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.
Gallery 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
Rebecca Wilson is a graduate student in the Master of Liberal Studies program at the University of Minnesota, completing a minor in Museum Studies. She also serves as a Visitor Services Assistant at the Weisman Art Museum.