks like Icarus, the impetuous Greek god who flew too close to the sun. …


Kenneth Tam on pandemic life and the rise in anti-Asian racism

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By Gabriel Ritter

The work of Kenneth Tam takes shape as video, sculpture, and photography that challenges our received ideas and societal norms regarding the male body as it relates to physical intimacy, sexuality, vulnerability, and private ritual. His practice involves the participation of strangers — often recruited through online message boards and forums such as Craigslist and Reddit — in situations orchestrated by the artist that range from tender to awkward to absurd. …


An archive of zines reveals the raw, uncensored voices of the punk, queer, and DIY countercultures

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Top, from left: Hakim Bey et al., This Inheritance Must Be Refused, 1994 (2018.86.1109); Jane LeCroy, Treasure of Love, 2001 (2018.86.1136); Maggie Wrigley, SQUAT~TER, 2011 (2018.86.939); Sabrina Chapadijiev, Cliterature, 2004 (2018.86.195). Bottom, from left: Aaron Cometbus, Cometbus #55, 2013 (2018.86); rOBNOXIOUS, tHE fALL oF aMERICA, 1999 (2018.86.1027); Artist unidentified, A Night of Terror, date unknown (2018.86.1484); Dylan Graham, Heroine, 2003 (2018.86.1347); Andre Denee, Lights Very Village, 1994 (2018.86.1362); Amber Gayle, Transient Songs, 1995 (2018.86.1561).

By Ian Karp

In 1988, after a life of relocation, the punk artist, writer, teacher, activist, and squatter Fly Orr — known as Fly — landed on New York City’s Lower East Side. Soon after, she moved into an East Village squat (an illegally occupied building, usually neglected, vacant, or abandoned) and became involved with the community art space ABC No Rio, a center for performance and squatter arts and activism. There, Fly dove into countercultural scenes on the Lower East Side, surrounded by other musicians, artists, activists, and squatters.

In addition to her work as a comics illustrator, muralist, and squatter activist, Fly was an archivist, collecting printed matter and other artwork that circulated in the underground communities she had been part of since the mid-1980s. After 35 years of accumulation, Fly’s collection had grown to more than 1,900 art objects from around the world, spanning the 1980s to the present. Fly’s collection consists mostly of zines, a type of self-produced publication that has long connected the various strands of the underground. …


These marble masterworks became a Victorian phenomenon, but they were much more than pretty faces.

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The Veiled Lady, made around 1860 by Raffaelle Monti, now in the collection of the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

By Tim Gihring

On October 12, 1846, William Spencer Cavendish dropped by the studio of Raffaelle Monti, in Milan, Italy, to inquire about a lady. Cavendish was the 6th Duke of Devonshire, widely known in England as the “bachelor duke.” He had eight of the finest homes in Britain. He had 200,000 acres of British soil. He had a banana named after himself — the Cavendish, cultivated in his gardens and soon to become the world’s most popular variety. And now, at 56, he wanted a certain young woman, demurely and paradoxically hiding behind a veil of stone.

Veiled figures, usually carved from marble and suggesting a face or body partly obscured behind fabric, had first become popular a hundred years earlier, in the 1700s. The effect is an illusion, of course, enabled by translucent marble and a sly composition. It is no more real than a lady being sawed in half onstage, a kind of parlor trick for late Baroque sculptors to show off their chops. But as illusions go, it’s mesmerizing, and sculptors competed to put all manner of subjects under “see-through” garments, from the Virgin Mary to Mary Magdalene. Cavendish was friends with Antonio Canova, a fellow bachelor and popular Italian sculptor, who adored a veiled Christ carved by Giuseppe Sanmartino in 1753 and declared that he would have given up 10 years of his life to create such a masterpiece. …


Let Challah Ease Your Pandemic Anxiety

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The Sabbath Now by Norma Minkowitz, 2011. Collection of the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

By Nicole LaBouff

Maybe you are still getting through this pandemic by distractibaking. Or maybe you have decided that bread is over and have turned to knitting, crochet, and other crafts as a way to calm your nerves. If either — or none — of these applies, you might want to consider braiding challah, a practice that brings the culinary and fiber arts together in one therapeutic pastime that lets you have your craft and eat it too. You might call it craftibaking.

If you are new to the joys of braiding challah, some bite-sized tutorials courtesy of Rabbi Alexander Davis from Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park will get you started. I met Rabbi Davis last year as I planned the display for a newly acquired sculpture, The Sabbath Now (shown above), which is still on view, in the dark, behind the closed doors of Mia. This work is the creation of fiber artist Norma Minkowitz, best known for her transparent crochet sculptures. The Sabbath Now, along with its companion, The Sabbath Then, which belongs to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, explores the tradition of the Jewish Sabbath from ancient times when it was associated with Temple worship to the domestic family meal that continues today. …

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Minneapolis Institute of Art

From Monet to Matisse, Asian to African, ancient to contemporary, Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) is a world-renowned art museum that welcomes everyone.

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