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How to Make the Most of Mia

You could try to see everything at the Minneapolis Institute of Art in one visit. Or you could be strategic. There are 20,000 years and an entire globe’s worth of art in the museum, after all, and no rush. Here’s how to find what you’re looking for, including art you won’t see anywhere else and the galleries you’ll have to yourself.

 

The Five Must-Sees

The rooms you really shouldn’t miss.

360 Degrees of Africa

Gallery G250

Get face to face with African masks and sculpture, displayed so you can walk around the objects and see how they were made and used.

Why it’s must see: The gallery makes clear, with the help of digital tools, how much of a crossroads Africa has been for art and commerce—in contrast to the usual narrative of isolation.

What to look for: An imposing post figure, nearly five feet tall, watching over the gallery. Carved in southern Sudan to honor an important ancestor, likely a famous hunter, the wooden memorial confers an enduring solidity.

A Grand Tour of Native America

Galleries G259, G260, G261

From ancient Mexico to modern-day Minnesota, the art of Indigenous Americans is displayed as a diverse and ongoing story of culture, belief, and resilience.

Why it’s must see: Traditional and contemporary works, side by side, reveal a heritage continually adapted to the needs and messages of the moment.

What to look for: Work by Native American women, recently showcased in a major exhibition at Mia, from a Nez Perce dress made of mountain goat hides to author Louise Erdrich’s Story of a Woman, blending painting and prose.

Nearby: Gallery 303 features several paintings of Lake Superior by George Morrison, an Ojibwe artist from Minnesota who used abstraction to capture the essence of his homeland.

Full Immersion in Historic China

Galleries G216 and G218

Several rooms and imposing gates from historic residences comprise a rare opportunity to imagine life in a traditional, well-to-do household in China.

Why it’s must see: The rooms were among the first and finest to leave China after the 1949 revolution and are now richly appointed with the greatest classical Chinese furniture collection in the West.

What to look for: The wildly evocative stones in and around the scholar’s study (lyrically named the Studio of Gratifying Discourse) are so-called “scholar’s rocks”—fuel for the poetic imagination.

Nearby: A Japanese Audience Hall and tearoom, in galleries G222 and G225, offer a similarly immersive look at life in Japan around the same time.

The Splendor of Greece and Rome

The Rotunda, Gallery G230

The original entrance to Mia, built in 1915, opens onto a mini-Pantheon of Greek and Roman statuary. For the classic museum experience, enter Mia from 24th Street, up the grand staircase, and come face to torso with exquisite examples of Mediterranean art. Most visitors come through the Third Avenue entrance, so you’ll likely have a quieter, more contemplative entry here.

Why it’s must see: The Doryphoros, front and center, is a marble copy of one of the most famous bronze statues from the ancient world—an advertisement for the sculptor’s elaborate system of depicting the ideal male body.

What to look for: The tip of Doryphoros’ little finger. The sculptor based his entire system of anatomical proportion on the length of that digit.

Nearby: The airy Rotunda opens onto the Fountain Court, a balconied hall featuring a wish-worthy Italian fountain from the 1500s.

Be Swept Up in the Golden Age of Dutch Painting

Gallery G311

A Rembrandt masterpiece is surrounded by other examples of Dutch painting in the 1600s, one of the great moments in European art.

Why it’s must see: One of Rembrandt’s final masterpieces is also one of his most personal, as the tragic suicide of Lucretia reflects Rembrandt’s pain of losing his lover to scandal and the plague.

What to look for: The eyes have it. Rembrandt put all the emotion of this decisive moment—despair, resignation—in Lucretia’s teary eyes.

Nearby: Lucretia’s suicide allegedly led to the founding of the Roman republic—a familiar story in 1600s Europe. Gallery G312 shows just how influential Rome and its history was on European artists.

 

Off the Beaten Path

Intriguing galleries in quiet spaces, where you’re likely to have the room to yourself.

Period Rooms / Third Floor

These miniature worlds, mostly accessed off the hallway behind the rotunda, are decorated in period style or have been redesigned through Mia’s Living Rooms project. Curious and quiet, they say at least as much about our views of the past as the past itself.

Folk Art / G304

Some of the most original art in the museum wasn’t made by formally trained artists for formal spaces. It was made, for lack of a better term, by folk for folk. And here, in a quiet corner at the top of the third-floor stairs, are the distinctive results: portraits of children, weather vanes, homemade chairs, and other art of real life.

Art of Japan / G220–225

These quiet, darkened spaces allow for a kind of meditative tour of one of the finest, most unique collections of Japanese art. Come for the charismatic sculptures of Buddhist deities, stay for the paintings of nature and the deceptively simple stoneware.

Print and Drawings Gallery / G344

At the end of a long stretch of Renaissance and Middle Ages art is one of the museum’s most consistently thought-provoking galleries. Devoted to prints and drawings, the space has explored everything from teeny-tiny engravings to flamboyant male dress.

