Touching down at Minneapolis airport shortly before 19:00 last night, my wife and I were met by the charming Heather Flowers and Erin Emmerich from the Anthro Dept. They got us installed at our hotel and joined us for dinner at the food court of the monstrous Mall of America. (There’s a theme park inside it.) Then to bed.
This morning we negotiated the ample, varied and sugar-rich breakfast buffet here at the Fairfield Inn, and then went to the light rail station. We’re in the second-generation periphery of Minneapolis near the airport, outside the old industrial fringe. The roads are 6-lane highways here, the buildings huge hotels and malls, everything thinly spread like in the recently developed fringes of Chinese cities. And of course anything catering to pedestrians and cyclists is an afterthought: the railway station is under a multilevel parking garage and to get there on foot you either have to go through the mall or wander in via the automobile ramps. The train is a little clunky and rickety, but it speeds along fine, it’s not expensive and it does have bike racks. We changed to a bus at Franklin Avenue and found that apparently only poor people ride buses here. But then, this was at 09:45, so I guess anybody who wasn’t at work already was probably unemployed.
We spent 3½ hours at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and barely scratched the surface of what’s on offer there. They have a bit of everything ancient and modern from around the world, in large numbers and top quality, with free admittance. A very impressive museum. But I was truly appalled to see how much recently looted archaeology they show. The Chinese collection, for instance, appears largely to have been acquired in the past 20 years, and there’s no provenance on anything. “Figurines from an 8th century Imperial burial, probably in the Luoyang region” etc. This is in stark contrast to a temporary exhibition of exquisite 15th century French mortuary sculpture from Dijon, where the context of each piece has been painstakingly documented. It’s the exact same kind of objects: sculpture from royal burials, but under very different circumstances.
The French aren’t looting their heritage, they’re curating it and lending bits of it to US museums. The main reason why the Chinese are looting theirs is demand from unscrupulous art collectors. Why is the art world still allowing this to happen? These are not just “works of art”. At least half of everything in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts is archaeological finds. We should demand a detailed excavation report before we even considered touching the stuff, let alone buying it. I don’t want to see objects dug up “probably in the Luoyang region” and donated by an American collector. I want to see pieces excavated by Chinese archaeologists to modern standards of documentation and lent by a Chinese museum. I mean, look at me and my team, pinpointing fucking quartz chips with GPS in a muddy field in Södermanland, while at the same time looters are opening 8th century Imperial tombs in China and carting out T’ang sculpture by the wheel barrow, destroying its archaeological context. It’s sad, so sad.
But as I said, the museum is wonderfully rich, and if you don’t care about provenance or archaeological context you will be able to enjoy it far more than I did. We were intrigued and enlightened by a collection of 16th-17th century classicising bronze statuettes shown to us by a friendly and knowledgeable docent, and those 15th century Dijon Mourners were truly a treat.
We walked to the American Swedish Institute, which is housed in an early 20th century sandstone mansion built by a Swedish immigrant newspaper baron. Program officer Nina Clark welcomed us, fed us cardamom buns, conversed in idiomatic Swedish and showed us around. She remarked that the house is coeval with early modernism, Frank Lloyd Wright etc., yet is anchored firmly and lavishly in later 19th century bourgeois taste. It reminded me of what the Rettig family was doing with their town house in Stockholm at the same time, now home to the Royal Academy of Letters with one floor being a museum. I used to share a small office there with an extremely overdecorated pink, baby blue, gilded, eagle-topped tiled fireplace, and the ones at the American Swedish Institute are very similar. Above, myself and Nina are standing in front of one such fireplace decorated with Viking gnomes (!?), a relief plaque reproducing Mårten Eskil Winge’s “Thor Battles the Giants” and odd Oscarian variations on late-1st millennium animal art.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that the ASI is not some sleepy outfit commemorating a dying ethnicity and catering mainly to retirees. Quite the contrary: there’s lots going on at the Institute, to the extent that they’re extending the building substantially and in very good taste. The people of Minnesota may not speak Swedish any more, but they’re interested in Sweden, and not just in what went on there in the 1800s. We met Swedish painter/cartoonist Jesper Löfvenborg who is there as resident artist, and best-selling hated-by-critics crime novelist Camilla Läckberg was visiting just as we were. Also, speaking more generally, all three of Stieg Larsson’s crime novels are on the top-10 US sales list for the first quarter of 2011.
Walking east to the light rail though a somewhat run-down neighbourhood of two-story houses, we went back to the hotel for a nap. The idea was to go a barmeet with skeptics late in the evening. If you go to bed at 17:00 you expect to sleep maybe for an hour and a half, and jet lag made me too sleepy to think clearly. I forgot to set the alarm clock and woke at 23:30. Too late for the barmeet, which really disappointed me. And worse, it undid all the work I’d done on resetting my internal clock, and now I’m likely to be sleepy as hell for the boardgame night tomorrow.
So now it’s 02:15 in the small hours and I’m awake. But I’m also sleepy, so maybe I can get in a few hours more towards the end of the night and get my clock reset after all.