In the midst of the worst drought in many years in these parts, the Minnesota Museum of American Art has opened a major exhibit with more than 50 works illustrating the importance of water in its multitude of forms. “Many Waters: A Minnesota Biennial” is on display through October 2 in the MMAA’s window galleries on Fourth and Robert streets, near its entrance in the skyway and at NewStudio Gallery, 2303 Wycliff St.

The art in “Many Waters” was selected from 800 works submitted by Minnesota artists who were inspired by one of life’s most essential elements. “The show is absolutely astounding,” said MMAA board chair Ann Ruhr Pifer, “not only in its quality but in its diversity of styles.”

MMAA Many Waters
Minnesota Museum of American Art board chair Ann Ruhr Pifer poses beside Presley Martin’s sculpture “Float,” part of the MMAA’s new exhibit, “Many Waters: A Minnesota Biennial.” Photo by Brad Stauffer

The exhibit includes paintings, wood block prints, drawings, photographs, textile art, sculpture and more, according to Pifer, who lives in the Summit Hill neighborhood and founded Grand Avenue’s Grand Hand Gallery. The variety of art offers a rich representation of the exhibit’s theme as well as the depth of talent found in this region, Pifer said. Some of the artists are just emerging while others have been recognized for years, she added.

The exhibition “is part of a tradition at the MMAA that brings together disparate artists one might not normally see side by side. That’s part of the friction and pleasure of this event.”
– Charles Matson Lume

Many Waters is part of the MMAA’s longstanding tradition of biennial exhibits that highlight the state’s artists. The exhibits “get to the heart of what the museum is all about,” Pifer said, “and that’s a focus on the art of our region and its relevance to this place we call home.”

“This year’s theme is widely resonant,” said MMAA curator of exhibits Laura Joseph, who lives in Highland Park. “Every aspect of our lives is dependent on water, and our water systems in Minnesota and worldwide are increasingly threatened. The opening of ‘Many Waters’ coincides with an extreme drought as well as the indigenous-led Water Walk along the proposed route of the Line 3 Enbridge Pipeline through the wetlands of the Anishinaabe people.”

Planning for “Many Waters” began in the fall of 2019 for a 2020 opening, but that was put on hold because of the pandemic, according to Joseph. “In recent months, I’ve worked with staff on a reconfigured version of the exhibit,” she said. “It was initially planned for the MMAA’s interior galleries, but over the course of the pandemic we began experimenting with how we could use our streetfront spaces, our windows and skyway entrance to display art while remaining closed.”

MMAA Many Waters
One of "Many Waters": Barbara Bend's sculpture, "The Wave."
MMAA Many Waters
Macalester College professor Ruth Ann Godollei's sculpture, Ruthann Godollei’s sculpture, “Go Ask Alice.”

Pifer noted that the MMAA’s interior galleries had reopened just before the pandemic struck following the first phase of an extensive renovation project. The second and last phase of that renovation is scheduled to begin this winter and, she said, it would have been costly to open the interior galleries to the public for the “Many Waters” exhibit and then have to close them again for the renovation.

The art in “Many Waters” was selected by Joseph with help from Matthew Fluharty, a visual artist, writer and executive director of Art of the Rural in Winona; Dakota Hoska, assistant curator of Native Art at the Denver Art Museum; and Jovan Speller, a visual artist, curator and program director for the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council.

The exhibition “is part of a tradition at the MMAA that brings together disparate artists one might not normally see side by side,” said West End artist Charles Matson Lume. “That’s part of the friction and pleasure of this event.”

Matson Lume’s installation at “Many Waters,” titled “As if nothing (for Basho) II,” was inspired by 17th century Japanese poet Matsuo Basho. According to the MMAA, the installation evokes the feeling of being in water, casting “waves of reflections on the surrounding walls, recreating the constant motion and changeability of water.”

The art in “Many Waters” was selected from 800 works submitted by Minnesota artists who were inspired by one of life’s most essential elements. “The show is absolutely astounding,” said MMAA board chair Ann Ruhr Pifer, “not only in its quality but in its diversity of styles.”

MMAA Many Waters
Macalester-Groveland photographer Regina Flanagan's gelatin silver print, “Saint Croix Floodplain Forest Inundated.”

Macalester College professor Ruthann Godollei, a resident of Summit-University, submitted “Go Ask Alice.” It consists of an etched glass apothecary jar filled with adulterated water. The jar is inscribed “Flint H2O,”and the card attached to it reads “Drink Me.”

“The title of the work refers to Alice in Wonderland and the surreal situation when the city of Flint Michigan, hit by auto industry closures, switched its water supply to the Flint River,” Godollei said. “The acidic water leached lead from the water pipes and poisoned people, especially children.

“I’m really grateful for the way the MMAA has developed this biennial,” Godollei said. “With windows on view 24/7 and free of charge, it’s very accessible. The MMAA has been using this strategy throughout the pandemic, and this whole time I’ve been taking my students to see wonderful, diverse shows in those gorgeous Robert Street windows.”

For more information on “Many Waters: A Minnesota Biennial,” visit mmaa.org.

— Anne Murphy

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