Skip to content

Why the Minneapolis Institute of Art is Absolutely Worth Visiting

The Minneapolis Institute of Art seems to be overshadowed, at least to those of us outside of Minnesota, by its famous Twin City sibling, the Walker Art Center. But it shouldn’t be.

Called the Mia, the Minneapolis Institute of Art offers an overwhelming amount of art. Its pieces range in eras, forms, and subjects.

Cloud World by Maynard Dixon, 1925, on display at the Minneapolis Institute of Art
Cloud World by Maynard Dixon, 1925

Like Romantic paintings? No problem. Sculptures? Check. Into design? Mia has you covered. How about ancient Chinese pottery? Yes, that, too.

My fiancé and I came to Minneapolis for a wedding, not the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

But our flight the day after the wedding wasn’t until late afternoon. So we had some time to explore Minneapolis.

This visit was my first to the Twin Cities. Our wedding activities had taken place in the suburbs, and so I wanted to do something in Minneapolis.

My internal debate was between the Mia and the Walker Art Center. After all, it was a beautiful spring day and the Walker has a renowned sculpture garden.

There is an entry fee to the Walker, though. And not knowing how long we could spend in a museum, I chose the free museum.

By the way, did I mention you can visit the Minneapolis Institute of Art for free?

Visiting the Minneapolis Institute of Art

Having heard more about the Walker than the Mia, I had no expectations. And we had no plan.

We strolled in and started browsing the galleries. Quickly I realized we were in a unique museum. For one thing, the description cards accompanying each piece were informative and engaging.

You can tell the difference between something created by a person who loves what they’re doing and someone who treats it as a job. Whoever wrote the description cards for the Mia’s art is someone who takes pride in delivering a top-notch experience to museum visitors.

One example is the card for George Bellow’s painting, “Mrs. T. in Cream Silk, No. 2.” The portrait features an old woman in a wedding gown.

Mrs. T. in Cream Silk, No. 2 by George Bellows, 1920, on display at the Minneapolis Institute of Art
Mrs. T. in Cream Silk, No. 2 by George Bellows, 1920

The piece’s description card begins with, “Yes, that is her wedding gown.”

After giving a little history on how Bellows painted the portrait, the card explains the artwork’s title: “Members of her high society family found the portrait so undignified they insisted Bellows not identify her by name in its title.”

Of course, the art is the main show for the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

And along with having some well-known works by famous artists, the Mia shines a spotlight on artists and art specific to Minnesota. As a first-time visitor to the city, I appreciated this regionalist look.

One way the Mia stands out

But I found the Mia’s treatment of pieces by artists of color the most refreshing part of my visit.

For example, it’s shockingly rare still today to see paintings of people of color in art museums. Just as rare, it seems, is to experience art by people of color.

Or, if you do, you don’t know because the artist’s race and ethnicity aren’t shared stated. This lack of information may come from an OK place.

After all, we understand that a person’s race and ethnicity shouldn’t factor into whether or not they can perform a job. So why call that out when showing an artist’s work?

Renoir by Marcia Marcus, 1968, on display at the Minneapolis Institute of Art
Renoir by Marcia Marcus, 1968

The reason, to me, is that awareness can prevent self-selection.

Being aware of the ingredients and composition of artists whose work we consume can help us make sure we consume art from people of diverse backgrounds.

We don’t have to label an artist by their race, ethnicity, gender, etc. And it doesn’t mean we diminish their work based on who they are.

But it can help prevent us from being blind. It can lead us to experience the art of people whose stories are not our own. That’s powerful.

Sure, it’s OK, if not necessary, to enjoy art that reflects ourselves. (And, as a white American, that’s easy for me to do. There’s no shortage of art that reflects my identity and background.)

But consuming art by artists who are different from us can be illuminating. Some of the most impactful artistic experiences I’ve ever had have come from the work of artists who have little in common with me.

A step in the right (diverse) direction

The Minneapolis Institute of Art didn’t just include some work by artists of color. It celebrated it.

A film exhibit showcased pieces about the black American experience. Multiple rooms featured only to black artists’ work.

Ivory by Cinga Samson, 2018, on display at the Minneapolis Institute of Art
Ivory by Cinga Samson, 2018

And, for each piece, there was an engrossing description card that called attention to how an artist’s racial identity informed and inspired their work.

It appeared to be a cognizant choice by the museum’s curator and staff to knowingly feature work by artists of color.

So often we tiptoe around issues of diversity, particularly when it comes to race. How refreshing to see the Mia distinctly focus on highlight artists of color.

But this is, of course, the opinion of a non-person of color. Who am I to say the Minneapolis Institute of Art is doing an at least passable job of featuring black artists?

And it’s worth pointing out that the vast majority of the Mia is filled with art by non-artists of color.

Still, I recommend visiting the Minneapolis Institute of Art if you’re ever in the Twin Cities. And I’d love to hear about your experience if you do.

Below are a few more photos of art that grabbed me during my visit. Enjoy!