October 2012

Awesome Auditorium

Today, Monday, October 22, marks the 83rd anniversary of the opening and dedication of Northrop Memorial Auditorium at the University of Minnesota. This is an important milestone when considering that this performance hall and concert venue is currently closed, undergoing a major reconstruction and revitalization to preserve and update the facility. Northrop is an important building in the history of WAM, as it is the building where the museum resided for 59 years prior to moving into the Frank Gehry designed stainless steel clad Weisman building in 1993 (the museum’s “home” for nearly 20 years).

This anniversary reminds us of the enduring legacy of buildings and facilities at the University of Minnesota. The Northrop Auditorium building, named after University President Cyrus Northrop, opened in 1929 to fanfare and musical celebration. As described in a MN Daily article, “University Opens Doors of Auditorium At First Dedication Program Tonight,” the opening ceremony was complete with performances from the symphony orchestra, a piano solo, and the University band. In addition, “A cannon at the head of the mall will be fired near the close of the concert, in accordance with the custom of giving a military salute at the dedication of a state building.

The October 23, 1929 edition of the MN Daily, which covered the opening celebration, reported that although nearly every seat was filled, the opening festivities were not pitch perfect. The grand cannon salute – which was scheduled to fire during the finale performance of the “1812 Overture” to represent the guns fired during the infamous battle for which the piece was written – did not go off as planned. As John Harvey of the MN Daily explained:

‘Did you hear the cannon?’ With those words, Henri Verbrugghen, director of the Minneapolis Symphony orchestra, finished the first of a series of dedicatory exercises for the Cyrus Northrop Auditorium last night after a concert with Eunice Norton as soloist.

High winds broke wires that were to have taken the signal to representatives of the military department and prevented the firing of a cannon as part of the finale of Tchaikovsky’s ‘1812 Overture’ in which the University band joined with the symphony orchestra.”

Despite the (technical?) snafu, the tradition of commemorating a state building was not forgotten. Harvey reported that, “After the crowds left the campus, 10 shots rang out saluting belatedly the opening of the building.”

In the early years of the building, the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra (now known as the Minnesota Orchestra, which moved from Northrop to Orchestra Hall in downtown Minneapolis in 1974) regularly held concerts, and the University Artists Course hosted a wide range of musical and theatrical performances. It wasn’t until 1934, nearly 5 years after the commemoration of the building, due to the fortuitous insight and dedication of University administration – to include President Lotus Coffman and Assistant to the President Malcolm Willey – that a “little” art gallery would open on the 4th floor of the facility. Though no cannons were used in commemoration of the gallery, the festivities planned to celebrate the opening of a new space for the exhibition of original artwork on campus was befitting of the tradition of the building. Read more about the “Little Gallery” opening ceremonies from a 2011 WAM Files blog post.

View past photos of and about Northrop Auditorium on the UMedia Archive.

Regarding our health…

I participated in the Twin Cities Kidney Walk last weekend. On a drizzly Saturday morning, hundreds of people – to include those afflicted with kidney disease as well as their friends and family members – walked to raise money to support disease prevention and the need for transplants. (Over $250,000 was raised for the cause.) As I walked to support a family member who has undergone multiple transplants over the course of his life, I thought about how we think about “health.” Some of us only think about it if and when we are personally affected, or are reminded about healthcare as politicians argue over which policy/stance is best for us through election advertisements and televised debates…

While thinking about health during and after the walk, I remembered a series of exhibition folders that I processed in the WAM archival collection last year. The folders contained records that documented a 2000 exhibit held at WAM titled, Hospice: A Photographic Inquiry. The exhibit considered art as a way to introduce conversations about health, with a particular focus on hospice care.

Consider the description of the exhibit, printed on the invitation to the opening reception:

Hospice care, offering physical, emotional, and spiritual assistance to terminally ill people and their families, is the subject of this unique exhibition featuring the work of contemporary photographers and filmmakers. By immersing artists in the world of patients, families, and health care providers, each project documents individual perspectives on the collaborative experience of living and working in hospice environments throughout the country. HOSPICE: A PHOTOGRAPHIC INQUIRY conveys the power with which art is able to reveal a fact of life that may not be part of everyone’s experience.

The exhibit was organized by the Corcoran Gallery of Art in collaboration with the National Hospice Foundation, and was exhibited at WAM from May 20 – August 13, 2000. It featured photographs from five American photographers: Jim Goldberg, Nan Goldin, Sally Mann, Jack Radcliffe, and Kathy Vargas, as well as a documentary film produced and directed by Susan Froemke, Deborah Dickson, and Albert Sayles.

A photograph featured in the exhibit was used for the cover art for the exhibit brochure and opening invitation:


Jack Radcliffe, Gill, February 25, 1955, gelatin silver print.

