A new era for the Minnesota Museum of American Art

This weekend the Minnesota Museum of American Art celebrates its new Project Space in downtown Saint Paul, its first public home in almost four years.

Located on the light rail line, and accessible via the skyway, Project Space is literally connected to downtown Saint Paul.


Betsy Byers' painting 'Convergence' is part of the first exhibition at the Minnesota Museum of American Art's new Project Space in downtown Saint Paul.

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MMAA Director Kristin Makholm stresses that this new space is not "the museum," but a place for people to connect with the museum's collection and to engage with art in a meaningful way.

As art museums across the country are looking for new ways to connect with their communities, the MMAA finds itself in a unique position; it has a complete collection, and the opportunity to create a completely new public presence.

"I wouldn't wish a closing on any organization because it is so hard to regroup," reflects Makholm, "but it is also a golden opportunity to refresh yourself from the ground up."


Andrew Wykes "12 Hours of Sunset 2", 2011

Image courtesy of the MMAA

The new gallery space is located in the Pioneer Building, which is currently undergoing a major renovation. For that reason, tomorrow night's celebration is not an official opening - delays are forcing the gallery to work around the construction schedule for now with "pop-up programs" until it can keep regular hours.

Despite the setback, the MMAA has put together an ambitious calendar of programming, including a First Friday film series, monthly artist presentations, and an after school program that follows the Saint Paul Public Schools curriculum.

Project Space's "Curator of Engagement" Christina Chang likens the new space to a living room:

"It's a gathering space; it's comfortable and welcoming and makes you feel that you're a part of it. In a big Beaux Arts museum you often feel that you have to tiptoe around and behave a certain way. We're going to encourage people to hang out here - it's not overwhelming or intimidating - this space is trying to break down those barriers to entry."


Phyllis Wiener (b. 1921)

Colors from the Coast, 1972

The first exhibition in the new space is titled "Painting the Place Between," inspired by a film of the same name. It features work by four Minnesota painters - Betsy Byers, Jil Evans, Holly Swift and Andrew Wykes - and combines them with selections from the MMAA's permanent collection.

While the subject of the show is landscapes, Chang says the painters included in the show are working with much more abstract methods:

"All these artists are much more interested in the experience of a landscape - not just the image, but the smell, the physical space. How do you capture that in a visual medium? 'The place between' refers to their own unique perspective - the place between the landscape and the viewers experience of it."

While the MMAA now has its own physical space to share its work, the museum continues to tour its work around the state, with shows at St. Catherine's University and the Weisman in the coming months.

"If we had 4000 square feet of gallery space we would be showing these exhibitions ourselves," says Makholm. "We're not that museum yet, but it's our goal to someday be that museum."

The celebration of Open Space begins tomorrow at 5:30pm for members, with a public reception beginning at 7:30pm.