A museum without walls


Henry Pearson’s “Mochizuki” is one of several works of abstract art from the Minnesota Museum of American Art’s collection now on display in the College of Visual Arts gallery. All photos courtesy Rik Sferra

Just over a year ago the Minnesota Museum of American Art, based in downtown St. Paul, shut its doors. Its annual deficit had grown steadily for years, and despite moving to a street level location in downtown St. Paul, it was not able to draw in the crowds big enough to offset costs.

But that doesn’t mean the MMAA is gone. Instead, it’s transformed into a sort of “museum without walls” under the leadership of new director Kristin Makholm.

Starting tonight, you can see a collection of the museum’s abstract art on display at the College of Visual Arts. According to college president Ann Ledy, MMAA’s exhibition allows the school to expose its students to a wide range of art it doesn’t otherwise have on hand. Ledy says the exhibition will not only provide inspiration, but also start a conversation that will help students to communicate about more abstract ideas and relationships.


George Morrison (1919-2000)

Untitled, 1955

Watercolor on paper

Generation Abstraction: Selections from the Minnesota Museum of American Art features a range of media, including prints, paintings, collages, and sculpture. It features local artists (such as Kinji Akagawa and Eugene Larkin) paired with artists that influenced them (such as Herbert Bayer and Louise Nevelson). The images, combined with the accompanying didactic material, takes you on a wonderful journey through the myriad iterations abstraction can take.


Herbert Bayer (1900-1985)

Untitled, 1968

Acrylic on cardstock

For Kristin Makholm, directing a museum without a home presents a challenge. While she no longer has the costs a building entails, she no longer has the visibility, either. So she’s looking to find new and intriguing venues to show off the collection. This fall, for instance, Makholm will be installing an exhibition of ceramics in the Drake Gallery at Saint Paul Academy. For now she’s taking the educational tack, and it’s a good one. By providing a service that helps the hosting institution, the MMAA can continue to be relevant and engage people in a dynamic conversation, perhaps reaching people it wouldn’t have had it stayed in its old home.