Too many governor portraits? State Capitol art panel to hear from public

A state panel will spend the next six months trying to decide what kind of art is needed inside the renovated Minnesota Capitol building. The panel likely will consider how to display governor portraits and whether some of the depictions of Civil War battles should come down, at least temporarily.

The art subcommittee of the Capitol Preservation Committee set out a timeline Monday for gathering public input on those decisions, but no hearings have been scheduled. It will make its recommendations in January.

The more than $300 million Capitol renovation project is expected to be completed in early 2017.

State Rep. Diane Loeffler, DFL-Minneapolis, said one issue up for discussion is whether to continue the tradition of displaying portraits of former governors, which currently total 39.

“Is this the most important use of our wall space moving forward from here to eternity?” Loeffler asked. “Our Capitol is 110 years old. If you think of how many governors we might have in the next 110 years, that’s a lot of wall space for portraits.”

Loeffler said portraits could be rotated rather than having them all on permanent display.

Another legislator who serves on the subcommittee disagrees with that approach.

Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, said all of the governors should be included.

"A chronological display of the governors and their portraits I think is good for interpreting the history of the state,” Urdahl said.

The panel is also expected to discuss the amount of Civil War art in the building. Loeffler and Gov. Mark Dayton have previously questioned the need for all of the large paintings depicting Civil War battles.

Urdahl said he wants to make sure that there isn’t an attempt to rewrite history.

“The Capitol essentially was built as a monument to the Civil War veterans,” he said. “That was an important part of our history.”

Lawmakers allocated $3.3 million this year for Capitol art preservation but nothing for new art. Still, members of the subcommittee are looking for ways to add to the Capitol collections.

Loeffler said new art is needed to “enliven and update the story of Minnesota.”

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