“Supernatural America” explores our long fascination with the unexplained

Agatha Wojciechowsky, American (born Germany), 1896–1986, and spirits. Untitled, 1963 (detail). Watercolor and crayon on paper. Collection of Steven Day, courtesy the Artist’s estate and Day Art Consulting LLC. Photo: Steven Day

By Robert Cozzolino

This week, Mia’s exhibition “Supernatural America: The Paranormal in American Art” will open — not at Mia, but at the Toledo Museum of Art, in Ohio. The exhibition moves to the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky, before having its finale in Minneapolis next February. What it was like to organize a major loan exhibition during a pandemic could be its own spooky tale. Suffice to say that many powerful guardian spirits helped materialize the project, outwitting innumerable imps, sprites, and pixies that challenged Mia staff in unprecedented ways.

Simeon Solomon was a rising celebrity in the Victorian art world when a sex scandal supposedly forced him into obscurity. The truth is more complicated.

Photo illustration by Eric Helmin

By Tim Gihring

On the night of February 11, 1873, Simeon Solomon is arrested. He’s 32 years old. He’s handsome, with dark red curly hair and a short wispy beard — like Bob Dylan in the late 1960s or Pan, the mischievous god. He has the slight, sly smile of someone about to say something totally inappropriate.

He is an artist, a former child prodigy who has exhibited his paintings at the highest level for…

Celebrating the return of an iconic sculpture with dance

Aparna Ramaswamy dances before the Shiva Nataraja sculpture at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

By Tim Gihring

When the Minneapolis Institute of Art acquired its Shiva Nataraja sculpture, in 1929, there were only a couple others in American museums. The legendary art dealer C.T. Loo had loaned it to the museum with the idea that someone would step forward and make the arrangement permanent. Someone did: Sarah Belle Pillsbury Gale, who lived just across the park with her husband, Edward. It was the first sculpture from India in the collection.

The sculpture depicts the Hindu god Shiva in his incarnation as Lord of the Dance, symbolizing the rhythm of the cosmos — the endless…

How South Asian art evolved under colonialism

The 1,000-year-old Shiva Nataraja (Lord of the Dance) sculpture at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

By Tim Gihring

A couple years ago, Mia received 11 paintings from the series known as the Impey Album, a gift from the collection of Elizabeth and Willard Clark. Lady Mary Impey had moved from England to India in 1773, when Britain’s East India Company was cementing control of the Indian subcontinent through bureaucracy as well as the battlefield, and the company had appointed her husband the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Bengal. The Impeys — far from the front lines, in the relative calm of Kolkata — saw themselves as benevolent and just. …

Robin Wall Kimmerer on the animacy of nature, and how to care for it

By Diane Richard

When Robin Wall Kimmerer was being interviewed for college admission, in upstate New York where she grew up, she had a question herself: Why do lavender asters and goldenrod look so beautiful together?

Her question was met with the condescending advice that she pursue art school instead. But Kimmerer, an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, took her interest in the science of complementary colors and ran with it — the scowl she wore on her college ID card advertises a skepticism of Eurocentric systems that she has turned into a remarkable career. …

The long, surprising history of language in art

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…

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

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…

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

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…

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

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…

Art for traveling without leaving home

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.

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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