by AMELIA WEDEMEYER
After a record-setting year that included a large expansion of gallery space and a new annual attendance high of over 26,000 visitors, the Minnesota Marine Art Museum (MMAM) begins 2015 with a series of unique exhibitions, two of which explore the ancient and modern art of shipbuilding and maritime archaeology.
This January MMAM will open “A Life Aquatic,” the first in a series of underwater photography exhibition, and “The Art of the Ship Model,” which showcases MMAM’s personal collection of shop models, plans and half-hull models. “You don’t have to be interested in ships to appreciate [these two exhibitions],” said MMAM Executive Director Andy Maus. “There is a general fascination with the form of a ship that can either be scientific, or just a poetry and beauty to it that is generally universal. I think everybody will get something out of these exhibitions.”
Starting Friday, January 16, MMAM will exhibit “A Life Aquatic,” a retrospective of the life’s work of Don Frey, an underwater archaeologist and photographer whose photographs have appeared in many publications, including National Geographic and Time magazine. “Don has been photographing shipwreck excavation in the Mediterranean for 40 years,” explained MMAM Curator and Facility Manager Jon Swanson. “He has some really interesting images in this show.” Frey worked as the principal photographer and videographer for the Institute of Nautical Archaeology (INA), an international group of marine archaeologists whose main goal is to bring history to light through the discovery of shipwrecks. Frey currently serves as a research associate and INA honorary ambassador from his home in Turkey.
“Don and a group [from] INA have discovered and excavated the world’s oldest shipwrecks,” Swanson said. Frey was among the first people to investigate and document the Uluburun shipwreck, which is the world’s oldest shipwreck found by modern day explorers. Discovered in the Turkish waters at Uluburun, the shipwreck dates back to 1305 B.C and was most likely that of a royal shipment, judging from the raw materials and luxury goods found at the wreckage site. According to Swanson, it is believed that the ship carried items from seven or eight kingdoms, indicated by the variety of cargo, which included Cypriot copper, Egyptian ebony, Canaanite jewelry and hippopotamus teeth. “[The discovery] kind of rewrote the history of bronze age trade and economics,” Swanson said. “It is considered one of the 20th century’s most important excavations, more so than the opening of King Tut’s tomb.” The MMAM exhibit will feature many photographs documenting the 11 years Frey spent excavating the Uluburun shipwreck as well as historical background. Additionally, “A Life Aquatic” will feature a variety of Frey’s work with ancient shipwrecks from civilizations including the Greeks, Romans and Byzantines. Frey’s exhibition, which will kick off MMAM’s 2015 underwater photography series, will run until April 26. “We are very, very excited to present his work,” Maus said.
Maus explained that the underwater photography series will focus on the ways artists use underwater photography artistically. Along with Frey’s “A Life Aquatic,” MMAM will feature photography from Madison, Wis., experimental artist Stephen Hilyard, “Ocean Soul: National Geographic Photographs by Brian Skerry,” and Twin Cities emerging artist Rhea Pappas. The series will span an entire year.
Starting on January 23, a week after the start of “A Life Aquatic,” MMAM will open its exhibition “The Art of the Ship Model,” which will showcase the museum’s permanent collection of ship models. “We’ve never done a ship show before,” Swanson explained. “We have used individual models for other exhibitions, but not solely one show for just ship models. We felt it was time.” The exhibition aims to explore the beauty of naval architecture and will feature, among many ships, a large model of the Titanic, as well as two models of the USS Constitution that include original wood and copper from the actual ship, which was provided to the U.S. government by Paul Revere. “We certainly have accumulated slowly and over time quite a significant collection of these handcrafted ship models, [but we’ve] never done a cohesive exhibition of them,” Maus explained, adding that he hopes that the exhibitions will highlight for the public the relationship, or “dialogue,” between Frey’s photographs and the MMAM’s collection of ship models, line drawings and plans. Swanson commented that museum attendees might enjoy learning about how Frey’s photography of ancient shipwrecks helped establish the chronology of the development of shipbuilding. “Our mission is to explore the ongoing and historic human relationship with water in art,” Maus said. “I think the museum sets up a relationship between collections and temporary exhibitions that makes us unique.”
For more information about MMAM’s upcoming exhibitions visit www.mmam.org.