I went to Minneapolis-St. Paul for the first time two years ago to give a lecture at Minnesota Public Radio, but I had to fly back to New York the next day. Last Friday I returned at last, this time to see plays at Theatre de la Jeune Lune and the Guthrie Theater, and I made a point of staying for two nights, which gave me a bit of time to look around. (I would have had still more time were it not for the fact that the streets of Minneapolis appear to have been designed for the purpose of repelling boarders and confusing tourists.)
I started things off with a repeat visit to Minnesota Public Radio, where I had lunch with a roomful of producers from American RadioWorks, the documentary unit of American Public Media, whose programs include A Prairie Home Companion and Saint Paul Sunday. They wanted to talk to me about the possibility of doing a show based on my Louis Armstrong biography, so I spent an hour regaling them with Satchmo stories. I don’t know what will come of it–maybe nothing–but they sure are smart.
Afterward I drove across town through appallingly heavy traffic to a anonymous-looking suburban office building that houses one of the most remarkable corporate art collections in America. As regular readers of this blog won’t need to be reminded, I have a special affection for American modernism–that’s what the Teachout Museum is all about–and a collector who shares my interest in what I think of as Phillips Collection-style art arranged for me to be given a private tour of the headquarters of the Regis Corporation, on whose walls hang hundreds of museum-quality paintings by such artists as Paul Cadmus, Stuart Davis, Arthur Dove, Arnold Friedman, Marsden Hartley, Alfred Maurer, Fairfield Porter, Charles Sheeler, Joseph Stella, George Tooker, John Twachtman, and Neil Welliver. Seventy-five of the best pieces are currently on display at Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in a show called Villa America: American Moderns, 1900-1950, but there was plenty of equally good stuff left behind for me to see, and I spent two and a half ecstatic hours poking my head into offices and goggling.
I had almost as much fun visiting the Minneapolis Institute of Arts on Saturday afternoon. The permanent collection lacks the focus and consistent excellence of, say, Fort Worth’s Kimbell Art Museum or the nonpareil Cleveland Museum of Art, but it’s still pretty damned impressive. I was delighted to make the acquaintance of Rembrandt’s Lucretia, Chardin’s Attributes of the Arts, John Peto’s quietly haunting Reminiscences of 1865, Sargent’s Luxembourg Gardens at Twilight, a lovely double portrait by Berthe Morisot, one of John Twachtman’s most subtle landscapes, a spectacular pair of large-scale paintings by Bonnard and Vuillard, and an exquisite little 1942 Morandi still life of whose existence I was previously unaware.
I also drove out to the University of Minnesota’s Weisman Art Museum, but that was a waste of time. The stainless-steel building, which opened in 1993, is one of Frank Gehry’s celebrated exercises in postmodern rococo, pointlessly flamboyant on the outside and unexpectedly unmemorable within. The friend who put me in touch with the Regis Corporation had assured me that the permanent collection of American modernists was worth seeing, but next to none of it was on display, so that was that. I came away with the decided impression that the Weisman, like so many of the showy temples to art designed by starchitects in recent years, is less a museum than a hollow outdoor sculpture whose interior decoration is of secondary importance.
I had dinner with Lileks before heading over to Jeune Lune to see The Miser. We’d never met, but I felt at once as though I’d known him for years, a now-familiar byproduct of blogging. (I felt the same way when I met Maud.) He’s shorter than I expected–for some reason I thought he’d be tall and gangly–and his speaking voice is both resonant and pleasingly pitched, so much so that I wasn’t at all surprised to learn that he’d spent a good many years in the radio business. We dined on beef tenderloin at Mission American Kitchen, a restaurant I wholeheartedly recommend to anyone passing through town, and we spent at least as much time laughing as we did eating.
I would have liked to stick around for a few more days, but I have a deadline to hit and four shows to see between now and Sunday, so I packed my wonderful carry-on bag and flew back to New York yesterday afternoon, having promised a number of Minneapolitans and St. Paulists that I’d be back as soon as possible. Would that I could say when! A woman told me the other day that she had too many friends and was going to prune the roster so she could spend more time with the ones she liked best. I know what she meant, but I can’t imagine doing any such thing. In fact, I’ve met a half-dozen out-of-towners in recent months whom I liked enormously and would be happy to add to my circle of intimates if they were to move to New York. Travel has done that for me–and so, too, has blogging. Of course I know the world is full of awful people, but for some lucky reason I keep on meeting the nice ones.
UPDATE: Here’s Lileks’ side of it.