Minnesotans flock to get a 'Foot in the Door' at the MIA

The Curator
Unlike most exhibitions, the Foot in the Door show at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts is curated by a box. If your artwork fits inside the one foot cube, it's accepted in the show.
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

If you have ever dreamed of having your artwork displayed in a major art museum, you might want to cart something over to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

This weekend the MIA is accepting entries for its "Foot in the Door" show, which it mounts every 10 years. The event is already generating great excitement

Most art shows are curated very carefully, involving experts who have studied the minutia of an artform for years. For "Foot in the Door" the curator is a little different. In fact, it isn't even human.

"There's a box. It's a cube. And as long as your work fits in that, it's in the show," said Chris Atkins of the MIA.

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The box, which helpfully has the word "Curator" painted on the front, is 1 foot by 1 foot by 1 foot, hence the name of the show. It's sitting on a table at the head of a long line of soon-to-be exhibitors, which snakes around the rotunda of the MIA's new annex.

It's unconventional, but MIA President Kaywin Feldman points to a philosophical belief underlying the show.

"Whenever people ask me how to define art, I always say art is an expression of what it is to be human," she said. "And so Foot in the Door is an expression of what it is to be human. We encourage everybody to come and show their inner artist and bring their artwork into the MIA."

Chris Atkins
Chris Atkins is coordinating the Foot in the Door show.
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

And the humanity just keeps coming.

Moving between the line and the ever growing collection of work spreading over two adjacent galleries, Chris Atkins tries to keep up.

"Metal sculptures, ceramic, drawing, paintings -- you name it, I think we have got it," he said. "Photographs. It's kind of a lot."

Atkins runs the Minnesota Artist Exhibition Program at the MIA. This is the fourth time the MAEP has mounted the Foot in the Door show. It's only done once a decade, and each time the number of submissions has grown markedly.

"There's a box. It's a cube. And as long as your work fits in that, its in the show."

In 1980, there were about 300 submissions. In 1990, there were close to 800, and in 2000 the number reached 1,700.

"This year, it remains to be seen how many," Atkins said.

Entries will be accepted through 4:30 p.m. on Sunday. Atkins and his staff will then have a couple of weeks to prepare the pieces for display before the actual exhibition opens to the public.

"In terms of hanging the work, we are going to do what's called a salon style, and just start a couple of feet off the floor, and then hang them up in a one-foot grid throughout, up as well as over," he said. "We'll have to wait for all the artwork to come in, of course, until we know how many we have."

That could be a lot. On the first day the submissions were coming in at about 100 an hour. Also, for the first time the Foot in the Door Show is accepting online video submissions. They don't have to go in the box, obviously. But they do have to be 80 seconds or less.

Out in the line, there are people holding some very intriguingly shaped packages. David Brown of Stillwater pulls out a small, minutely detailed sculpture.

The Line
The line to submit work for Foot in the Door wound round the rotunda at the MIA. Some people waited for over an hour in line, even though pieces were being being accepted at a rate of about 100 an hour.
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

"It's made with nylon fishing line woven, grapevines painted," he said. "I don't really show my work. I just do it, and I just decided this was a good opportunity just to kind of be among the crowd of great artists in Minnesota."

Nearby, Nick Felice of Minneapolis has a delicate image, which looks like an ink drawing, but it's actually a photograph.

"This called 'Winter Rhythms on Lake Harriet,'" he said. "These are the poles they put the piers out in the middle of the lake when they just leave them out there. And I thought it was really sculptural."

Then there is Paula Barkmeier, also of Minneapolis. She unwraps a figure which is part eagle, part child, and part monkey. It's both whimsical and disturbing.

"Some people think it's cute. Some people are creeped out by it, but I just say I have to do it," said Barkmeier.

The breadth of work is mindboggling. MIA director Kaywin Feldman says not only is this a good opportunity to show Minnesota art, it brings in new visitors to the museum, both for the show and for the larger collection.

Feldman and Coogan
MIA President Kaywin Feldman greeted new MCAD President Jay Coogan as he dropped off his entry for "Foot in the Door."
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

She is here to greet a special visitor: Jay Coogan, the new president of the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. He's brought along something for the show too. It's a fedora -- made of cast iron.

"It's been a real theme for me," Coogan said. "Thinking of the hat as a surrogate for the mind, and of how it is sort of built up and then erodes away at a certain point in life."

Not only is Coogan submitting, he's been encouraging MCAD students to submit too.

Which raises an obvious question for Feldman -- will she be putting in anything in for Foot in the Door?

"Not this year. I'm going to work up for building my own art talents over the next 10 years," she said with a smile.

"Come over to MCAD, we'll help you out," Coogan offered immediately.

As Feldman ponder the possibilities. more and people keep joining the line, all eager to get their Foot in the Door.