Art becomes a record of history at the Minneapolis Institute of Art's two September exhibits

All photos courtesy of the Minneapolis Institute of Art

By Lianna Matt

Art is about expression, but many times it is also about immortalizing what inspired that expression, be it an event, a feeling or a person. At the Minneapolis Institute of Art—affectionately called Mia—its two September exhibits ask how much a recorded moment can tell you.

In Mia’s Target Galleries, “Eyewitness Views: Making History in 18th-century Europe” is bringing in centuries of history in the form of more than 40 view paintings. View paintings were commissioned by princes, popes and ambassadors to immortalize history whether the painter was there or not, and this traveling exhibit is the first to highlight their role in recording history. You will find disasters, festivals, battles and glimpses of city life all put into pigment by the likes of Canaletto, Bellotto, Robert, Panini, Guardi and more. The eruption of Mount Vesuvius and the Carnival of Venice are just two of the momentous occasions in the gallery, but not all of these historic moments escaped without a little subjectivity and liberality. How else can you explain the very visible Holy Ghost painted into Batoni’s piece of Pope Benedict XIV?

A photograph from Anne Collier's exhibit, "Women with Cameras (Self Portrait)."

“Self Portrait 6” from Anne Collier's world premiere exhibit, “Women with Cameras (Self Portrait).”

No matter how tinted reality became in the view paintings, the painters’ grandiose efforts make it a little strange to slip into L.A. artist Anne Collier’s exhibition, tucked away in Gallery 370. The exhibition, “Women with Cameras (Self Portrait),” is also about recording a moment in time, but it’s much more narrowly scoped. Instead of the expansive canvases and feelings of Eyewitness, this exhibit whittles down the art of recording history to the artist, the split second of a camera flash, and those close enough to see the result.

Although “Women with Cameras” consists of self portraits of women dating from the 1970s to the early 2000s, it seems a bit of a disservice to call the slide show exhibit a collection of pre-digital selfies. They do not have social media’s polish or virility, and because the photos were plucked from flea markets, thrift stores and online auction sites, they have a melancholy air and carry a juxtaposition of intimacy and distance. The photographs were made to remember, but without Collier’s intercession, they would be lost in obscurity.

Compared to the landscapes and full scenes of “Eyewitness Views,” “Women with Cameras” can seem straightforward and frank. But how many photos did each woman take of herself, fixing her hair or the lighting? And conversely, what did the view painter embellish to fit his vision?  While the two exhibits opening this month at Mia are vastly different in medium, time period and subject matter, the way they illustrate history’s subjectivity asks you how much you can really know the past and the world around you.

While Mia is one of the Twin Cities’ two pinnacle art museums—the other is the Walker Art Museum, whose contemporary art and events annually bring in more than half a million people—museums like the Minnesota Museum of American Art and small galleries like Intermedia Arts have changing exhibits as well. For those who want to get really local, make sure to explore Northeast Minneapolis, our arts district—we haven’t even begun to touch on the myriad of galleries that populate it. As the season goes into fall, many exhibits change over, too, so make sure to catch some of the major ones coming and going:

Lorenzo Quiros, Spanish, 1717-1789, The Decoration of the Calle platerias for the Entry of Charles II in Madrid, c.1760. Oil on canvas

“The Decoration of the Calle platerias for the Entry of Charles II in Madrid” by Lorenzo Quiros, c. 1760, is a part of “Eyewitness Views.”


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