The Minneapolis Institute of Art is known as a leading authority on Japanese artworks, boasting what is thought to be the largest collection in the Western Hemisphere. Image: Flickr user Minneapolis Institute of Art

Japanese Art Thrives in the Twin Cities


It was announced on March 16th that the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA) will be receiving a multi-million dollar gift of close to 700 pieces of Japanese art. The generous gift comes at the bequest of Mary Burke, a St. Paul native, who died in 2012 at the age of 96. Burke, who lived most of her life in New York, also donated a portion of her extensive collection of East Asian art to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The gift, which also includes $12.5 million for further acquisition of Japanese art, does much to cement the MIA’s already renowned reputation for its East Asian artwork. Its collection of Japanese and Korean art, with over 7,000 works, is among the best in the US, with a display space over 10,000 square feet that is boasted as the largest in the Western World for such a collection.

Burke’s donation comes on the heels of another recent gift. Last year, California art collector Bill Clark donated over 1,600 pieces to the museum. With the aid of both of these substantial gifts, the MIA has become a leading center for Japanese art in the US.

Outside the museum walls, the Twin Cities area possesses active ties with Japanese art and culture. One example is the work of Yuya Negishi, a Japanese artist living in Minneapolis, who is one of four artists participating in an urban art revitalization project in the Midway Hamline neighborhood of St. Paul. The project, called Midway Murals, seeks to transform a portion of Snelling Avenue, a major commercial road, by painting murals on the outer walls of local businesses.

Since part of the project’s mission is to bridge cultural divides between immigrants and local residents of the community, Negishi, an immigrant himself, offers a valuable perspective to the project. His style draws from the art he encountered growing up in the rural region of Gunma, Japan, and his engagement with American culture, especially his love for hip hop. It is a blend of his Japanese roots and American experience.

Jonathan Oppenheimer, the director of Midway Murals, told Asia Matters for America, “His style and technique and perspective are unique and much needed on a project that really aims to provide various aesthetics, approaches, and backgrounds to this world-class public art corridor we’re building.”

Artists participating in the project will paint their murals this summer, while an exhibit featuring the MIA’s recent Japanese art acquisition is expected to open in September.

Chad Westra is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and an undergraduate student at Calvin College.