WAM educators and curators worked with a group of local community advisors to develop a series of programs to further the conversation on health and hospice care during the run of the exhibit. Stories of Passage, the title of the program series, explored medical views on end-of-life care as well as the visions of artists who addressed themes of “healing, death, grief, and commemoration” in their work. A description of some of the programs are found in a promotional brochure:


Healthcare is a topical and personal issue to many artists as well as to the museum visitors who view and interact with exhibits that address health related themes. Just last month, the Spencer Museum of Art at Kansas University opened a traveling exhibit titled, DropIN/PopUp Waiting Room Project, which addresses the question, “What kind of healthcare system, access, facilities, and services do we desire or expect for ourselves? For others?” Visitors are introduced to possible answers to this question through a waiting room – the common entry/access point to medical care. Read more about the exhibit here.

Whether you walk, witness a work of art, or wait… participating in events and attending exhibits that support and address the topic of “health” could help us all towards a better understanding of our own approaches to healthcare.

Robert Clark Nelson

The WAM Files exhibit features a series of exhibition posters from the 1960s that can all be attributed to the same artist/designer. The name “Robert Clark Nelson” is found in small type on the edges and corners of several posters created to promote University Gallery exhibitions throughout the decade.

Nelsonposter1.jpgMany clues are found within WAM’s archival collection (housed at the University Archives in Andersen Library) that explain the circumstances of the creation of these posters. A U of M Purchasing Department form dated August 5, 1965 outlines that the total amount of $560.00 was used “to cover costs of designing University Gallery exhibition poster-announcements and invitations for the Academic Year 1965-66.” A Fee of $75 was assessed for the “design, layout, finished art, and production overseeing” with an additional $5 for materials for each of the 7 posters created. Two of the posters that now hang on the East wall of the Edith Carlson Gallery in the WAM Files exhibit were designed by Nelson for the 1965-1966 Academic Year: “Robert Motherwell,” and “Peter Busa.”

NelsonPoster2.jpgA Departmental Budget Record that represents Printing Requisitions for the University Gallery indicates that 2200 posters were printed to promote the Motherwell exhibit. The line item for 500 mailing labels found on the budget record, along with the fact that many of the posters kept from that era have folds and small tears (and some also include mailing labels on the back), are clues that lead us to believe that exhibition posters were created to serve as mailed exhibition announcements.

Thanks to the digitization efforts of the library unit of another institution of higher education, more information is gleaned about Robert Clark Nelson – the designer behind the name. In the September 28, 1966 edition (Volume XLI-No. 2) of the Clarion, the student newspaper of Bethel University in St. Paul, MN, an article titled, “Professor Receives Top Award In Walker Art Center Exhibition,” reveals that Nelson was a professor at Bethel. The article includes a portrait of Nelson and reported that he was one of top three award winners in the Walker Art Center biennial of painting and sculpture in 1966.

Other posters included in the WAM Files exhibit designed by Nelson include the following: John Rood Sculpture, 1964; Alechinsky, 1965; American Drawings, 1965; Marsden Hartley, 1966; Alan Davie, 1967; Jerome Hill, 1968:

*A note on artistic processes: The posters created by Nelson during the 1960s were created through photo-offset and lithography, processes that the Smithsonian American Art Museum describes in the online exhibit, “Posters: American Style.”

Twentieth Century Painters: The Sidney Janis Collection

From the outset of the University Gallery program for the 1935-1936 academic year (the second year of its existence), the gallery’s focus on contemporary art was evidenced by the first exhibit that opened that season. The Minneapolis Tribune reported that the exhibit – literally titled – Twentieth Century Painters, consisted of seventeen original paintings valued at $70,000 from the personal collection of Sidney Janis of New York City. Artists represented in the October exhibit included Henri Rosseau, Pablo Picasso, Paul Klee, Piet Mondrian, and Arshile Gorky.

Cats_001_SidneyJanis_1935.jpgGallery curator Ruth Lawrence created a catalogue to provide explanatory material for the exhibit. Assistant to the President Malcolm Willey sent a copy of the catalogue to President Lotus Coffman, along with an accompanying note that promoted the profile of the exhibit in the infant gallery…

Malcolm Willey to President Coffman, October 25, 1935:

“I am attaching a catalog covering the exhibition now at the University Art Gallery. The catalog was written by Mrs. Lawrence. I do hope that during the showing of the Janis collection you and Mrs. Coffman will be able to visit the gallery. It is an exceedingly remarkable group of pictures and demonstrates better than I have ever seen it demonstrated, just how unbalanced art can sometimes become. It is, however, a very significant show and you will observe from the catalog that the paintings have hitherto been seen at relatively few places, but these important ones.”

A list of the artworks displayed in the exhibit was also published in the Minneapolis Tribune (click on the newspaper clipping from the gallery press books at left to view the article).

Decades after the exhibit, art collector Sidney Janis donated many of the works from his private collection to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. From MOMA’s online collection database, we can view images of a few of the paintings that were once featured in the University Gallery’s October 1935 exhibit:


Le Reve” (The Dream) – Henri Rosseau

Nature Morte a la Guitare” (Glass, Guitar, and Bottle)” – Pablo Picasso

Actor’s Mask,” “In the Grass,” – Paul Klee