A Complete Guide to The Minneapolis Institute of Art

Minneapolis Institute of Art
••• Courtesy of Meet Minneapolis

The Minneapolis Institute of Art — formerly known as The Minneapolis Institute of Arts — is a world-class art gallery and museum and one of the best free attractions in Minneapolis. 

Founded in 1889 by a small group of locals interested in sharing art and culture with the general public. Construction on the present museum began early in the 20th century before being completed in 1915, where it housed just 800 pieces of art.

Over time, the collection has grown to include tens of thousands of pieces. To accommodate the growing collection, a minimalist addition designed by Kenzo Tange was opened, and in 2006, the Target wing, designed by Michael Graves, opened, increasing the gallery space by over a third. The site now sees over half a million visitors each year

If you're looking to visit this cultural icon of the Twin Cities, here's what you should know before you go. 

What to Expect 

The museum has nearly 100,000 objects from all around the world, representing prehistoric to 21st century art. Notable collections are the Asian art collections — one of the largest and most comprehensive in the country — the African Art collection, and the Native American art collection. There is also a large Modern Art collection. In addition to the permanent collections, several special events and ever-changing exhibitions happen at the MIA.

The museum's expansive collection is too large to be seen in a day. If you only have a short amount of time to visit, or want a beginner's introduction, pick up one of the self-guided tour leaflets at the entrance to see the museum's most popular, interesting, or unusual items in about an hour.

Another option is to participate in one of the museum's free daily scheduled tours, where guides escort visitors around the museum.

The tours are about an hour long and require no advanced registration. Topics discussed and collections seen during the tours vary from day to day. You won't necessarily see the museum's post popular attractions, but you will be treated to interesting facts and history related to the pieces along the tour. Check the MIA's website for more details on public tours, including themes and scheduled times. 

How to Visit

The Minneapolis Institute of Art is located within the Whittier neighborhood of Minneapolis. You can easily access the museum from I-35W or I-94 or by taking the 11 bus.  

One of the biggest perks of the MIA is that it is always free — though some special exhibitions, classes, talks, and special events do require tickets and reservations. Parking, however, isn't. A pay parking lot is adjacent to the museum, or look for rare street parking in the area surrounding the museum.

The museum holds pretty standard business hours during the week, with the exception of staying open late on Thursdays and Fridays and closed on Mondays and major holidays. 

What to See

The museum's collection spans thousands of years, though many of its most prominent pieces are only from the past several centuries.

Here are some of the most popular items to see when visiting the permanent galleries: 

  • "Olive Trees" by Vincent van Gogh — This is one of 15 such paintings by van Gogh painted in 1889.
  • "The Doryphoros" — Created sometime between 120-50BC in Italy, this pentelic marble sculpture is one of the oldest pieces on display. 
  • "Lucretia" by Rembrandt — A haunting piece by the legendary Dutch painter, this painting tells the story of Lucretia, a nobleman's wife and rape victim who chose to commit suicide rather than face dishonor. 
  • "Frank" by Chuck Close — Through a painstaking process of transposing gridded blocks onto canvas, Close created this portrait not from a human subject, but of a small photograph of him. The resulting image is full of minute details, down to the last wispy hair. 
  • "Some/One" by Do Ho Suh — This stunning sculpture of a large-scale, traditional Asian coat of armor is made up of thousands military dog tags. 

    What to Do Nearby

    If you're looking for more things to see and do after visiting the MIA, you're in the right neighborhood. The Whittier area of Minneapolis is one of the oldest and most culturally diverse sections of the city, and as such, it has a ton of interesting things to do and explore. 

    Children's Theater Company

    Inside the same building as MIA sits one of the best children's theaters in the country. What began as a small troupe of actors in 1965 has since become a world-class theater company, known for its clever and stunning adaptations of classic children's stories. Kids love to watch the laughter-rich shows, and art-loving grownups will especially appreciate the elaborate sets and designs that have garnered the attention and approval of theater critics throughout the United States. Ticket prices for shows can range widely but typically run from $35-$50 per seat, with kids under 3 years old able to sit on an accompanying adult's lap for $5. 

    Eat Street

    While the museum has a restaurant and coffee shop located inside, the MIA is only two blocks away from Minneapolis' famed "Eat Street." The multi-block stretch down Nicollet Avenue is home to dozens of highly acclaimed bars and restaurants. Establishments owned by born-and-bred Minnesotans sit alongside ones founded by immigrants and transplants from other states — providing an eclectic mix of cuisine that's reflective of the city's vibrant diversity.