Friday, March 25, 2016


The University of Minnesota was the lucky recipient of a very large legacy from Frederick R. Weisman, a native Minnesotan who moved to California and married the sister of billionaire Norton Simon, made billions of dollars himself in multiple businesses (the man had the Midas touch), amassed a huge modern art collection, and gave most of it away.

The part given to the University of Minnesota is housed in a museum designed by the renowned architect Frank Gehry, and with its stainless steel-coated twisting and turning exterior, it reminds me a lot of the Gehry-designed Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles:
 The side facing the campus is a brick wall, meant to blend in with other buildings on campus, but the opposing side is an abstraction of a fish and a waterfall. Can you see it?
Neither can I, but I love it anyway.

The museum has a lovely setting alongside the river with a great view of downtown Minneapolis:

The angular, airy foyer introduces the museum well:

On the far wall opposite the entrance is this shimmering landscape made of 36,000 plastic sequins by American/British artist Richard Barlow and entitled Pixelated Bromide (2012):
The pieces of the painting "shiver" with the movement of air, giving the work an ethereal, changeable quality.

Barlow was fascinated by the classic photograph below, Trees and Reflections, an 1842 image created by William Talbot of Great Britain. Originally, Barlow was interested in the process used to create this photo, but then he realized that his connection to it was through a JPEG file, which made him think about the fact that the pixel is now the basic building block of photography, which realization led to his re-creation of the image using tiny plastic discs.

James Rosenquist's World's Fair Mural (1964) celebrates the opening of the 1964 World's Fair in New York City. It's interesting to see what was cutting ege in 1964: space technology, cars, fast food, patriotism, and the sexual revolution. What else do you see?

The third piece in the opening foyer is Moutons (Sheep) (1970s) by realist Francois-Xavier Lalanne, a Frenchman, who declared that "the supreme art is the art of living" (not that the quote has anything to do with these sheep):

Note the reflections in the steel arch below. It is named The Sound Between the Light  (2015) and was created by American artist Andrea Stanislav. Look again and you'll see a taxidermied white peacock perched atop the arch. What is it doing there? I have no idea.

The Fruit Tree (about 1930) by American painter Paul H. Winchell has puzzled thousands of critics. Very little is known about either the artist or the painting. The information card next to the painting reads, "This mysterious painting is undoubtedly full of meaning, if only we knew what it was [the way I feel about a lot of art]. . . . It includes an incongruous lineup of characters from children to an elegant couple to workers to a tap dancer."

In Forming in Four Reds (1993-1994), Polish-born American artist Julian Stanczak used color to create the illusion of movement and rhythm within the straight vertical lines. Stanczak's earlier works were the first paintings to which the term "op art" was applied in the 1960s, referring to art that makes use of visual illusions.

Stylistically, this small painting by Albert Bierstadt, well-known painter of the American West, feels very out of place in the Weisman Art Museum, but then I saw it was Minnehaha Falls (1886), and I understand why it was included:

Oak Leaves, Pink and Grey (1929) and Oriental Poppies (1929) by Georgia O'Keefe are typical of her wonderfully close-up paintings of natural objects:

I was drawn to this painting, Two Heads with Yellow Background (1928-1929) by Alfred Maurer, who often painted double portraits like this one. The museum's label asks, "Are these girls twins? Are they mirror reflections of the same person? Do they represent a psychological portrait--a split personality?"

The same man who created the painting above also made this portrait of his wife, Eugenia Maurer (1896-1897) more than thirty years earlier.  Hmmm, do you think his style changed much as he got older?

I was particularly intrigued by an exhibit of African art depicting scenes from the Old and New Testaments. African Expulsion (1968) by South African artist Paulos Mchunu depicts the story of Adam and Eve, Zulu style:

Cain and Abel (1962) by South African artist Azaria Mbatha tells its story from right to left. Cain, on the right, makes his sacrifice from his crops, and the smoke falls to the ground. Abel, in the center, sacrifices from his flock, and the smoke rises symbolically to heaven. On the left, Cain is jealous of Abel and kills him:

My favorite of the African etchings, also by Azaria Mbatha, is this Nativity (1962-79). Again, the story reads from right to left, with an obviously pregnant Mary traveling with Joseph on the right, a much thinner Mary admiring her baby in the center, and the approach of the three wisemen on the left. Note the cow and sheep on the roof of the stable, traditionally the place for angels:

This is only a portion of the museum's collection, but still it isn't a very large museum. What is here, however, is unique and interesting, and a visit just to admire the building is well worth the trip.


  1. I enjoyed this museum, partly because it wasn't large, but also because it had some very fun art.

  2. I love the outside of the museum, and those African pieces at the end. Where they etchings? Ink? Paintings? Something else?

    1. They are "relief prints." I had to look that up. See:

  3. I have published extensively on Azaria Mbatha's prints. All of these prints here (including that by Mchunu) are linocut prints. Linocut printmaking is a form of relief printing.

    1. Very interesting. Thanks for sharing this!