A Tale of Twin Cities


The American Mid-west doesn’t always get the cultural credit it deserves. The compliments it receives are more of the not-bad-for-a-provincial-town variety, than high and unqualified praise. And this, in spite of the multiplicity of labels at exhibitions at European galleries that reference loans from public galleries in Cincinnati, Kansas City, Milwaukee and the like.

I’ve just returned from a two-week-plus visit, taking in Chicago and the twin cities of Minneapolis and St Paul and I’m super-impressed.

Minneapolis and St Paul were the real eye-openers. The Minneapolis Institute of Art (aka MIA) has gems galore, including unusual takes on the usual Impressionist suspects – Still Life with Pheasants and Plovers by Claude Monet – and luminous examples of work by established artists. Again, it was a work by Monet that stood out – Grainstack, Sun in the Mist, although there was serious competition.

There was also evidence of MIA’s standing with international galleries through the Leonardo da Vinci Codex Leicester exhibition and MIA’s three 100th birthday year surprise exhibits. It isn’t every gallery – provincial or otherwise – that would be able to rustle up Vermeer’s Woman Reading a Letter, Raphael’s The Madonna of the Pinks and Van Gogh’s Irises, lent by, respectively, the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, National Gallery, London and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

And then there’s the Walker Art Center, where roughly 2% of its vast holdings of modern and contemporary art are on display and a Pop Art exhibition was given an interesting twist through an international lens.

At both MIA and the Walker, the labels with the paintings were pitched and written better than any I’ve seen, with essential and interesting information that was easy to read and take in.

Both of the Twin Cities have artist co-operatives and studios, with a regular programme of exhibitions and openings. I’ve visited artists’ studios in the UK and New York, but the scale of the facilities was beyond anything I’d seen before.

The Guthrie is the lead name in theatre, with facilities that cast the National Theatre complex in the shade. Not all actors are household names, but I spotted a young Don Cheadle and a junior Kristin Chenoweth in the photos snaking along one of the walls.

New buildings are popping up, with architecture that’s imaginative in a good way. For instance, the new football stadium being built in downtown St Paul has been designed so that it doesn’t impose itself on the city’s skyline.

The written word is well represented too. Scott Fitzgerald hailed from St Paul and Garrison Keillor lives there now and hosts the Minnesota Public Radio show A Prairie Home Companion.

New York and London do, undoubtedly, have more cultural variety, but the quality of life, space, cost of living and cost of housing could make the Twin Cities win hands down – if only somebody could do something about their freezingly cold winters….

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