Art review: 'It's New/It's Now'

MARY ABBE | Updated 7/24/2013

The MIA showcases bounty of gifts of work by contemporary artists.

Chuck Close’s “James,” 2004.
Provided by MIA

They’re all here. Many of the top artists of the past 50 years are represented in “It’s New/It’s Now” at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. With 125 prints and drawings by 64 contemporary artists, the show is a rich, wide-ranging survey of late-20th-century art, mainly by American talents. All are gifts to the museum from 35 different collectors, primarily Twin Citians.

“This really is a celebration of our collecting community, which has been particularly generous in recent years,” said Dennis Michael Jon, the museum’s associate curator of prints and drawings.

Museums rely on the generosity of private collectors for the bulk of their holdings. That’s especially true for the MIA’s print and drawing department, whose 43,000 items span six centuries, from medieval and Renaissance drawings to the present, with byways into illuminated manuscripts, artist-designed books, botanical prints and fashion illustrations.

Work by many of the gift artists has been shown at the institute over the years, but at least 90 percent of them have also been associated with Walker Art Center — from Andy Warhol and David Hockney to Jim Dine and Kiki Smith.

As time passes, however, these once-young turks have become 20th-century masters better suited to the institute’s art-historical sweep.

Occupying seven galleries, “It’s New” begins with strong figurative imagery, including a 2004 portrait head more than 5 feet tall that Chuck Close composed from hundreds of multicolored squiggles and dots arranged in diagonal grids of pointillist color. A pair of 1982 watercolors show Dine at his most expressive, scraping and gouging the thick paper as he reworked the bruised torso of “Jessie,” a favorite model.

“Pirate Jenny,” a bold, green-and-black 1989 woodcut by Minnesota-based Fred Hagstrom, nicely complements Dine’s dark angst, while Hockney counters it with his affectionate lithograph of “Celia in an Armchair” and his exuberant, cubistic “Image of Gregory.” Opposite them, the bleak eyes of Mapplethorpe glower tragically from a 1989 photolithograph printed on gold leaf.

Siah Armajani’s poetic elegy “Mississippi Delta” is the riveting centerpiece of a gallery of loosely narrative imagery. A triptych more than 13 feet long and over 3½ feet tall, it is a meditation on the flooding of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina.

Personal and political meet in a handsome 6-foot-tall photogravure-screenprint by Lorna Simpson, who stacks images of a black woman’s face above a slave cabin over a braid of hair coiled like an old-fashioned rug.

Tough, and occasionally playful, images by key feminists fill the gallery, among them Smith, Lee Bontecou, Louise Bourgeois and Elizabeth Murray. Men have a say, too, notably Terry Winters, who turned out a striking portfolio of etchings — inspired by an Edgar Allan Poe poem — that pair his seedpod drawings with haunting X-rays of skeletal body parts.

The centerpiece in the “final’’ gallery on the tour is a monumental drawing more than 6 feet square by John Newman of a complex, propeller-like shape that seems to be spinning in space. A tour de force of interlocking lines, planes, circles and ovals, it is a masterful conception of three-dimensional forms rendered on a two-dimensional plane.

There’s much more, of course, including Roy Lichtenstein’s subtle antiwar screen print that looks like an Art Deco paean to American industrial might, serene geometrics by Ellsworth Kelly and Josef Albers, and a quirky little Jasper Johns lithograph made from a phonograph record.

Starting in the 1960s, American print studios revived a medium that had grown inbred and stale. They brought in young artists, encouraged technical innovation and weren’t afraid to work at large scale. Like the garage entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley, they transformed the way the (art) world looked and worked. This show samples their legacy with brio.

It’s New/ It’s Now

When: Ends Sept. 1.

Where: Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2400 3rd Av. S.

Admission: $14

Info: 612-870-3000 or www.artsmia.org