Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Lé'Talk: An interview with Weisman curator Diane Mullin

by Kate Iverson

This Friday, the Weisman Art Museum will host its last official exhibition opening of 2010 before shuttering for a year to make way for the new museum expansion. And while you're still welcome to visit the Frank Gehry-designed art mecca through October, this weekend's relative last hurrah is sure to be a doozy. A roster of 10 all-local artists make up the Ordinarily Here exhibition, a stellar collection of artwork comprised of or based on every day objects and experiences. From Elizabeth Simonson's intricate, mind-boggling wire and cellophane tape installations to Jenny Jenkins' charmingly domestic embroidery pieces that depict local graffiti tags, the exhibit embraces and celebrates commonality in an incredibly uncommon way. Want to check out the exhibit with us? We're hosting our next l'étoile Field Trip at the Weisman this Friday, followed by an uber-secret arty after party. Click HERE for details on the Field Trip!

We chatted with "Ordinarily Here" curator Diane Mullin this week about the exhibit, the expansion, and the Twin Cities art scene...

l'étoile: Over the past year, the Weisman has been producing exhibits based on the art of the everyday. How does Ordinarily Here play into that theme differently than past exhibits?

Diane Mullin: For our 2010-11 investigation of the everyday, we focused on the varied meaning and manifestations of that idea in a number of our exhibitions and programs. In the fall, our exhibition To Have It About You: The Herbert and Dorothy Vogel Collection we presented a recently gifted collection with a special emphasis on how the Vogels made art a part of their of everyday lives. Branching from there we considered other ways in which people, not just collectors, but also museum-goers, artists, readers, and students. do and can make art an ordinary part of their lives. In the new year we presented works from our collection that addressed the idea of the common over the course of the last century and a half. This summer, we are focusing on our immediate artistic community by featuring ten living Minnesota-based artists whose work considers or utilizes the idea of the ordinary. In particular, the works all use a sense of place or context as a key element in the work.

Jenny Jenkins / Risk, 2010 / embroidery

You've focused on local artists for this exhibit, which is not an uncommon practice for the Weisman. Why do you think some of the other big museums veer away from this practice? How deliberate are you in choosing local artists to show?

First, I will say that the other museums in town don't necessarily veer away from exhibiting local artists. I think the manner in which they engage the local art community is in keeping with their particular missions. As a land-grant state university the Weisman is actively involved in keeping and assessing the state's history. And as has become more common with art museums, the Weisman is more actively involved in the presentation and at times production of contemporary work from the local area. From the recent survey of WARM to the exhibition of selections from our vast collection of New Deal art, the Weisman is, as a part of its mission, cataloging, researching, presenting, and offering new interpretations of the history of art here in the state. The choice to feature Minnesota-based artists for Ordinarily Here was entirely deliberate. It was an important part of the idea for the show. It seemed like the perfect ending to the year. The close-up focus on our community in this moment of increasing emphasis on the local--a social trend in which Minnesota is certainly a key if not a leading player--literally brings it all back home.

Adam Caillier / Antler Speaker, 2009 / inkjet print

The Weisman has a huge collection packed away in its vaults! How is the process different when curating a collection show as opposed to a show like Ordinarily Here?

As a curator I would say a major difference is the element of unpredictability and give and take one experiences working with living artists. Contemporary artists almost always want to at least tweak older work and more often would rather present something new in such a setting. While this is exciting, it requires a particular kind of effort and attention. When I draw from that vast store house in the "vault" as you say I have more time to consider, compare, and choose works. However, in all fairness, I must also say here that that vault has yielded its own fascinating surprises that have proven quite fruitful for me over the six years I've been working at the Weisman!

Vince Leo / Becaused / pigmented inkjet print

This Fall, the Weisman will be closing its doors for a year to complete the new expansion! What is being added and what sort of exciting new programming can people expect when you reopen?

Well, while we are keeping some particulars under wraps I can say that there will be new galleries for American art, ceramics, works on paper (which comprises the majority of what's in the "vault"), and a studio-based space for collaborative work. I can also say you can expect to see more interactive interpretive strategies, more new and commissioned work, and more university student and faculty involvement in the galleries.

Building Expansion Project / West Facade / Image courtesy Gehry Partners, LLP

What else does the Weisman have going on through the summer?

We'll have an installment of our WAMplified live music series featuring Minnesota band Solid Gold. That will include a midnight gallery tour with a number of the artists. We will continue our monthly Weekends with the Weisguides program. We'll also present an installment of our WAM Chatter series in September, asking the question: "Do local artists count?"

Val Jenkins / Shreds of Wit, 2010 / graphite on paper

What do you think about the local art scene and how do you think Minneapolis compares to other big art cities in general?

The Twin Cities is renowned for its unmatched support of not only arts institutions but also individual artists. That combined with an increasingly acknowledged globally diverse and smart population, makes this, I believe, a vital nexus for the arts. Capitalizing on both its sophistication and its relative smallness,the Twin Cities can be a wonderfully supportive place to produce, enjoy, and learn about the arts.

The opening party for Ordinarily Here happens on Friday, June 18th from 5:30-8:30pm at the Weisman Art Museum and is free and open to the public. For more info visit

For details on the l'étoile Field Trip to the exhibition plus a secret location after party click HERE!

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