Pacific Island Gallery / G256

Tucked behind the art of Africa, this gallery has some of the most evocative, spiritual art in the museum, and warrants close examination. The tattooed post figure (poutokomanawa), for instance, once welcomed guests to a Maori communal house, its proportions representing Maori beliefs about different forms of energy in the body.

Modernism / G378–G379

These sprawling galleries show modernism at home in the early to mid 20th century, from cooking (the charmingly efficient Frankfurt Kitchen) to driving (the futuristic Tatra T87). The Curator’s Office, circa 1954, has to be seen to be believed (or not).

 

Amazing Spaces

Not all the art is on the walls—sometimes it is the walls.

Prairie School Gallery / G300

All this gorgeous furniture, nowhere to sit—except a bench positioned to marvel at the park outside and the spires of downtown Minneapolis beyond. An appropriate blend of nature and architecture.

Buddhist Sculpture Court / G200

This airy landing at the top of the stairs gives Mia’s collection of Buddhist statuary room to breathe (deeply). A recently restored wooden gate from a famous Chinese estate now frames the entrance to Mia’s Chinese collections.

Baroque Gallery / G330

Overlooking the Fountain Court, this skylit gallery beckons with massive religious paintings and plush seating from which to contemplate them. If you’re after an over-the-top experience, this could be it.

Classical Arts Corridor / G240

The second-floor hallway opening into galleries of ancient Greece and Rome might best be appreciated from the grand marble staircase. From here you can see—high up in the hallway—plaster casts of friezes, once a staple of the early museum.

 

Intimate Treasures

Power figure / G250

This small figure was designed and empowered by its Kongo makers to resolve disputes. Judging from all the nails pounded into it, representing successful resolutions, mission accomplished.

House group / G260

This marvelously detailed little house was crafted more than 2,000 years ago in western Mexico, symbolic of its ancient makers’ belief that the living and the dead coexist with little separation.

Frank Lloyd Wright Hallway / G300

Few of Wright’s furniture pieces invite relaxation. But this hallway from a house overlooking Lake Minnetonka, west of Minneapolis, offers an airy glimpse of Wright’s geometric designs.

Coaci inkstand / G310

This elaborate device takes the chore out of writing by stashing implements in cleverly concealed compartments. But that’s just the beginning of its mechanical charms.

Jade Mountain Illustrating the Gathering of Scholars at the Lanting Pavilion / G210

This is the largest piece of jade carving outside China, but the scene itself is enchantingly intimate. In lively detail, it depicts a famous gathering of esteemed intellectuals…holding a drinking contest.

 

Going with Children?

Have a plan for keeping everyone engaged—including you.

The Museum as Marvel

Mia is a great place to learn about the world’s diverse cultures. But that’s not what you tell the kids. Let the art work its own magic, the demons, mummies, kings, and colors stoking the imagination. Tee up the visit by looking through Mia’s collection online and choosing some areas of interest. Once at Mia, let the children lead by following their interests and attention spans. Talk to each other about what you see, tell stories, and look for favorite animals and colors.

Arms & Armor / G340

All those stories of knights, castles, and princesses come to life in suits of armor and (mostly decorative) weaponry. The Japanese armor is particularly memorable, with its magnificent helmet and bear-fur boots.

Community Commons/ first floor

It begins with a Family Center stocked with creative toys and ends with a vintage three-story dollhouse that once belonged to a St. Paul heiress. In between is art typically created by other Minnesota children and teens. Bonus: private bathrooms.

Period Rooms / third floor

There’s nothing like an immersive environment to fire the imagination. Here, a series of rooms depicting various times and places—England in the Tudor era, France during the Enlightenment—make it easy to imagine life in the past.

Lady Tashat mummy / G250

It would be mesmerizing enough if Lady Tashat were merely a mummy. But she comes with a couple of mysteries, too. How did this teenager die? And why was there an extra skull in her coffin?

 

Tips for Visiting Mia

Before Arriving

•Free ticket required. Reserve your ticket online, by phone 612.870.3000 or in person. Check the website to plan accordingly.

• Since Mia is free, you’re not obligated to stop at a desk on your way in. But unless you brought your own map, you’ll probably want to. The lines, if there are any, move quickly. And the person behind the desk can tell you about any special events or shows going on that day.

Plan Your Day

• The museum’s Agra-Culture cafe offers great soup and sandwich fare. Two blocks away is Eat Street (Nicollet Avenue), lined with lined with Vietnamese, Mexican, Greek, German, and other ethnic restaurants.

• Figure on spending at least two hours at the museum. If you’re coming to see the special exhibition, that will likely be all you do at the museum that day. The museum is free—hopefully you can come back soon.

• WiFi is free and strong throughout the museum. Cell service can be spotty depending on the location; the strongest signal is in the lobby facing the windows.

• While in the galleries, visit more.artsmia.org on your smartphone. The site includes an audio guide to specific artworks and in-depth stories and videos, revealing hidden details and unique insights.

• There are gift shops, and then there is the Store at Mia. Curated to feature items as well-crafted as the art in the galleries, the store offers kitchen ware, clothing, home goods, books, and some of the smartest cards in town.