MIA buys into contemporary art

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Rebecca Belmore’s “Fringe” is one of several contemporary works the MIA is adding to its permanent collection.

It’s a great day for Liz Armstrong:

“I was hopeful, but this goes wildly beyond my dreams and my expectations.”

Armstrong is referring to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts’ decision to acquire 24 pieces featured in the recent “Until Now: Collecting the New” exhibition that Armstrong curated. As the museum’s first Contemprary Art Curator, these acquisitions will seed what’s to become a whole new division of the MIA’s encyclopedic holdings (for more on the exhibition, click here).

The most recent 11 of those items were acquired this afternoon in an Accessions Committee Meeting held at the MIA; collectively they’re valued at $690,500.

This new move to collect contemporary art is mirrored by new, younger faces on the museum’s board. One of those bright young faces belongs to 30 year old Eric Dayton, son of gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton and grandson of longtime MIA trustee Bruce Dayton (Bruce Dayton made his fortune working for his family’s department stores; he and his wife Ruth are largely responsible for the MIA’s vast Chinese galleries).

I grew up coming here with my grandfather, so a lot of the relationship he and I share was time spent here at the museum. My grandfather started collecting with impressionist painting, then Chinese art and furniture. I’ve never felt pressure to follow in his particular footsteps, but he did give me two pieces of advice. First see a lot of art, and develop your own taste through seeing as much art as possible. Second, much better to buy an “A” work by a “B” artist than a “B” work by an “A” artist.

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MIA Trustee Bruce Dayton with his grandson, MIA board member Eric Dayton. Eric Dayton recently gave the MIA a modern sculpture by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei in his grandfather’s honor. The photograph behind them, by Thomas Struth, was added to the MIA’s permanent collection this afternoon.

Since joining the MIA board, Eric Dayton has revived “The Circle,” a social opportunity for young art enthusiasts that involves attending exhibition openings, paying visits to artist studios, and even some hands-on art-making. He’s also helped update the museum’s annual antiques show into what promises to be a hipper, more modern “Design and Antiques Fair “ (happening this weekend).

Dayton says to him the “Until Now” exhibition presented an incredible opportunity for the museum to take a hypothetical question (what might a contemporary art collection look like at the MIA?) and turn it into a reality. And he felt that opportunity was too good to pass up.

This is something that only the MIA can do – to present contemporary art in a historical context. We have this huge historic catalog of art from various cultures, and now to take advantage of that as a context for contemporary art is just really exciting.

Dayton says he particularly enjoys how the contemporary pieces have illuminated the historic works, and given younger people an access point to learn more.

As for Liz Armstrong, she says she’s already planning new installations of contemporary art, and contacting artists to commission works for the MIA.

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