Thursday, February 1, 2018

Mid-winter Museum Meander

Annual Luminary Loppet on Lake of the Isles
Winters are cold in Minnesota. We’re used to it and make the most of it. Even in winter folks in the Twin Cities walk, commute by bike, and go to the dog park. In winter we skate and ski on the lakes. People ice fish and celebrate the ice shanty as art. Some people even go skijorling on the city lakes–skiing pulled by dogs. Annual events like the Lumiary Loppet celebrate the beauty of cold, dark, and precious light.

In a recent run of sub-zero nights (the longest since the 1890’s…yes, 1890’s) and blizzard conditions accompanying deep-sub-zero daytime temperatures, I took a walk among beauty, surprise, and remarkable views. I visited the MIA (or mia), Minneapolis Institute of Arts. A mere 1.5 miles from my house, the MIA has what feel like miles of galleries and halls on 3 floors across almost 500,000 square feet of space. Its free general admission is a blessing, especially in this weather.

After shedding layers of fleece and down at the coat check, I climbed to the third floor and arrived in Europe and America 1600 – 1900. I started my stroll through some of the 43 galleries covering 1600 – 1900 including period rooms, walking, slowing, reading labels, watching people, eavesdropping (just a little), and resting now and then. As I went, I speeded up and slowed down, pausing for what caught my eye: a writing desk c. 1870 attributed to William Howard an enslaved and later free man; a 19th century Arrangement with Flowers by Georgius Jacobus Van Os; Delacroix’s Convulsionists of Tangier painted from 1837-1838; a sculpture of Diana with a Bow (1890) by Frederick William MacMonnies; and, for good snowy measure, Paul Signac’s Snow, Boulevard de Clichy, Paris, 1886. 
Snow falling on the park and city
My ramble through the 19th century was in some ways much like a city stroll. Views of paintings and sculptures alternated with views of snow falling on trees and shrubs in the adjacent park capped by the city skyline.

A quiet moment in the period reading room

Judging from the traffic near the period rooms, I wasn’t alone in searching out a mid-winter museum meander to escape from the cold. Traffic was thick and punctuated by comments and conversation around the 10-12 period rooms. Maybe configuration of the rooms opening off a long narrow gallery suggested a neighborhood, a casual ramble, and friendly comments to passersby. A family looking into the Duluth Living Room shared its questions with one another and with strangers who were also leaning over the rail. “Who made that furniture, Dad?” “Didn’t we see that lake before?” “Look at that telephone.” “It’s so dark in there.”

MIA’s Living Rooms, temporary installations in selected period rooms, animated the spaces and informed visitor interactions and conversations. As light transformed a 17th century drawing room from day to night, visitors guessed the time of day, shivered at an eerie feel of the room, and imagined they were at the party playing cards. 
Jet-pack powered sisters explore the universe for art
In the Jane Austen Reading Room, I came across a women–a visitor–lounging in a chair, reading, and looking very much at home. She had taken the theme of the next room, Science and Sociability quite seriously. 

Mid-afternoon, the Europe and America 1600 – 1900 galleries and Period Rooms started filling with families with young children. As the second Sunday of the month, it was Family Day. Its theme was, “To the Moon!” Children were wearing the jet-packs they had constructed, carried the lunar landscapes they’d painted, and worked with their families on a Gallery Hunt for art that promised to be, “out of this world.” Families were huddled around maps; children checked labels up close and argued their case for clues to the artwork being described on the hunt. Other children wandered off finding a painting to look at quietly.

When my meander was finished I stood in line to pick up my winter layers. Surrounded by children also waiting for their gear, I heard one child after another talk about what they’d been doing. Some described the clues they’d found; some mentioned children who had helped others put clues together; some relished reliving the moment they found objects in the painting. Then we all left the warmth of the mid-winter museum meander and headed into the cold and snowy north. 

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