Between March 22nd and 24th, I got to take a trip to Minneapolis with the University of South Dakota’s Art Department and South Dakota State University’s Graphic Design program. To be completely honest, I went impart because I wanted to get out of Vermillion for a couple of days; but getting to spend a couple of days exploring places like the Minneapolis Institute of Art, Walker Art Center, and Highpoint Press.
It’s taken the last week to decompress from everything that we got to see. For the trip – which we had a combination of 30 undergraduate students, graduate students, professors, and a former student – the students got to choose if they wanted to go on the Fine Arts tour or the Graphic Design tour.
For the fine art student tour, it focused – as I pointed out earlier – had a focus on art museums and institutes as well as an artist co-op. The graphic design students, in contrast, visited graphic design studios. Some of the firms that the Graphic Design students got to visit were Mono, Morsekode, Space 150, Six Speed, Imagehaus, Little, and Target’s creative/graphic design studios.
Although it would have been cool to visit these firms, getting to visit was by far more tempting.
The first place we visited was the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA). Although I’ve been to or through Minneapolis a number of times, I’ve usually either just been to the Mall of the America, through the airport, or just through there on my way to Madison, WI.
What interested me in visiting the MIA is how they have a wide verity of exhibits and collections. Yet, I was interested in the Art of Africa and Chinese Art because it’s been interesting studying both cultures through their artwork. Plus, we just finished covering some African artwork prior to trip that I go to view at the MIA.
Kota Reliquary Figure
The first piece of African artwork I saw at the MIA that I recognized was a Reliquary figure made from a Kota artist. As you can read from the image of the Reliquary Figure information, a Reliquary Figure are used as a way to be used to contain or store bones of ancestors.
What made seeing the Kota Reliquary figure is that during History of World Art I class I took last term is how we discussed how with some pieces of artwork, displaying them in museums isn’t how they’re meant to be used. In regards of some art pieces, like reliquary figures, they’re meant to be used as part of certain traditions.
Although this Reliquary figure was on display, and on loan, the MIA also has another reliquary item as part of their collection: Mbulu Ngula. The Mbulu Ngula sadly wasn’t on display, but it sounds like from one of the senior associate curators at the MIA, it’s not uncommon for art museums to borrow pieces from people’s private collections.
Another piece I recognized was a mask from the Sande society. From what I can recall from my art history class, apart of what makes the Sande mask important is that it showcases the importance of the women within this society. And from what I can recall from a class in took back in 2010 in which we discussed China Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, some African cultures are follow more of a matriarchy structure.
Now, I’m not saying that the mask stems from a matriarchy or patriarchy society, but it’s fun and interesting to take a look artwork from a different culture that I have some limited exposure to. This has been a part of the fun learning about artwork from other cultures and getting to see it. This, however, does showcase some of the conflict that art historians face: some pieces like the Sande Mask and the Kota Reliquary aren’t intended to be on display in a museum while other pieces like painting are better suited.
Power and Beauty in China’s Last Dynasty Exhibit
The MIA had an exhibit entitled, “Power and Beauty in China’s Last Dynasty.” This exhibit had a combination of artwork and theater.
One of the reasons why I wanted to see this exhibit is due to how Chinese art is something that has been discussed a fair amount between last term and this term. Also, I haven’t really seen that much Chinese artwork if not no Chinese artwork in person. Plus, since the exhibit isn’t a permeant one.
One of the pieces of artwork on display was a Chinese scroll. What is unique about Chinese scrolls when it comes to artwork is that collectors and owners would add their signatures – also known as seals – to the piece of artwork.
From an art history perspective, or even just the perspective of an artist, it’s weird thinking about some adding their signature or anything else to piece of artwork I’ve worked on. Which was cool to see a piece like this in person. Yet, this showcases how every culture regards their artwork different and has different customs for their artwork.
Another custom that is slightly different for the Chinese is that artwork done on a scroll isn’t intended to be viewed all at once. What I mean by this is that scroll artwork is somewhat like reading a picture book: we see one part of the book as you turn the pages; scroll artwork is very similar: you literally scroll through the piece.
What else was cool about this exhibit is how there were 10 rooms that were structured around different parts of Chinese artwork.
One of the rooms was set up as the court ladies room. Last term during History of World Art I, we read an article that talked about how in these rooms and courtyards, Chinese women and girls would be able to do their daily activities. This could range from visiting each other to making fabric. What’s interesting about this concept is that it seems like how in several cultures, there are specific rooms or spaces for women to work on “women’s work.”
And it seems like in many cultures around the world is that working with fabric is almost always viewed as woman’s art form.
Besides the MIA, the other highlight of the trip, for me, was HighPoint press. The biggest reason: Julie Mehretu’s piece “Emtropia.”
What makes this screen printed and lithograph such an amazing piece of art work is how it has 32 layers of either screen printed pulls or lithograph pulls. Will at HighPoint Press, they showcased it in a flip book format along with the info sheets that went along with it. What was mind-blowing about seeing this print as a flip book is that we got see all 32 layers and it was very interesting and mind-blowing to see each layer.
I know, that didn’t make any sense. Let me remix what I’m trying say: what was mind-blowing about this piece is getting to see how as a screen printer, there is fair amount of creativity that can take place.
Walker Art Center
Probably what I enjoyed most about the trip to the Walker Art Center was the sculptor garden, specifically this one: