Seeing Minnesota: Minnesota Art and the American Vision

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by Katherine Goertz

Publication Date: Fall 2023

About the Book:

Visualizing Minnesota:

Artists travel from the East to record the sights of the “wild and woolly west.” Art depicting the American Indians reveals a complex and conflicting history. Artists, including Carl Gutherz and Nicholas Brewer, travel to Minnesota to establish careers and set up studios. Photography takes the stage as Minnesota’s most influential medium. Several attempts are made to set up an art school in St. Paul. The Minneapolis Tribune periodically attempts to inspire the citizenry to act decisively to support the fine arts in the city.

The Art of Collecting:

In 1878, a loan exhibition is held in a hotel in Minneapolis, stimulating interest in the visual arts among citizens and collectors. The Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts is founded in 1883. Local collectors build collections of increasingly valuable and prestigious art, using newly available pipelines in the international art market. Society members organize dozens of exhibitions over the next thirty years, taking advantage of the proliferation of mostly European fine art in local collections. James J. Hill’s collection stands as the best in St. Paul.

The American Collector – The Walker Collection:

The most important collector in the Twin Cities, T. B. Walker, starts amassing his collections in the 1870s and 1880s. That collection becomes integral to the story of art in Minnesota and the stories associated with it stretch well into the twentieth century. Walker’s painting “The Woman Taken in Adultery” brings Minnesota into an international arts controversy.

Dear Adventurers:

John Scott Bradstreet becomes the tastemaker of the Twin Cities. Robert Koehler takes on the directorship of the Minneapolis School of Fine Arts and becomes the chief proselytizer of art in Minnesota. The Minnesota State Art Society supports arts outside of the Twin Cities. The Handicraft Guild makes Minneapolis a hub of the American Arts and Crafts Movement. Burt Hartwood forms a wilderness commune and 719 Hennepin becomes an artist collective. St. Paul finally has an art school. Minnesota artists and professional and amateur arts organizations develop what Minnesotan art is and what it means.

Founding a Museum:

The Minneapolis Institute of Arts opens in 1915 with an inaugural exhibition drawing from local donors, national museums, and major US collections. T. B. Walker and the Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts dramatically fall out, a situation with a far-reaching repercussions. Walker builds the free-standing Walker Art Gallery. Local woman Lily Place becomes “our woman in Egypt.”

Modernism in Minnesota:

Minnesota responds to the Armory Show. Art schools in Minneapolis and St. Paul support a growing population of working Minnesota artists. Local art clubs and associations and galleries promote art and controversy. Nudity in art sparks a Minneapolis scandal.

Artists Abroad:

Minnesota artists head to the ateliers of Paris for a European education. The openness and variety of Parisian arts education and 1920s Parisian culture influences the style, techniques, and subjects of traveling Minnesota artists. Other artists, notably Wanda Gág, join up with the modernist scene in New York City. Meanwhile, back home, Minnesota art is having its own dialogue with the revolutionary, and sometimes scandalous, international art world.

Art for the Public:

Regional Director Clement Haupers and the artists of Minnesota turn the WPA Federal Art Project into a success. Art is mobilized for the public good and is promoted as invaluable to the cultural life of the state. Artists and organizations are funded and encouraged to create art to be shown across Minnesota. The Walker Art Center comes back to life.

American Regionalism takes many forms. Artists working outside of the FAP create works with a more complicated view of the world. The Minnesota Artists’ Union mixes art with socialist activism.

Creating the Scene:

Post-war modernism hits Minnesota art. Egyptian art (and many other works) leave the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and T. B. Walker’s collection disappears from the Walker Art Center. Both institutions refocus with a modernist outlook and re-envision their collections and spaces.

Artists are influenced by mid-century modernist schools and styles and create artworks with a Minnesota inflection. Printmaking is an especially important medium in the state’s art scene and Minnesota print artists receive international attention. The Grand Marais Art Colony is founded in 1947.

Claiming an Artistic Voice – Gender, Race, and the Politics of Exhibition:

In the era of the American Indian Movement and the Guerilla Girls, feminist, American Indian, and other historically marginalized groups create their own art and protest traditional art and museums. The WARM gallery is founded in 1974 and becomes part of the history of feminism and feminist art in the United States.

Youth, Outsiders, and Activists:

Underground galleries, artists collectives, and controversial art define the Twin Cities art world in the 1970s and 1980s. The WARM gallery is one of several galleries in the fertile art community of Minneapolis’ Warehouse District. Art takes on a multi-functional performative meaning. The Rifle Sport Gallery takes over Block E and the Walker Art Center’s Sculpture Garden.

About the Author:

Katherine Goertz is the curator/registrar of the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library’s (HMML) Art Collections. She joined HMML in 2016. Goertz received her Bachelor of Arts in Russian History from the University of Minnesota and a Master of Arts in Museology from the University of Leicester, England. Prior to joining HMML, she was a researcher and historical interpreter for the Minnesota Historical Society (St. Paul, Minnesota). She was also on the curatorial staff of the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA), The Museum of Russian Art (TMORA), and was on the collections staff at the at the American Swedish Institute, all in Minneapolis.

In her role, Goertz researches and catalogs the work in the HMML Art Collection, focusing on prints from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries. She also curates exhibitions using the various collections.

In 2016, she curated “Rebirth, Reform, and Revision: Reading the Image During the Reformation.” She curated “Sacred Image, Sacred Text: Reading Russian Icons” and “Mystical Imprints: Marc Chagall, Ben Shahn, and Ben-Zion” in 2020. Lastly, in 2021, Goertz will be the curator of “The American Scene: American Regionalism” in the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library’s art collection.

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