Minneapolis Institute of Arts

In 1883, business and professional leaders in Minneapolis were organizing art exhibits to bring them into the community. They decided to make a permanent home inside what was then the Minneapolis Public Library.

In 1911, Clinton Morrison, the chairman of the First National Bank (US Bank), donated the land where his family's mansion used to sit, and William Dunwoody, partner in General Mills and Chairman of Northwestern National Bank (Wells Fargo) dropped $100,000 as the first donation which pretty much led the way to fill out the $500,000 needed for the new building.

Designed to be an imposing monument, it was only finished to 25% of the original planned space, which allows 4% of the 90,000+ items in the collection to be displayed at any given time.

Affectionately known as MIA (not missing in action), it's home to the largest, most comprehensive Asian art collection in the world.
The actual museum only includes the front center section of the original plan and the wings attached to that.  The outer wings, central section and rear arch were never built

The Arrival

Getting to MIA is kind of a bear, it's not on any major roads and you have to take several turns and twists off of any major highway. I picked up my editor in Minneapolis next to the George Floyd monument (yes sometimes editing has been interesting in that neighborhood) and drove up Chicago Avenue to Franklin Avenue. The income level disparities in Minneapolis can be seen fairly starkly during this drive.

Then I drove west on Franklin Ave to 3rd Ave (lots of avenues in Minneapolis eh?) and into a 1910s neighborhood called Washburn. The mood changes quickly from lower income to bohemian and old money as you head south to the Institute.

Parking is free, and in the winter you get to experience the interesting frigid walk to the entrance.

The Grounds

In the summer, I like parking by the park on the north side and walking across it to the museum for a look at the imposing old entrance. There are also several external pieces of work out here which really makes me think about material selection to survive rain, frost, snow, and other things being outside causes.


The entrance serves both the institute and the children's theatre. I turn to the right and head to the MIA, and well, in I went.

First Floor

The first floor has very limited space that contains light dining, the gift shop, classrooms, and rotating displays. At the time of my visit, it was an African experience setup in Cargill Hall. Things almost feel out of place in the layout on this floor.
You didn't think I'd have a museum on TWR without the shop in it did you? Light fare If you have tons of money, you can have your name around here too
The origin of people, in a very African tribal style I believe this has a lot to do with Christianity, and its impact on Africa, as the exhibit is built out of symbolic pieces of slave ships
Then I was walking around the front of the museum into the classroom area and there was some interesting but somewhat random feeling displays of various items.
Local arts projects which I feel should be more prominently displayed; their location here was unusual to me Seems Uncle Sam has always wanted your money
Tiny room recreations have always fascinated me and the detail needed to make those items so authentically And now apparently we get to go see "the art"

Second Floor

This floor used to be the main floor a long time ago when this entrance was utilized. (It's still very visible, in a totally old-school protective door and entryway type layout). Given the newer way to enter on the east side, it's now the second stop on the tour, and intensely heavy with Asian items.

Growing up in an archaeologist's household, I have a particular mental fight over how items are categorized. I will show you my struggle with Stone Age to Bronze Age Chinese pottery on display at the museum.
Now when you look at Stone Age pottery, from an archaeological perspective, this is a pattern denoting a region and time period.  The discussion around it is, do the images represent the people (cultural) a mystical being (religion) or is it simply for decoration (art) These are probably mystical items. As they improve processes and techniques over the years, things seem to be more about the people and region which becomes cultural
So, as I look at these, this is why I grapple with the definition of art.  Is it representative of emotion or is it art because it's a well-made item indicative of a people?
The Chinese and Japanese focus of the collection is spread out a bit over the east wing and the central section. You pass through this doorway as an entrance to the very immersive area.
Humility brings prosperity.  A reminder to the owner of this home every time they returned Pillows, or headrests, seem exceptionally uncomfortable to me in my feather pillow world
Amazing how gravestones are very similar across so many cultures in this world A reception room for a very wealthy Chinese family I have no idea where the western world got the idea for wardrobes...
Tomb objects, again I would say mystical in intent This is the guaranteed signature proving a message has come from the originator A very muscular and animated Daoist deity
Show off your prize cattle by draping these across their necks Mongol and northern influences, at first shunned, then embraced
As China opened to the world, they started marketing to Europe, especially with perfumes Strangely not a ton of gold is present.  While important, it was not as important as it was to other cultures
The instrument of high pitched Chinese music that at times can be quite a torture to my ears Massive, rare, intricate carvings that make you shudder to think what would happen if you made a mistake near the end
All hand-carved, all from single pieces of jade Personal mirrors, the reflective part was on the other side
Chinese styles of stories drawn over a long cloth bringing you through the experience
Now, I know that's a lot of Chinese art, and this is only a very small sampling of what is on display. We now have to go into the Japanese areas where there is a lot of heavy cultural baggage on "which was better" that has been running in that area of the world for a few thousand years. I don't see it as a valid argument as both took ideas from each other and did their own things and developed specialties.
A very old Japanese book in a display of various types of books.  I wish I could actually open them
Intense realism, hundreds of years before the Western world embraced this Completely hand sewn with the skill and impression of a painting See, all threads, I was not lying.  Is this not amazing?
A Bodhisattva, an individual who had attained complete true enlightenment, gaining the ability to pass on to another existence at will, but decides to remain on our painful mortal coil to help out others.  It was the highest form of self-sacrifice that was envisioned at the time Of course, what else do you think of when contemplating old Japan? Did all of Japanese life center around tea?  Yeah, I think it did
Continuing down the wing there are some very interesting architectural features and Golden Age of America type rooms that I think bring a mood to the museum that is missing from the long galleries.
And we continue the 2nd floor's theme of the ancient world with a smattering of some of the other great cultures.
Super limited Khmer presentations, which if you follow me, you know is my favorite area on the planet
Native art, often neglected

Third Floor

The top floor is devoted more to Eurocentric art and coming into the modern eras. The medieval, Renaissance and masters' periods when perspective came back into vogue. This is also an area where many full room interpretations of the 1600s and 1700s are represented which are pretty cool - to me at least. By this point, I was getting actual eyestrain from all the refocusing, and a bit worn down from the actual walking (I did 3 miles just inside the museum that day). This began to affect my mood and my ability to objectively appreciate art that might be on the edge of my tolerance. I really suggest the mezzanine dining area for a break.
A hall of 1800s time period works The medieval area.  Gothic and dark, as were the times themselves
Looking out from the top floor toward downtown, which is where you should stay when visiting the Twin Cities.  There are several hotels I've reviewed for you to make that decision easier Old English rooms that are intensely dark, helping you understand how royalty back in the day was made up of such unattractive couples
Yes, Impressionism!  Rounding out the experience for me The years of the Dutch Masters and large religiousy paintings
These are apparently part of a series of anthropological sculptures done of people around the world.  Very high quality work And this, 'The Veil', probably my favorite piece in the museum due to its ability to not even look like stone
Finally, as you come back to the east wing are exhibits devoted to the midwestern or Prairie movement, which was pretty formative to the architecture in this area at the turn of the 19th century.
And the master of the woods and natural objects, Frank Lloyd Wright


A world level museum boasting the largest collection of Chinese art in the world. The Walker family patriarch was an insanely rich lumber baron who collected massively on his trips there. The exhibits feature prime pieces from all times and disciplines with rotating displays housed primarily on the west wing. Two dining locations (the sit down place is much more a break from the museum experience, and they serve wine).

You wouldn't find a museum this large or with such a comprehensive collection in a comparably sized city anywhere else in the USA. Also, it's free! Why are you not there already?

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