Sneak peek at the MIA expansion

Whittier museum addition to open next June

Another home to the arts in Southwest has been expanded and renovated. After the costly expansions of the Walker Art Center and Children’s Theatre Company earlier this year, the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts recently unveiled its new wing.

Donors and journalists got a sneak peek on Nov. 16; it’s scheduled to open to the public in June of next year. The wing is part of MIA’s $100 million campaign for building expansion, renovation and art-purchase endowment.

The project at the MIA, 2400 3rd Ave. S., increases gallery space by 40 percent. The new wing will be devoted mostly to 20th century art, according to MIA Director and President William Griswold.

Robert Jacobsen, MIA’s senior curator of Asian art, said the increased space for last century’s art is “what our public needs.”

Board Chair Alfred Harrison said the museum would split the $100 million it is raising between expansion and an increase to its art-purchase endowment. He said $75 million has been raised so far.

Harrison said that, to date, the fund-raising campaign had received 32 gifts of $1 million or more, the largest of which is for over $5 million from the Target Foundation, though he declined to say just how much over that amount the local group had given.

Eye-catcher

The expansion, which began in November of 2003, includes 27 new galleries in the 113,000-square-foot wing. In addition, 49,000 square feet of the existing facilities will have been remodeled by June.

When finished, the addition will house 10 galleries for 20th century and contemporary paintings, expanded Native American and Oceanic galleries, as well as galleries devoted to displays of textiles, modern design and contemporary works on paper.

The galleries themselves aren’t particularly visually interesting. “The focus is where it should be – on the art,” Harrison said.

The eye-catching centerpiece, architecturally, is the three-story atrium, with a blue marble base and white columns rising up to a dome at the west end of the neoclassical structure. Michael Graves designed the atrium, as he did the rest of the expansion.

Another eyeball-grabber is the 700-seat reception hall, with its honey-colored, maple-barrel vaulted ceiling.

The new wing also features a classroom and research areas, an art library, an art lab (for conservation and preservation of art in various media), and study centers for the print, drawing and photography departments.

The MIA houses about 100,000 art objects, spanning about 5,000 years of history. It owns paintings by Rembrandt, Matisse, van Gogh, El Greco and other revered masters, as well as significant collections of Asian art, photography, African and American art, Modernism and decorative art.

‘No big box’

Not everyone is pleased with the massive expansion of the MIA, however. Neighbor Donna Moreno has opposed the addition since it was proposed back in 2002. She says that living across the street from the MIA “is like living across from an industrial building.”

She said the “ugly” addition’s ventilation system is loud, and that noisy semi trucks block the street as they maneuver in and out of the loading dock. Plus, she said, powerful new lights next to the dock doors make it feel like she’s caught in the high-beams of an oncoming vehicle when she stands on her front porch. She also said that people are turning their cars around in the driveway, also serving to slow traffic and cause congestion and noise.

Neighborhood opposition to the expansion, she added, was stiff at one time, but has waned. She said she’s still got a neighbor-designed sign in her front yard, proclaiming, “No big box.”

“Some of the people moved away because of [the expansion],” she said. “I’ve been here 30 years, and I don’t know how much more I can take. This is my palace. I own this house, and I left my sign out. I want people to realize this is not OK.”

MIA spokesperson Anne Marie Wagener said that no one at the museum had heard from neighbors in recent months, but that they would be glad to discuss any concerns raised.