Art Restart

Liz Armstrong launches the MIA’s first major foray into contemporary art

The Minneapolis Institute of Arts has collected so few pieces from the past 50 years that Liz Armstrong, its new curator of contemporary art, can practically count them on two hands. On April 16, however, she will begin to change this, opening the museum’s first show of contemporary art, “Until Now: Collecting the New (1960-2010),” and initiating efforts to acquire more modern works.

Why is the MIA suddenly interested in contemporary art?
At traditional museums, we’ve tended to silo our material into groupings like 18th-century art or African art. We’re just now beginning to realize, at the Louvre and the Metropolitan Museum of Art and now at the MIA, the opportunities to help interpret our collections through contemporary art.

For example? The artist Yinka Shonibare makes headless mannequins adorned in 18th-century aristocratic clothes but using African-style fabrics. Through a new program called Art Remix, we’ll put some of these mannequins in our 18th-century salon room, raising questions about where all the wealth of that period actually came from – the answer, of course, being reflected in these mannequins: the start of colonization.

But many people enjoy the MIA because it doesn’t feature much contemporary art. It pains me when people say they don’t get the work at contemporary-art museums. I’m convinced that everyone, in the end, is interested in contemporary art – we all enjoy going to films, for instance.

So what’s your solution? I think the answer is putting contemporary art in a historical context, which I hop will present it in a way that makes people comfortable. When you isolate contemporary art, without all the richness and history of a larger collection, it does feel more remote.