The Mn Twins: Bly and Rowan Pope

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Opening February 17, the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) presents “The Mn Twins: Bly and Rowan Pope”—the first museum exhibition of Minnesota artists and twin brothers Bly and Rowan Pope. Using mostly pencil, both artists create photorealist works of extraordinary detail and psychological depth. Each dedicates hundreds—in some cases thousands—of hours to a single work. On view through October 28, 2018, the exhibition features a selection of drawings, paintings, and works in progress.

Although the brothers use the same medium (graphite) and similar photorealist technique, their subjects and approaches are different. Bly concentrates on portraiture and nature. He scrutinizes the ordinary, overlooked, and seemingly banal to show such details of life are worthy of appreciation and artistic expression. Rowan focuses on narrative to examine a range of human emotions, a path that can lead to a chilling view of humanity. In their hyper-vivid depictions, both create haunting, memorable, and at times disturbing works of art.

“The art of Bly and Rowan Pope is a marvel,” said Rachel McGarry, PhD, associate curator of prints & drawings at Mia. “It is striking to watch people encounter their work for the first time. The drawings elicit wonder in their hyperrealist technique; it is easy to forget you are looking at something made by a pencil. These are not purely demonstrations of virtuosity, however. Each artist takes on big themes—aging, existence, violence, human nature—to create powerful, memorable works of art.”

Exhibition highlights include two works recently acquired by Mia, one from each artist. Bly’s monumental portrait Maryanna (2008–11) depicts his grandmother at age 90. His detailed drawing captures her aging face—inspecting her wrinkled flesh, coarse hair, ailing eyes, and composed demeanor—to reveal beauty in an unconventional way. Rowan’s A Hunger Artist (2013) is a disturbing image inspired by Franz Kafka’s dark story of the same title, which follows a performer, a kind of a circus show, whose act, or art, was to starve himself. The surreal scene shows the performer after a 40-day fast, when a crowd has gathered to see him emerge from his cage a walking skeleton.

Born in 1980 in Southern California, the Pope brothers moved with their family to Minnesota at age 3. Both graduated from Stanford University in California, where they majored in studio art and minored in psychology. They then returned to the Twin Cities and earned MFAs from the University of Minnesota. The brothers have worked side by side yet independently their entire lives.