Minneapolis Star Tribune



Changing times

New buildings, galleries and staff changes roiled the local art scene.

By Mary Abbe

Staff Writer   

Dramatic transitions marked the Twin Cities visual-arts scene in 2005 as museums and galleries opened or closed, and key staff members arrived or departed. At year's end, the area boasts one greatly expanded and one relocated museum plus at least seven new art galleries and important changes in personnel.

The most significant event was the reopening of Walker Art Center in April after a $130.5 million renovation and expansion project that required closing the contemporary museum for 14 months. The project transformed the museum's 1971 brick facade with a glass and dimpled-metal addition that emphasizes theater, dining facilities and gathering places. Three new galleries debuted with a chic, highly intellectual reinstallation of the Walker's increasingly international collection. That deftly nuanced display was the highpoint of the Walker's exhibition season.

The rest of the Walker's first-season shows were self-consciously cautious, and it remains to be seen whether the museum has the moxie to enliven the place with fresh, engaging younger talents - or even stimulating shows of older ones. Its reverential surveys of modernist stalwarts Chuck Close and Andy Warhol appeared excessively respectful of institutional history and, in the case of Warhol (up through Feb. 26), a little desperate to capitalize on a famous name. Likewise, the much ballyhooed retrospective by Chinese artist Huang Yong Ping (up through Jan. 15) is conceptually worthy but psychologically arid and mystifyingly obscure. Too much lost in translation.

Within weeks of the opening festivities, the Walker began a second transformation as its administrative director, Ann Bitter, returned to consulting, deputy director Richard Flood moved to New York as chief curator at the New Museum, and curator Douglas Fogle decamped for Pittsburgh's Carnegie Museum of Art. By autumn, Walker director Kathy Halbreich had stabilized the institution by promoting several younger staff members and persuading French-born curator Philippe Vergne to return as deputy director. Vergne had been the Walker's senior curator since 1997 but left last spring to head an ill-fated new museum in Paris; when that program fell through he happily resettled in Minneapolis.

The opening of the $5.5 million Museum of Russian Art in south Minneapolis in May was another cultural watershed. It established a permanent home in a handsomely renovated church for a collection of Soviet-era realist and impressionist paintings gathered by Minneapolis businessman Ray Johnson. The museum's still-evolving exhibition program began with an important display of paintings on loan from Moscow's State Tretyakov Gallery of Russian art.

The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, which is finishing construction of a $50 million addition, switched directors this year when failing health forced the resignation of charismatic Evan Maurer after 16 years. William Griswold took the helm this fall, following a brief tenure as acting director of the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Exhibition highlights included lyrical paintings by May Stevens, a popular display of the $6.5 million handwritten St. John's Bible, and "Villa America," a bracing exhibit of 75 lively American paintings from the collection of Minneapolis businessman Myron Kunin that ends Feb. 26.

The year's other must-see exhibit is "Mir Iskusstva: Russia's Age of Elegance," a smart show of gorgeous

early-20th-century Russian paintings at the Weisman Art Museum through Dec. 31.


The local exhibition scene experienced unusual turmoil as two veteran galleries - Kellie Rae Theiss Red House and Shelley Holzemer - closed and seven galleries and artist-cooperatives opened: Bockley, Lonnie Ranallo Fine Art and 321 Gallery in Minneapolis; Griffin Art Gallery in Edina; and Front Room, Oxygen and Evoke galleries in St. Paul.


The year's most memorable gallery shows were: Lauren Greenfield's tough "Girl Culture" at Minnesota Center for Photography, Doug Padilla's exuberant paintings at Gallery Co., and Siah Armajani's poignant sculpture and drawings at Weinstein Gallery (through Jan. 7).




Mary Abbe - 612-673-4431