Save the Minneapolis Art Institute (MIA) from itself: Join and Speak Up

I went to see the “Power and Beauty in China’s Last Dynasty” at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) last week with my son. I recommend that you go to see the art now that the exhibit is thankfully closed.

The art and artifact collection was very impressive; everything came from MIA’s permanent collection. As longtime members, we recognized many pieces so it was exciting to see it featured as a special exhibit.

Unfortunately, the exhibit was terribly marred by a Mr. Robert Wilson who conceived and designed the presentation. Wiki describes him as, “an American experimental theater stage director and playwright who has been described by the media as “[America]’s – or even the world’s – foremost avant-garde ‘theater artist’.”

I knew I was in trouble when the exhibit began by touting Mr. Wilson’s Hollywood credentials and friends like Brad Pitt. I thought, “uh-oh.” And got more nervous when we were ushered into a 5-minute “meditation” in a very dark room with one vase glowing on the wall (we passed on that).

The room after the dark “meditation” room was very bright and held beautiful jade and other artifacts from the Ching (Ging) Dynasty. Suddenly our ears were assaulted by a horrible sound track; some kind of aggressive music/noise with repeated screeching.

My son and I were so rattled that we moved quickly through the exhibit toward the exit; Wilson assaulted visitors with more loud screeching (from an amateurly painted dragon), flashing lights, discordant wall coverings that looked like foil wrap, modern opera music (huh?) and other interruptions from Mr. Wilson.

The last room was so bright that you could get a flash migraine. I saw several women exit quickly with their eyes sheltered. I asked a guard what the heck was going on—he wisely had in ear plugs. He answered that Wilson wanted to “provoke questions.” He certainly provoked me!

Here is the good news. This experience was so upsetting that we asked to speak to a museum rep; we met a woman named Jenny Rydeen. Her title is “Visitor Experience Strategist.” Title aside, she handled the situation with class, telling us that other visitors had also complained that the exhibit made it very hard to enjoy the art and the museum. That was encouraging to know (I wondered if Minnesotans spoke up or if was out of town guests; we have a hard time sending back bad food or noting bad service of any kind).

We told her the museum was trying much too hard to “be cool” and that working with Robert Wilson was a sign of cultural decay, even desperation. As with many baby boomers, the exhibit was all about Wilson. It was not about the art or the visitor’s experience.

MIA must find other ways to get people to come and support the museum. Turning to Broadway and Hollywood is not the answer. Jenny Rydeen heard us; we were encouraged and will be back at MIA soon (but may bring ear plugs, just in case). We can’t let the left take our museums, too.